Published on May 29th, 2013 | by A. J. Asplund
Zombies in the Woods
Zombies have become one of those things that every writer, television producer, and game manufacturer feels the need to tap. Whether it be The Walking Dead, Plants vs. Zombies, Zombie Dice, Zombicide, or World War Z, everybody feels the neat to cash in on this extremely popular cultural phenomenon. Flying Frog Productions, a Seattle-area company, made their debut into the genre back in 2007, when zombie coolness was still in its infancy. Over the years, they have produced several expansions that a variety of additional rules, characters, and scenarios to the game.
While attending PAX back in 2012, I had the opportunity to stop by the Flying Frog Productions booth in the Expo Hall. Among there upcoming releases was the new expand-alone (stand-alone expansion) for Last Night on Earth: The Zombie Game. This new title is called Last Night on Earth: Timber Peak. Although it is an expansion to Last Night on Earth (LNOE) and integrates with the content from the base game and previous expansions, it is fully playable on its own. I picked up a copy and decided to take a look at this new addition to the LNOE line.
PRODUCTION: What Horrors Await
The contents of the box feel very similar to the original game. For those unfamiliar with LNOE, there are character cards, scenario cards, zombie and hero decks, and a grip of tokens that need punching out. The game comes with six characters and four scenario cards, which is a little bit less than the original game’s eight characters and five scenario cards. Like the original, it has a center board piece and six L-shaped pieces for constructing the game board. There are plastic miniatures and a bag full of little six-sided dice. Strangely, there are only three turn reference cards instead of six, which means that players will have to share until they are comfortable enough with the turn order. Like all of the other Flying Frog games, all of the printed components are heavily laminated. Jack Scott Hill, the layout and graphic designer, once told me that this was intentional to prevent damage from accidental drink spills. Despite my many opportunities, I have yet to test this theory in practice.
The game comes with twenty plastic figures: six grey heroes, seven green zombies, and seven brown zombies. The zombies are the same sculpt used in previous LNOE products while the heroes are all new sculpts, including new variants of three characters from the original LNOE. Overall, the figures are of the level of quality one would expect from a Flying Frog game. The biggest frustration with the included minis is the same complaint I have had with every Flying Frog game: the character miniatures do not have a name or other significant identifying mark on them. If it is not clear which mini is which, you have to break out the rulebook to match figures with names.
In an effort to evoke a zombie movie feeling, all of the art in LNOE:TP features actual people costumed and posed like a zombie film. It comes across as a bit absurd at first, but after a while it just started to feel like some zombie movie I never bothered to watch. Most of the cards express some obvious zombie trope that contribute to the ridiculous narrative of the game, a feature I really learned to appreciate as I played the game more. Like it or not, LNOE’s art style sets it apart from a majority of the other games out there.
One notable difference between Timber Peak and the original LNOE is the absence of a soundtrack album. I asked Jason Hill and Mary Beth Magallanes about it and I was told that since this was not a new game but only an expansion, it did not warrant a new album. I am glad that they have a legitimate sounding excuse for not putting an album in the box; although I have always liked the idea of including a soundtrack to the game, the soundtrack albums that come with FFP games tend to be very bad.
GAMEPLAY: The Twin Peaks of the Zombie Apocalypse
Timber Peak follows the same basic turn structure of the other LNOE engine games. The game starts with the zombie player taking a turn. This involves drawing zombie cards, checking to potentially spawn new zombies, moving zombies, and fighting any survivors. The zombie player also keeps track of the turn using the “Sun marker.” Each scenario has its own starting position on the turn track, making some scenarios longer and some shorter. Generally, the survivors lose if the sun track ever makes it to morning, although that is not always the case.
The hero phase comes after the zombie turn. Each survivor takes a turn in whatever order the players decide. A survivor’s turn involves moving (or searching), exchanging items, using a ranged weapon, and fighting zombies in the space. Although it is a relatively simple turn, the different Hero cards in the game (items, weapons, and event cards) provide many opportunities for a survivor to combat zombies or take other interesting actions. Once every survivor has acted, play continues with the next zombie turn.
Combat is relatively simple and involves both involved players rolling dice and comparing results. Although Survivors generally roll more dice, Zombies win on ties. Furthermore, Survivors have to roll doubles or use special equipment to actually deal damage to a zombie. Otherwise, they merely succeed in driving the zombies off for the turn. It can be frustrating at times but it lends itself well to the idea that it is difficult to actually kill zombies. This also tends to emphasize the need to keep the Survivors moving, a naturally rational assumption in a world where the dead walk.
Overall, the gameplay is relatively simple. A lot of the game comes down to successful dice rolling but there are ways, through planning and card play, to mitigate some of the randomness. However, like any bad zombie movie, there are always those unfortunate situations that result in the cruel and untimely death of a character. Keeping that in mind, even those most frustrating of bad die rolls can be woven into an entertaining narrative of zombie survival.
EXPERIENCE: What Woodinvale and the Carnival Taught Them
The goal of the game is determined by the scenario. The “starter scenario” is called Learn to Survive and requires the survivors to earn enough upgrade cards before time runs out or the zombies earn enough of their upgrade cards (see below). Other scenarios have different goals. Mountain of the Dead requires that the survivors defend four generator tokens on the board until morning. Thus, the scenarios provided share common themes as scenarios in the original LNOE but they are implemented in new ways using new rules mechanics.
Timber Peak adapts a lot of lessons learned from LNOE expansions Growing Hunger, Survival of The Fittest, and even the related product Invasion from Outer Space: The Martian Game. Some of these lessons are small, like clearer text on game cards. A notable example of the progression is the starter scenario Learn to Survive, an enhancement over the original Die Zombies, Die! or the IFOS scenario Invasion. Learn to Survive allows a zombie player to win by wounding survivors (gaining experience points) while making it more difficult for a single, heavily armed survivor to end the game on her own as purchasing upgrades becomes more difficult the more a single character has. Overall, the scenario design feels a lot more experienced and sophisticated than it had back in the early days of LNOE.
The biggest addition to Timber Peak is the experience system. First introduced in the web-exclusive Advanced Abilities expansion, the experience system provides a method by which the survivors slowly improve as the game goes on. Every time a wound is inflicted by a survivor, that survivor gets an experience point. Survivors can trade in experience points to draw an upgrade card at a cost that increases for every upgrade a character has already. Although zombies also gain experience points which can be used to purchase specific Zombie Upgrades, the experience system is most relevant to the Survivors in the form of Upgrade cards.
Upgrade cards come in three separate decks with different focuses: melee combat, ranged attacks, and other abilities. Upgrades grant various abilities such as the ability to win melee fights on ties, increase the range of a gun, or draw extra Hero cards when searching. It ends up being a neat system that makes it feel like the survivors really are getting better at what they do. In addition, every Survivor upgrade card in Timber Peak has a “Boost” ability at the bottom. These let the player further upgrade the ability, making it more powerful or more useful. Of course, boosting an upgrade has a cost: they require a certain number of experience points so players will have to decide whether enhancing an existing ability is more important than going for a new upgrade.
This new Last Night on Earth learns a lot of good things from its predecessors. New scenario design and gameplay features improve upon the good aspects of LNOE while keeping what worked. Upgrades represent a new, interesting way to reward survivors that is left fickle or transient than equipment and weapons.
OVERALL: Wise Decision or Foolish Mistake?
For players looking to play out a terrible zombie movie as a board game, Timber Peak is an excellent choice. The game mechanics are simple but the different cards add a lot of interesting variety. I had a lot of fun playing Timber Peak, but like most Flying Frog games, you really have to be willing to get into the “bad horror movie” mood to really appreciate the game. The components really invoke the right mood and the game is simple enough to keep it both approachable and fun.
The new features definitely add positive value to the LNOE experience. I cannot image playing the game without the rules and additions of Timber Peak. That being said, is it enough to sway somebody who did not like LNOE to play it now? Probably not, as the game is still, at its core, Last Night on Earth. The new elements make an all around better game experience but somebody who dislikes the base game is not likely going to be swayed by a few novel features. I think what Timber Peak does is provide a new, better entry point for people looking to play LNOE. With that in mind, I would recommend Timber Peak as the new entry point and the original LNOE as a big-box content expansion.