Last Night on Earth – Creating a story driven scenario

I’m a big fan of the board game Last Night on Earth, but I’ve recently noticed something curious about how I tend to play it. I often find myself playing the zombie side and when I do, I don’t actually play to win… at least for most of the game. I tend to find myself trying to arrange it to be a close run thing until the last few turns, at which point I’ll push for the zombie victory. I guess this is because the game is quite narrative in its approach and it just doesn’t feel like a great narrative if the zombies are brutally effective in the first few turns and the heroes have no hope of recovering for the rest of the game. (Not that this will always happen, but a lucky run of zombie cards can seriously screw up the heroes early on.)
With this in mind, I started to wonder if the game could be slightly retooled to play in a more GM/PC sort of style, since I was halfway to that anyway. So, here is an outline of one way that the game could be played with more of a storyline. I will cover three main sections:
1) The rules adaptations I came up with originally.
2) An actual scenario that I ran for my weekly D&D group – this will be presented in a separate post.
3) Some further thoughts on additional rules or changes, based on my first run.

New rules for playing:
The basic underlying rules are essentially the same as the original game; movement, fighting mechanics, etc… all play out exactly as they would if you were playing one of the regular scenarios. Here are the changes that I used to create a more story driven feel…

The game is not limited to four heroes; everyone, except the single zombie player, is a hero. Each hero’s turn plays out exactly as it does in the regular game; there are two slight tweaks…
1) Heroes cannot continually search buildings – each building space can only be searched once. (The Growing Hunger expansion has search markers to make this easy to track.)
2) During the ranged attack phase, a hero may instead listen at an adjacent door to see if any zombies are on the other side.

Most of the modifications are on the zombie player’s side.
1) There is no sun track, though individual sections of the scenario may have time limits.
2) The zombie player does not draw cards at the start of his turn – he draws four cards every time the heroes enter a new building. There is no hand limit.
3) The zombie player does not roll to respawn zombies – zombies are spawned as appropriate, according to story events.
4) Zombie movement is the same as the real game, but the zombie player is encouraged to have zombie movement “make sense”. Mostly use doors, don’t move zombies who can’t see anyone, etc…

General rules:
1) In addition to the heroes in play, there is a “tag alongs” pool. This consists of other characters that the heroes have met along the way, who have no narrative importance right now, but who will step up if one of the active heroes dies. Essentially they are the replacements for dead heroes, but selected slightly more organically than just picking at random.
2) The scenario should play out more like an RPG adventure than a board game, with immediate goals that become apparent as events unfold. For example, in the scenario that I will present in my next post, once the characters have had their first zombie encounter, their short term goals become “Get to the police station and find out what’s happening” and “Get to the gun store to arm yourselves”. The police station is a “required” goal (in the sense that they will receive some pointers on where to go next), while the gunstore is essentially optional (but the scenario will be tougher without firearms).
3) The zombie player is not trying to “win”. With the looser rules, the zombie player can crush the heroes any time he wants, but instead he should be providing a constant level of threat to drive the heroes forward, while ensuring they reach the scenario climax. At that point, all bets are off and if the heroes go down in a blaze of glory then fair enough. A perfect game would be one where the “tag alongs” pool has been emptied and one or two heroes go down in the finale, but ultimately at least one hero completes the final task to end the game.

Scenario – I ran a scenario involving a bunch of teens coming home from a baseball game, finding the town overrun, getting weapons together and then enacting a plan to destroy the zombies. I’ll pop a link to my next post here, once it’s written up.

Thoughts after initial play through:
I used the rules above in my initial playtest and they are playable as they are. However, a couple of additional thoughts did emerge after our first run through.
1) This makes for a long game. Obviously, it’s somewhat dependent on the scenario design, but I massively underestimated how long it would take to run and had to chop out some of the optional parts as I went… think five hours, not two and a half.
2) It may be worth severely trimming the zombie deck to only keep straightforward combat bonuses, movement bonuses and such like. I found my hand getting clogged up with cards that make much more sense in the regular game, where wasting a hero’s turn, for example, is useful because of the turn limit… wasting a hero’s turn in a more story driven game, just slows down the pacing.
3) The mechanic that states each building square can only be searched once might work better if each building can be searched a number of times equal to its squares, but this can be done from any space; it would just speed up the searching of a cleared building.

Overall, as an experiment, this went quite well. If you have a group who enjoy the game and don’t mind making a full afternoon of it, I would genuinely recommend giving it a try as a one-off… and if you do try it, let me know how it goes.

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One Response to Last Night on Earth – Creating a story driven scenario

  1. Pingback: Last Night on Earth – Example story scenario | Notes on a Giant Man

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