Friday, September 7, 2018

Last Days: Zombie Apocalypse: Houseruling suggestions.

As you might have read in my review of LD:ZA I wasn't very happy with how the rules turned out. But they did have some very attractive points. 

So, like with a sexy sportscar that has quirky handling but looks oh so lovely I decided to collect, develop and test a number of houserules to solve the games most impactful (in my eyes at least) shortcomings.

Each houserule should provide a more interesting dilemma than the original rule and/or mitigate an effect that is undesirable for enjoyable gameplay (in my opinion at least). 


There are two types of cover:
  • Hard cover: -2 To Hit (most of the figure obscured by cover) or
  • Partial cover: -1 To Hit (most of the figure visible despite cover)

Desired effect: decrease effects of firepower. Enhance effects of tactical manoeuvring. Tested.


  • additional -1 To Hit (on top of existing cover modifiers) 
  • takes 1 AP to go Prone and 2 to get up. 
  • Prone Characters must spend 2 AP to crawl 1" . 
  • Going prone may obscure a character behind cover completely by laying down the figure.
  • Prone characters may fire and/or spend AP on other actions as normal.
Desired effect: decrease effects of firepower. Enhance effects of tactical manoeuvring. Tested. 


Dogs may Run. 
Dogs may learn from Experience. 
Dogs may pick and develop Skill types from the Athletic and CQC tables. 
Dogs may pick up and move loot after acquiring the Heavy Lifter skill. They may not use any other effects of that skill. 
Dogs may learn to walk or run silently after acquiring the Stalker Skill.  

Desired effect: get a dog and enjoy it! Untested. 

Lock & Load

When firing in Lock and Load modus during your opponent's Move you get a -1 additional To Hit modifier for each shot fired with that Action. 

The L&L counter is then not removed but flipped over and left on the table. The character may not fire again in either the Move-,  Shoot- or Menace Phase that follows.

Firing in L&L modus in the Shooting phase by a character with an unflipped L&L counter gains the character a +1 To Hit. Then Flip the counter and leave it on the table. The character may not fire again in the Menace phase. 

Firing in L&L modus in the Menace phase by a character with an unflipped L&L counter gains the character a +1 To Hit. Then remove the counter. 

Desired effect: Decrease effects of firepower. Tested. 

Use this rule instead of the zombie specifications in the scenarios. 

Zombies appear at the start of the game or during the game.

At the start of the game place 1 + D6 zombies per player on the table. Each player places one zombie alternately anywhere on the table until all are placed. They may not be placed in a deployment zone.

Noise counters generate zombies. Roll 1D6 per noise counter. On a 4+ a zombie appears 8" from the noise counter in a random direction. Use a scatter die of some sort and skip the noise counter modifiers. 

When Downed by a zombie, do not roll on the Injury Table but apply an automatic Infected Result (11). First Aid has no effect here. 

Zombies actions for (in that order)
·         Nearest survivor in LOS within 12"
·         Loudest noise within 12" (Closest when tied) 
·         Loudest noise (Closest when tied) 
·         5" in a random direction

Zombies do not block LOS to other zombies. If they can't reach a survivor due to other zombies in the way they simply queue up.  

Desired effect:
Make zombies a tactically relevant factor in the game. Create the need for tactical manoeuvring. Tested. 


Add to the miscellaneous Actions Table: Search a house or other closed piece of scenery. 

Searching costs 2AP. Then Roll 1D6: 
  • On a 1 there will be 2 zombies inside
  • On a 2 there will be 1 zombie inside
  • On a 5-6 there will be Loot. 
A piece of scenery may be Searched only once. 

The Loot counters found in pieces of scenery count against the total number of Loot counters for that scenario. So place some on the table and leave some out to be found through Search. Once all the Loot is picked up or found, none remains. 

Desired effect: More zombies or more Loot. It's a win-win! Tested. 


It has been a while since civilization stopped and the zombies took over. So most cars will not work anymore. However, some might. 

Starting and driving a car
When trying to start a car roll a D6 for present keys. On a 6 there are still keys present. If not, the car must be hotwired. 
  • Getting into a car takes 1 AP
  • Starting a car with keys takes 1 AP. 
  • Starting a car through hotwiring takes 4 AP. 
  • The car starts on a 5+. 
  • Only one character may try to start a car or drive one in any one turn. 
  • A starting car gets 3 noise tokens on the start location. 
  • A car with running engine gets 1 per turn which follows the car. 
Characters moving in cars may move 3" per AP. Drivers may drive-and-shoot if they choose but lose control of the car on any roll of 1 (either To Hit or for Damage). 

Cars offer Hard cover to passengers. Cars never Run and never get a -1 Run modifier due to their size. 

Out of control, collisions and crashes
All characters and zombies hit by a driving car suffer a Strength 5 CQC hit. On a Damage roll of 1 the car is out of control. 

A car hit causes 1 additional Noise counter at the collision location. 

Out-of control cars move 10" in a random direction and then stall (or crash into an object on the way). All characters in a crashing car suffer a Strength 3 CQC hit. 

A crashed car will not function again. A car crash causes 5 Noise counters. On a 6 the car alarm malfunctions and starts blaring. 1 Noise counter per turn. 

Any To Hit roll on a car and its passengers of an unmodified 6 does not hit a passenger or driver but a vital part of the car instead. The car hit this way then gets out of control and will not function again. 

Desired effect: Baby you can drive my car! Untested. 

EDIT September 14th 2018: 

Tested the house rules tonight. They worked very well. The numbers of zombies increased dramatically and put an end to any static tactics we might be inclined to. So no more time to gun down your opponents and pick up the loot. Not in the least because employing terrain for cover actually made sense now and groups of zombies would surround you and wear you down.  

The new L&L rules offered a nice choice between mobility, firepower and a fast shot in your opponents move or an aimed shot in the shooting phase. 

The faster dogs made great noisemakers and zombie-killers. 

In the course of the game small groups of zombies roamed the table, slowly increasing in numbers and forming a small horde, making the table look like a small zombie apocalypse at last! 

Searching houses produced as much loot as it did zombies. We didn't get to try out a car unfortunately. 

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Last Days: Zombie Apocalypse. An Unhappy Review

Lately Osprey has increased its menu of wargames rules with the zombie variant and published Ash Barkers' Last Days: Zombie Apocalyps.

Since I am a great lover of the zombie gaming genre but good rules are few and far between I inquired after these rules, read some (positive) reviews and, encouraged, proceeded to buy and play them. This resulted in a pleasant Friday night game of about 90 minutes in excellent company. However, how did LD:ZA conduct itself?

What was good? 

LD:ZA is a pleasant looking hardcover 108 page book with full colour interior. Font is pleasant to the eyes,  The book has a fine systematic layout in the approximate order you will follow when starting a game. This will inevitably sometimes run counterclockwise to the order in which you do things but I generally was able to quickly find the required rule while leafing through during my first game. Character sheets and refuge sheets are included in the book. A 2-page Quick Reference Sheet is downloadable from the Osprey site as are the sheets.

There are some points that are less than obvious however. The Rarity number of weapons for example is the maximum number of that weapon you may have at the start of the game. It can be deducted from the rules but isn't actualy stated anywhere.

Note the difference between Skill Type and Skills. A Skill Type is an area your character may develop in. This does not actually give him any Skills at start. Actual Skills are noted under (somewhat confusingly) Special Rules. It took me some time to work that out....

The book has comicbook style artwork which does great things for the atmosphere.

Character generation
In a skirmish game I like my characters properly distinguished in skills and equipment. LD:ZA has a comprehensive character generation system in which you can quickly and easily generate a team/gang. A 100 point team will give you 6 to 8 characters and reasonable equipment. LD:ZA is set at the high point of zombie infestation and you don't start with a frying pan and a kitchen knife. The characters even have a kind of character type (like Selfish or Trained). Although this only seems to be used in combining team members in likely combinations.  Each team has a hideout that also gives benefits and can be used in scenarios.

Most characters are pre-generated. However, choosing Survivors enables you to tailor-design your team with skills and equipment you can choose yourself, which is a good balance between convenience and possibilities.

LD:ZA has a Campaign system (which is an absolute must have in my book) that is simple enough. Loot, feats and injuries are rolled for afterwards and yield bonuses or penalties that influence future scenarios. Quite a few skills you can award your characters play no role in the game itself, but in the Campaign phase. The Campaign also develops your characters skills through earned XP.

The book includes 6 scenarios, ready to play.

The mechanics are well tried and simple. LD:ZA is an alternate activation IGO-UGO game where characters have Action points to be spent on actions. Downtime during play is limited that way and interrupting actions during your opponents turn can be done through Lock and Load which enables you to fire in your opponents turn.  The game has a Menace (zombie and other misery happens) Move and Shoot Phase that each start after the former has been completed.

Characters have stats for things like shooting and close combat. Action tests consist of a D6 die roll plus a stat value that must overcome a threshold to succeed (usually 7). Hits may translate into damage depending on the damage value of the weapon, the target's Endurance and a D6 roll. So there is a To Hit + To Wound sequence. Shooting and close combat are nevertheless quick affairs and easily handled.

Zombies are summoned by making noise like running or shooting. The more noise, the more zombies.

It is meant to be played on a 3x3 foot table and urban terrain. Most skirmish games require lots of terrain and this is no exception.

Where is the errata? 
It is in the Last Days official Facebook Group.

What could be better? 

There is a story somewhere
Ash Barker emphasises the narrative as an essential aspect of a good skirmish game. I agree with him fullheartedly. However using pre-generated characters and refuges somewhat diminishes this. The links between games and campaign events are a bit abstract to my taste. You can lose your refuge to zombies on a roll of a table for example. It is a shame to play such a dramatic event only in that way. I understand the reason however, since zombies would be absolutely incapable to overrun a refuge in a real game. Getting taken out by zombies should be lethal, but actually is hardly a problem. See below.

I have a feeling some opportunities were missed here.

Where do I hide? 
What makes a skirmish game interesting in my book is maneuvering figures and interacting with terrain in a tactically interesting way. This is usually prompted by the presence of ranged weapons and the need to take cover from them. So you need to maneuver for a good firing position or, lacking that, for evasion and/or close assault. A good skirmish game usually sees a lot of movement taking place within firing range to successfully evade enemy fire.

Firing ranges in LD:ZA for long-range weapons (available from the start of the game) range from 24 - 30" and thus cover most of the 3x3 table within sight. However, since any form of cover behind which you can still be seen only decreases the shooting roll with 1 point, taking cover is largely pointless. Hits are usually scored on a roll of 3-4 (Shooting skill 3-4 being average) which only rises to a 4-5 for any form of cover. Firing rates for long range weapons are initially usually 1 but rise to 2+ as soon as more equipment is found or immediately by starting with Survivors with the Double Tap Skill (may reroll Shoot or Damage rolls). So being hit in cover is quite likely and indeed happens all the time. I had three of my characters running through a field of fire behind the cover of cars the entire time and still all three were killed. In this game running is just as effective by the way (also a -1 to hit) as taking cover. The problem is you cannot shoot in that turn.

This unsurprisingly resulted in a game where the teams more or less remained in their starting zones and fired at each other. Enhancing the effects of cover would have solved this.

What is bad? 

Has anyone seen my zombie? 
You start the game with a few zombies on the table. These die quickly and easily (zombies are hit +1) and that is OK.

However, zombies are quite rare in this game. A noise counter doesn't produce a zombie but only a +1 on the zombie roll (that needs a 7). So you need 3 to 4 noise counters in one location to reasonably summon a zombie. And even then none may appear. In this game zombies seem to be outnumbered by the survivors! You will certainly not encounter a horde anytime soon.

Zombies are also rather weak in close combat. They are slower than humans (no runners here) and have a lower Close Combat stat. This wouldn't be a problem if only they were actually menacing. But even getting taken out by zombies just earns you a roll on the Campaign Injury table with a very good chance of survival. You can get infected through such a roll but being killed by a zombie has no effect on that whatsoever. I miss a narrative opportunity here.

So zombies are far from lethal. Leaving them out altogether would hardly change the game. All this kinda makes them no more than a mild annoyance in the background and the idea of a Zombie Apocalypse a bit hard to swallow to be honest. A rather fatal flaw for a zombie skirmish game in my opinion.

Overshooting things
In a game where shooting is so effective Lock and Load (the "Overwatch rule") that lets you shoot in your opponent's movement phase is obviously quite powerful. But this is compounded by the fact that having fired through Lock and Load during the Move phase (without any penalty on To Hit by the way) you can fire AGAIN during the shooting phase (again without any penalty). L&L therefore gives you twice the number of shots for just 4 AP.

And since maneuvering and taking cover doesn't make much sense, sitting tight and L&L is the obvious alternative and not even a dilemma. You can even move for 2 AP AND L&L.

The fact that multiple shots (more than 1) only cause a -1 for all consecutive shots make automatic weapons not only powerful but as accurate as a normal rifle.

In my opinion (and this is a matter of taste, I know) this contributes to the fact that LD:ZA quickly becomes a rather static shootout. This may be realistic, but not very interesting game-wise.

A dog's life
You can pick a dog as your team member. That is great! It has 8 AP (2 more than a human) and is a good close combat fighter.

However, dogs (the Animal Skill/Special Rule is in the errata) may not run, cannot learn from experience and may not retrieve loot. Which makes them slower than humans (?!) and a lot more useless. Even a human burdened with loot can stay ahead of a dog! Picking dogs as team members seems rather pointless that way. A missed opportunity IMO that doesn't do justice to Man's best friend.

Who's gonna drive me home? 
There are no car rules. Enough said. Another missed opportunity.

LD: ZA could have been a very good, fast and furious zombie skirmish game due to its simple and effective mechanics. But the irrelevance of zombies and the overpowered ranged weapon rules force it into a rather static shooting game with an occasional zombie to swat away while you shoot at your human opponents from somewhere around your starting zone.

It is also a shame that none of those cars littering the table can be used to run people over or flee: they cannot move, there are no driving rules and you would be a close and ill-protected target inside a car anyway. There is too little interaction with terrain in general.

I think a lot of opportunities were missed here; rules wise as well as for the benefits of the narrative. My impression is that too much was sacrificed for simplicity's sake. House ruling can fix most of it, but it needs quite a bit of it to result in an interesting game that suits my tastes. A separate blog dedicated to house rules for this game can be found following this link.

I will play an additional test game soon and include scenario play to see if this makes a significant difference.