Last Days of Old Earth Review

By Darryl Kaye on June 26, 2016

Last Days of Old Earth is the latest game from Auroch Digital. It focusses on humanity's struggle to survive against evil automatous machines and promotes a strong, classical turn-based style that's rather akin to a board game through its use of hex tiles and also cards. It also comes from veteran war simulation publisher Slitherine Ltd.

The narrative itself isn't the most original of concepts and although there is exposition that plays out through the cards themselves and the occasional prompt box during missions, it isn't the game's strongest element. Instead, it's the gameplay that helps to show that Last Days of Old Earth has substance "“ the story often used as an extended tutorial and means to unlock new, more interesting cards.

Anyone who's played a turn-based strategy game before will feel right at home here. There are simple construction and simulation mechanics at play, which makes it easy to digest, especially early on, but it does feel a little limiting as you play through the game.

Often starting at Clanhome, you will be tasked with completing objectives such as neutralising the enemy or capturing certain locations. To do this, you will need to move units around, building one of two structures to help expand your territory. The first, Collector, allows you to procure more resource each turn, while the second, Outpost, acts in a similar fashion to your base. It's not exactly rocket science, but it does help to simplify things. As you get further through the game, outposts can also be expanded to include structural upgrades and aviation.

Building is perhaps one of the most underwhelming parts of the game, but it's also one of the most important. It would have been nice to see more depth with the types of buildings and also their integration with the territory element, because on larger maps you will end up with outposts littered everywhere just to make movement easier. You see, if units are outside of the "supply line", they have their movement severely hampered, so not only do you want to expand to secure your territory, it's also so you can then expand more easily. Having a wider selection could have helped to negate this "“ offering buildings with other purposes. It would have also helped to make the scenery interesting, but that's a rather minor gripe.

Simplicity aside, how and where you place outposts can make a huge difference to the outcome of conflicts. Although it can be tempting to build them periodically to simply expand territory, if you can, it's often a better option to simply capture your opponent's or spread them quite thin around. Due to the fact you can pool troops in outposts, they can become very useful as staging areas. Creating many outposts and leaving them undefended, which becomes harder the more you have, makes it easy to capture and fortify. You therefore have to weigh up the necessity of building structures, making the strategic side of buildings much less simplistic.

This is aided by the construction of maps. Using a hexagonal system, there are often very few "normal" tiles that you can venture forward onto. Hostile tiles that limit vision or movement are frequent. Making sure you utilise these is therefore rather important when considering the best place to expand and defend.

Every turn, there's a risk/reward system around how much you can do and it's based on a dice roll, as many mechanics throughout Last Days of Old Earth are. Resources that are collected are used to add dice to the equation, but it's the team who gets the most positive rolls that goes first and gets more action points (12) to use. The losing team on the roll goes second and only gets eight action points. It's a pretty good system as it allows you to gamble for a stronger position. Win the gamble and you will benefit greatly, lose and you will have potentially wasted useful resources.

Action points are used to play cards that are in your hand or move units around the map. Again, it's a simple system, but there's a lot that can be done once you start creating multiple armies. It means that first for that initial turn becomes more important as the game gets grander in scape, as eight action points isn't really that many. Sometimes you might only be able to play one strong unit card "“ drawing new cards also uses action points.

This is perhaps where the game feels a bit hindered though, as even for a turn-based game, action can feel a little stop start. The costs are high, meaning some turns you may be able to do very little. Likewise, the distance units can move also makes the game feel quite slow-paced, but at the same time, it would be harsh to implement greater movement distances as you would be able to do far too much damage without any fear of retaliation. This aspect of the game feels like it could do with more work, as sometimes it can feel like the game gets stuck in the mud "“ each team doing very little in the way of progression as they attempt to muster some kind of force and then defend despite often being hindered by limited movement range.

In particular, this gripe was highlighted during one of the mid-range missions, where a unit has to be escorted across the entire map. It was a nice idea, but in execution it felt cumbersome, as the unit has limited movement and it just ekes out turns for the sake of it. Again, it's not inherently bad and with a few tweaks the system could be improved a little, but it's a fine balancing act to make the game flow better, while also making sure it's competitive.

When you do venture into actual conflict, it's quite similar to other games on the market. You can either choose to square off in grid-style turn-based combat, or let the computer auto-resolve the conflict for you. Should you choose to engage, combat is pretty straight-forward, with two rows and limited commands. The units themselves make for detailed strategies however, due to how they influence each other, positively and negatively. And this is perhaps one of the best aspects of the game, the diversity and depth of the units themselves and the heroes (non-combatants) who command them from afar.

Combat is also heavily orientated around the roll of the dice. You pick a target, roll to see your damage and then the defender rolls to see how they defended. This is based on the unit's base stats, but it goes beyond that. Some offensive units will be able to take others out of play, while others will counter if they successfully nullified attacks. It makes tactics paramount and resource around opposition units is crucial to victory.

Expanding the campaign is the ability to engage in skirmishes as either side or via multiplayer. Any cards unlocked via the main campaign, including structural and aviation cards can be used to build a deck of at least 40 cards. If you didn't quite get your fill with the campaign, this aspect of the game in particular is where things will get more detailed as you will be able to build your own decks and create new strategies.

Final Thoughts

Last Days of Old Earth is a competent turn-based strategy game that features some fantastic depth with its units and combat, but does feel a little simplistic in other areas such as building and exploration. It's a good ode to other turn-based classics though and its hexagonal map-style integrates well with a card mechanic that gains much more depth when you start building your own decks.

Depth of units on offer.
Campaign has good length and adds new card types at the right times.
Strong sense of risk/reward.
Certain missions are a bit tedious.
More structures could have helped to add some variation.
Sometimes it can really feel like lady luck is against you.
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