- Designer: Antoine Bauza
- Artist: Nastya Lehn & Pero
- Publisher: Repos Productions
- Players: 2-4 Players
- Time: 45-60 minutes
- Times Played: 6
Back in October, Dale took a “First Look at Last Bastion”. I am going to give a bit of a longer rules overview than Dale did, so if you prefer the shorter overview, go check out Dale’s and come back for my thoughts. A long awaited re-working of the insanely difficult to win cooperative game, Ghost Stories. Ghost Stories was legendary in it’s difficulty, maybe not Yggdrasil levels of difficulty, but still, Ghost Stories was known as an unforgiving and unrelenting game and that helped push it up the rankings. Currently Ghost Stories is sitting at number 238 on BoardGameGeek.
Last Bastion, like it’s predecessor, is a tower defense game. The basic tenets of a tower defense game are that the players are defending a base from waves of enemies through the use of obstructions, including themselves. You generally see this a lot more in the video game world than in board games, but the genre has been prevalent over the past few years, especially with recent releases like Cloudspire from Chip Theory Games. It’s a difficult design to pull off in the world of cardboard, usually there are lots of things going on that need to be managed in a short time frame. The speed of the game is important, you don’t want a tower defense game to feel slow and plodding, you don’t want to feel like you have more than enough time to do everything. There is no clock, at least in the traditional sense, in Last Bastion or Ghost Stories though, this is not real time. Which is why the game is just created to feel so darn difficult, you need that difficulty to make it feel desperate, to make it feel like a challenge, which is what we always should strive for in gaming, but definitely in cooperative gaming.
A majority of Last Bastion is played out on a three by three board. Each square is a different location in the last bastion for the heroes. This is where the heroes will take their stand to defend what is theirs. Each location in the bastion has a unique power that the players can use when they stop on it.
The game is propelled forward by a deck of cards, this deck is full of all of the evil that the Baleful Queen can summon to attack the bastion in an attempt to gain her power back. These Monster cards come in five different colors, four of which are shared with the heroes. Each hero at the beginning of the game is given a Monster board in one of the four colors. Each of those boards can hold three monsters. If your board is full on your turn there is an action you take, usually bad. If it is not, on your turn you will draw one of the Monster cards and place it on the appropriate board, matching colors if possible. There are black Monster cards that can be placed anywhere and if a players board is filled and you need to place another card there, you may place it on another board.
On a turn each player has two phases to work through, the Monster phase and the hero phase. The Monster phase consists of activating any Monster cards on your board that need to be activated. Meaning they have an icon in the center bottom of the card, in the example above, the skeleton drummer does not have an icon in the center, so they would not do anything. After that the player checks their board, if it is full they would activate a board power specific to their board, otherwise they draw another Monster card and place it in an appropriate spot and activate any icons on the left bottom of the new card. Sometimes these activations will bring in more Monster cards, or skulls. Skulls are particularly bad, if there are ever three skulls on the board during a player’s turn, they lose the game.
This deck of Monster cards is the clock in Last Bastion. There are a set number of normal Monster cards in the game based on the number of players and the ninth card from the bottom of that deck is placed a random Warlord at the start of the game. The Warlord is going to be a far more difficult challenge for the players and the Warlord is chosen at random from ten that are included in the game. It is placed on top of the last eight cards in the Monster deck and the players have no idea who it is or what they have to work towards, the best they can do is just keep trying to make themselves stronger and be in a good position when the Warlord is revealed.
During the hero phase of a player’s turn, they may do act and move, in whatever order they choose to do so. Movement is from one tile to an adjacent tile, diagonal movement is allowed. There are two different acts that a player can do, they can only choose one of them on a turn though. The players may activate the tile that they are standing on, or they may enter into combat with one or more monsters that are adjacent to the tile they are standing on. The tile actions are of utmost importance in Last Bastion. You need to be activating them as often as you possibly can to gain benefits, but remember, every time you activate a tile is a time you are not combating the monsters trying to overtake your bastion. Tile actions are not available if a skull token (grasp of evil) is on it.
To enter into combat with a monster, the player must be on a tile adjacent to a monster card. Unless of course your hero has the ability to do things differently. Each player will have a unique hero from the start of the game, and each of those hero’s will have a special unique ability to help the team overcome the incoming horde of monsters. A hero may be able to attack from two tiles away in either direction, or they may gain other benefits to help them out. Combat is pretty simple in Last Bastion. Each monster card has a number of icons on the upper left of the card, these are the results that you must obtain from a dice roll in order to defeat them. Most of the time the player will be rolling three white dice, three is a hero who can roll a fourth grey die as well. The dice have five different colors on them, plus a white “wild” side that can count as any color. Also, through gameplay the players can gain equipment tokens that can aid in the killing of monsters, it’s necessary to use these tokens on some as they may require more than three to be rolled. If a player is successful in killing a monster that monster is discarded out of the game and the player will activate the icon on the bottom right of the monster card. Most of the time, these are benefits, such as removing a skull, or gaining an equipment token. Players on a shared tile with a hero in combat, may share equipment tokens, helping aid them in combat. If combat is unsuccessful the monster stays in play and nothing else happens. It is possible for players to fight two monsters at once if they are on the corners of the board, thus adjacent to two monsters. You still only roll the dice one time though, you do not roll for both.
Through game play there is the possibility for a hero to be killed, for them to lose all of their health tokens. At the start of the game, each player is given three health tokens, should they lose their final health token they lose all of their inventory, equipment tokens and Call to Arms tokens, they flip their player board to show that they are no longer living and they disconnect from their horde board. All the monsters stay in play on that board though, so don’t think you are getting out of this the easy way. Players can also be healed and brought back through game play actions as well, should this happen the player flips their board and reconnects, gaining three health tokens and a Call to Arms token.
I haven’t spoken about the Call to Arms tokens yet. Every player starts the game with one Call to Arms token, these tokens can allow a player to use a tile action even if they are not on that tile and even if there is a skull token there as well. Players can use them at any time on their turn, but not in the middle of an action, and if you have more than one Call to Arms token, you can use them all if you want, you are not limited to one per turn.
Last Bastion is won by the players when they defeat the Warlord that is on the board. Otherwise, the players face defeat if all of the players are dead, a third skull (grasp of evil) token is on a tile on the board or a monster card must be drawn and there is not one left in the deck.
Not a lot has changed between Ghost Stories and Last Bastion. The most noticeable thing is the slight theme change. Play wise, there are now eight different heroes to choose from, each with a unique ability, versus previously four heroes and the ability to choose one of two special abilities. The ability to move before or after taking an action is now available to the players. The ability for the Call to Arms tokens to activate tiles covered by a skull (grasp of evil) token is a big difference as well. The Warlord starts later in the deck by a couple cards and other than that, I think most changes are kind of superficial, but the direction that the game went is apparent from these changes. Bauza went and made the game a bit easier for the players to manage, not necessarily made it easier to win, but easier for the player to do things that will benefit them and gave the players more control. There may be other things that have changed, or been tweaked a bit, but it has been a long time since I have played Ghost Stories, that’s what I can recall.
Last Bastion is also brighter than its predecessor. While still a thematically dark game, everything is brighter and more vibrant, making it easier to distinguish what icons mean and what is going on in the game. That’s an important thing to have as the game is all about knowing what icons mean and when they take effect. Most are easy to decipher, but some can be a bit confusing, but never fear, there is a thorough appendix for all of the icons so you can know exactly what does what, and when it does it. Very well put together both in presentation and in graphic design. The addition of miniatures, while a fantastic tactile and display addition, can make it a bit difficult to see what the powers are on the tiles, but once you learn the tiles, you don’t have to look so hard and can just enjoy that you have a plastic ranger figure shooting two directions from the middle of the board.
Games like Last Bastion thrive on difficulty and the ability to adjust that difficulty. There are a lot of different ways to set up Last Bastion from making it easier to making it downright sadistic with two Warlords in the monster deck. I’m not sure how difficult I ever want to make the game as there are things that are still out of your control, namely which monsters are coming out of the deck and those damn dice. Regardless of how much you plan with extra equipment tokens, or with help from your fellow players, those dice are still the deciding factor in most combat situations. If you don’t roll the right colors on those dice, guess what, things are not going to go your way and the monsters are going to continue to pile up on the board. There is a fine balance at work here. If you had more control, the game would be too easy. If you had even less control, the game would be damn near impossible. Bauza and the development team here have found a nice balance, that while frustrating at times, always makes you feel like there is a fighting chance, until there isn’t.
Games like Last Bastion are not normally my favorite way to occupy my gaming time, first off they are cooperative and secondly they are cooperative with a high chance of alpha gaming because all of the information is on the table for everyone to see, there is no hidden information here. So if you have a player at your table who fancies themselves the tactician of the bunch, remind them that it is a team game, but that’s easier said than done a lot of the time with those types of players. That being said, Last Bastion won me over with it’s dynamic play, fantastic production values and a wonderful re-thinking and re-adjusting of what is one of the classic cooperative games of this generation of board gamers.
Thoughts from the Opinionated Gamers
Chris Wray (8 Plays): I’ve played eight times, and gave Ghost Stories a try again last weekend for the sake of comparison. I prefer Last Bastion: though I like the theme and art better in the predecessor, the iconography, more intuitive gameplay, improved rulebook, and variability of setup make Last Bastion the better choice.
That said, having won twice in eight plays (albeit at the easiest setting), surely this is easier than Ghost Stories, a game I never won?
Patrick Brennan: If you already own Ghost Stories, you don’t need to own this, especially if you have the White Moon expansion which elevates it. But if you’ve always wanted a copy, Last Bastion is a great re-implementation. The core is the same, but there are lots of little improvements. There was no change we didn’t like – more player powers are available (and are now separated from your colour board), the haunters work more cleanly, the board tile powers are tweaked in a few places for balance. The monsters are mostly the same, and just as pesky as ever – the game is still hard to win! Personally I preferred the ghost theming but this fantasy medieval setting doesn’t get in the way, so all good.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
I love it. Brandon Kempf, Patrick Brennan
I like it.
Not for me…