Posted on Wednesday, January 11th, 2017 by Jacob Hall
Welcome to Cardboard Cinema, a monthly feature that explores the intersection between movies and tabletop gaming. This column is sponsored by Dragon’s Lair Comics & Fantasy in Austin, Texas.
You know the scene: an isolated summer camp in an unspecified corner of the United States. You know the cast: a group of young camp counselors, all gathered for a summer of slacking off, getting stoned, and having sex. And you know the machete-wielding manic watching them from afar: he’s going to kill them all.
Welcome to Last Friday, a board game designed by Antonio Ferrara and Sebastiano Fiorillo and published by Ares Games. This is a hidden movement deduction game, where one player moves in secret and works against the rest of the players, who move in full sight of everyone at table. And while this is familiar concept, there’s a unique twist here: the player moving in secret wants to kill everyone else on the map.
Ki, Ki, Ki, Ma, Ma, Ma…
Last Friday is not a Friday the 13th game, per se. It’s not a licensed adaptation or an official product attached to one of the most famous horror franchises of all time. But at the same time, it’s totally a Friday the 13th game, borrowing that series’ imagery, concept, and ideas and running with them. Some may roll their eyes and call it a rip-off, an attempt to cash in on something familiar. Yeah, it is…and thematically, it’s perfect.
The slasher horror films of the ’80s, in which masked and deranged killers stalked overly attractive twenty-somethings playing teenagers, were built on a foundation of theft. If one movie did something that worked or struck a chord with audiences, a completely different production would take those elements and run with them. You say rip-off, they’d say borrow. These days, filmmakers like to break out “homage” or “tribute” because it sounds fancier. To appreciate the slasher movie landscape, you have to learn to appreciate how these movies cannibalized each other, to appreciate the minor tweaks filmmakers would embed into their shameless copy and paste jobs. Last Friday‘s utilization of familiar imagery feels like a cheeky nod to the genre as a whole. Accuse it of being a Friday the 13th rip-off because it’s about a vengeful killer stalking camp counselors, and imagine the creators shrugging and saying, “Hey, do you see any hockey masks? Is there anyone named Jason Voorhees? Totally original!” It’s part of the charm.
So it’s even more appropriate that Last Friday, as an actual tabletop game, borrows pretty shamelessly from other board games. Specifically, it borrows its core mechanics from Letters From Whitechapel, a bonafide board game classic where players take on the role of police officers hunting down Jack the Ripper through 19th century London. Last Friday cleverly reverses that game’s mechanics – instead of a team of players hunting down a killer, it’s built on a system where the killer hunts down a team of players. In true ’80s slasher movie rip-off mode, these minor tweaks barely mask the designers’ blatant theft, as anyone who has played Letters From Whitechapel will take one look at Last Friday‘s board and instantly understand how to play much of the game.
And yet, this is an area where it’s hard to even be remotely annoyed at Last Friday‘s blatant borrowing of familiar elements. Game design is all about iteration: a designer looks at what came before, takes what works, tweaks what doesn’t, and evolves mechanics into something smoother and different (if not always different). Letters From Whitechapel itself is built on a foundation created by Scotland Yard, a perfected version of an otherwise adequate game system. It’s in the spirit of board games and slasher cinema that Last Friday puts its hands in its pockets, whistles a little tune, takes from the best, and runs as fast as it possibly can.
The Rules of the Hunt
Last Friday‘s board depicts Camp Apache, a quaint summer camp in the middle of the wilderness where nothing could possibly go wrong. Except for the deranged maniac who has come back from the dead and plans to murder all of the camp counselors who have gathered this fateful night.
While the board looks complex at first glance, it’s fairly simple to navigate after a brief explanation. One player takes on the role of the killer and they track their movement on a piece of paper behind a large screen, far from the eyes of his opponents/victims. Everyone else plays camp counselors, whose pawns actually sit on the board and move in full view of everyone at the table. The camp counselor players can move on small circles that form various paths around the board while the maniac player moves from one numbered space to another. Learning which routes are faster for each kind of player (and which choke points to utilize or avoid) is key. And yes, this is the exact movement mechanic introduced in Letters From Whitechapel, almost completely untouched.
Last Friday is played over four “chapters,” which can also be tackled as individual sessions. In the first chapter, the camp counselor players need to find the keys to their cabins while the maniac stalks them, whittling their numbers down one-by-one. In chapter two, the counselors turn the tables on the maniac and attempt to hunt him and down and kill him for the events of the first chapter. In chapter three, the maniac is once again on the hunt, this time searching for the “predestined” player, a sort of “final girl” (or guy!) that he must kill in order to win the game. And in the final chapter, the predestined player must end things once and for all and kill the maniac who has been giving them so much trouble.
There are other important mechanics to know, like how the maniac player can kill a counselor by crossing over their space, removing an opponent from the board but also revealing to the table their approximate position, arming everyone else with precious information about their whereabouts. Both sides are armed with various special abilities – campers can plant lanterns to expose a stealthy maniac, leave bear traps lying around to slow his progress, and strap on running shoes to move a little faster. The maniac can use an axe to smash open the counselor’s cabins, play a “plot twist” to take an extra turn, or use an “invisible” token to mysteriously vanish from sight. Much like Letters From Whitechapel (get used to hearing that a lot), knowing when to make use of your limited special abilities is key.
However, Last Friday does introduce one intriguing wrinkle to its borrowed core mechanics: depending on the chapter, the manic must reveal his current position or his position from a few turns ago every three moves. The “crap your pants” feeling of realizing that the maniac could literally be right next to you is unique and greases every panicky decision with palm sweat.