Final Girl Review – 50% Gameplay, 50% Atmosphere

Nancy managed to kill Dr. Fright in his world of dreams. Her machetes were of tremendous help.

Final Girl has been getting a lot of press lately, and currently sits at a score of 8.6/10 on boardgamegeek, something rarely seen for a solo only game. With a record-breaking ongoing Kickstarter for Season 2 of Final Girl, which will bring more monsters and locations to the game, is this game worth all the hype?

In order to find out, I managed to get my hands on a copy of the game (Season 1 obviously), from a Kickstarter backer with second thoughts.

TL,DR: Final Girl is awesome, if you’re the right audience for it. In my case, it clicked perfectly. I’ve been having a blast playing it since I received the game, although I’m still on the fence about replayability, and I’m not entirely sure whether new villains will significantly help.

To start, Final Girl is a solo only board game, which is theme-heavy on horror slasher movies (and monsters for the upcoming season). I would say that for you to be a “valid” target for the game, you need to be interested in solo games, and you should have at least a bit of interest for the horror movie genre. Personally I wouldn’t say I’m “big” on horror, but I love movies, and I’ve watched enough horror movies to understand and appreciate the references in the game. That’s important, because in my opinion what makes a huge part of the fun for Final Girl is its theme and atmosphere.

Final Girl – The Gameplay

In Final Girl you play as a girl who has to run away from (and ultimately kill) a villain, typically a horror movie inspired killer.

On your turn, you move on the map, trying to get victims to escape safely (which grants you useful game bonuses), searching for objects in dedicated areas (weapons are nice), or, when you feel ready for it, attacking the bad guy. All these actions are performed with a hand of cards. Playing a card means discarding it (it won’t be accessible for your next turn), and often losing some “time”, which is the currency of the game. Once you’ve played all cards in your hand (or decided you want to keep some for your next turn), whatever remaining time you have is spent on new cards for your next turn.

Overview of the board

There’s a constant balance to find in the game between using time to “do” stuff, but also keeping it as a resource to get cards to use for the next turn. I’ve had turns with nothing to do because I couldn’t afford to buy any cards, and that didn’t end well for my character.

Once you’re done with your turn, the killer makes his move, typically killing some victims and/or moving closer to you and attacking you. As the killer murders innocents, his “bloodlust” counter increases, making his attacks even deadlier. On his turn, the killer typically plays two actions. The first one is going to be the same on each turn, but is killer specific. For example “kill a victim in my space, if there’s one”. The second action is determined by a randomized deck of cards, and here the effects vary wildly, from a simple attack, to more devastating effects that could instantly kill multiple victims.

Dice rolls and randomness

One of the issues people have with Final Girl is the randomness of the dice rolls, and of other elements such as the search piles.

It is true that depending on the scenario, finding a weapon (or other items) early in the game can make a huge difference. It is also true that a couple of bad dice rolls, especially early game, can change a bad situation into a terrible one.

With that being said, the game offers a lot of mitigation, first by allowing you to discard cards in some cases to transform a “failure” into a success, second with the horror track, which, under the right conditions, allows you to roll 3 dice instead of 2. Ultimately, there is some amount of strategy involved, whether it’s “purchasing” bad, cheap cards with the intent of throwing them away to mitigate dice rolls, or spending some time in early turn to reduce the horror level and increase your number of dice.

Don’t get me wrong, there is still a lot of randomness in the game. After about 10 hours of play, I’ve still had sessions that would end with a victory within 15 minutes, or a defeat at the flip of a terror card, just one turn before what looked like I was going to win. Having played somewhere between 10 and 20 sessions now, I can say that for me the randomness is a huge part of the fun. As many have stated before me, it’s part of the atmosphere to be one turn away from victory, only to see the killer was just waiting for you at the exit.

With two damage against two health remaining, your story ends here, Selena

But I need to emphasize once more that the randomness can be mitigated. There is a strategy to the game, which will depend on the killer, but it’s often doable to exchange movement for one life point, or being prepared for an attack of the killer by having the right counterattack cards in your hand.

Another thing I need to point out is how quickly the game plays once the setup is done, and once you know the rules. My sessions now last somewhere between 20 and 40 minutes. And it’s very different to lose at the very last moment in a 20 minutes “Final girl” game, than it would be to lose to a random event, for example in a 3h LOTR LCG game (if that has never happened to you, you need to be playing more LOTR LCG).

To rephrase, Final Girl is very much a game that is a bout the journey, much more than the destination. I don’t care if I lose, because the game is short, and super thematic. I can picture the gruesome demise of my character like in a campy horror movie, and I’ve enjoyed the 20 minutes I spent running away from the killer. The disappointment of losing is completely overshadowed by the fun I had playing.

Which brings me to a very important aspect of Final Girl:

Final girl – Theme, Art, and Atmosphere

As the title of this review says, Final girl to me is a game that is 50% gameplay, 50% atmosphere. The theme of slasher movies is very present in the game. I would say one good reason to turn away from this game is if the art, or, more generally, the theme of the game (horror/slasher movies) doesn’t appeal to you at all. Because in my opinion the gameplay alone is not going to compensate for that.

That’s not to say you have to be a horror movie expert to enjoy Final Girl. As far as I’m concerned, I only have a basic understanding of the tropes of the genre, and that was enough for me to really enjoy the game.

On the topic of Atmosphere, I’ve never found a game for me where the setting was so important. My most exciting sessions of Final girl were definitely played at night, with some horror movie tune playing in the background. I can’t stress enough how a good soundtrack has elevated the gameplay of this game for me.

And on the topic of Atmosphere, I want to compare Final Girl with another horror-themed game I know very well, Arkham Horror LCG. The comparison is weird because they’re very different games, but bear with me.

Final girl – compared to Arkham Horror LCG

A few reasons I want to compare these two games. First, they’re both horror games, with a huge emphasis on theme and atmosphere. Second, Arkham Horror LCG has been a Solo staple for years now, and, at least in my case, I often have to decide which solo game is going to see the table. As such, I feel it’s reasonable to compare Final girl and Arkham Horror LCG, for their horror theme and as solo games. Hopefully if you’ve played Arkham Horror LCG this comparison will also help you.

First of all on the theme of horror, I would say that Arkham LCG takes you by the hand to tell you the whole story. The theme, enemies, characters, are all described at length in the campaign paragraphs and on the cards. Although each story is very distinct from the others, eventually there’s little room for your own imagination. I feel like final Girl is almost the opposite of that. The game gives you a general theme (“you’re in a haunted house”, or “you’re in a quiet neighborhood, chased by a monster who kills people in their dreams”) but it’s then up to you to make up the story of how a specific character died, or what really happens between your character and the killer.

Arkham Horror LCG and Final Girl both drip with theme, but the way they introduce it to you is very different.

Arkham Horror LCG

From a gameplay perspective, in my experience, Arkham LCG is much more “brainy”. Taking actions for the turn, and seeing the overall strategy of a given mission requires careful thoughts. I’ve had Arkham Horror LCG scenarios that have lasted 2h, sometimes 3. I feel that overall Arkham LCG is a much more complex game, which, depending on my mood, works better for me sometimes. Final Girls feels much more like an “action oriented” game to me, where every turn I’m trying to react to what happened in the previous turn, when the killer threw a wrench in my plans. The game really gives me that feeling of frantically running around, trying to escape the killer while finding a solution.

At the end of the day, both games have a spot on my shelf, but depending on my mood I’ll choose one over the other. What I find interesting is that, for all its attempts at showing me “horrifying stuff”, Arkham Horror succeeds much less than Final Girl at sharing its theme with me. Probably because I get immersed more in the gameplay than the atmosphere, while Final girl manages (for me) to have an equal split between theme and gameplay.

Final girl – Replayability

I’ve loved my sessions of Final Girl so far. But I do have a concern on replayability. The game comes with tons of additional content: a total of 5 killers, 5 locations, and 10 “final girl” characters, which are pretty much interchangeable. With the 5 “feature film” boxes, one can imagine playing at least 25 different “scenarios” by mixing and matching killers and locations.

I have not actually tried the mix and match yet, but I don’t think that mechanism will dramatically expand replayability of the game. Although the killers do feel very specific (they all come with special rules that make them interesting and “fresh” to interact with), in my experience the different locations didn’t bring that much difference. The items that can be found there are similar from one location to another, in particular. The events, setup cards, and terror cards associated to a location all give nice little variations, but not enough (to me) that I would get the feeling to play something entirely new.

So, although I believe the different killers are worth it in themselves, I doubt the “mix and match” functionality of the game adds that much replay value to me.

With that being said, each killer feels different enough that I think it’s worth picking a few feature films for the themes you enjoy. I’ll definitely be backing the season 2 of Final Girl to get at least a couple new villains.

Final Girl Review – Conclusion

Sheila retaliates against Dr Fright’s attack, and destroys him for good!

Final Girl is a game like no other in my collection, dripping with theme, and with a fun action-oriented gameplay. I’m glad I got my hands on a copy of the game, and I’ll be backing season 2.

Whether the game is for you or not will depend on how much the theme attracts you. As far as gameplay is concerned, I was personally surprised at how much mitigation the game offers for bad dice rolls, and never felt unjustly punished. The game is short enough that a defeat is not as sour as it can be on a 3h long game. I’ve loved the time I’ve spent with Final Girl so far, and can’t wait to add new killers to my game sessions.

Games mentioned in this article

Arkham Horror Card Game
Check on Amazon (affiliate link)
The Lord of the Rings - LCG
Check on Amazon (affiliate link)
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