Fan-made The Last of Us board game is an astonishing tabletop tribute to the video games
If you can’t wait for The Last of Us’ official board game to release, a fan has created a seriously impressive tabletop adaptation of the hit survival-horror video games.
Walt Carlson’s The Last of Us Board Game puts up to four players in the boots of Ellie, Joel, Riley, Dina, Abby, Lev and other main characters from The Last of Us, its standalone expansion Left Behind and 2020 sequel The Last of Us Part II.
Rather than taking place during a fixed point in the video games’ multi-year timeline, the fan-made board game spans the entire series, including both competitive and cooperative scenarios. Each half-hour to 90-minute scenario has a different map layout, unique rules and win conditions.
Each character has an alliance with one of the factions found in the post-apocalyptic world, from the Fireflies and residents of Jackson to the Seraphites (also known as Scars) and WLF encountered in Part II, allowing the same characters to appear in multiple forms. In place of artwork from the video games, the board game features gorgeous original illustrations of the characters and locations by Carlson.
The playable characters can also be aided by allies from each faction who appear as additional figures on the board. Each player controls their character, allies and two or more enemies.
On top of characters and places from the existing video games by developer Naughty Dog, the board game includes a set based on Carlson’s own concept for an as-yet unannounced The Last of Us 3 that includes an older Ellie, an original character called Camila, a new type of infected known as the Spreader and a map board depicting a New Mexican settlement.
“Players can play as TLOU Ellie affiliated with the Fireflies, TLOU II Ellie affiliated with Jackson and TLOU III Ellie affiliated with no Faction, all at the same time,” Carlson told Dicebreaker. “Depending on the scenario, they could then attack each other. The magic of board games!”
The board game follows The Last of Us’ focus on survival-horror gameplay, with players needing to carefully manage ammo and resources collected around the map to avoid or eliminate enemies without attracting too much attention and becoming overwhelmed. Players can use resource cards collected by defeating enemies, searching spaces on the board and visiting their base to craft helpful equipment with limited uses, including health kits and molotovs, plus gun silencers and upgrades to melee weapons.
“There are two aspects of the board game that I think connect most closely to the video games: crafting and movement,” Carlson said. “In the board game, resources are scarce and you have to weigh the cost and benefit of crafting one item over another.”
Like the video games, players can encounter different types of infected that move and attack in unique ways - from fast-moving Runners and Stalkers to tough Shamblers and the terrifying Clickers. Creating noise by moving too quickly can put enemies into an alert mode, requiring the player to run away or find a hiding spot by spending movement cards or rolling a die - which risks alerting enemies by moving too far.
As well as infected, players can also come up against other human characters, who come with the added threat of randomly assigned weapons - meaning that players may need to handle a close-range foe with a baseball bat one moment, before dodging blasts from a shotgun the next.
"I wanted players to have the flexibility to play the game how they would have the most fun while still offering a good challenge," Carlson said.
A set of expansions introduce additional characters, places and enemies to the base game. The first expansion includes The Last of Us Part II’s fearsome Rat King boss, encountered in three unique forms on boards inspired by its hospital basement lair. Another expansion focuses on Bill, the survivor met by Joel and Ellie in the first Last of Us game, who appears as an extra playable character with unique abilities, items and an additional map board.
"I really like the Rat King," said Carlson. "It’s super difficult to kill, both because it’s very strong and because it splits into two infected figures midway through. I wanted to capture the feeling of a seemingly-impossible challenge, and it’s one of the very few infected with a ranged attack."
Carlson started work on the fan-made The Last of Us Board Game last summer, giving updates on the game’s creation and evolution on Instagram.
While an official The Last of Us board game was previously announced in late 2020 by Zombicide and Blood Rage publisher CMON (a release date is still yet to be revealed), Carlson says: “I didn’t realise there was an official board game until someone on Reddit asked me about it - I think the extent of my prior research was searching Amazon. I was a bit anxious that CMON would reveal more details before I could release my version and it would look like I was copying them, but I seem to be in the clear at this point! I’m excited to see the CMON board game, for the record.”
Carlson said that The Last of Us Board Game originally featured a listening mechanic - taking inspiration from Ellie’s ability to listen for enemies’ movement in the video game - and randomised infected and item cards, but it ended up “a lot more convoluted” than the final design.
“It was immediately apparent that it wouldn't be fun to play and would be a huge pain to set up,” the designer said. “When I was trying to think of a better way to handle what I wanted to do, I remembered seeing the Kickstarter for the Horizon: Zero Dawn board game and that they had an enemy movement mechanic - so I used that as a jumping-off point. (The enemies in the TLOU board game move and act differently than in H:ZD.) I also used the health mechanic from my previous game, Go Alone, for the enemies. And I really wanted the board to both have a path that players would follow (like 221B Baker Street) and for that path to be different from game-to-game (which is not like 221B Baker Street), which is why there are faction boards and infected boards that can be set up in a variety of ways.
“I wasn’t super into the hobby when I started making the game, so I didn’t have very many points of reference. It’s like Parks, if the hikers were all trying to kill each other.”
Carlson’s fan-made The Last of Us Board Game will be made free to download later today, May 16th, via its Instagram page. The print-and-play game includes dozens of cards, boards, standee figures, character boards, tokens, reference sheets and a full rulebook, plus custom storage boxes for the various components.
Following the game’s release, Carlson hopes to add additional sets of infected based on the Jackson, Seraphite and Firefly factions to the Seattle and Santa Barbara infected variants in the board game “at some point”.
Later this year, the designer will release a separate single-player board game inspired by The Last of Us called Every Last One of Them. Carlson described the standalone solo game focused on Ellie as being faster and simpler to play than The Last of Us Board Game, with far fewer cards and boards - all of which will feature brand new artwork. The game’s release on September 26th will be followed by a two-player expansion focused on Abby called At Any Cost, which is planned for release in winter 2022 or spring 2023.