This is a guest post from Matt Kiser.
Laurie Strode. Nancy Thompson. Ginny Field.
These are the heroines in whose footsteps you run when Final Girl is on the table. For the uninitiated, the final girl is the last one standing at the end of a horror movie. The term, first used by film scholar Carol J. Clover, refers to a cinematic trope where a lone female protagonist survives a terrifying bloodbath, having escaped (maybe even defeated) the movie’s murderous villain.
Final Girl is a solo game that places you in the role of the final girl in a horror film, fighting to survive the relentless onslaught of a homicidal foe dealing death across a specific location. The game system itself is unique in that there are multiple “feature films” that can be mixed and matched to create dozens of killer and location combinations. Each feature film box contains a killer with differing behaviors and mechanisms as well as a location featuring a map with distinct gameplay and rules. A single core box contains the basic components used in each game of Final Girl, but at least one feature film box is required to actually sit down and play.
Final Girl is a thematic hand management and dice rolling game for 1 survivor that plays in about 30-60 minutes (or 90 minutes, if you take your sweet time like me; or maybe even 15 minutes if the dice betray you and you get murdered quick).
You begin setup for a game of Final Girl by choosing which killer you’ll face and the location where your epic showdown will take place. As mentioned before, multiple scenarios are possible as any killer can be paired with any location. So, if you want to pit your heroine against Hans the Butcher (think Jason Voorhees, but with an iron pig mask and a sledgehammer) at
Camp Crystal Lake Camp Happy Trails, you’re ready to play out an entry in a certain 1980s slasher franchise. However, if you’d prefer to mix it up, you can have Hans stalk you through the nightmarish suburban setting of Elm Street Maple Lane.
Once you’ve got the villain and location picked out, you’ll need to choose a final girl to play as. Each feature film box contains two playable characters, adding even more variability as every final girl has her own stats and abilities.
The gameplay features a card-driven action selection system where the degree of success of a chosen action is determined by die rolls. On your turn, you’ll (usually) spend time as a resource when playing action cards that allow you to do things like move, search for items, or attack the killer. You then roll the dice to find out how successful you are. For instance, when trying to move, you might be able to move 2 spaces, 1 space, or none at all. There is a bit of luck mitigation available, though, in that one of the die faces allows you to discard two action cards from your hand to convert them into a single success.
Final Girl oozes theme like blood dripping from a razor-sharp machete. For fans of slasher films, there are plenty of nods to the genre that bring to mind the greatest hits of those ‘80s gorefests. But broader horror tropes also abound in Final Girl, with ghosts and crucifixes and werewolves popping up here and there. I think the game works best when treated as a storytelling adventure, where you narrate the events in your head as they develop through your choices and the cards that come out. Are you just playing a card to reduce damage from the killer’s attack? No, your final girl managed to grab a broken, gnarled branch from the ground just in time to fend off a brutal stab from the maniac wielding a chef’s knife. Event and Terror cards throw your heroine some thematic curves, crafting the tabletop game equivalent of jump scares and gruesome death blows.
Final Girl is a tough game. Which is thematically appropriate since it’s pretty hard to make it out of a horror movie alive. You will likely suffer a few losses as the killers are brutal and the dice are cruel. You’ll be relying on Lady Luck to guide your terror-fueled race to save victims and defeat the killer. While I do have a lot of fun trying to help my final girl survive, the fact that the dice ultimately decide her fate, no matter how well-thought-out my plan is, can be a little deflating. It’s fairly frustrating to have a solid game plan for survival get trashed just because the dice didn’t give you the successes you needed to move out of harm’s way.
In addition to the dice, the Terror, Item, and Event cards inject quite a bit of randomness into the game. For instance, a flipped Terror card might result in an unexpected savage attack from the killer or a treacherous change to the landscape. While I don’t normally enjoy games that feel too luck dependent, Final Girl manages to remain engaging and fun for me because of the theme and the strength of the game’s other mechanisms. The odds are stacked against final girls in the movies, so I’m a little more forgiving of the cruelty of fate here.
For me, one of the standout features of the gameplay is the method for choosing which actions are available to you on a given turn. Between rounds, you can buy action cards from the market using leftover time from your previous turn. There’s a balancing act between spending that time on your turn to fuel action cards and leaving some in your back pocket to purchase stronger cards for the next turn. It’s important to plan carefully so that you have the right cards in hand when you make your move. In order to sprint over to the dock and scrounge up an axe to defend yourself with, you’ll need to have purchased the necessary movement and search cards in preparation. The tough decisions, impossible conditions, and stressful moments all work together to make Final Girl feel tense and exciting. Just like a good horror flick.
Final Girl does an excellent job of distilling the feel of trying to survive a horror movie into a solo tabletop game. It’s best when you get into it and play out the events of the game as a film plot in your mind. The luck of the dice and card draws can have devastating effects, so it’s important to keep in mind that you’ll be unfairly murdered by some maniac more times than you’d like. But the game’s excitement, variability, and thematic immersiveness make Final Girl a solid solo experience. Especially if you’re a horror fan.
Final Score: 4 Stars – Tense, thematic solo horror experience packed with menacing killers and chilling locations.
• Immersive slasher/horror theme
• High variability from feature films
• Action card system rewards planning
• Bad luck removes agency
• Good luck removes the challenge
• Where’s the Halloween feature film?
About the Author: While Matt prefers worker placements, engine builders, and heavier Euros in general, he’s lately found himself drawn more and more to immersive thematic games. He does a lot of solo gaming and enjoys solo modes that feature a strong AI or bot that can effectively emulate human opponents’ choices.
If you treat the game as a story it entertains whether you win or lose and and that final ‘life’ certainly adds suspense. Totally thematic.