As someone who unironically uses the word "rad" in conversation I need to be careful with its application. I can't quite use it to describe Radlands. Do you realize how much restraint that takes? The taglines write themselves! This is the games-writer equivalent of a day off!
But no. Radlands is just ok. I want to lead off with the opinion because I'm going to gripe a fair bit, but I want to be clear that the game is by no means bad. As far as lane battlers go you could do worse. Or better. That's kind of the problem. See, in a vacuum Radlands is perfectly fine, but as someone who plays a lot of comparable games I just don't think it does enough to justify keeping it. I'm now going to rattle off a few things that bothered me, as well as mention some other games that do those things a bit better.
Oh quick aside: don't think of this as a review. I'd need to play Radlands way more to actually review it proper. This is more an impression after a couple games and why I don't want to put in the time. There's a chance I'd warm up to it more if I did, but I don't wanna and Cindy super doesn't.
CAMPS: I like the camps in theory. 3 super powerful abilities to shape your plays? Sure! But drawing 6 and keeping 3 is far from the most interesting way to do that, and pretty often you'll end up just selecting 3 that are reasonably efficient as opposed to a cool combo. When the cool combos do show up they tend to steamroll, overpowering the normal side of the table. If there was some kind of draft or ability for players to have agency here I'd be kinder to it, but as it stands it's a bit weak.
What does it better: Constructed/psuedo constructed games. I know this is a bit apples and oranges, but even self-contained games with a construction phase make for a much more satisfying start. GKR, Imperium: The Contention, literally any LCG/CCG with identities/characters, you get the gist.
CENTRAL DECK: This is supposed to be a benefit but it doesn't feel like one. To be frank, I think the deck is boring here. The card effects are often impactful, but because of the 1-turn delay most of the time they all end up feeling muted as mitigation is readily available while damage isn't. God help you if you just don't pull damage cards, then you're in for a constant poke 'n' block while you await lucky pulls or a shuffle. It isn't even attritional, it's just kinda limp.
What does it better: Plenty. Innovation (really any Chudyk game), Time Barons, Omen, I could go on but I won't. Cards need to do things!
SETTING/THEMING: I want to be careful with this one. The presentation of Radlands is gorgeous. Incredible art, great components that only improve functionality, attractive packaging with minimal waste. With all that said, I feel absolutely zero post-apoc theming here and I'm typically someone who gets into the "story" of games very easily. Maybe this ties into the lack of splashy effects, but every card just feels like an effect on a stick and not a character. It lacks personality.
What does it better: 51st State, somehow! Despite being a resource conversion game it has an interesting arc, with each player's tableau developing and raids taking out key pieces. You feel more invested there. Also there are several ameritrash-adjacent post-apoc games but that feels like cheating.
ZONES: This is getting into the weeds a bit but did this game need so many zones? Playing it without the playmat suuuuucks. The lanes are manageable, but the event queue and raider/water tower sections feel almost vestigial (despite the queue actually being pretty cool mechanically). I'd have preferred just removing time tokens, taking an action to put a black water token into my supply for later, anything to not have 3 more zones messing with legibility. It feels like the playmats are almost required for your first games and that's a bit crap when the game most (?) people will play won't have them.
What does it better: N/A
LANES: Why can cards attack the frontmost in whatever lane regardless of where they are? Why have lanes at all then? I understand it matters for defense later in the game but it barely comes up for the first half, aside from defending whichever camp is your favorite. This is the nitpickiest of the gripes but it never stopped standing out to me that your lanes barely matter to you, only to your opponent.
What does it better: Fight for Olympus, Omen again (weird how that keeps coming up), Air Land & Sea, Schotten Totten, Summoner Wars 2nd Edition if you just want to see positioning done well as opposed to "lanes" specifically.CONCLUSION
Man I dunno, I guess I'm just disappointed. I feel a bit alone on not vibing with this like so many folks I normally see eye to eye with. I don't doubt its competitive viability and that it's been well developed, but I can't pretend I care for what's on offer here. Dang.
You disappointed with this outro? So am I! I guess mediocrity loves company. Sorry about that. Next writeup will be more exciting.
I put the words about games in the box and hit publish. Opinions and strong takes abound!
12 Jan 2022
- [+] Dice rolls