A Post-Apocalyptic Adventure Game for 2-4 Players
Designed by Marek Mydel for Badger’s Nest Games €45-€50 for English first edition
Artists: Damian Bajowski Aleksander Karcz, Piotr Rossa, Michał Teliga
Being as this is a sort of Mad Max, Road Warrior, cyber-steam-punk game based on a Post-Apocalypse society and set in new Australia, the artwork is atmospherically dark and dangerous. To be personally honest, the artwork is amazing and is truly that good that if there was just a few more drawings of the quality found as box and booklet covers then it would be worth buying the game for the artwork itself. The Lord Humus card, for instance, is a wonderful example of the brilliance of the artist as well as an insight into his sense of humour (the character is sitting on a Game of Thrones style throne created from a huge cache of automatic weapons – absolutely scintillating.
Games take anything from an hour to three hours with a full complement of players, mainly taking an average between 90-120 minutes. There is no set board as the play area is created by laying hexagonal land tiles in accordance to the descriptions in the Mission Book. Missions are for 2-4 players though the greater description of play is of a two-player game – the Road to Gancraen. Other Missions are for 2+ or 3+ players: Savior of Waste (2+), There Can Be Only One (3+), Damsel in Distress (2+), Avengers (2+) and Cult of the Manifold (2+).
Missions are Time Limited, the time being marked by the number of Rounds not by Minutes. Each Mission also has its own setup, some variations on, or additions to, the general rules and of course specifically different Victory Conditions. Many of the Missions centre around the evil Cerebro MegaCorps and to battle on the side of good(ishness) the players have at their command the proud, strong and heroic, Waste Knights. Each game consists of one Mission (think of a Mission as a Scenario or Adventure) common to all players/Knights, and numerous personal separate trials and tasks. The player’s Knights are sent out exploring a fair portion of new, post Apocalypse Australia which is created by 37 hexagonal tiles (actually there is a 5 hex tile around which the other 32 single hex tiles are laid to form the play area) which depict City, Special and Normal terrain types.
When a hex that the Knight has to travel through has more than one Exploration action available it is up to the player to select just one of them, they may not perform more than one exploration per hex. The actions available may be a Special Action, Trade Action with the Stalls (cards on display) or a Resupply action which includes full healing. Knights have Gear cards at their call to help them through all manner of problems. These cards are stored in the Knight’s backpack or open faced on the Knight’s character sheet. The Gear cards represent things like weapons, armour, vehicles and a whole lot of other useful things and can be used or traded as well as switched between backpack and Knight sheet, however unless the player is on one of the game-legal steps (such as the Rest step) the Knight has to use a special effect..
City hexes are not named as such but they have recognisable buildings. On these players can Trade, Resupply and perform the occasional special action. Special hexes are unique locations for special actions and Normal hexes are as you would expect in the Waste; deserts, swamps, jungles, mountains, highways and can cause movement hazards and assists. For ease of separation, each type of hex is marked on the back with a map of Australia (Normal) an “S” (Special) and Ruins (City).
In some editions of the game the Waster Knights are represented by beautifully sculpted miniatures but in the regular version these characters are delightfully artistic cardboard flats held up by black plastic pinch-bases. Like so many of the games from Spiel 2015 Waste Knights is a 4X game (Exploit, Explore, Exterminate and Expand – in my case many of these are becoming up to 6X games as I add Exasperating, and Exciting; hastening to add that Waste Knights would be a 5X game adding Exciting (not Exasperating).
Each player needs a reasonable amount of space in front of them for their player area. This is where they display their Player Board, Knight Sheet, Cards, Markers and Vehicle Sheets etc. Here I should once again mention the comedic value of the game by noting the names of the hero characters the players can control. Naomi Vatt, the Mechanic; Nicole Killman, the Huntress; Mel Gearson, the Road Warrior; Michael Paine, the Urban Samurai; Chris Hammersworn, the Preacher; Hugh Jackal, the Tracker; Heat Leisure, the Cook; Geoffrey Goldrush, the Trader; Russel Crown, the Gladiator; Eric Bane, the Scientist; Guy Piercing, the Judge; Kate Blanksheet, the Stalker; and David Mayhem, the Mercenary. Each character is based on a similar card but with quite different weapons and abilities, ensuring that when you play regularly by using a different hero each time your games will always be diverse.
Game Rounds are split into two Phases – Preparation and Wasteland. These in turn are split into two steps. The Preparation Phase concerns, as you may have guessed, preparing the board and the Knights. The Wasteland Phase is where the players take their individual turns. To explore, the Knights can either move by foot or by vehicle, placing route tokens on the hexes they will pass through on their journey before they set out. The tokens are placed one per hex and no hexes may be missed in the route chain. On all hexes there is a movement points cost though some of these will be zero, hexes may also contain a fuel cost (required if a vehicle is in use) and/or Threat Icons. The Knights are up against an opponent, a Waster – each player takes on this role during play – who is a sort of evil dungeon-master as they command the bad dudes of the waste against the good Knights, ensuring that there is a fun, competitive edge to each Round.
The routes chosen by the players for their Knights to follow can lead them to meet other Knights and nothing, a fight or a trade can occur. Though this is not truly a cooperative game I like to think of Trading as Bargaining which seems a better and fairer name that Trading. Of course if you do trade with an opponent you should try to ensure that the deal is fair and kept. Whether using feet or a vehicle, each hex is resolved completely before the Knight moves on. Icons and cards can represent a new challenge whenever a hex border is crossed and travelling by vehicle has the added problem of fuel sufficiency – it is new Australia but it is also a decimated Australia so fuel is at a premium. The more hexes traversed the more likely cards will be available to the Waster to use against your Knight.
Naturally there is going to be combat, either between player’s Knights or the natural and unnatural enemies thrown up by the Waste and controlled by the current Waster. Cards, dice and Range all play a part in a conflict, as does Dominance and initiative. Reading through the combat rules for the first time you might think that they are over-complicated but like the complete book of rules itself they have been written so that all factors are accounted for and then simplified so that each fight lasts just three attacks by which time if nobody has won outright the Knight with the higher Dominance factor is declared the winner. It may look and sound like a lot of time is going to be lost over each fight but the combat actually takes just the right amount of time to be fun and resolved.
Throughout the game players are constantly being asked to make checks against various skills and abilities. Each of these checks is made by using the D10s and rolling higher or equal to the required target number. Each Check has a Difficulty level that are colour coded for speed; Green for Easy, Yellow are Challenging and Red are not going to be regularly successful.
The rules book is 36 pages from cover to cover of intense but well declared text interspersed with illustrations and examples. For what could be a complexity of sections, sub-sections, phases and steps, the rules are actually very well directed considering the amount of knowledge the author has to impart for the game to run smoothly. Once you have read through the rules and played your first game you will realise that the game is actually a lot easier (by which I mean less complicated rather than simple) to play than the 36 pages make it sound.
WASTE KNIGHTS is a long game, 90-180 minutes on the box and averaging 120 minutes with 4 players who know the rules and how to play. There is, of course, an amount of regularity in each turn, but unlike some other similarly long games players do not get the feeling of going through the motions; the different Missions, tasks and encounters ensure this, and that each game is different enough to keep it fresh.