Maximum Apocalypse, as a whole, is more than just a single game. It’s a series of core boxes and expansions that are cross-compatible. Until recently, actually taking a dive into the universe could prove confusing for newcomers.
It wasn’t clear where to start, and there were some questionable issues when attempting to add more expansions to the fold. For example, a few key rules for one expansion are found in a totally unrelated expansion. It was a pain. I should know because after getting a taste of Maximum Apocalypse when I reviewed Wasted Wilds, I had to have it all. It became one of my favorite games of all time, so these are issues I experienced firsthand.
You can find a video version of this review on YouTube!
That’s where the new second editions come in. They feature some much-needed consolidation and a few key tweaks. One tweak is the excellent streamlining that falls in line with Wasted Wild’s updated rule sets. These second-edition games are totally stand-alone. So while they are compatible with Maximum Apocalypse products as a whole, you can pick up just one of them and have everything you need to play.
The second editions are aimed at new players, not people like me who already had everything. That means I’ll be coming at this review from two perspectives. A fresh-faced player looking for an awesome new co-op game, and someone who can make comparisons between the old and new editions as well as Wasted Wilds.
If you don’t know. Maximum Apocalypse is a co-op game about completing missions amid a variety of apocalypses that seem to occur all at once. Alien Invasions, Vampire Infestations, and Kaiju Attacks are all on the table. It can played as part of a campaign or just some one-shot missions. Most importantly, it features some of the easiest setup for that type of game I’ve ever seen. All without sacrificing the kind of depth I always hope for when I crack open a new game.
|Gideon’s Bias||Maximum Apocalypse Information|
|Review Copy Used: Yes||Publisher: Rock Manor Games|
|Number of plays: 30+||Designers: Mike Gnade|
|Player Counts Played: All||Player Count: 1-5|
|Fan of Genre: Yes||Genre: Co-op, Survival, Hand Management|
|Fan of Weight: Yes||Weight: Medium|
|Gaming Groups Thoughts: Loved It||Price: $80 Each|
Both games come with a variety of thick tiles, plastic miniatures, health dials, dice, books, cards, and tokens. All of these are excellent quality and feature awesome artwork that has a consistent style across the entire Maximum Apocalypse catalog. The miniatures are new to the 2nd edition, the original games only had standees. Mini’s were introduced in Wasted Wilds, and these 2nd editions follow in its footsteps.
Maximum Apocalypse comes with six characters while Gothic Horrors comes with five. Each one has its own mini, health dial and deck of cards. I do want to note that Gothic Horrors is actually a culmination of several of the game’s original expansions. It consists of Gothic Horrors, Jurassic Perils, Allies of the Rapture, and Kaiju Rising. Combining the four into one box was an excellent move, even if Dinosaurs and Kaiju are somewhat out of place amid the Gothic Horror theme.
That said it’s important to be aware that even if you own the trinity, Wasted Wilds, Maximum Apocalypse, and Gothic Horrors, you still won’t own everything. The following expansions are still separate. The Few and the Cursed, The Time Traveler, and finally, Bugpocalypse. There was likely no way to consolidate the remaining expansions while maintaining a reasonable price point, but it could make things painful for newcomers. That said Gothic Horrors second edition does lesson that pain a great deal.
As I mentioned before, setting up Maximum Apocalypse is relatively fast. Once you sort the tiles. You shuffle the ones you need, then place them facedown to form the map. Then you simply shuffle a couple of decks, that’s it. The originals had a more clunky process by requiring you to piece together separate scavenge decks for each mission. These Second Editions have preset scavenge decks that never change. It’s a key improvement taken from Wasted Wilds and one of the core reasons the game is so easy to manage.
Maximum Apocalypse is also straightforward to learn. The second edition rulebooks offer a great deal more clarity than the originals, such as a consolidated glossary of terms and keywords from all expansions, regardless of whether or not they came in the box.
Maximum Apocalypse is by far the least clunky campaign game I’ve ever played. While most campaign games take ages to set up, Maximum Apocalypse is relatively quick and has very little cumbersome overhead once you are actually playing. Each box comes with some great inserts and additional organization aids, and while they help, the game’s elegance is the main factor behind its easy setup and painless administration.
Something I appreciate about Maximum Apocalypse is how it blends together just the right amount of seriousness and humor. Unlike most Apocalyptic settings, the game is full of color. And while it rarely ventures into full slapstick territory, plenty of card interactions end up creating entertaining situations to imagine. Such as the time that I, as the Scientist ended up transforming a whole bunch of dinosaurs into robots.
Your objectives vary between missions, but you can always count on two things. You will be exploring tiles that represent locations, and fighting off something that wants to kill you. Additionally, you also have to keep yourself fed, and in Gothic Horrors, you have a ticking clock that activates events and could expose you to Madness conditions.
Every turn you have four actions. You can move around the map, scavenge locations for loot, draw cards, and of course, play cards or activate cards.
The four-action system offers you a ton of flexibility about how you play each turn, and there are always plenty of choices to make. At the start of each player’s turn they either roll dice or draw from the spawn deck to determine monster spawns. If a player occupies a tile with the number rolled or drawn, they draw a monster. Otherwise, monster tokens are placed on the matching numbered tiles, and players will have to either sneak past them or draw monsters when they run into those tokens.
Monsters can have a variety of abilities, and if you have more than one, they activate from left to right. While most monsters focus on the character they are attached to, others have ranges. A short-range monster will attack all players on its tile. A medium-range monster will attack all players in its tile and orthogonally adjacent tiles, while a long-range monster can target players even farther, but not its own tile.
Player ranges also play by these rules, so you can attack or affect monsters attached to another player if they are in range of your ability.
There are always several factors to consider. Your objectives, the monsters, or tokens in play, how hungry everyone is, and a lot more. Locations can be scavenged for items, food, ammo, and more, and many scenarios require you to stockpile one or more resources. In addition to dying, you can also lose if too many monster tokens enter play or if you run out of cards. There’s a heavy degree of resource and action management, but it flows gracefully, is easy to understand, and always offers you a ton of agency with your approach.
The options at your disposal vary wildly depending on what character you’re playing. They all have their own decks of cards with playstyles that differ to such an extent that anytime any specific character isn’t being played, you will feel their absence.
The Dirty Almost Dozen
Between both boxes, there are eleven characters to choose from. Maximum Apocalypse comes with The Surgeon, Fireman, Gunslinger, Mechanic, Veteran, and Hunter.
Gothic Horrors on the other hand comes with The Priest, Ronin, Ranger, Scientist, and Adventurer. Every character has their own approach to dealing with the game’s core mechanisms, from exploring to combat. They all have a place on the team and contribute in different ways.
Many classes have two variant characters to choose from that dictate their health, sneak skill, and usually an ability. Each class also has an entire deck of cards dedicated to them. It’s hard to overstate just how different each one feels, and how impactful it can be to have them on the team, even if it’s someone else playing them.
Healing damage, for example, is exceptionally rare unless the Surgeon is around. Anytime they aren’t, you will adjust how you play, and that’s true for most characters. Something I mention a lot about the characters in Maximum Apocalypse is that you not only feel their presence but also their absence. That’s something I’ve never really experienced in a game before, not even with Gloomhaven or Frosthaven.
It’s not that the Surgeon is required to succeed, they aren’t, and someone taking the Surgeon means you will still feel a hole left behind by a different character that they didn’t choose. It’s that you always miss a character that’s not in play, for one reason or another.
The Mechanic, for example, can amplify everyone’s effectiveness by upgrading their weapons, and they can use Jump Start a Car to move them across the map in an instant.
The Hunter can be an expert at revealing the map or gathering important scavenge cards such as food or fuel. When monsters need to die, the Gunslinger can gun them down, while the Ranger provides long-range cover. If there’s a situation where you really need a specific card but are worried that digging for it might deck you out. The Scientist has you covered with Chemical Reaction which refills your deck. Plus if the monsters are too big and scary they can always mutate them into something else entirely.
While they all have their strong and weak points, there isn’t a character in the game that I’m disappointed to see on the team. Each one causes a paradigm shift in the entire table’s playstyle, and that’s pretty impressive to me.
A Monsterous Personality
Characters aren’t the only ones with differences, each monster set brings a variety of challenges to the table. Aliens, for example, like to burn your cards, which makes you discard cards from your deck. If the Cthulu set monsters don’t eat you first, they will probably make you go insane from madness conditions. The Yokai have a habit of dealing damage back to you, while the Dinosaurs tend to be rather big, stompy, and prone to stampeding. Heck, for the Kaiju, you need to seek out giant robot suits to fight them with.
The way monsters and the combat are designed lends itself well to team play. For example, the other day I was playing the Veteran, and my partner was absolutely swarmed with zombies. Monster tokens may roam the map, but the monsters themselves don’t, they travel with whoever they are attached to. The only way she could survive was by moving to a Shelter, which made her immune to damage until her next turn as long she didn’t start on the Shelter.
The Veteran has a Mortar that can be used to clear tokens. However, it also has a very potent attack that I rarely get to use because it deals five damage to everything on the tile, other players included. With her being immune to damage while hiding in the shelter, I was able to wipe out the entire horde that was attached to her. That felt good, and it was thematic to boot. One survivor finds cover while an ally in the distance decimates the approaching zombie horde with a hail of mortar strikes. There’s probably a TV trope for it.
Another strong point of the game’s design is how it follows a line of thematic logic for its actions and cards. Most abilities in the game make some kind of sense within the game’s universe. That makes Maximum Apocalypse even more mechanically satisfying and helps make certain rules and cards easier to understand when you view them through the lens of what’s actually happening in the game’s pretend universe.
It can also lead to funny circumstances that never quite feel out of place in the game. For example, I had a friend who was playing a character from Wasted Wilds called the Bee Keeper. The Bee Keeper has a woodchipper card. She, at one point, managed to shove a T-Rex into the woodchipper, which made the entire table burst out laughing. That type of thing happens a lot in Maximum Apocalypse, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Modularity & Nitpicking
One of the best things about Maximum Apocalypse is just how modular it is. Any map layout shown in the mission books are a mere suggestion. You can make the maps take whatever form you wish. This also means that if you ever grow tired of the missions included in the game, creating your own is actually really simple. Come up with a few objectives, pick what monster sets you want to use, what tiles to include, and lay out the map. It’s that easy.
That said, while monster sets can greatly vary in how much challenge they provide, much of the challenge is actually dependent on the mission’s design. One issue I tend to run into is simply winning a bit too easily. There aren’t a whole lot of levers you can pull to adjust the difficulty. This is especially true if you don’t have the old versions of the game, which had some additional bad cards you could add to the scavenge decks. Being a reviewer, I’m in the unique position of having both, but most people won’t.
You can still adjust the difficulty. It just takes a bit more elbow grease and perhaps some creativity.
Finally, I have some nit-picky issues that are only going to apply if you either already have Wasted Wild’s, or plan to get both. Given that these second editions follow the streamlined features that first appeared in Wasted Wilds, I was expecting a little more to be updated. For example, everything is cross-compatible, and you can use the Exposure system found in Wasted Wilds, and now Gothic Horrors in original missions that originally did not feature them.
Basically, some tiles are indoors, and protect you from exposure. I had expected the indoor tiles in Maximum Apocalypse to have the indoor symbol on them, to match Gothic Horrors and Wasted Wilds, but they do not.
Some troublesome wording has been left in place as well. When a player encounters two instances with the same keyword, but different wording, the player assumes the designer had a different intent. I run into this issue all the time with new players when it comes to the ranges. In Wasted Wilds, the rules dictate that a monster attacks all players in range, if it has a range. It’s just the rule.
So, for example. The Mammoth card from Wasted Wilds simply reads, short range. However, cards featured in Maximum Apocalypse and Gothic Horrors 2nd edition read short range: Deal Damage to All Players in Range.
The rule is the same, but because one card specifies it and the other doesn’t, people I have played with have assumed that it only applies to the cards that specify it. It’s by far the rules misconception I have had to clear up the most, and I’m definitely bummed out that the 2nd edition cards don’t follow Wasted Wilds’s format of simply removing the extra wording.
Beyond that, there was the occasional error. The second mission, for example, had me searching for a Scientist scavenge card during setup that does not exist. It was a holdover from the first edition version of the mission that was apparently missed. Finding errors like that is always a bummer.
Maximum Apocalypse is still one of the best games I’ve played. That’s especially true when it comes to co-op games as I am notoriously picky about them. In addition to everything else I love about the game, Maximum Apocalypse has some natural barriers to alpha gaming that tend to plague co-op games. Just by nature of how much is happening, how different each character’s cards are, and the four-action system. Maximum Apocalypse is far less vulnerable to it.
Second Edition simply cleans up a lot of the mess that bogged down the original Maximum Apocalypse and Gothic Horrors, while also making Gothic Horrors able to be enjoyed standalone. This means a few things. First of all, my feelings on the game remain unchanged, Maximum Apocalypse is simply brilliant.
When it comes to the second edition specifically, there are some caveats. If, like me, you already owned everything related to Maximum Apocalypse. The Second Edition is almost worthless to you unless you really want to fork over 80$ a box just for the minis. I myself even feel a little bad about the fact that I asked Rock Manor Games to send me the second editions and that they kindly obliged. Simply because, well, I already owned everything that comes in those boxes aside from the miniatures.
The thing is. The second editions weren’t made for people like me in the first place. They were made to make the onboarding process a bit easier on new players with cheaper starting points and more refined rules. In that regard, they succeed quite well.
So, if you are new to Maximum Apocalypse, you have three equally viable starting points. Honestly, there is no wrong answer to which one you choose. Maximum Apocalypse, Gothic Horrors, and Wasted Wilds all offer a great variety of missions, enemies, and characters. However, I would personally recommend Wasted Wilds. It brings a few new features to the game that are backward compatible should you decide to expand with more Maximum Apocalypse goodies later on.
Regardless, second edition or otherwise. Maximum Apocalypse as a whole, is an utterly fantastic game that I highly recommend checking out. I’m giving my Golden Shield award to both, Maximum Apocalypse and Gothic Horrors 2nd edition.
The cardholders I use in my reviews are courtesy of InfinitionsTabletop on Etsy
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