Wasted Wilds is a stand-alone entry into the Maximum Apocalypse universe. Maximum Apocalypse is a setting for when one Apocalypse is simply not enough. The world didn’t end through one disaster, but many. Killer Robots, alien invasions, zombie pandemics, and pretty much anything else you can think of are a part of Maximum Apocalypse.
You can find a video version of this review on my YouTube Channel!
Wasted Wilds is a co-op game that places you in the role of very unique character classes as you work together to complete various missions while also not starving to death. It’s compatible with other Maximum Apocalypse titles and expansions but Wasted Wilds is also a fully complete game itself.
Wasted Wilds is my first experience with Maximum Apocalypse, so I’ll be coming at it with a fresh perspective. I’m notably picky when it comes to co-op games so Wasted Wilds had high expectations to live up to.
|Gideon’s Bias||Wasted Wilds Information|
|Review Copy Used: Yes||Publisher: Rock Manor Games|
|Number of Plays: 10+||Designers: Mike Gnade|
|Player Counts Played: 2 & 4||Player Count: 1-5 (Box says 1-4)|
|Fan of Genre: Yes||Genre: Co-op, Survival, Hand Management|
|Fan of Weight: Yes||Weight: Medium|
|Gaming Groups Thoughts: Loved It||Price: $80|
Wasted Wilds has really great quality components, but it’s not simply because they look or feel good. Don’t get me wrong, the game has fantastic artwork, great-looking tokens, and solid tiles. However, the most impressive aspect of the game’s bits and bobs is how well they integrate into the game itself.
You see, you can play a game of Wasted Wilds as a one-off session. But you can also play it as a campaign. If you want some light legacy elements, you can even download the optional legacy rules and sheets. No matter how you choose to play it, you can do so extremely easily thanks to how intuitively Wasted Wilds is designed.
I love campaign games. But on game night, they get passed over quite often because of how long they take to set up and how slow it is to switch between missions. That’s not the case here. When you first open up Wasted Wilds, it instructs you on how to organize the game using the excellent inserts and once that’s done, it’s a breeze.
Each built-in campaign uses a set of 24 tiles, these tiles are all the same shape and size. To build a map, you simply mix them up and place them facedown. You can pretty much make any map shape you want, each mission will give you a few examples but it’s pretty free form.
It will restrict you on where to place a few key tokens, they usually have to be a certain distance from the starting tile. But beyond that, the map can take whatever form you wish. The token trays will already be ready to go after the initial organization and all that’s left is to shuffle a few sets of cards.
I highly doubt there’s any other game of the same weight, size, and depth as Wasted Wilds that are as easy to set up, play, and switch between missions, it’s brilliant.
Beyond that, you get a handful of character standees and miniatures that look great. Some six-sided dice, a clock board, and some health dials. My sole complaint is that the health dials don’t fit together as tightly as I would like, which means the spinners are a little loose. If you bump them, they may move a bit so you have to be careful.
For the most part, Wasted Wilds is an excellent example of a game using its components to improve its design for more than just simple window dressing. Wasted Wilds has function and form, and it’s a better game for it.
The core of Wasted Wilds involves cards, lots of them. Five unique characters come with the game, and each one has its own deck of cards. Their playstyles vary drastically from one another. The Contractor is a tanky construction worker that can block monster spawns, the Driver on the other hand can help the team get around while laying down a bunch of gunfire.
The Chef can help keep the team fed, the Bee Keeper has an array of animal friends, and the Thief is great at sneaking around and pickpocketing supplies. Each character has strengths and weaknesses, and it encourages you to work together with other players.
You have four actions each turn that allow you to play cards, move around the map, scavenge supplies, negotiate with tribes, or draw more cards. Some cards are instant, which has an immediate effect. Others are gear cards, which have to be equipped to your character. You can only have so many gear cards equipped at a time.
The mix of action and card management works very well. You always have a variety of options at your disposal, and there’s rarely a single optimal move. It’s rare that you ever feel shoehorned into taking a certain course of action. You have tons of agency in how to take your turns and that’s fantastic.
The cards themselves vary greatly between characters, and one aspect I particularly enjoy is how well the cards relate logically to the game world. Take “Chuck Em” for instance. The Contractor destroys a non-boss monster and then deals four damage to another target, The mechanics of the card line up with the fact that in-universe, the Contractor is throwing a monster, at another monster.
The game’s attention to detail to its own inner logic makes for some amusing slapstick situations at times, like throwing a Mammoth at some poor raider’s face.
I love that type of thing because the game has a thematic logic, but the universe itself isn’t super serious. It means you can have something outlandish, such as the Chef stunning a monster using a Rancid Onion. And yet it still makes sense both mechanically, and within the game’s universe, it’s pretty great! You get all the fun of a post-apocalyptic setting with none of the soul-crushing depression!
Surviving the plethora of Apocalypses means fighting starvation, exposure to the elements, and a wide variety of creatures and tribes.
At the start of a player’s turn, they roll two dice. If the result matches the number of any revealed tile, monster tokens are placed. Either way, the time clock progresses one notch. If the result is seven, no monsters spawn, and the clock progresses four times. Any time the clock advances past one of the icons, something happens.
At night, an event is drawn. The bottom spot has tribe attitudes change. During the day, monster tokens move, and at the top spot, any character not on an indoor tile suffers exposure to the elements.
Players have to draw monsters when one would be spawned on them, if they move on to a monster token, or if a monster token moves on to them. Monster cards attach to that player, and move with them, but there’s some serious cleverness to the game’s combat.
If a monster doesn’t list a range, it only attacks that player. If it does have a range, it attacks everyone in that range. In some cases, such as the bear, they even attack other monsters. Cards that players use also have ranges, which can be used to attack monsters attached to other players.
The use of square tiles makes ranges pretty easy to understand. A short-range is your own tile, a medium-range is your tile, and every orthogonally adjacent tile. Long-range reaches a bit further, but can’t target your own tile. There’s a handy reference card that showcases all of the ranges.
Using cards and gear to deal with monsters is a large part of the game, but there’s more to it than just brute forcing it. For example, monsters are placed left from right and activate in that order. Let’s say you have a bear and two wolves attached to you, but both wolves have just five HP left.
Maybe you could take out that bear, or at least stun it. However, since the bear is to the left, activates first and attacks everything, including other monsters, letting it attack will clear out the wolves before they can attack you. Sure, you will take five damage too. But it’s just one of many decisions you will have to make, especially when you start dealing with tribes.
Friends and Food
Not every monster in the game is a mindless beast looking to eat you. Some are tribes of intelligent communities that can be hostile or friendly depending on your actions.
If a member of a tribe is attached to you, they act differently depending on their attitude towards the group. An Angry, Irate, or Enraged tribe will attack you. A Wary one will attack you, but then leave. A Trading tribe won’t attack, and an Allied one will attack other monsters for you.
One of the many things you can do in Wasted Wilds is scavenging locations for items. You can parlay with these tribes by gifting them items you scavenge. Doing so improves their attitude toward you. If a tribe is trading, you can instead trade items with them for other items. When they are allied, you can reinforce them, allowing you to switch around your line of attached monsters so they can attack them better.
The catch is, damaging or killing a tribal creature lowers that tribe’s attitude toward you, and the items you scavenge are important. Many missions require you to store a certain amount of food and fuel in your Van, and you also have to feed yourself. Your hunger increases each turn, and once it reaches 6, you start taking damage.
Managing resources and tribal relations adds another layer of depth to the game, especially because some missions have multiple tribes in play at a time. Having allies can pay off big, but it can be difficult to maintain. Regardless, it’s a very enjoyable mechanism and helps create even more dynamic situations among the players. The tribe’s attitude is toward your group as a whole, not as individuals, so what one player does can affect everyone. Teamwork is encouraged.
Modularity and The Alpha Gaming Test
Wasted Wilds passes my co-op alpha gaming test and is one of the few games that have done so. In solo play, it is assumed that you play just one character. While you could control multiple, it would not be easy to do since they have separate hands of cards and a lot of mechanics. This means that while you could alpha game if you really put the effort in, it’s clearly a player problem. It’s not a game design issue and you would be a jerk.
You know what I’m getting at if you ever read my piece on Quarterbacking. Basically, Wasted Wilds feels like a multiplayer co-op game, not a single-player game split up between players. That’s a very good thing.
Next, there is a lot of built-in modularity with Wasted Wilds. There is an optional deck of spawn cards that replace the monster spawn dice, and this deck has cards with special effects, such as healing the team, or a monster ambush. You can use an ally system, where you shuffle in ally cards into the monster deck, and the downloadable legacy rules are clean, painless, and a ton of fun to add in.
I particularly enjoy how easy its to create your own missions and campaigns. If you play through all Wasted Wilds has to offer and wanted something new, it’s easy to craft it yourself. Simply make a map, decide on some objectives using the game’s existing framework, and pick which monster sets to add, boom done.
I could write out an entire campaign of 10 missions in under 20 minutes if I wanted to. It would take longer to add a story to them, but for the sake of simply playing, it would be easy peasy.
There are a couple of hiccups that bother me though. One of the modular variants is called Tribal Affinity. Basically, each tribal card has an alternate side that dictates the type of item the tribe is interested in. You can use it two ways. To make the game easier, you can make it so gifting them items that match the affinity is twice as effective. To make it harder, you can instead make it so that they ONLY ACCEPT items that match their affinity. Makes sense right? The problem is, only one of those works well.
Making it easier, works great, however, I feel like using Tribal Affinity to increase the difficulty feels a bit off. The Marauder tribe is the worst offender, they have an affinity for antidotes and medical supplies.
There is only a handful of such cards in the game, which makes it nearly impossible to actually befriend them. Fun fact. I learned this in the first mission of one of the campaigns, where the objective is to literally befriend them. It does indeed make the game harder, but to an extent, I can’t imagine was intended.
There’s also a bit of an issue with the game’s compatibility with other Maximum Apocalypse products. The box says it’s compatible with any other game. It’s technically true, but not the whole truth. To give an example, after I started playing Wasted Wilds. I did what any other dinosaur-obsessed millennial would do and immediately bought the Jurassic Peril expansion.
The included Adventurer character works great, and the Dinosaur monsters are compatible if I swap them into an existing mission or make my own. However, the missions that came with the expansion are not playable, they require tiles and cards from other Maximum Apocalypse boxes. That was a bit of a bummer.
I could write about Wasted Wilds all day. There’s a brilliant elegance to its design where the gameplay is extremely fun and really gives me the type of experience I usually only get when playing much heavier games.
At the same time, it removes almost every obstacle possible out of my way to actually enjoy it. It’s one of the fastest games I own to set up, play and continue playing after I finish a mission. That type of speed is nearly unheard of outside of lightweight games that frankly don’t interest me.
Outside of a hiccup or two within the optional rules, the gameplay is as smooth as butter. It’s incredibly straightforward and easy to understand while offering you tons of different things you can do each turn. It captures the joy of exploration, asymmetric characters, satisfying combat, and survival in a package that definitely captures the spirit of a roguelike video game. A genre that I adore.
It’s one of few co-op games that I truly enjoy, and despite the fact that I do enjoy playing certain games solo, I simply have no desire to do so with Wasted Wilds, simply because I enjoy the teamwork aspects and synergy between the characters so much. It’s a game where every character shines at different moments and can really lean on another player to cover their shortcomings.
Its modular optional rules are great, and even the legacy rules have very little in the way of obtuse bookkeeping. Its missions are highly replayable thanks to the fact that maps can take pretty much any shape you desire, and if you ever want more, making your own missions is as simple as can be.
Wasted Wilds is one of the best co-op game experiences out there, and I say that as someone who is very critical of co-op games. It’s definitely become one of my favorites alongside Spirit Island and Gloomhaven. I happily grant Wasted Wilds my Golden Shield Award!
You might also want to check out Three Great Things: Maximum Apocalypse.
The cardholders I use in my reviews are courtesy of InfinitionsTabletop on Etsy
Pick Up Wasted Wilds From These Stores
- Five different characters with very drastically different playstyles
- Incredibly easy to set up and manage
- Highly replayable and modular
- A great mix of action economy, card play, and survival
- Plenty of ways to work together as a team without alpha gaming
- Satisfying combat
- The mechanisms and theme are baked together, card actions make sense in the games universe
- The interesting tribe attitude system adds an additional layer of depth
- The game’s framework is a playground to make custom missions
- Very little bookkeeping to play a campaign
- A nifty roguelike board game
- The health spinners are a little loose
- The tribal affinity variant doesn’t work the best
- While the game is compatible with other Maximum Apocalypse titles, there will be aspects that can’t be used with it alone