Wasted & Wild
I recently reviewed Maximum Apocalypse: Wasted Wilds, and it quickly became one of my favorite board games. I want to go over three great things about Maximum Apocalypse in a bit more detail than I could cover in my review.
You can find a video version of this article on my YouTube Channel.
Wasted Wilds is the newest continuation of the Maximum Apocalypse series. It streamlines and cleans up a few aspects of Maximum Apocalypse but is compatible with the other games under the brand. So while Wasted Wilds is going to be the focal point of this discussion, most of what I’m going over can be equally applied to Maximum Apocalypse as a whole.
Every character that you can play in Maximum Apocalypse is incredibly unique compared to the rest of the roster. Asymmetry isn’t exactly a rare quality in board games, but Maximum Apocalypse pulls it off in a way that feels pretty special.
Every character follows the same basic gameplay principles. They all get four actions each turn and have access to all the same actions. However, each character is governed by a unique power and deck of cards. Those two aspects make every character distinct by having a literal deck of exceptions suited to the playstyle of that character.
We can use the characters in Wasted Wilds as an example. On the surface, The Contractor fits into the tanky character archetype, with terrible stealth, and high HP. But that’s merely The Contractor’s surface layer, peel it back, and there’s a lot more to the character.
The Contractor is actually pretty great at single-target damage and crowd control. However, many of their effects come at the cost of hurting themselves or increasing their hunger. They can place Barricades to block monster spawns and also use Nail Bombs to remove any tokens that manage to get through.
They are capable of supporting their friends by Tackling a creature, using a Flare Gun to draw attention themselves, or Chucking a Monster, into another monster.
When it comes to fighting head-on, they have a Flamethrower for crowd control, and a Saw Launcher for the big ones, but each one comes with extra risks and costs. Regardless, the Contractor is more than a loud tank, even if they also fulfill that role. But you have to compare The Contractor to another character to truly understand just how well each of them stands out.
The Chef is described as a supporting character in the rulebook. It makes sense too, The Chef has abilities to help keep the team fed. They even have Herbs and Spices that can remove status effects from players.
However, the Chef is also a functional Assassin. If they have a Knife equipped they can quite literally destroy any non-boss monster with Butcher. Be it a Bear, Mammoth, or even an Allosaurus. Without the Butcher card, they still do serious damage with Knife Throw, especially if they have a Sharpener in play. Another nifty feature is the fact that the Chef doesn’t have a single card that uses ammo or fuel. It’s one less thing for them to be concerned about.
The thing is, both the Chef and Contractor have weaknesses too. The Chef has trouble handling swarms of Monsters, while The Contractor can struggle with health and hunger since they have a tendency to spend both. It balances out their strengths nicely.
If you were to play the exact same mission, with the exact same layout twice in a row, once playing The Contractor, and once playing The Chef. Your experience would feel vastly different both times because they play nothing alike.
The system is pretty brilliant because once you know how to play Maximum Apocalypse, you can grab any character and know exactly how to play the game. There aren’t really any special rules that change based on who you play. The characters share the same framework for taking turns and actions. However, their playstyles differ greatly within that framework, and that’s a sign of pretty great game design.
One of the most stand-out aspects to me is how you can feel the absence of a character whenever they aren’t being played. If no one on the team chooses The Chef, you are going to miss their ability to help keep you fed. And you will have to adjust how you play. Finding food cards becomes a much bigger deal.
It’s like that with every character. Missions can be completed with any composition of characters, but you will always miss the ones that are absent. Naturally, each character being played will shine. But the fact that you can feel the drastic differences in team compositions really showcases just how different they all are.
It’s not going to be a surprise to anyone that I’m not a fan of alpha gaming. I even wrote a whole article about whether or not Quarterbacking is a player or game problem. Either way, some co-op games do try to mitigate it. In the case of Gloomhaven, it’s through secret information. In Spirit Island, it’s by being so complicated that it’s rarely feasible. With Maximum Apocalypse, it’s more subtle, and it speaks more to the game’s focus on teamwork than any specific attempt at mitigating alpha gaming.
Essentially, I always view alpha gaming as a game problem IF you can do it without putting in much effort. Maximum Apocalypse already wins out here simply due to the gameplay. The Asymmetric characters, the way monsters work, and the card play already do a decent job of blocking it. You could play my turn for me, but you would have to work at it.
What makes Maximum Apocalypse special in this regard is the graceful way it leans into the players working as a team with the proper framework to support them. On the basic level, there is a large map with several objectives to cover, the combat system can affect multiple players at once, and the characters have cards that work well in team play. However, it’s really the breadth of actions you have each turn that really allows the teamwork to shine.
In most co-op games, even the most innocent suggestion could make it so you don’t really have a turn. If you only get to do one thing and spend that thing performing another player’s request, it doesn’t feel great. But in Maximum Apocalypse, you get four actions each turn, and some cards can grant you even more. In my experience, most communication in Maximum Apocalypse is open-ended. “I need help with this Bear, or we need to get the Driver some food.” However, even when it gets more specific, you aren’t losing your whole turn.
For example, I might say. “Hey, if you move next to me, I can finish off that monster for you.” That’s a perfectly reasonable request to make. Now, if you spend an action to move next to me to receive my help, you still have three other actions to play your turn with. My request doesn’t consume your whole turn or even half of it. That fact alone makes the game’s teamwork feel more rewarding, and less like someone at the table is controlling multiple characters.
There are some other nifty mechanisms that aid in this too. Like the fact that you can trade scavenge cards to another player as a free action. This means you can trade off ammo, food, and medical supplies without paying an extra action to do so. While that seems like a small thing, it really does have a big impact on capturing the feel of working as a team while maintaining your own agency.
The point of a co-op game is to work together. However many of them feel like a single-player game split between several players. Maximum Apocalypse captures the joy of teamwork with a solid foundation that supports it, and it does so without being an incredibly complex game or resorting to arbitrary restrictions. It’s simply by the grace of its inherent design, and that impresses me greatly.
When playing games such as Gloomhaven, or Star Wars Imperial Assault. Setting up a mission requires me to dig through a bunch of tiles to find the very specific ones for that mission. I have to place them in a very precise manner, find all the right tokens, enemies, stat cards, and other pieces, and meticulously set them up in the very specific places marked by the mission. I enjoy those games, but I’d be lying if I said the work required to play them didn’t deter me more than once.
Wasted Wilds makes it easy. It does take slightly more effort with the rest of Maximum Apocalypse, but nowhere near the degree of effort that similar games require. This is largely due to the free-form nature of the map and how enemies work.
A map layout can usually take any form you wish. Make it a rectangle, a set of two islands connected by tunnels or vaults. The shape of an L, or anything else you want. At most a given mission’s rules are going to have you place an objective marker or two a set distance away from the starting tile. That’s it.
There are no terrain features to place beforehand, just some cards to shuffle. Since enemies spawn during the game, not beforehand, there’s no time spent digging out specific miniatures, standees, or tokens before you start playing. You just combine a couple of card sets to form the monster deck.
It all makes setting up the game fast and easy. However, that’s not the only advantage. Different layouts add more replay value to missions you have already played before. It also serves as a pseudo way to adjust the difficulty. A complex or inconvenient layout will be more challenging than a straightforward and simple one.
The nature of the tiles also helps with mental repetition. Instead of going through the same rooms that are just oriented differently, the locations are more abstract. Just square representations of Gas Stations, Dunes, or Ice Covered Cliffs. It makes exploring them feel less repetitive since the timing and place of their effects can vary in each game.
I’m also a pretty big homebrewer, and the freeform nature lets me create my own missions and campaigns easily. In fact, the entire game is a great foundation for homebrew content, but that’s an article for another time.
Suffice it to say, I think Maximum Apocalypse is criminally underrated and should rank much higher on Board Game Geek. If you’re interested in hearing more about it, you could check out my official review of Wasted Wilds. However, you can probably expect more Maximum Apocalypse content from me in the future.
The cardholders I use in my reviews are courtesy of InfinitionsTabletop on Etsy