By: Mrs. Saint
Note: Originally published on BGG March 2019.
First, it was the zombies. The virus spread like wildfire across the country, resulting in societal collapse. We had no sooner found the cure to the disease when the unmaintained nukes went off, further destabilizing the population. The East Coast is now a wasteland. Some people changed and adapted to their new environment, and the resultant “Mutant Revolution” further divided the country before it was finally put down. Now, there’s talk of flying saucers seen in the Midwest’s night sky and AI controlled factories with their own agenda in the South. Honestly, at this point, I’m too hungry to care.
Maximum Apocalypse is a cooperative, scenario driven card game set in a world perpetually dealing with extinction-level threats. Players each pick a survivor to play as with their own custom decks. The survivors’ occupations before the apocalypse inform their abilities and the types of gear they carry with them, and each feels unique. The Fireman carves through enemies with his trusty axe and can really take a beating while the Hunter is exceptional at scavenging for supplies and avoiding enemies.
Players then pick a Mission card, which describe to the players the scenario they find themselves in, complete with win condition, the tiles that will build the map, and the contents of the Scavenge decks. The Mission card also has special instructions for setting up the Monster deck, if any. The various Monster decks inform the players of the type of Apocalypse they are working against and each Mission card has a suggested Monster pairing. The Monster decks feel reasonably distinct, with Aliens focusing on burning through cards in a players deck and buffing themselves while Mutants prefer to poison characters and steal their gear cards.
On their turn, a player will first Spawn Monsters, rolling two dice and checking the number rolled against the numbers on revealed map tiles. Any that match receive a Monster token, or if a player is on that tile, they instead draw a monster. After that players draw a card and must take 4 actions. These actions include playing a card, moving 1 tile orthogonally, drawing a card from a Scavenge deck (on a map tile that allows for scavenging), performing a card action, and a handful of other options.
After a player’s action are complete, they must increase their hunger level by 1. This insidious phase serves as the game’s clock. A player’s character can have a hunger level of 1 through 5 without any ill effect, but as soon as you hit 6, your character begins to starve. This results in the loss of the character’s innate ability and increasing levels of irreducible damage every turn until your character starves to death. Playing Food cards is the primary way of reducing a character’s hunger level, requiring the players to balance their actions between working towards the mission’s goal and scavenging for food.
Once a character’s hunger level is increased, all of the monsters attached to that character activate, dealing their combat damaging to the character and resolving any other special effects. Players then check to see if they have won the Mission, and if not, play proceeds to the next player.
Every time Mr. Saint brings up backing a Kickstarter, the intense money-saver that resides in me cringes. However, we love board games so we usually try to back one-or-two a year and when backing a Kickstarter you haven’t played you never know what to expect. In the case of Maximum Apocalypse – I am so glad we went all in for this recent campaign. We haven’t yet made it to the expansion content the most recent Kickstarter was for (the Gothic Horrors expansion), but with the Rookie Completionist Pledge we also received all of the core set content.
I like the diversity of characters and really appreciate that most of the character decks have a male and female version -each with their own unique traits/abilities (though I believe many of these were Kickstarter exclusive stretch goals, which may turn off some people). The character abilities and weapons feel on theme and the cards themselves have great artwork. So far, my favorite character is the Priest. I was a little afraid to play him initially because of his relatively low health and low stealth score, but his tool kit is really fun so I am glad I finally gave him a try.
I love that there is a story element to each Mission. They’re also readily numbered, allowing you to form a narrative arc that continues from one game to the next, in increasing difficulty. I also like how the random chance of the dice roll that starts each player’s turn can drastically change the way a turn or the game overall goes. One game, we almost ran out of monster tokens and barely survived which is exactly how I would want a game about surviving in a post-apocalyptic world to feel. Another game, we were unlucky in scavenging and saw barely any food cards.
This randomness permeates the whole of Maximum Apocalypse. Sometimes, all of the food will be on the bottom of the Scavenge Decks. Or your character will be overwhelmed by unavoidable monster spawns. On occasion, the random elements will come together in such a way as to make a given Mission unbeatable. Those that look at coop games primarily as puzzles to be solved may take issue with being presented a problem with no solution. Instead, Maximum Apocalypse rewards those that commit to its theme with delightful tension. You may very well be defeated by this post-apocalyptic playground, clawing and struggling for survival though you might. But that makes victory all the sweeter.
I mentioned the great artwork on the cards earlier, but really the quality of the pieces and game overall is fantastic. Linen-finished cards, thick cardboard location tiles, and wooden tokens showcase Rock Manor Games’ commitment to delivering a high quality product. The Gothic Horrors rulebook has a fresh layout and is much more cohesive than the Core Set rulebook, showing to me that Rock Manor Games is a publisher willing to listen to constructive criticism. I definitely recommend learning the game from the Gothic Horrors rulebook over the previous edition (the pdf on the Gothic Horrors Kickstarter page is no longer available at this time).
Additionally, Rock Manor Games deserves high praise for fulfilling their KS significantly ahead of schedule. This is something we have not experienced with most other Kickstarters, so it was a welcome surprise to receive this game at the end of December 2018 instead of the estimated April 2019.
If you’re like us and often go to friends’ houses to play, you’ll like this game for how easy it is to transport. All expansions and pieces fit nicely into two small boxes which is a big plus to me. Another big plus, we can usually play through a scenario in about an hour which makes this a game we can play even on weeknights. I’ve seen some reviewers comment that setup/teardown can be long, but that has not been our experience. Crowd-sourcing the work between two people, setting up a scenario usually takes no more than 5-10 minutes. This is definitely on the low side for many of the coop games in our collection, and is a welcome change.
Overall, Mr. Saint and I are thrilled with our decision to back Maximum Apocalypse. We’re really enjoying playing through the various Missions and trying out the different characters. We haven’t even touched some of the modular content (such as they Day/Night deck included in the Gothic Horrors expansion) but we’re having so much fun that we’re in no rush to integrate everything. We heartily recommend Maximum Apocalypse to anyone who resonates with the theme or is looking for a solid coop experience in a reasonable amount of time.