The Apocalypse is here! Choose your survivor and face off against Zombies, Mutants, Aliens and Robots, all packed into one little box. Maximum Apocalypse is a cooperative, “rogue-like” game which puts you in control of characters who are fighting to survive in the aftermath of the apocalypse: killing monsters and searching desperately for food and fuel. It released at the start of the year, and has just wrapped up a successful Kickstarter for an expansion, but is it any good? Let’s find out!
Maximum Apocalypse – what’s in the box?
Maximum Apocalypse comes in a fairly compact box, but it’s absolutely chock-full of content. There are sturdy cardboard tiles for the various locations, and lots of decks of cards for your character, the items you can scavenge from locations, and the monsters you face. There are also cardboard tokens for things like damage and poison, and wooden tokens for ammo, fuel and monsters.
Overall the component quality is decent – the cards are clear, with nice, clean art. Sadly, the rulebook feels like it was squashed down to fit in the box, and isn’t always the clearest. The division between wood and cardboard tokens felt a bit arbitrary to me – I generally used more damage tokens than fuel or ammo, and would have preferred them to put a bit more into these (maybe different sizes to make them easier to distinguish), rather than expending resources on the wooden bits.
So, how does it play?
Most games of Maximum Apocalypse will see your merry band of survivors starting at their van, and exploring a randomly generated landscape – location tiles are shuffled up and placed face down. When you move onto a tile you reveal it, sometimes getting a benefit – like a free search, sometimes something nasty – like being ambushed by a monster. Tiles will also have ongoing effects whilst you are active on them, and a number in the top right hand corner.
If the mechanic goes into that field, she’s immediately getting jumped by 3 monsters!
At the start of each turn, you roll 2 dice, to see where monsters will appear. When there is only your van in play, the chances are good of rolling a number that doesn’t match a revealed location, meaning you get a let-off. As the game progresses and you reveal more and more locations, the monsters become more numerous. If a character is at that location, they immediately draw a monster and put in front of them, but if nobody is there, you place a monster token on the tile, so that the next person to travel there may get jumped by multiple monsters at once.
Your character in Maximum Apocalypse gets 4 actions per turn. If you have monsters on your tile, you’ll probably want to use those actions to fight; otherwise, you can move, scavenge for supplies, draw a card from your deck, or play an event card from hand.
The flow of the game turn-by-turn is quite unpredictable. Even without moving, you could easily start a turn with 2 new monsters engaged with you who weren’t there on your last turn, and even if you spend the whole turn fighting, you still might not get rid of them. On the other hand, a few lucky spawning rolls could leave with ample time to kill, searching through the scavenging decks.
Setting the scene
You could easily miss that “Z” in the bottom right, telling you to use Zombies for this scenario.
Maximum Apocalypse is a scenario-based game, and for each session you choose the particular situation you want to face off against. The scenario set-up is pretty detailed given the compact amount of space it has to fit into: You get a narrative overview and overall objective on one side, and a list of which tiles make up the map, and what goes into the various scavenging decks on the other side. Which monster group to use is indicated by a tiny symbol in the bottom corner.
Generally, the scenario objective will be to find a particular tile and/or find a certain set of cards in the scavenging piles. The designers do a decent job of mixing up the aims here, but the system is fairly limited in scope, so it can only be taken so far.
Who am I? take your pick!
Maximum Apocalypse offers you a choice of 6 different characters you can play as – the Fireman, The Hunter, The Doctor, The Veteran and his Dog, The Mechanic, and the Gunslinger. They all have a unique ability, and a deck of equipment and actions which match their theme.
The colt is good, but only for 4 attacks…
Whilst it’s good that there are different styles to play to, and different options, I got the definite sense in Maximum Apocalypse that not all characters are created equal. The Fireman has a “punch” as his basic action, and various ways to get his trusty fire-axe into play: whilst this is not the most damage an attack can deliver, the fact that he has an innate ability to fight enemies, plus a not-limited way to deliver some bigger hits makes him much better at reliably dealing with enemies than even a character like the Gunslinger, whose quick-drawing abilities are only good as long as his ammo lasts.
Who are they? The Usual Suspects
Mutants like to discard your gear
The enemies you face in Maximum Apocalypse will come from 1 of 4 different decks: Zombies, Mutants, Aliens and Robots, arguably the key cornerstones of post-apocalyptic tropery. At their most basic, enemies are a pair of stats: health and damage, indicating how quickly they kill you, and how hard they are to kill. On top of that, some will have extra abilities, and these are vaguely themed within each faction.
Each of the 4 enemy groups has its own mini-campaign, with a loose narrative unfolding as you go. Once you’ve played through all 4, you could go back and re-play a set of scenarios using a different enemy group to the default for a slightly different experience.
I wouldn’t want to overstate the variety though – art aside, many of these creatures aren’t much more than numbers. You can mix-and-match different enemy sets with scenarios to offer an alternative experience, but the game you end up playing isn’t going to be that different.
Finding a place
Probably the thing which changes the most between plays of a scenario, is the way the map is laid out. Most scenarios will have at least a dozen or so locations, and their position relative to the van can vary massively. The Bandit Camp, for example is a pain any time you enter it (take damage or lose equipment), so having it right next to the van is problematic. Again, there are tunnel tiles, which allow you to jump across the map by moving directly from one to another – brilliant in the right situation, but useless when they come out next to each other.
In a lot of games of Maximum Apocalypse, we found that we didn’t really need to explore all that much of the map. Unless there’s a specific tile to find, you can usually make do with just a handful, so long as you have all the colours to scavenge.
At the start of the scenario, you set up 3 different decks, with their precise composition dictated by the scenario card. Most locations will allow you to scavenge from the deck with the matching colour: Red is good for fuel, Green for food, and Blue for parts and ammo, although you’ll generally find a smattering of these in each deck.
The scavenging was definitely an area where Maximum Apocalypse didn’t feel especially well-balanced. If you get lucky, you can find everything you need in the top few cards, and will win the game in a couple of rounds, having barely revealed a quarter of the map and, as a result, not encountered many monsters, or needed to worry much about hunger (see below). Other times, the location/scavenge randomness will conspire against you, and the game becomes a long, drawn-out slog.
Hungry? Why wait?
Aside from monster damage, the other big thing likely to stop your character from completing their objective in Maximum Apocalypse, is hunger. You start on 1 hunger, and increase the number by 1 at the end of each of your turns. Some characters, like the Hunter, will have food in their decks, but most will need to find food in the locations they uncover. As it takes an action to scavenge and an action to eat, the hunt for food can easily ask for a lot more time than you are able to spare.
Once you starve, you take 2 damage this round, then 4 next, then 6, then 8, then die!
Once your hunger reaches 6, your card gets flipped, meaning the character loses their special ability. Your character will also start to lose health, rapidly, hastening the charge towards death. It always felt a bit odd to me to pause in the middle of a fight with zombies, in order to dig around for food, but in thematic turns, it actually makes a fair amount of sense: survivors of the apocalypse will quickly get good at monster-bashing or they will die. Hunger on the other hand, is an ongoing challenge that you’re never going to get ‘solved.’
Maximum Apocalypse – Final Thoughts
Maximum Apocalypse is a solid game. Apart from the overly-similar damage tokens and a slightly expanded rule-book, there’s nothing component-wise that I’d really want on top of what’s included, the mechanics are all fairly clear, and everything follows a logical sequence.
By varying character line-up and scenario, or even mixing scenarios with different enemy groups, there’s plenty of options to ensure variety.
Despite all that though, this was a game I really struggled to get excited about. Everything is just “fine,” “ok” – nothing ever felt much more than generic, the gameplay is quite random, and most of the decisions we had to make felt like a bit of a coin-toss, rather than there being much strategy involved.
There’s not really much ‘wrong’ with Maximum Apocalypse, per se, but I can’t imagine I’ll be breaking it out very often. It can easily run much too long to be a filler, but doesn’t offer enough for a prolonged session.
6/10 – you could do a lot worse, but you could do a lot better.
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I'm an avid board and card-gamer, still trying to figure out where Board Gaming fits into life as the dad of a very grabby toddler.
I enjoy thematic games (Fantasy, Cthulhu, etc) and play a lot of cooperative games, along with a bit of competitive gaming (currently Legend of the Five Rings) when I can make it out of the house.
When not playing games, I can be found doing a mundane office job, or working on my own Blog, Fistful of Meeples.