The first thing that strikes you about Wasteland Express Delivery Service is the box. It is big, bold and brash, full of garish colours and in-your-face gesturing from the characters pictured on the lid, who appear to be having some kind of fight. Despite sounding like a Parcelforce simulator it goes around looking like a killfest – interesting. Then, however, my nascent curiosity is killed off by finding the word “post-apocalyptic” on the back cover. Just like Cthulhu, minis, or deckbuilder, little is going to quash my burgeoning love more than finding that word on a game. In any case, as far as I am concerned a properly decent apocalypse is going to have no “post-” worth talking about anyway. There is enough shouty stuff on the box to suggest that this particular post-apocalypse might be fun, however, so as the brave reviewer I am, I’ll dive in.
Goods for sale, upgrades to be had.
Boxes, bits and trays! Put aside some time…
The box is filled to the rafters with bits and pieces, including many, many punchboards, but the crowning glories, the things that will make you gasp with pleasure, are the trays, custom-moulded and designed to stack snugly on top of each other so that setup and tear down (and the playing of the game) are transformed from having to deal with a hellish and sprawling mess of chits and tokens into as near to pleasure that such a bit-heavy game can get. It took me well over an hour to get everything punched and sorted, especially because the currency tokens all have holes in the middle of them, which is a great touch but a pain to do, and then I had to work out what stacked where and in which direction. It is not quite as bad as assembling an Ikea wardrobe, but it takes a few leaps of faith.
Goods! On plastic trucks! Hubba hubba!
But let me say that the tokens are gorgeous, and the stacked game, if you follow the instructions accurately enough, fits really well into the box. The goods you will transport are custom-moulded, you and the various raiders each have trucks and – wait for it! – the goods fit on the raider trucks! I think I’ve just had a geekgasm, and probably a nerdgasm too! Players all get thick and durable boards, standees too, while the many different decks of cards all sit in their bespoke holders and simply stack away in the bottom of the box once done. Oh, and there are dice as well, all properly printed and looking as if they could survive what else but an apocalypse, and they also have their slots, nestled there at the bottom of the box.
Setup takes a while! At least it looks good!
Despite the fact that some elements of Wasteland Express Delivery Service can simply be lifted out of the box and plonked onto the table, setting the game up does still take a while. The board itself is a clever mix of octagonal and square tiles, representing landscapes and depots, and each of the latter either supplies or demands one of the three goods available in the game – water, food or weaponry. The dynamic market reacts according to these forces, raising or lowering the price of each commodity accordingly, so there are usually some good deals to be had on the map. In addition to this there are contracts to be fulfilled, some of them for the three raider factions, some of them universal, and usually the first to complete three contracts wins the game, although you will need to buy and sell along the way to upgrade your truck if you want to live long enough to turn a decent profit.
The market reacts to events on the board.
The fully set up game looks pretty impressive on the table, although it gives the distinct feel of coming with a hefty dose of unplayability as well. Symbols, tokens, more symbols, dice, more tokens and more symbols…but thankfully the core of Wasteland Express Delivery Service is trusty old worker placement, or action selection, whatever you want to call it. It is good do know that even in the post-apocalypse some things remain that we used to do in the Stone Age. Anybody who has come within a meeple’s length of a worker placement/action selection game previously will find Wasteland Express Delivery Service far less complicated than it initially appears, and that is a good thing.
Worker placement? Survivor of the apocalypse!
Each player has a certain number of actions to spend on a turn, and these are tracked on what seems to be an unplayably garish but actually turns out to be sweetly functional player board. Movement around the map is the core of it all, but there is also the ability to pick up and (unsurprisingly) deliver as well, and there is a neat little trick that allows players to chain consecutive movement selections together for what the game calls momentum, effectively travelling progressively larger distances. Alternatively, a player can skip from movement directly to another action, carrying it out as part of the same turn, although in this case they lose any momentum they may have gained. It is a clever little wrinkle that makes players think not just about a single selection on their turn, but about a combination of selections.
The action board looks a mess but is actually pretty intuitive.
Every now and again, and possibly through no fault of your own, you will run into raiders, and winning a skirmish with them means that you can make off with some of their cargo for your own nefarious ends. Rather disappointingly, Wasteland Express Delivery Service allows players to manoeuvre raiders towards each other but, at least in the base game, does not allow them to attack each other directly, which seems odd. It seems much more thematically adroit to throw in the admittedly limited conflict rules detailed in the variants and take it from there. After all, the film is Mad Max, not Marginally Moody Max, and that is the kind of world that springs to mind when playing this game – you positively want to be grinding your opponents’ faces into that radioactive dust!
After the end of the world? Pick it up and start again!
Underneath all the colours and the illustrations and the trays Wasteland Express Delivery Service is a pick-up-and-deliver game, in which you buy low and sell high, but there are various other elements thrown into the mix to keep things ticking along and prevent it from becoming too vanilla. There are radioactive zones through which your driver needs to pass, the threat of raider attacks, and the possibility that the bottom might fall out of your particular market before you get to your destination. All the while you have your eyes also on the extra abilities and the next juicy contract that is out there to be fulfilled.
Trucks can be upgraded.
Truck upgrades all go to help to survive this particular post-apocalypse, and include trailers, weapons, radiation shields, containers, almost everything except a couple of fuzzy dice and an exhaust that sounds like a bluebottle in a jam jar to keep the teenagers in their lowered hatchbacks happy on a Friday night. That all those bits and pieces – upgrades, merchandise, missions, landscape – are represented in such a feast for the senses, especially touch and sight (I’ve not licked the components yet, but who knows?), is very heavily in Wasteland Express Delivery Service’s favour, and makes the playing of it a technicolour frenzy.
Great on the surface! Is there more in the core?
That very same riot of colour, though, cannot always divert attention away from the fact that, at core, Wasteland Express Delivery Service has you picking up stuff over here and delivering it over there for the reward specified on a certain card. Different destinations offer bonuses, so that is also something to bear in mind, and there is that neat momentum mechanism for movement that allows a player to cover more space if they move multiple times in a row, but fewer players can leave the map feeling suitably empty for a desolate world, while having the full complement of five players stretches games out to such a length that you might well find yourself longing for the end of the world to come and draw a line under the whole affair as it ticks over the two hour mark.
Encounter raiders at your peril.
Wasteland Express Delivery Service does at least come with those options to upgrade your vehicle, so the game has a narrative running through it for each player, but doing very similar things over and over again can take the polluted fizz out of the game and leave it just flat and drab after a while. It works decently with two or with four, with those caveats about space and length taken into account, but three players seems to be its sweet spot.
Variants for more variance…or less!
At this point I need to mention that Wasteland Express Delivery Service comes with several variants listed in the back of the rules, including the rather amusingly named Uwe & Stefan variant (seasoned gamers should laugh loudly here in a knowing manner), and one that allows players to attack each other and snaffle their goods (much more interesting!), but it also contains a scenario-based campaign, working its way through some kind of narrative of the Wasteland from start to finish. Combine these elements with the extreme variability of the game and you have enough material to get you through at least a couple of post-apocalypses, and you might well find yourself agreeing with me that this box offers serious value for money, even if you might have to hunt around a bit for your preferred method of play.
Components – including dice and cards, are evocative.
Even with its flaws, though – and this game certainly has them – Wasteland Express Delivery Service looks the business on the table, and it is hard to imagine it not dragging curious gamers along for a admiring glance. It certainly has the power to make passers-by curious about what is going on, and it is precisely that attention to the detail of it that leads me to believe that, in this case, the design, the artwork and the way it all helps to convey the theme, just about outweigh the rather traditional mechanisms underneath.
Is Wasteland Express a buy? Or is it bye-bye?
As a buyer you would have to think very carefully about whether Wasteland Express Delivery Service is the kind of game you would like to have on your shelf, for it takes a while to set up, and can end up feeling just a little thin and overlong for an entire evening’s entertainment, and I imagine that it would be even trickier to get the same group of players together multiple times to run through the campaign, but at least for the opening salvos the game is fun, and it is customisable too, and you might well find yourself coming to sympathise with your cardboard driver in their plastic truck as they head out into the Wasteland once more.
You know where you are? You’re in the jungle, baby. You’re gonna die.
Crucially, Wasteland Express Delivery Service does something that the likes of Via Nebula do not. In my review for Martin Wallace’s game I wrote that “Without incremental powers and a more flexible set of buildings the decisions you are able to make at the end of a game of Via Nebula are almost exactly the same as those you can make in your first turn. Constructing a certain building might lead you down a certain route, rewarding you for uncovered explorers for example, but you will never have better craftsmen, more powerful trade routes, or more effective exploration.” Thankfully Wasteland Express Delivery Service has all sorts of things going on in the background, and those help to keep players engaged in the game, so that they need to adjust much more dynamically to what is happening.
Without that great art and those wonderful trays I would definitely have given Wasteland Express Delivery Service a lower mark, but this is the kind of game that most people would be happy to have on their shelves just for the pleasure of owning it, and it is much easier to play than it appears. Overlong, yes, and sometimes lacking tension too, but this is a whole bundle of good stuff in a box, and as such it gets 8 out of 10. Now, where has that parcel I was expecting today got to..?
The following two tabs change content below.
I have been playing Hobby games for as long as I can remember, including Waddington's Formula-1 in my teens and family card games before that. I mainly play with two, sometimes more, and I'm happy to give any game a try. I lean towards medium-weight games with simple rules and deep gameplay. Homo ludens and proud of it.