After everything went to hell, you and your ragtag band of survivors have been left in a battle for survival, against the __________ (insert apocalypse here - zombie horde / mutant freaks / alien invasion / robot uprising) - in Maximum Apocalypse, the end of the world is your choice!
Maximum Apocalypse is a co-operative game set in the post-apocalypse of your choice, where one to six survivors explore, fight and scavenge to gain the resources needed to complete missions (over the course of 45-90 minutes).
A typical game will see you trying to find other survivors whilst fending of the zombie horde, grabbing enough resources and fuel to sit out the nuclear winter after the bombs drop, gathering intel on the alien invasion, or helping the human resistance against the robot uprising.
Maximum Apocalypse doesn’t come in a huge box (just as well as I’m running out of game storage space!), but it is densely packed with goodies, all illustrated in a great comic book style which is consistently good throughout (with some images not suitable for younger children, think zombie guts and severed limbs).
- There are almost 400 cards in the box, including survivor characters and their decks, four sets of monster cards / mission cards for each apocalypse, and scavenge decks for survivors to rummage through.
- 38 sturdy square map tiles make up the apocalyptic landscape.
- There are loads of wooden tokens, including the great monster tokens and shaped fuel tokens, and the oddly suggestive ammo tokens (just take a look, it can’t just be me, good job they aren’t shaped!), plus card tokens for health, poison and objectives.
- Six nice little standees represent the survivors.
- And there are large and small dice for monster generation and representing survivor hunger.
- Finally there is a very small rule book (more on that later).
The Four Apocalypses
There’s not just one end of the world in the Maximum Apocalypse box, there are four....
The first four missions (including a tutorial level) have you tackling the zombie apocalypse, which is fairly easy and straightforward. Most of the zombie monsters have no powers, low health, and do little damage. Two nice boss monsters (the horde and the particularly horrible zombie queen!) have abilities that ramp up the tension, mostly adding loads more zombies to fight.
The next three missions are set in a nuclear apocalypse, with mutants roaming the landscape. These monsters feel a bit more interactive, with some forcing you to choose between losing health or losing cards when encountered, as the desperate creatures steal resources from you. Poison is also introduced here, a continuous effect that causes players to lose health until cured.
Three more missions have you facing an alien invasion. Some of the grunt aliens have more health than the zombie monster bosses so you can see how the difficulty rises! Alien powers revolve around losing cards, but also double up with powers happening on drawing the alien, and when they attack.
The final three missions are set amongst a robot uprising. Robot powers are varied and powerful - the robot scout adds monsters to all surrounding areas when drawn, a couple of robots cause explosion damage when destroyed, nasty stuff!
You have your choice of six survivor characters, covering all of the standard tropes, with no big surprises, but they are nicely developed with their own personal decks:
Basically the ‘tank’ of the group, he starts with the highest health and an attack ability. His cards include lots of ways to damage monsters (as well as some practical cards) including a trusty axe and a rather explosive lighter / oxygen tank combo!
The mechanic has a great ability to grab cards from discard piles and take them into her hand. Her deck has a nice range of cards, from weapons like a wrench and a blowtorch, to cards that can upgrade any weapon, and some nice reactive weapons like the proximity mine and the auto-turret.
Veteran (and his Dog)
Two characters in one, the war vet and his faithful hound. A slightly more complex character to play, his deck mainly revolves around the dog; attacks, scouting, scavenging etc, and if the dog dies, he has some nice ‘revenge’ cards!
The healer of the group, with the ability to restore one health to other players. Most of her deck revolves around healing and pepping up other characters, but she has some nasty surgical weapons too, like drills and scalpels.
The scout, able to flip map tiles without travelling to them - she is by far the stealthiest character. Her deck includes ranged weapons like the crossbow and the bow, which can be combo'd with flame arrows, plus traps like the snare which stuns monsters, the bear trap and sneaky cards like 'cover of night' and 'camouflage'.
The only character to start with a weapon (his pistol). Some nice powerful weapons and weapon related cards, ‘focused shot’ deals big damage at long range, ‘guns blazing’ allows you to empty all weapons at once for maximum damage.
Locations to explore on the map tiles range from urban locations like the city street, police station and hospital, to rural places like the forest, farm and river, along with special areas like the bandit camp, military base and alien crash site. Locations are introduced gradually throughout the missions, and they have certain effects listed on them, for instance:
- Reveal - A one-off effect on flipping the tile, mainly getting a free scavenge action (e.g. at the farm or gas station).
- Enter - On a character entering the tile the effect triggers (e.g. drawing a monster on the city streets, or increasing your hunger in the desert).
- End - If a character ends their turn here the effect triggers (e.g. restoring health at the hospital, or drawing a monster in an open field).
Your Mission.. Should you Choose to Accept it!
Missions in Maximum Apocalypse range from simply grabbing the fuel and getting to the van, to more complex, multi part objectives, grabbing x, destroying y, finding location z etc. There is enough variation in the missions to keep things interesting, and this coupled with the random map gives a lot of replay-ability.
Also, the rules suggest mashing it up by using alternate monsters from those suggested for missions, which kind of works, but it breaks with the thematic nature of the missions.
This is slightly different for each mission, and can be a little fiddly, as only a selection of scavenge cards and map tiles are used each time, so it requires an amount of sorting beforehand. This is somewhat mitigated by the quick random map set-up, where tiles can be arranged (face-down) pretty much however players want (handy if you have limited space).
Choose characters, draw a starting hand, set your starting hunger on the hunger dice, and you’re ready to … oh, spoke too soon, as you arrive in your van the noise attracts monsters - place one in front of each player. Now you’re ready to go!
Getting into the game is pretty easy, the rule book is tiny, and the mechanics are going to be fairly familiar for gamers who’ve played other similar doom laden thematic games like Eldritch Horror, Last Night On Earth etc.
There are a few places that the rule book is lacking, but a quick search on BoardGameGeek usually helps, and the next edition of the game is scheduled to have a revised rule book. On their turn, players go through five simple phases:
- Spawn monsters - Roll two six-sided dice and place a cool wooden monster token on any map tiles matching the result (up to three maximum per tile). There are no map tiles with the number seven, so that gives a good chance of a monster free turn, but as more map tiles are explored, the likelihood of an encounter increases. If a player or players happen to be on the map tile, they draw monster cards rather than placing tokens.
- Draw a card - Take a card from your themed survivor deck into your hand (limit of 10).
- Take actions - Any four actions can be taken in any order, including moving (only orthogonality), drawing another card from your survivor deck, playing a card from your hand, performing an action from a card in play, or scavenging (if the tile you are on allows it you can draw a card from the appropriate scavenge deck). There are free actions too - discarding two cards to draw a new one, trade scavenged cards with players on your tile, and playing cards as part of mission objective.
- Increase hunger - A six-sided dice records your hunger level, starting at one and increasing by one per turn. At six, you are starving, so your character card is flipped and you begin to take damage until you can scavenge some food to eat. Flipping the card also means you can no longer use your character’s ability until you are no longer starving. If you don’t manage to find any food, you can die of hunger.
- End turn - This is when the monsters get their turn! Any monster cards in front of you will attack you and any other players in range (simply doing their damage to you, no hit rolls).
On the subject of range, it is dealt with quite simply and neatly, with no line of sight rules. There are three ranges, Short which is the tile you are on, Mid which is your tile plus the four orthogonality adjacent tiles, and Long, which is NOT your tile, but up to two orthogonality adjacent tiles (reference cards have nice handy diagrams of these).
Doomed to Die
There are two ways that players can die, if they run out of health or run out of options (if their survivor deck is empty). The game ends (badly) if all players die, or if there are no more monster tokens to place (players are overrun).
Ramping up the Difficulty
The rule book suggests several ways to make the game harder, all of which I find make for a better game (the more brutal the better!):
- Game over if even just one player dies - this encourages more teamwork and sharing resources (such as food).
- Allowing a build up of more than three monster tokens on a tile - this can make some tiles very dangerous to enter!
- Players rolling their starting hunger level rather than starting on one - we play in a ‘campaign’ style where hunger and health levels carry over from mission to mission which further increases the challenge.
- Not one from the rule book, but we also only allow three scavenges per tile (using tokens from another game, discarded after each search).
This brings up an interesting point about the Maximum Apocalypse, there is quite a bit of room for customisation and playing house rules. It almost feels like the game has been kept deliberately simple to allow for this.
Multiplayer is my preferred option, but Maximum Apocalypse is great played solo, two-handed is suggested in the rules and it works well. But I would recommend against mixing the character’s decks together as the rules suggest, which results in a 20 card hand size, which just isn't practical. It’s also less thematic to be able to play one character’s cards on another character, so I keep the hands separate.
There is lot of replay-ability in Maximum Apocalypse, despite there only being 12 missions (plus tutorial) in the box. The random map set-up means each time you try a mission it will be different. Admittedly, this sometimes leads to missions where your objective map tile is right next to where you start, but it shouldn’t happen often.
Also, expansions - the Kaiju Rising Expansion is available, and this adds a new foe, the massive Godzilla style Kaiju monsters, plus two new characters, the Army Ranger and Scientist. Plus, available soon is the Gothic Horrors Expansion that adds Vampire style nasties, and Cthulhu monsters (yes!), as well as new survivors and rules.
Summing Up Maximum Apocalypse
I love Maximum Apocalypse, and a lot of this love comes from how flexible it is. We can play as a group, and have great fun watching the story develop as we slowly run out of resources and become overrun with monsters, or it can be played as a very satisfying solo experience. Also, as I said earlier, the random map allows you to adapt to whatever play area you have, and the open nature of the game means house rules fit in quite nicely, to pep-up the difficulty level once you are used to the system.
The doomy apocalyptic theme might not be to everyone’s taste, and the artwork might not be suitable for all ages, but these are only minor points about an otherwise brilliant game.