Have you ever wondered how you’d fare in a post-apocalyptic world full of monstrous foes and harsh landscapes? If movies like Mad Max, Zombieland, The Book of Eli, and Children of Men have taught us anything, it’s that it’d be pretty rough. If we’ve really paid attention, we’ve learned that usually, the greatest threat following the apocalypse is other people. Well, in this game, you’ll need to rely on others to survive the wasteland and teamwork is critical to your success.
Maximum Apocalypse: Wasted Wilds is a cooperative roguelike adventurer from Rock Manor Games designed by Mike Gnade for 1-4 players and plays in about 60-90 minutes.
A game of Wasted Wilds starts with players deciding which characters they’ll play and choosing a scenario from the Mission Log. Each character has its own unique deck of cards with differing strengths and mechanisms. Missions establish the goals for a game, with specific setup instructions for the map and special decks that represent things like exposure to the climate and which monsters you’ll be encountering.
Each mission has one or more monster sets representing the dangerous inhabitants of your surroundings. One set consists of wild animals such as wolves and bears, another pits players against mutant plants. In addition to these creatures, the monster deck could contain denizens of the various tribes located throughout the wastelands. Tribes represent potential allies or enemies during your travels. Whether they attack depends on your team’s relationship with that particular tribe. If they’re hostile, then members of a tribe attack as usual. But if they’re friendly, you’ll have additional options for trading with them or enlisting them as allies in combatting other foes.
On each player’s turn, they will carry out a series of steps that add dangers and obstacles while giving their character the opportunity to explore, interact with the environment, and battle monsters. A turn begins with rolling a die to spawn monsters on tiles with a matching number. If any players are on such a tile, they immediately draw a monster card and attach it to their character. These foes will follow the player and must be dealt with on their turn.
The next step is to advance time on the clock, which contains one or more decks as established by the mission parameters. There is an Exposure deck that will force any players on an outdoor tile to draw a card. These cards contain status effects such as Frostbite, Sunburn, or Heat Stroke, which deal damage to or otherwise hinder players. There’s also a Day/Night deck that moves monsters around the map or introduces immediate or ongoing effects.
After drawing a card from their character deck, the player then can take 4 actions to do things like move around the map, draw more cards, play cards, or perform special abilities. When moving onto an unexplored tile, the player will reveal it and potentially trigger effects such as a free scavenge action or a monster attack. Scavenging allows the player to draw from one of the three scavenge decks and have things like fuel, ammo, food, and gear.
Once a player’s actions are completed, their attached monsters have an opportunity to attack. Whenever a player encounters a new monster, a card is drawn from the monster deck and attached to their character. During the monster activation, each of these monsters attacks all valid targets within range, so other survivors sharing a map tile can also take damage. Some monsters, like bears, might even attack other enemies.
Finally, at the end of each turn, a player will increase their Hunger by 1, which can lead to starvation if not dealt with by eating food or using other hunger-reducing effects. Any additional status effects, such as poison or exposure damage, will occur at this point as well. The game ends in victory if, following a player’s turn, all mission objectives have been completed. The players lose if all characters are killed or if a monster must be spawned and no monster tokens are left to place out.
Wasted Wilds is a fun cooperative game that shines primarily thanks to the widely divergent character decks. Each character has its own focus and, because you won’t see their entire deck during a single play, will even play a little differently from game to game. For instance, the Driver’s Custom Car is an important and powerful item in that deck, allowing players to travel to any revealed map tile or mow down enemies with a Hit & Run card. But you might make it through an entire playthrough without actually drawing the Car card. No matter, though, because there are plenty of other goodies in the Driver deck. For instance, an Adrenaline Rush will grant extra actions, remove negative status effects, and reduce damage taken before your next turn.
The Thief, on the other hand, tends to try and skirt around danger, rather than plow through it with cars and guns blazing. Their deck has 50 cards, so it’s much larger than those of other characters. Their stealthy movements, however, have a long-term build-up in mind. The Thief has fewer weapons and equipment, but their deck is full of instant actions to help stall the enemy. Surrounded by monsters ready to pounce with devastating attacks? Just drop a Smoke Bomb to stun them all, then use your Parkour Skills to evade and escape to another tile.
The game does a great job of making each character feel unique and exciting to play, and with numerous other characters from the original game and expansions, there are plenty of novel experiences waiting. Variability also benefits from the monster system, where various decks are mixed and matched for different scenarios. This, coupled with the variety of Exposure decks and map tiles, means that even with just the content in the Wasted Wilds box, there’s plenty of replay value. Missions will play out differently each time as the map layout, enemies encountered, goods scavenged, and character cards drawn will vary from play to play.
This is a cooperative survival game, but one thing that makes it fun is that you get to feel like your character is a powerful force moving through the post-apocalyptic wasteland. Even when the mission is tough and things aren’t going so well, the equipment and effects you’ll have access to give the impression that you have agency in this world and that you have a fighting chance to bend it to your will. A lot of survival games can feel grueling and drive home that sense of desperate endurance under constant pressure. There’s certainly a place for such experiences, and the challenge is an important element of solid gameplay. But it’s also nice to have fun while you’re trying to beat the odds and survive. Wasted Wilds does this by presenting players with tough scenarios and enemies, but giving them the means to put up a good fight.
A few attacks from attached monsters will quickly beat down your health total, and being caught outside in the elements a couple of times will definitely make life tough for you. Dealing with hunger every round will divert your attention and resources away from your goals, but staving off starvation is critical to a mission’s success and your survival. But firing up your Chainsaw or turning on the Wood Chipper to annihilate your enemies is all the sweeter when you’re on the brink of death and disaster.
The combat system in Wasted Wilds is also well-implemented; there are no frustrating die rolls or card draws that determine the success of your attacks. On your turn, you can use weapons and other cards to deal damage to targets. Each source does a set amount of damage, or deals status effects such as stunning or poisoning monsters. When enemies attack, they’ll apply their damage to you, but there may be ways to deflect the damage to other targets, such as an ally from a friendly tribe.
Dealing with monsters involves tactical decisions during each turn to determine things like which monsters to target, whether to run towards or away from team members, whether to enter a new tile, or which pieces of gear to equip. For instance, if an angry bear is attached to you and an injured fellow survivor is on the same tile, you’ll likely want to move to another location so that it won’t also attack them. Plus, you might be setting them up for a helpful long-range sniper shot to take out the bear on their next turn.
It can be pretty annoying in a survival game when you’ve done everything you can to set up a successful strategy only to be taken down by pure dumb luck when you don’t get the roll you need and your powerful weapon misfires in the face of a brutal enemy. Wasted Wilds feels much less arbitrarily punishing because when chance does (and it will) inflict negative effects on you, it’s likely due to circumstances that you had more control over. For example, if you’ve got just one action left and you worry about being ambushed by an enemy when entering a new map tile, it might be wiser to just wait and use that action to ready yourself for the next turn by equipping some gear or drawing a card. A little bit of agency can go a long way in making cooperative games feel more satisfying.
Wasted Wilds does an excellent job of giving players an enjoyable, challenging experience each time they unpack the game. The replayability and variety contained in this box, along with all the other content out there, make for a game that you can keep coming back to over and over. Want to fight kaiju, dinosaurs, or vampires in a post-apocalyptic landscape? There are expansions that can help you live that dream.
The gameplay really excels at allowing you to do fun things with your character, which makes braving the wasteland exciting rather than a depressing struggle. Yet it’s challenging and certainly requires smart gameplay and teamwork to succeed. All in all, it’s a solid cooperative experience that provides engaging gameplay in a reasonable playtime.
Final Score: 4 Stars – Play a unique, formidable character as you brave post-apocalyptic wastelands and mow down baddies.
• Early scenarios can feel too easy