No real disclaimers here. I am buddies with the designer so that might make me too nice…or too mean. So if you think I am being too mean, or too nice than I probably am. I will try to be objective though. If you would like to watch a video of this review you can check it out below. Copies are scarce out there, but check your FLGS or favorite online outlets.
You can’t shake a stick in a game store without hitting a dozen apocalypse games. Seriously. They are everywhere. But you know what is not everywhere? Zombie free apocalypse games. Though, I do recognize the irony of my saying this having just recently published a review of For What Remains…another refreshingly zombie free apocalypse game.
Over the past year or so of doing reviews I have become decent friends with Michael Kelley of One Stop Co-op Shop, and having watched plenty of his videos I have heard him say many times that he “is a designer.” Now truth be told, I just assumed he meant that he was an aspiring designer, not that he is a published designer. That is pretty cool.
So being the nice guy that I am, I figured I should pick one of them up. Then being the mean guy that I am I snagged one that had a relatively low BGG score. For me, if a game scores below a 7 on BGG I usually let is pass on by. In my evil little heart I thought, “here is a chance to be nice by buying his game and cruel by being able to bad mouth it! MUAHAHAHAHAHAHA! MUAHAHA! HA!” (dramatization did not actually happen…or did it?)
In Salvation Road you are a member of a colony that has managed to survive the devastation of the world caused by man’s hubris. However, you have managed to form a colony that has been safe…until now. Not only is your generator gonna blow any day but the evil marauders have got wind of where you live and they are coming for ya Mad Max style.
Each round you will be sending our characters out into the wasteland to search for supplies. Supplies that you need to make your way along the eponymous Salvation Road to the larger colony that you recently learned about. Getting there will require you to pass several obstacles along the way, obstacles you overcome by spending resources.
I mentioned that you send your characters out, well in this game each player controls two. One of them is a hero, and being a hero they have a unique ability that is a boon for you. However, you are also saddled with a “survivor”. This is just a person that did not die in the disaster. They can help, but there is something about them that is a detriment to the team. Each player can lose one of their two characters but if any character loses both, you lose the game.
In fact there are a whole bunch of ways to lose the game. Characters can die, the apocalypse deck can run out, marauders can overrun the base, you can fail to pass the obstacles on the road, or you can make ti to Salvation, but be unable to pay the toll to enter and still lose the game.
I also probably should have included this above…but I made my poorly organized bed so now I will lie in it. As you send your survivors out into the world they will visit different locations, and each location has a different power that you can activate, making each one unique. It is at these locations that you will search for supplies, and it is also here that you will learn just how horrible of a mistake you have made.
You see each round you are out in the world you get to roll some dice. Horrible, mean, unforgiving dice that wound your characters. As your characters get wounded they can carry fewer supplies. Not only that, but occasionally the wounds that you put on your character cards flip over…and more horrible things happen to you. Though this can be satisfying for some of the particularly annoying characters.
So what do I think?
The core gameplay is simple and satisfying, though quite challenging. It is easy to learn the rules, and with the large variety of characters and locations each game certainly feels different enough to warrant it returning to the table on occasion.
The graphic design, and the diverse cast of characters is also fantastic…even if the designer did make one of the most powerful heroes in his own image. Everything has its place, and the board has this hand drawn look to it, with an old school map at the top that I found charming.
However, what I like the most about the game is the character combinations and the way the wound system works. As maddening as some of the survivors can be, if you are clever you can work around their deficiencies, and figuring out how best to leverage a hero’s power is a delight. I appreciate that the more wounded you get the less you can carry, but what really makes the system work is the flipping of the wounds. Sometimes you will find yourself actually in a better place than you were if you just have a flesh wound, but other times you will find yourself suddenly in a far worse position than you were before as you discover your wound is critical, or you have a sprained arm or whatever. The added bit of tension, and unknown this creates really works for me.
The character art is pretty cool. It lives in this odd area between cartoonish, and realistic that I kind of dig.
This game is, even with the updated ruleset (more on that in a bit), very hard. So this might excite you, or it might drive you away depending on your preference in your co-op game difficulty.
Boy of boy did they miss the boat on the difficulty settings of this game. If you try to play it as written, it is downright impossible. When I played it the first time, I lost on turn 3. I messaged the designer and he gave me some changes to implement in the game, and suddenly it opened up. It was still challenging, but it was possible, and what’s more it made the puzzle of the game far more delightful.
This actually reminds me of one of my favorite, under appreciated games, Battle for Greyport. That game was released with a ruleset that was punishing, so punishing it was not really fun. Subsequent releases have fixed it, but the damage then, and I think here was done. To play this game you absolutely need to download the errata.
Bringing it all together
Salvation Road is a game in the same realm as Pandemic, or the Captain is Dead. You are working together to put out enough fires until you have what you need in order to win the game. If you enjoy that kind of game, and like Mad Max style themes then this just might be up your alley. The cast of characters, and wound system is truly inspired; the art and graphic design is spot on. The game is quite challenging, and you absolutely must download the rules errata or the game is so hard it is almost impossible, and really not much fun to play at all.
You do know that marauders do not read paragraphs anymore. right?
* An apocalypse with no zombies, cool art, and a realistic cast
* Solid game play throughout with an inspired wound system, and character pairings
* The game is very challenging
* Easy to learn and plays quickly
* Downloading the rules errata is a must, the game is far too hard otherwise, so hard it is not fun