Before I begin, I was provided a review copy of this game in exchange for an honest review. This is not a paid review. If you would prefer to watch a video of this review you can watch it below, and you can get your own copy here!
There was a time when I thought anthropomorphic animals were stupid. What can I say I was trapped in my memories of the creepy animatronic ones at Show Biz Pizza where I grew up in South Carolina. It was so ingrained in me that I recall the first time I played board games at a convention, and saw someone busting out Mice and Mystics. Everything about the game screamed “PLAY ME!”, but I thought, talking mice? Lame.
However, I have since come around and now am on the opposite end of the spectrum, some of my current favorite games involve anthropomorphic animals, and I am even now playing through Mice and Mystics as well. So getting a crack at Aftermath, the latest in the storybook games by the creator of Mice and Mystics, Jerry Hawthorne, and having Jerry Hawthorne willing to answer any questions I had via facebook, made this a must play.
Here is a game that has a lot going on, and even less so than usual will I go into detail about how the game is played, as I am not sure my prose can adequately explain it all. Fear not however! There will be a video review as well!
In Aftermath all of humanity is gone. The animals are now left to rule. You and your companions are all young hunters who are tasked with collecting supplies to keep the settlement going, and perhaps solve some mysteries along the way.
Like Hawthorne’s other recent games everything is done on the story book, each page has a map facing all of the text you might need for that level. This includes stories and events etc. Now I know what you are thinking, “how do you know what page to turn to?” (and some of you are thinking “what is for dinner?”). This is simple. Each session you select a mission card from those that are available, and you must move across the city, playing through each map you pass through. Each map of course leads to the the next one, until you finally reach the actual location and attempt to accomplish your goal. As you play you will collect supplies like scrap, and food for your settlement, perhaps recruit more mice and other rodents to move in as well; or you might find new useful items like a shampoo bottle cap which makes for a perfect helmet when repaired.
All of that is pretty standard for an adventure game, but one of the things that really stands out to me is that sometimes you do not have to move in guns blazing. Rather, each scenario will let you know if the game level is “hostile” or “safe”. If it is hostile, then you can get your murder hobo on, but if it is safe you might be able to recruit potential foes to your side. This means that not only do they leave the map, but they show up at your settlement as new population!
I know, I know, most of you stopped reading at “murder hobo” and want to know how to do said “murder hobo-ing”. This is done with a deck of action cards. As you draw for each heroic rodent you will place all the black cards on the potential enemy side of the board, once all enemies have a card they will attack according to their AI. Your rodent heroes also use these cards; for movement, attack, and scavenging.
For movement you simply get to move the number on the cards (of course there are modifiers and changes with terrain), for attacking, and defending however, you use the cards, adding up their numbers, plus adding a roll of a single die. This die might have bonuses or minuses for you and your opponent. The highest number wins each combat.
Now I have zipped through the explanation here, hoping it gives you a little idea of how it all works, though there is clearly a lot more to it, again I will encourage you to check out the video when it is ready to see a bit more detail.
As you progress through each level you unlock new areas, events, missions, and discover clues that help you unravel some of the mysteries in the game (yes I am being as vague as I can here!) After you complete each missions (either success or failure) you move back to the settlement phase where you get to track your supplies, feed your population, and improve your settlement, and this is how you complete the game. You see, each of the heroes you are playing has a specific goal, which is tied to the settlement. Completing those goals triggers the end game. This means you may play through many of the missions, or only a few.
So what do I think?
Let’s start with the components! They are fantastic. The art is great, the pieces are solid, there are tuck boxes galore! However, the true coup de gras are the minis. They are absolutely stunning. I will also add in that the components are no more engaging than the story. Admittedly I have not completed the campaign, but I definitely am dying to learn more about what is going on! Will I get to find out what happened to the people? I can’t wait to find out.
Next I will say that the mechanics are just the right amount of complexity and simplicity. There are not too many things that you can do, there are not too many modifiers to add up, however, there are so many options when it comes to how you actually approach any given situation. The options for improving your heroes and the settlement are varied and all hold the promise of being “the perfect upgrade”. I particularly love how the heroes really feel heroic with their ability to take multiple turns in between enemy attacks.
Finally, I will say that the game does “legacy” perfectly. By that I mean it does not ask me to destroy anything, rather it just has a lovely tuck box to put banished cards in. I can play it through, and easily reset it to play again. Truth be told, just writing about this is making me want to stop and bust it out to continue my campaign.
The game is a true sand box. While this is one of the games strengths, it does also lead to your having to replay some of the same levels multiple times on occasion, as you have to pass through the same region to get to where you are going.
Second, sometimes it can be challenging figuring out what is what, in regards to how enemies are labeled.
I spent a while debating whether or not to put this here, but I settled on that it could certainly turn off some players. I think most of the rulebook is clear and helpful, there are some things that I think are just quite challenging to find. Most of it works well, though some things are just really hard to find.
Bringing it all together
Aftermath is a resettable, legacy style campaign game, with an intriguing story, stellar components, and just the right amount of complexity for anyone to play. It has a delightful mix of card and dice play which makes you feel all the more heroic as you unravel the deep mystery of the game. While there are some issues with card labeling being a little confusing, and some elements of the rules being hard to find, this is truly a game for any fan of talking animals or adventure games.
Humanity will die out before I can read all that
* Stellar components
* Very strong settlement, combat, and legacy elements
* Amazing art, and delightful story
* Having to replay some levels in the sand box can be a little slow
* While mostly on target, there are a couple challenges in the rulebook
* If all adventure book games are this much fun, then I want all adventure book games.