Friday, December 8, 2017

Wasteland Express Delivery Service: Trucking for loot on the post-apocalyptic highway

Posted By on Fri, Dec 8, 2017 at 10:36 PM

Wanna die historic on the Fury Road?

How about making some scratch (or $crap, as the currency of this world is called) as a nervy driver for the world’s last over-the-road trucking company? That’s the proposition of Wasteland Express Delivery Service (WEDS).

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In terms of marrying mechanics to theme, I’ve always found that semi-open-ended game worlds with “pick up and deliver” schemes are incredibly effective. It’s hard not to get sucked in as you invest hard earned money into upgrades for your vehicle and plot the most profitable and least dangerous way to ply the game’s radiation zones on your way to your ultimate goal — to be the first player to complete three first-class priority missions.

The missons are often done at the behest of one of the game’s three organized factions: The Oracles of Ceres (return-to-nature fanatics), The Archivists (return-to-technological-glory fanatics) or the New Republic Army (law-and-order-at-all-costs fanatics). Then there are the raider enclaves, whose roaming trucks can put a dent in your plans.

You’ll have a lot of options as to what kind of missions to take on. In my last test play I invested money from a successful water shipment into a digging modification for my rig that allowed me to unearth dig sites in hopes of finding treasures that one of the settlements was after. LIttle did I know some of the sites are busts — just an empty hole — and some are in irradiated zones which damaged my truck every time I entered them.

WEDS' game play produces an immersion akin to what you’d experience in a role playing game, except much more streamlined and structured. Each of the five available drivers has a backstory, a rig that matches the illustration on your character board, and a particular mix of starting modifications. (You can outfit your rig with improved weaponry, movement ability, escort drivers, radiation shields and more from the "Mod Shop.")

For pure visual design, organization and tactile appeal, I don’t have a title on my shelf that is likely to surpass WEDS: sprawling, minutely orchestrated and thought through down to the last piece (it has stackable sorting trays that neatly fit every one of the game’s hundreds of pieces). It’s a wasteland with a satin finish. I actually giggled when we were setting up our first play and I saw how neatly the food, water and ammo cargo stacked into the beds of the raider trucks that rove around the map.

The game’s incredible production quality also comes with a large helping of thematic personality, from the detailed narrative that undergirds its apocalyptic tableau, to the deadpan humor of the cards and the insanely good illustrations that comic artist Riccardo Burchielli lavished onto every card and board.

My frame of reference for evaluating this from a pure gameplay perspective is the piracy classic, Merchants & Marauders. WEDS’ dynamics are almost entirely inspired by M&M: you have a captain with a name and specific advantages, an upgradeable craft with which to seek the game’s dangers and opportunities and various outposts where you can buy or sell in-demand goods to buy upgrades for your rig. But while WEDS occupies an edgier tableau, its game decisions are decidedly less risky than its forebear: M&M derives a large degree of its voltage from the possibility of having your ship ransacked and sunk (and your captain killed) by other players, pirates or military vessels.

I’m all for not taking it personally when the logic of a game dictates that other players give me an opportune stomping, but I can think of fewer “kicked in the stomach” feelings as acute as raiding a merchant vessel for a big take, then having your ship sunk by another player before you can cash in. It never goes down easy. So the fact that in WEDS players all work for the same company and may not attack each other’s rigs will either be a welcome emotional guardrail or make the game feel “nerfed,” depending on your perspective. (As a matter of fact, you can’t even get your truck destroyed; if you take too many hits, it just shuts down your ability to carry cargo and use your mods until you make a pit stop and pay for repairs; a hindrance, but not the same level of risk as losing a grand ship to the depths.)

Raider trucks shuttle around the wasteland, too, hoping to waylay you — seek them out or run the risk of ambush. If you’re the combative type, you can also go pick a fight at one of the raider enclaves on the board and raid them for cargo to flip on the open market to fuel some of your longer-term goals.

Combat is also much simpler in WEDS — you simply try to surpass a raiders’ defense value with a combination of a single throw of the dice and whatever offensive mods your truck has, while M&M’s more crunchy combat scheme allows for more tactical risk and reward such as boarding and fleeing actions. Lose a squabble with a raider in WEDS and your truck takes a point of damage — then you generally get on with your life, as opposed to your ship sent to the bottom of the sea.

After our trial run, we watched a “how to play” WEDS video on YouTube and discovered we got about 80% of the game right in our first try (standard for learning a designer game, in my experience). The sprawling rulebook and profusion of components make the game look more complex than it actually is, so we’re excited to get this one on the table again soon. Buy this if you love the theme and artwork, and don’t mind investing some time in managing the components — there’s a pretty intuitive, slick and engaging game residing at the core.

Nate Warren is a Colorado Springs-based copywriter who offers both the veteran gamer and the uninitiated a local window into the burgeoning and wildly creative world of hobby and designer board games enjoyed by fanatics and connoisseurs — around the corner and and across the globe.

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