Recently I did an article talking about the different types of games, and one that I mentioned was campaign games. These are games that tell a story throughout as you play them and you are playing scenarios that tie together over time and create one…
It might be kind of the wrong time to talk about this, we’re in the middle of the Covid-19 Pandemic, however, I think with that, for some, comes more time to delve into more story, including that of the Apocalypse/Post-Apocalyptic in nature. This is one of those genres that can tell a lot of interesting things because you can look at the struggle of man to overcome, the in ability of humanity to stop their own doom, or the breakdown of society and how it could fall apart and rebuild.
This is building off of my articles on where to start in comics and the article on zombies in pop culture. The format is going to continue to be a little bit different every time, mainly because it can be, but I want to talk about some things that have worked well and some that don’t work as well.
I think that we can all think of a lot of apocalyptic or post apocalyptic stories out there. About 5 years ago we had a lot of them being taken on in the Young Adult style with books series like The Hunger Games, Divergent, and Maze Runner. Some of these worked better and some were disappointments, at least for myself. Since then, the genre hasn’t really died off, we have Netflix putting out shows like Daybreak and The Rain where things are going horribly wrong or have gone horribly wrong in the world. The genre as a whole has kind of been all over the map though with a lot of goofy stories as well as many very serious takes on the genre as well.
Now, I’m not sure that any particular take is going to be always the right one. Some that take themselves too seriously become overwrought and melodramatic, while others can try and do a humorous take on it that just ends up being hit or miss. And there’s also an element where some authors are trying too hard to be profound on a topic that is going to lend itself to a lot of speculation.
Just to talk about speculation, I feel like there are two that I can kind of compare as to how one does it decently and the other does it poorly. In The Hunger Games, we have this idea of spectacle, and that humans, even when things are going poorly are going to want spectacle and probably even want more and greater spectacle, especially if they are at the top of the food chain. This is something that we can see already in our society where people love things like Survivor, or even before our time with the shows in the Roman Colosseum, so The Hunger Games has a feeling of something that is grounded and truthful to it. Compare that to Divergent. The issue with Divergent, besides that the story just takes a left turn that everyone saw coming is that they split up humanity and society in a way that doesn’t make any sense. At no point in time before has society split itself along those lines in such a way or tested people so that they would be split that way. It feels like an illogical jump for a society to make and one that doesn’t really aid the society in the long run. So even though, I would say, there is some overlap, the speculation and the ability for a post apocalyptic story to have a ring of truth to it makes a big difference.
Now, I feel like I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about how it’s moved into other mediums. It’s easy to think of books, films and TV shows, but in many ways it’s just as easy to think of video games. The Last of Us is a prime example of a post-apocalyptic game, and the Resident Evil games take place during or after the apocalypse. But probably less known to some, though obviously something I like, is how it’s made it’s way into board games. Pandemic Legacy Season 1 and Season 2 are basically board games about the apocalypse and the fallout from that. And it gives you an interestingly written story. Even a game like Dead of Winter, which I’ve mentioned in the zombie article, is definitely about survival after the apocalypse. While I don’t have a ton of post-apocalyptic games on my shelf, I have a lot that are about thwarting that great disaster from happening, basically all of the Lovecraft Mythos investigative games from Fantasy Flight fall into that category. In those games, Arkham Horror, Mansions of Madness 2nd Edition, Eldritch Horror, Elder Signs, you’re always trying to stop a great old one from coming through, or something along those lines. Even fantasy games like Gloomhaven, Sword & Sorcery, and Aeon’s End: War Eternal, while maybe not as heavily apocalyptic as some, have bits and pieces of that thrown in, especially if you fail the campaign.
Finally, there are RPG’s, and I think when it comes to a medium that is built for the apocalypse, RPG’s are that medium. Even if it hasn’t happened, the fact that you’re going on an adventure to do something, it’s going to be to stop something bad, and generally that’s some form the of the apocalypse for at least part of the world. And if you make it up to level 20, it’s probably for the whole world. In fact, one of the campaign books for Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition is Princes of the Apocalypse. There’s just something about the story of an malevolent god trying to destroy humanity and the player characters becoming humanities champions that just works well for a story. It’s one of those things where you can joke that it’s a story as old as time, but it works for so many reasons as it gives you that heroes journey and that final thing for them to overcome.
Well, that was kind of rambling, I had a lot that I wanted to talk about what I like from apocalyptic stories and why some of them don’t work as well if they ring a little hollow. Plus, I couldn’t go an article without talking about how it has flowed into the RPG and Board Game mediums. What are some of your favorite apocalyptic stories from whatever medium it might be?
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We all know someone who probably fits into each of these categories, sometimes it’s the same person for multiple ones of them, but some people have bad habits when it comes to gaming. Now, I don’t have perfect habits when it comes to gaming, but…
Another mechanic that I really love, action points/allowance is basically how many things you can do on your turn. Now, I want to say that this differentiates from something like Monopoly or Clue where you can do multiple things on your turn, possibly. I doubt many people were comparing them, but just to lay it out easily, in Monopoly or Clue you have prescribed actions for your turn, you move and then you buy (or pay rent or draw a card). It is in that order, you can’t buy where you’re on if you landed there the previous turn, you have to move and then do something, possibly. In an action point game, you can do your actions in any order in the turn or the round. But now, without further ado, let’s get to the list.
10 – Homebrewers
It’s time to fire up the old brew system and see what sort of beers you can bring to the judges in this quick engine building game with some interesting options for action points. You have a limited number that are determined what they are based off of the dice you roll, which is something you’ll see more of. However, you’re not locked in, you can always trade with other players or spend some money to change to dice to face whatever side you need. This game is quirky fun and has cool pieces and a cool look to it. While the theme might seem a little specific to people who love beer or brew beer, I think it can be enjoyed by most, and like I have said, it plays fast. Definitely a fun game with action points that are dice you’re spending.
9 – Village Attacks
Village Attacks is a fun game where you are the monsters who have been terrorizing the village, and now for some reason they are trying to storm your castle with their pitchforks and torches and just ruin the nice thing that you had going on. In the game you have a certain number of actions as the number of dice that you have, you’ll see that kind of come into play later on the list as well, however, this one is fixed in terms of dice. You roll them hoping to get what you need or making due with what you get. There are plenty of choices for being locked in though, because each scenario is going to lead you in a different direction. Plus, there is some mitigation of the dice if you roll three of a symbol you can reroll all of them. I like the theme of the game and while it has got dark artwork in it, the game actually plays pretty light.
8 – Photosynthesis
This game gives you an allowance of action points that you can save up over rounds if you wanted, but it’s all about using those points to grow and harvest trees at the right time so that you’re setting your trees up to get more sunlight the next turn to get your more points for planting more seeds, growing more trees, and gaining more points. This is an abstract-ish game that works because of the aesthetic of the game. You’re trying to set it up as much as possible so that you’re not being blocked for growing your trees and getting more light while blocking opponents, but if you just focus on blocking, you probably won’t be doing as well overall in gaining the light points that you need. A clever way to get your allowance of action points and a lot of fun to play.
7 – Sword & Sorcery
My favorite dungeon crawler doesn’t work for this list, but Sword and Sorcery does as it gives you regular and combat action points to play with, plus some standard actions that don’t require action points that you can do as well, and you can do them in any order, so it gives you a lot of variety for your turn. Combat action points are simple, it’s just about how many times you can attack, but the regular action points, you can use them to leverage more damage on combat or you can use them to break down locked doors, or other actions. I actually think that the action point system in here is a little bit weak as it’s very much overshadowed by combat. You feel like you’re mainly just using it for aiming, but there’s certainly the possibility to use it in more interesting ways.
6 – Dead of Winter
I like it when games change up how you can do action points or action allowance, it’s not just having a certain number of points to grab from your actions, what you roll on the dice matters for what actions you can do. It helps focus in a turn that could otherwise have almost too many actions to do, and you can get more actions by saving more people, but that might end up costing you in the long run, because you’ll likely need to produce more food, and you’ll definitely need to place more zombies at the end of each round. But having those extra dice can help decrease the likelihood of a bad roll so fairly often it’s worth it to get those extra survivors so that you’re able to pull your weight around the colony. And to get what you need in order to be able to complete your objective.
5 – Star Wars: Rebellion
This game is sneaky with how it let’s you do actions, it doesn’t seem so much like action allowance or selection, but you are really limited to how many leaders you have, and if you’re the Empire and you can capture an enemy leader, it is a big advantage. Plus, you have tough choices as to how you want to allocate your leaders. You pick missions at the start of each round at the same time as your opponent. You can assign as many of your leaders as you want, but if you do that, you won’t be able to move ships or try and thwart the enemies leaders on their missions. So you can limit you actions and how many of your action points you spend on missions to try and stop the other person, but you’ll get less done and not get closer to your goal. It’s a fun system of figuring out how you want to use your action points each round, and you get more as the game progresses.
4 – Mansions of Madness
First of two back to back Fantasy Flight Lovecraftian games. I really do love their system, and I’ll talk about it more with the next game as well. But it just works, they limit your actions and you really feel like you’re getting close and you can do most of what you want, but most of the time it feels like one action, one thing short of what you needed to do on your turn. Good action point games give you just enough to mitigate most of the issues while slowly building up the threat of whatever it might be in the game over time, at least for cooperative games with action selection. And while it’s something that Fantasy Flight has been doing for a long time with the Lovecraftian Mythos games, it still works and offers a great challenge.
3 – Arkham Horror: The Card Game
As said before, Fantasy Flight has a standard thing with their games where you have a limited number of actions that you can take. However, you get to pick from a great variety of actions and all of them feel like it’s a good option but never enough. Whether you’re moving, searching for clues, playing cards, gaining resources, etc., the two actions you get on your turn is never enough. Even when playing the game in story or easy mode, you still feel the pressure as you try and determine what are going to be the most helpful things to do. They have a system for their Lovecraft games, and it’s done well.
2 – Pandemic Legacy
Four actions per turn, but you can do whatever actions you want. This one is what I qualify as an action allowance game simply because every turn you get the same number of actions. It works well in this game, because the four actions that you get, they never feel like quite enough. That’s a common theme for action allowance is that you never have quite enough. Combine this piece of the game into a tense experience as the story unfolds, it does a good job of creating pressure that makes a familiar game be more challenging but also feel fresh again.
1 – Blood Rage
Blood Rage is a round based action limit game where you can spend actions to help with your area control, get monsters onto the board and possibly even gain more action points. This looks like a dudes on a map game with lots of great plastic pieces. But there’s more to it, there’s a strategy in using your action points that starts with the cards that you draft in order not to be out of the round too early and let your opponent have more access to the areas and be able to ramp up their number of troops and actions early on in the game. And some strategies might need a lot of action points while others are going to be more focused on maintaining a board presence, so it doesn’t just lock you into trying to get those points.
The most interesting part about this was actually figuring out what qualified as an action point or action allowance. For some of them, you can spend a whole lot of action points at once, but it might limit you in the future, Photosynthesis for example can go from having 15 sun points one round and 0 the next round depending on where the sun is facing on the board. So I think when I started this out, I thought that Action Points were going to be a little bit more straight forward, but it really is a mechanic that games use in a wide way.
What are some of your favorite games that use action points or action allowance as one of their main mechanics? Did I forget any big ones in your opinion? Are there some that I should checkout?
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