Racing Into the Apocalypse

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Looking back into the annals of the lost timelines after the apocalypse, I can see that it has been almost exactly two years since Carla & I set out to create Apocalypse Road. Honestly, 3 months prior to that it was not even a blip on our radar. But the summer of 2015 opened our eyes to a major “want” put forth by the fans of Thunder Alley. They wanted to knock each other around and frequently that was followed up with “I want to shoot my opponents, you know like in Car Wars”. In fact it was such a refrain during that summer at Origins, Gencon and Buckeye Game fest that we decided it needed to be done and we were just the people to do it. At the time we were putting the finishing touches on Grand Prix so it got the lower priority of time in the beginning.

Black Widow Hollow Playtest Track

From the very start we knew that the racing was covered. Carla & I both knew how to propel cars around a track with a pretty nifty mechanic and little tweaks were all that was necessary. What we ended up spending about 18 months on was creating and re-creating a combat system that matched the speed and flow of the racing. Dice is always our first choice because we love to roll them. However dice were a poor match for Thunder Alley’s movement system. They tended to slow the game down too much. Once we had that determination figured out it was another issue of trying to implement cards into the process. One method was too simple, the next was too detailed, the next was frustrating… you get the point. In the spring of 2017 we developed a really slick system of card combat where one flip of the card resolved all of the combat. I will hit on that in depth on a later installment.

A few Apocalypse Road Combat Cards (early playtest art)

That now meant that we had the ability to move the cars around the track and another solid method to resolve conflict between those cars that was not slowing the racing down. But we still had two more major hurdles. The events and the victory conditions were still out there flapping in the breeze and needed to be thoroughly addressed. The game was going too long and there were either too many events or not enough.

A few Apocalypse Road Move Event Cards (early playtest art)

The first issue that we found a cure for was the event situation. Resolving an event for every car was too much and waiting until all cars had been activated, like Thunder Alley and Grand Prix, felt like too few. A great compromise was to make the events a 50/50 split of good or neutral for the active car vs bad for the active car. Then we attached the event icon to the fastest of the race cards. Now after using one of these high-speed cards, a movement event is resolved by drawing a card. Again, not to be a tease but I will devote an entire post to how the movement events work and what each of them do. And… I will take suggestions from you at that point for possible ideas that I might not have thought of along with a special contest to go along with it.

Playtest Art of Apocalypse Road Cars

The final hurdle and one that was overcome at our test game at Fear the Con in St. Louis was what to do with the speed of play and how does the game end. For general purposes we had been playing to 15 points. A point was scored each time the active player eliminated a car that was not their own. So you have to be active and the opponent’s car has to get their sixth wear marker at some point during your activation. One point was also scored each time one of your car crossed the finish line. Going into the convention we felt we had the situation nailed down. The problem we discovered there was that if a table of people that couldn’t give a hoot about racing their cars across the finish line played just to see the world burn, the game outlived its welcome. We always felt that the game should have a roller derby vibe but if the players felt like simply brawling, things stopped. The answer was obvious and it started at that very table. Every time the entire field had been activated and the first player marker was rotated, each player lost a VP token from their pool. So at the conclusion of turn 1, you are no longer playing to 15, but to 14. By the end of turn two it is now down to 13. The only caveat is that once any player would lose their last token, no tokens are removed at all through the countdown mechanism. Your last point has to come from a destroyed car or crossing the finish line. In addition we have also implemented the 12 VP short game for those that want to cut about 20-30 minutes off their play. In fact the short game is now the standard and the 15 point game is called the long game.

A few Apocalypse Road Racing Cards (playtest art)

I know, I know I haven’t touched on the cars or the tracks or the race cards, or the combat cards. I will in the upcoming weeks cover every single aspect of the game. Now that Carla & I feel comfortable with it as it stands we are ready to close in on the 500 pre-orders and push this one into the production cue. So look for us to be a lot more active getting the word out about Apocalypse Road.

Example of an Apocalypse Road Team Card (playtest art)

If you are interested in leading a play-test group of the game, and don’t mind printing and cutting cards, gluing counters and playing with my crap-tastic graphics, contact me and I will be happy to provide you with the files necessary to play the game and help put the finishing touches on it. Every group leader that provides me a feedback report can name a driver in the game (while they last) and anyone that sends an After-Action Report can name one of the remaining teams (while they last). Contact me at nngjeff@gmail.com to set it up and get your files.

Until next time, keep outrunning the apocalypse.


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