It should have been such a simple thing, the first test of Apocalypse Road. Carla & I were sure that it would work nicely on a Thunder Alley track and we chose Pullinger’s Pyramid as the first test track. This would be great, we could add four new tracks to the Thunderverse through Apocalypse Road and at the same time have 17 extra tracks already available or in production. They shoot, they score! Except…the Pyramid was really boring for this game. Of course, it needs to be more like Grand Prix, pull out one of those. Buzzzz, not much better. If the combat system is the most crucial and difficult challenge, then the track situation for Apocalypse Road was the most consistent and nagging.
It turns out Apocalypse Road tracks need to be different than the average Thunder Alley or Grand Prix track and they need to have keys terrain-wise for event cards. In addition, they need a starting grid that does not bump against the finish line and something we refer to as “The Chute”. We did some research and found that Racecross tracks seemed to fit all of our requirements, so we dove into those tracks and quickly the ‘terrain’ of Apocalypse Road was laid. All of this means that Apocalypse Road tracks do not have much in common with their predecessors except that at a distance they are identifiable as race tracks. Racing in Apocalypse Road will be a new experience even though it is governed by a familiar engine.
What sets them apart? Glad you asked.
The first thing you will notice when you set up for your first race is that the starting grid is placed either out in front of the Finish Line or it enters the track from a split. Why would we do that? Simple, you get a Victory Point (VP) token each time a car crosses the Finish Line. We don’t track laps or have Lapped Tokens in Apocalypse Road. While cars are still going to be left by the pack at the start (I am sure everyone has experienced this at some point in a game of Thunder Alley or Grand Prix) we don’t want to have to note if they have crossed the finish line at the race start. Some of the tracks are pretty short and those leaders can make this a sticky situation by the end of the first turn in a big game. So it is now impossible to be ‘left’ behind the finish line. If you cross it, you have earned it, and you score a VP.
The next oddity is ‘The Chute’. This is where all replacement cars enter the race. Again it needed to be beyond the finish line but other than that you will find it in various unobtrusive locations on the different tracks. What the heck is The Chute? Well, since the game is at least half about blowing each other’s cars up there needed to be a place to put replacement cars on the track. Each player will start with 4 or 5 cars on the track at a time but as combat ensues, cars will be removed from the race. Each team consists of 8 cars in total, so each player can replace 3 or 4 cars that are destroyed throughout the race. This keeps the game moving with enough cars on the track to push and pull, keeping the race portion of the game flowing. The Chute becomes that location on the track where all players place their replacement cars at the end of a turn, replacing those shot to bits or smashed to pieces in the previous turn. Cars in The Chute cannot shoot until they enter the track and cars in The Chute may not be targeted by cars on the track. They move out just like leaving the pits in the previous games, just with more speed (no pit lane speed limit here).
You will notice that all of the tracks have some stretches of brown and a short section of red. Forgive my poor artistry but the brown represents a dirt section and the red represents the jump section. In the dirt portion of the track, no lane changes are allowed and it is referred to as Rough Terrain. The jump section, which I can’t wait to see it done well by an artist, represents the dirt jumps and also allows for no lane change. The jump area also has a section carved out of it called “The Trough”. The trough is where cars that miss their jumps are placed. Note since there are no lane changes in the jumps, if you get moved to the trough, other cars will simply go by you on either side until that car activates and gets back in the flow of the race. Other than that, we chose to keep it simple. Neither the rough, nor the jumps cause any speed adjustment but they are places that get targeted most often by Movement Event Cards that are played after high speed movement cards. The objective of the special terrain is to get through it as quickly as possible.
Each track also comes with a Joker Lane. These side lanes are a requirement is Racecross but we decided to use them as strategic points where you can send your opponents along a path with extra spaces required to traverse. Turns out it is fun to push your opponent down the long way and the shoot through the shortcut yourself. To make this easier to accomplish, the solo and lead movement cards are conditional like in Grand Prix. It becomes simple now to push cars into the Joker Lane and then quit linking and move yourself through the shortcut.
You had to know this one was coming. We had to put in a Figure-8. It turns out the rules for it were not that complicated to create. If there is a car in your (or the line of cars you are moving’s) way during movement, your movement stops and the two cars that would connect perpendicularly each take one damage. It is great fun to push another car into the Figure-8 and watch it take contact damage. We’ve even had one test game won by pushing a car with 5 damage into a car already sitting in the kill zone, thus eliminating it and gaining the final VP for the active player. The key to the Figure-8? Stay out of the kill zone.
In a true reversal and seeming somewhat odd these tracks are actually very fun and interesting for other games in the Thunderverse. If you consider the jump and rough sections to have dirt rules or to just be clear these tracks are awesome challenges for Thunder Alley and Grand Prix. However, they shine when you are spraying lead and swapping paint.
While I am somewhat reluctant to add this, only one of these tracks have been officially sponsored. Trinitite Crater Run is official but the others are just place-holders. Carla & I are looking for supporters to sponsor names for the remaining three. If you have any interest, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn the details. These sponsorships do have an accompanying price-tag and we use all of those proceeds to fund our prototyping and design activities.