Designers: Jonathan Gilmour, Ben Pinchback, and Matt Riddle
Publisher: Pandasaurus Games
2-5 players, 60-120mins
Price: £65-70 approx
If you’ve ever fancied yourself as a Mad Max-type character in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, or just like the idea of pimping your own armoured truck so you can drive around and destroy punk-ass raiders and such-like, this is most certainly the game for you!
Indeed, Wasteland Express Delivery Service is a cracking game for anybody that likes playing games, frankly — and in the very best tradition of many dungeon crawlers and similar titles, you get to spend the first part of the game driving around and ‘kitting out’ your truck…
Fancy a few Machine Guns and your own personal Gunner to really stick it to those Raiders? A visit to the Mod Shop will get you sorted. Perhaps you’d prefer another Trailer and an extra layer of Armor [US] for some additional Cargo room and more protection against the riff-raff? Or maybe you need more Allies on-board? Grab yourself a Sleeper Cab and enjoy the extra company! Need to make it through those radiation fields with no damage? It’s a RAD Shield you’ll be wanting, then! Missiles? Check. Turbo modification for extra speed? Check. Oh, you need to transport a Nuclear Bomb from one end of the board to the other? That’ll be a Nuclear Vault, then? Coming right up, mate, no problem! And so on, and so forth… This game is jus’ frickin’ AWESOME!
Since settling down to play our first game of Wasteland, this has become a firm favourite with our group, and we’ve worked our way through almost the entire Campaign series now. Of those 8-10 games (each 2½-3hrs long), at least 6 of them ended up going right down to the wire, with at least 2 or 3 players all able to win on that final turn — besides the tension this creates towards the end of the game, it also demonstrates real balance in the game-play despite an asymmetric start in which every character’s truck has a slightly different set-up at the beginning (extra movement, extra firepower, extra trailer, etc).
At it’s core, Wasteland is just a ‘pick up and deliver’ game, but it does this with such a distinctive style and grace, and with oh-so many nobs on —the whole thing piled high with lashings of derring-do, dumb luck and sheer attitude— that it has players literally rubbing their hands with glee as plans unfold and the end draws near… each confident they’re all just a few turns away from ultimate victory!
The beauty of Wasteland Express Delivery Service lies in its free-form nature: at the start all the players share the same three Contracts (Priority First-Class Contracts to give them their full title), and winning is just a case of completing these three Contracts before anyone else. However, there are additional Priority Contracts hidden within the three Raider-based Faction Job decks, some of which are slightly easier to achieve, and players can go for these instead if they prefer by visiting the relevant location on the board and drawing Faction Job cards — as long as you complete three Priority Contracts altogether (from those decks or the shared ones revealed at the start), you’ll win the game. These Faction Jobs only get revealed to other players once your character has begun working towards them, so in many cases it’s usually too late for anyone else to stop you — this is something I’ll come back to later.
To continue… the first part of the game will have players riding around, avoiding Raiders, buying and selling Cargo at the beck and call of those locations buying/selling goods (Food, Water and Weapons), and using the resultant profit to pimp and mod their individual trucks to their particular tastes/strategy. The second part, however, once all the player trucks are suitably stacked and bristling with weapons, armour and other gear, turns into a fast-paced race to the finish, with players actively seeking to attack the Raider Trucks and Enclaves to save precious time travelling the board for those same goods, with everyone planning ahead to shave precious turn actions in order to complete their Priority Contracts as soon as possible.
I should probably add that this game is a bit of a monster space-wise, given the board alone is nearly 3 ft square, you also need enough space for the Mod Shop tray (and associated Mod Shop reference board if playing with new players), the Resources tray, the Market board, up to eight different card decks, and a Dashboard for each player (see below)! Thankfully, Pandasaurus have done an amazing job of designing the interior plastic (covered) trays and inserts so that everything can be taken out and packed up again very quickly, and they’ve gone as far as including a special double-sided sheet of instructional diagrams detailing precisely how everything should be packed away to ensure a snug fit and no pieces end up all over the place when you knock the box around a bit:
Everything you do and all your actions in Wasteland Express Delivery Service are carried out using a specially designed Dashboard (unique for each character/player, but broadly providing the same options) and each player has 5 cogs per turn with which to accomplish all their actions, before the start player moves on and another Event Card drawn to kick off the following turn. The Dashboard tracks both your movement and actions during each turn, and there are limited spaces for each action (you can only successfully pillage raiders and buy goods once each, for example, or deliver goods or complete an Outpost action twice, for example). I can’t stress enough how important it is that every player understands and uses their Dashboard properly, because it could lead to heated discussions later if one of the players hasn’t kept proper track of their actions during a turn — these are deliberately limited, and for good reason!
If there’s one thing that counts against Wasteland, it’s the insular nature of the game — each player is doing their own thing most of the time, with very little player interaction, and the core rules do not allow players to directly attack other players: the best you can hope for is to place a Raider Truck in the way of another player in an effort to slow or hinder them and hope they cause some damage. Towards the end of the game, this simply isn’t good enough because Raider Trucks become little more than a minor annoyance and a way to grab free cargo in the latter half of the game, but this is really the only negative I can level at Wasteland.
As usual, my group made a couple of rule changes to try and mitigate this: we allowed players to attack each other only for their cargo (incl. Artifacts) by carrying out a Bonus Action, and using a variant of the optional combat rules, decided the attacking player had to declare, commit and roll their dice first, before the defender rolled. If the attacking player lost the combat, they’d take 2 hits and scamper off into the dust, but if they won, that player would gain one of the defender’s cargo/goods (incl. Artifacts) AND cause damage to that cargo space holding the stolen cargo. Even with this combat rule in place, there’s frequently not much other players can do to stop someone else from romping home to victory if they’ve planned it properly, and bottom-line, this is part of the challenge the game presents to all players, so it’s really more a case of getting into that winning position in the first place!
Wasteland Express Delivery Service comes highly recommended, and is a true joy from start to finish, and invariably gets requested when we’ve got a few hours available to play something ‘meaty’… and more to the point, it’s just flat-out GREAT FUN!