Maximum Apocalypse: Gothic Horrors – Rock Manor Games – Review

Maximum Apocalypse: Gothic Horrors deserves the word Deluxe before the word expansion.  

Theme and What is it?

The Apocalypse has come.  The Maximum Apocalypse. A new Deluxe expansion, Gothic Horrors, introduces 13 new mission cards to choose from during setup. Each offers a unique challenge to players in this tabletop rougelike game. 

Missions make a small story arc campaign. Players can research a vaccination for vampires and hunt down Dracula himself.  Then, in a very Dude Where’s My Car style, try to track down the missing van while dealing with werewolves and leftover vampire minions.  If that wasn’t enough, the undead curse keeps spreading so players need to vanquish an Alpha Wolf, Zombie Queen, and her remaining Zombie Hordes.  Whew.  

The cultists of C’thulhu have brought some truly bizarre creatures into the world.  Only you can stop them by breaking the seals on a dark altar, burning it to the ground, and dealing with the Old One the cultists will inevitable summon.  But can you stop them before going insane?  Probably not.  But don’t let that stop you from trying! Repeatedly! 

Another story arc centered around the Yokai invading the world offers even more thematic gameplay.  Three final missions combine several different monsters together into the most terrifying setups yet.  When vampires and C’thulhu minions combine forces how can the players hope to prevail?  Hijacking an alien ship is well and good.  Until you crash and get hunted down by aliens.  Oh, and those aliens have some really powerful robots.  Fair warning.

My single favorite mission to date is the Saucer Escape.  “First they nuked us, waited while we killed each other and now they’re invading.  These Aliens suck.”  EPIC!

 

Gameplay Mechanics

The basic mechanics in any Maximum Apocalypse include picking a scenario and attempting to accomplish the goal with 4 actions per turn.  The players roll dice to determine where monsters spawn in at the start of their turn, draw a card, and take actions.  Then, players increase their hunger and take damage from monsters or status effects to end the turn.  

The basic actions to try to deal with all of these problems are moving one space, drawing a card, playing a card, activating an equipped card, or scavenging the tile they are on.  Complicating things, the constant need to find food and keep from starving and the need to explore tiles that can be scavenged gives players a lot to accomplish.   

My favorite new expansion feature is the Day and Night Cycle deck.  In the base game, monster tokens would sometimes collect on several tiles and players could bypass them by exploring new zones or a different route to where they want to be.  When day arrives, the monster tokens move if possible.  When night arrives, something nasty or something wonderful happens.  Overall these effects will boost the difficulty of the game in exchange for making the experience more dynamic.  This is worth it.  Play with these cards.

Initial Impressions

Classic monsters, weird monsters, C’thulhu, new ways to add dynamic shifts to the gameplay, and built in ways to lower variances?  How can that not be great?  

Maximum Apocalypse: Gothic Horrors deserves the word Deluxe before the word expansion.  

A normal expansion might just offer some more setup scenarios and player decks.  This deluxe expansion brings in components to make the randomness more palatable to those who have an epic fail relationship with dice. The night and day cycle cards offer a whole new twist that elevates the gameplay to be significantly more compelling.  The Priest and Ronin characters could have been a small expansion all on their own.

While the rulebook for Gothic Horrors starts almost identical to the original rules, it has a few edits to add clarifications and answer common player questions in relevant sections.  I highly recommend using the Gothic Horrors expansion rulebook even when learning the base game.  Download its rules from BGG if you do not own the expansion yet and are wanting to play the base game first.  

 

Game Build Quality

Both Maximum Apocalypse games put a lot of stuff in a surprisingly compact box.  I was very pleased with the dimensions of the box and how well the components fill the space.  This isn’t the kind of expansion where you pile all the components in one of the two boxes.  You will need both boxes to store everything but can easily keep all the cards in one and all the other components in the other.  This is great as it makes division of labor on setup easier pulling from two compact boxes at once. Post-apocalyptic battle for survival games have been done a fair bit but the mix of new mechanics keeps this game from falling off the radar.

Artistic Direction

The art has some very dark colors and tone to try to fit the apocalypse theme.  Gustav Rangmar doesn’t pull any punches with showing violence and blood on close range weapons.  Many of the weapons are realistically drawn so you can identify the intended gun model without a name on the card.  The enemy cards often make me nostalgic of borderlands and fallout.  I like that the art makes me think of other games I have enjoyed that also play with the same thematic ideas.  All of these games successfully take what could be a depressingly dark theme and add a dash of humor, a touch of cartoon, and then exaggerate elements of the art to the absurd to keep the play experience purely enjoyable.

Fun Factor

Maximum Apocalypse is not a game you can expect to win every time.  Sometimes it goes horribly horribly wrong.  It is actually fun laughing about just how badly it goes sometimes. But we always find ourselves wanting a fast reset and try that again.  This time with less fail.  And more cowbell.  

Hunting down Dracula with a priest and a hunter in the party just feels right.  And those characters have a strong synergy together mechanically as well.  Sometimes a run will give you the right cards in the right order and you can breeze through a mission. I expected to say that kind of epic win luck run was less fun than the razor thin edge of defeat the whole time plays.  But it just wasn’t.  It was incredibly satisfying seeing just how well we could do in the right situation.

Maximum Apocalypse crafts the fun in a way that is amplified by the random rougelike elements.  Since everything is cooperative, no one ever gets angry or sad about the dice and draws seemingly conspiring against them.  It might take 3+ runs to finish a particularly hard mission setup. 

I am sure players have different desires for game difficulty and for what the normal experience looks like.  I have enjoyed the full range of too easy to impossibly hard with Maximum Apocalypse.  The perfect thing with Gothic Horrors elements is that players have all the tools necessary to intentionally set the difficulty of the experience they want to have.  

It is your game.  Make it as wickedly difficult as you can stomach.  Or turn the difficulty down and take a nice relaxing stroll through nuclear wastelands while you drill the brains out of some zombies.  Your choice

Age Range & Weight

13+ is an absolutely fair rating.  I would even go a step further to make sure parents know there are graphic elements of gore, violence, and other disturbing imagery.  None of these are so overpowering that the game needs rated 17+ for mature audiences.  But not all families or teenagers will want to play a game with this type of art and theme.  The vast majority of younger teenage boys in particular will really get a kick out of these same elements as they interact with something just on the edge of taboo for their age.  That makes this an ideal game to expose younger players to rougelike and exploration tabletop games.  

The rules for setting up Maximum Apocalypse are a little more time consuming and are entirely responsible for the low-moderate complexity rating.  The rules for play are short and easily accessible by any audience.  One experienced gamer at the table can easily handle the setup, while everyone can easily handle managing their own turns.  Nothing in Gothic Horrors changes my opinion about the age appropriateness or rules difficulty from the base game.

Conclusions

For those unfamiliar with a rouglelike, these style of games feature a lot of randomization in the setup.  Facedown map tiles are more than just scrambled around in a grid.  Even in the same mission, the actual map layout can look drastically different.  Which order monsters come out are randomized.  Which loot you find on bodies or by scavenging tiles is random.  

Sound like too much chaos for you?  Me too!  I was always skeptical of this genre of video games and of board games.  I am so glad I have played several now.  It is hard to describe exactly why but they are strangely addicting and very enjoyable.  You need to try this even if it isn’t your first pick of game style!

The Gothic Horrors expansion has given new characters to play, lots more missions to run, and some horrifying new monsters to deal with.  But more than all of that, to me it offered more of the most important elements that make a rougelike have infinite replayability: customizable difficulty.  

The Day and Night cycle is a simple mechanic that makes the game controlled elements even more dynamic while further enhancing the story driven gameplay.  The token bag allows players to replace random dice rolls for monster spawns and tweak how often those draws will get them murdered.

Also, Mike Gnade is extremely timely and responsive to questions on Board Game Geek forums for his games.  This developer to community interaction is one of the best I have seen with these and other Rock Manor Games. He has openly offered to give some suggestions to players struggling with the hardest Gothic Horrors mission setups.