Theme and What is it?
The Apocalypse has come. The Maximum Apocalypse. With 13 different mission cards to choose from during setup, players will confront a number of unique challenges in this tabletop rougelike game. Players might be barricaded in a shopping mall with a lack of food. This will force them to venture into the monster infested wastelands to search for food, weapons, shelter, and ultimately enough fuel to find a van and get out of there!
Some missions make a small story arc. Players need to save a scientist who claims he can stop the zombie hordes from pressing in. They must collect samples to help him find the cure and stop the nightmare for good. Another nightmare will always follow anyway. Nuclear winter brings with it all sorts of mutants, bomb scares, and radiation hazards.
When aliens invade earth, the players will need to become military masterminds. They will track movements, gather intelligence, and develop a counter strategy. Players ultimately try to strike back against the mothership using a sophisticated virus. After all of those ways for the world to end, why not throw in a Matrix like robot uprising too?
Maximum Apocalypse has players pick a scenario, setup according to the card, and then attempt 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. Their 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.
The constant need to find food and keep from starving combined with the need to explore tiles that can be scavenged gives players a lot to accomplish. The need to kill monsters attacking them or step onto monster infested tiles searching for critical items makes it a constant balance of what is most important right now. Sometimes players will be forced to ignore a monster attacking them or knowingly get ambushed by more monsters in the attempt to find a scrap of food to avoid dying of starvation.
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 as they are strangely addicting and very enjoyable. You need to try this even if it isn’t your first pick of game style!
Maximum Apocalypse puts a lots 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. The theme is a draw to many players. 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.
Some very great map tile build games and tile exploration games already exist. This takes that same feel as Betrayal at House on the Hill, Fallout, and some other similar high complexity titles and brings the gameplay experience back down to the lighter side. Without the gameplay rules constantly getting in the way, the theme can shine even brighter. The variety of setup choices, play styles, and randomization elements in each play suggest Maximum Apocalypse will not wear out its welcome at the table.
Game Build Quality
I already mentioned how much I love the box. The dimensions, quality, and well sized insert make it easy to store and setup. Most of the game is contained in character card decks, monster decks, and salvage decks. The rest of it is dominated by the stack of tile locations. I was very impressed with the quality of the wood fuel, ammo, and monster tokens. The punchout damage tokens are less impressive but fully functional. The game does make several suggestions for ways to track health without the damage tokens if players prefer those ways of managing to the punchouts.
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.
Maximum Apocalypse is not a game you can expect to win every time. One of our early plays had a run of bad spawns. 3 monsters each killing us while we are only just trying to get weapons and ammo equipped was… Impossible. We didn’t win that. Not even a little.
It was actually fun laughing about just how worst case scenario that run was. It was a fast reset and the next run didn’t get crazy difficult until near the end where the tension should be high.
Another game we played was rated as very hard but our choice of characters were so synergistic that we breezed through it. I would have expected to say that was less fun than the really tough plays. It wasn’t. It was incredibly satisfying seeing just how many monster tokens we could sneak our way past while gleefully scavenging supplies and chuckling at our own cleverness.
The different characters bring all sorts of play combination possibilities to provide particularly powerful or particularly powerless feelings. These give the game a depth of replay value and give ways for the players to intentionally set the difficulty of the experience they want to have. The rules provide 4 suggestions for customizing the difficulty and players can easily think of more.
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.
For players who like infinite replayability, story driven gameplay, and cooperative games, Maximum Apocalypse will deliver an experience you will not regret. You have to really hate every single element of random luck in any game ever to not find this an enjoyable game. Most of my players favor heavy skill games and always hesitate to let a game with high luck elements hit the table. They all still enjoy Maximum Apocalypse.
The fun is crafted in a way that is amplified by these random luck 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 find it very satisfying when we can just barely bring everything together to survive the onslaught of circumstances.
I did encounter a couple questions about specific card interactions and rules were supposed to work. In the expansion, Gothic Horrors, the rules to the original game are reprinted with added frequently asked questions and clarifications. If you are getting both games, DO NOT read the base game rulebook. Go straight to the expansion rulebook to get the same information in an improved format and stop reading when you see the first page that has an expansion header.
If you do not have the expansion, you can always check a digital copy of the expansion rules on Board Game Geek. 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 this and other Rock Manor Games.