Wreckland Run Review
Designer Scott Almes is best known for his ‘Tiny Epic’ series of games. In Wreckland Run he’s helped deliver a game that, although not tiny, is still pretty compact, and no less epic. The Mad Max energy is strong in this one, and it’s a fantastic example of how to create a solo game which delivers strategic depth, an engaging narrative, and a tankload of guzzolene fun.
If I’m gonna die, I’m gonna die historic on the Fury Road!
The basic premise of the game pits you as one of the four drivers available, piloting one of four vehicles. Your vehicle is a mat in the middle of the play area, which has nine card slots on it, arranged in a 3×3 grid. These are the places you can attach various items to either help keep you in one piece or add attacking prowess to your rolling deathwagon. You’ll need them, as the bulk of the game has marauders swarming around you on all four sides, aiming to destroy your car and claim what they can from the wreckage.
The swarming – oh the swarming – how I love the swarming cars. For each round during each chapter of the campaign, enemy cars come off the draw deck and surround your car’s mat. When a marauder attacks you, they deal damage if you can’t block it, and then circles around clockwise to the next side of your mat. If a little piece of your brain is now whispering “Sounds like something we can manipulate”, then it’s correct.
You see, which enemies activate and attack you is up to you. Most of the game is at the whim of dice rolls, and you’ll find yourself assigning dice for just about everything. Whether that’s your attacks, what you repair or add to your car, or which enemies activate and attack. If you choose a red 2-pip die, the enemies with a 2-pip die on them activate. So you can choose which cars move, and predict where they’re going to go.
I am your redeemer. It is by my hand you will rise from the ashes of this world.
Let’s say you’ve attached some really nasty guns to the front of your car. You’d like to fire them, but you want them to do the most damage possible to as many enemies as possible. Well, let’s activate those enemies behind us to being them up our left side, where another car already thunders along next to us – the driver leaning out of the window, giving us the bird. Every edge of every piece of metal down the side of the car is trimmed with barbed wire, like terrible lace.
On your turn – BAM! – you ram sideways into the marauders, dealing damage. More importantly, however, when you ram into enemies, you also move them to an adjacent section of your choosing. In this example, maybe we line them up in front, like bowling pins, ready to send tumbling into the dirt. It’s really satisfying to shepherd the enemies around, making them dance to your tune. It’s not only fun, but it’s also an essential skill to master as the game goes on, especially once you factor in the boss cards.
Each chapter has a big baddie to take on at the end, and they’re tough. Like, proper tough. When the first boss came out to play at the end of the first chapter, I had to check the rules twice because I thought I’d misread them. Not only did I need to deal a crazy amount of damage, but I also couldn’t damage them if any other cars were in the same section. What the Hell?! You’ll finish chapters with most of your car on fire, somehow balancing on one wheel, with nothing but the windscreen wipers working, and it’ll feel like a victory.
I’m scared, Fif. You know why? It’s that rat circus out there. I’m beginning to enjoy it.
It would be easy to think Wreckland Run is a racing game, based on its name and artwork. The idea of high-speed pursuit and car-nage is compelling, but that’s not what it’s about. You could pick up the game, shake off its theme and re-theme it with some kind of base defence game against zombies or aliens, and it would still be a great game. It’s a game of enemy manipulation and forward planning, with a good splash of dice-rolling thrown in for fun.
That’s not to say that the story is just gloss, because it isn’t. Wreckland Run has a full seven chapter campaign to work through, with a good story that builds up as you play. I’m not going to spoil any of it, but it’s full of tongue-in-cheek humour, punny car names, and surprising new things happening. It’s cool that the new enemies introduced in each chapter stay in the draw deck. It feels like you never truly outrun the people you smash in the earlier chapters. They’ll still track you down and take a swing at you from time to time.
I was honestly surprised at how much I got into the story because I find it really hard to buy into new worlds. The flavour text is well-written, and not halfway up its own backside, which really helps. There’s something about light-hearted fiction that takes itself too seriously which is a major turn-off for me. If you suffer with the same lack of buy-in that I do, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Wreckland run keeps you invested in what’s going on, and absolutely dying to know what’s waiting for you in the next envelope.
A lot of people only know Scott from his Tiny Epic series of games, which is a shame, because he has designed a lot of other great games, including Heroes of Land, Sea, and Air, Warp’s Edge, and last year’s hit, Beer & Bread. My hope is that Wreckland Run joins that list of hits because it really is good. I don’t know how much playtesting and balancing the game went through, but it must have been a lot. I’ve not managed to steamroller any of the chapters yet, and it’s pretty common for me to have my flaming hunk of steel just crawl back to my garage for repair.
If you’d asked me before playing Wreckland Run, I wouldn’t have guessed that it would end up being my favourite post-apocalyptic car war game. The racing part isn’t there, but then, Mad Max was never about racing, it’s about survival, which is something I hadn’t really thought about before. Apocalypse Road from GMT Games does the racing and wrecking thing about as well as it could be done (read my review of Apocalypse Road here), so I’d probably swerve toward that if you yearn for tearing up tarmac and rivals.
Wreckland Run is a solo game, and while you could have someone else help you make decisions, it’s the kind of game to enjoy by yourself. It fits on a small table, plays out in about 45 minutes, and takes only a couple of minutes to setup and pack away. It’s a great ‘fill a dead hour’ game. I love how much variety Scott has managed to pack into the game. The cards coming out of each new envelope add new things to think about, and if you really rinse the game, the Fallout expansion is awesome. There are a couple of new vehicles for you, some new drivers to choose from, three more chapters, and some cool new mechanisms – including missiles. Missiles!
A fully-resettable campaign game for one player which is quick to play, fun, and doesn’t take up an acre of table space? Yes indeed, what a great game.
Review copy kindly provided by Renegade Games Studios. Thoughts and opinions are my own.
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Wreckland Run (2022)
Designer: Scott Almes
Publisher: Renegade Games Studios
Art: Brett Parson, The Warden
Playing time: 30-45 mins.