Radlands Board Game Review
WBG Score: 9
Player Count: 2
You’ll like this if you like: Keyforge, Hero Realms, Marvel Champions
Published by: Roxley
Designed by: Daniel Piechnick
By Steve Godfrey
If, like me, you grew up in the 80s/90s then Radlands could easily sound like the coolest place on earth. Lots of people in bright neon, using words like radical and dude and riding around on skateboards. This game is a stark contrast to that. It’s a post apocalyptic mad max style waste land where water is the most precious resource and gangs will do everything they can to get it. Even destroy each other’s camps. Having said that you do get the neon……which is nice.
Rules are rad
Each player will receive six camp cards each and pick three to use. For your first game it will give each player a starting set of camps. Draw a number of cards equal to the number depicted on your camps and choose a first player.
On your turn first trigger any event cards in the 1 space of their column then move any other events up one space. Draw a card, replenish your three water tokens then play as many actions as you can/want to.
You can play a card by paying its water cost and (if it’s a person) playing it in front of one of your camps. Each camp can have at most two cards in a column in front of it. The card you play can’t be used this turn. If the card is an event card then it goes into the event column in the space numbered on the card.
Junking a card lets you discard a card in your hand for the junk effect in the top left corner.
You can draw another card for the cost of two water or, lastly you can pay one water to take the water silo card into your hand. At any time on a future turn you can discard this card to take an extra water from the supply for that turn only and then this card goes back in front of you to be used again.
The last thing you can do is pay the water cost and use the ability of an undamaged card that was played on a previous turn or one of your camps.
Your basic actions on cards include injuring an unprotected person. You pick a person at the front of one of your opponents columns and rotate them on their side. Your opponent can now no longer use that cards ability on their turn. It also means that if you hit them again they’re destroyed. The damage action is the same as injuring but this can also be used on bases as well. As long as there are no people in front of a camp you can damage it. Again two hits and it’s destroyed. The water action gets you extra water and the heal action lets you, well, heal a damaged card. Last of all is the raid action. Both players have access to a raiders event which they can deploy using this action. You can even use the raid action to advance your raider event and even trigger it. Once triggered it will damage an opponent's base regardless of any protection. This will, then go back to your supply to be played again when you next play the raid action.
Water way, to have a good time.
On my first game of Radlands, after an expert teach and an even more expert trouncing of my camps (by the brilliant @gamingoverboard on Instagram) I was asked “do you want to play again?” to which I said no. Not because I didn’t enjoy the game, but because I knew we had limited time and wanted to get in as many different games as we could in the time we had.
I could have played him again, at that point I’d already lulled him into a false sense of security by pretending to be really inept at the game and could easily have pulled the old, “Ah ha, I’m not left handed” ruse from The Princess Bride and beaten him handily in the next game…..ahem
Of all the games we played that day my one regret was saying no to playing Radlands again. It’d stuck in my mind in the days following and for me, that’s the sign that something has really got my attention. Either that or the trauma of that defeat was still lingering, it’s a gamble really.
One thing that I think Radlands does extremely well is having this balance between always giving players a chance to do something useful on their turn, but also making your choices feel limited. As you look at the cards in your hands and the display of cards in front of you it’s easy to be distracted by the fact that you’ve only got three water to spend and then puzzling out how you can do as much as you can with seemingly limited resources. If that was all you could do on a turn then I still think the game would be fun, but could also lend itself to maybe some wasted turns or unspent water that could start to feel like untapped potential (now there’s a water pun I didn’t mean to make but sometime when you break the pun dam there’s no stopping it) there’s been just enough small tweaks that have made those types of turns a little less frequent.
The water silo card is such a simple thing, but it makes that last unspent water actually useful for a future turn. Having that card in hand when you just need that extra water could make a huge difference. It could mean that you get to destroy an unprotected base rather than just damage it or trigger that one extra ability that lets you chain some actions together to make a big turn. On their first play I’ve seen people, myself included, grumpily picking up the silo card stating “I suppose I’ll just get the water silo then” as if it’s a waste of time. It’s not long before they start to see the potential in it as they’re happily using it to trigger some card abilities that will take out your base. This is much the same as the raiders card. Both are definitely not something to be underestimated.
The biggest thing though is that junk effect and the amount of flexibility it gives you. I think for the most part you can tell in games like this when a card is going to be useful for your strategy or not. So having seemingly useless cards sat in your hand for turns on end can be irritating. Not that there’s a hand limit but it’s just annoying knowing that you can’t use them and then they spend the rest of the game gently mocking you as you hope that they may eventually become useful. The junk mechanic now gives you a reason to discard them and not only that, makes them actually useful for you. Junk effects can also be a godsend if certain card abilities just aren’t coming out for you. Drawing a card and seeing that little repair icon on the top of it, just when you need it can be a saving grace if you're clinging on to your last camp. They’re also good for stringing along a couple of combos here and there and giving you those big turns that are oh so satisfying. Of course the satisfying part is the look on your opponent's face as you start rendering their hard earned cards useless mwahaha.
Tug of wa…ter
Radlands presents a really great tug of war as you set up your array of post apocalyptic cannon fodder of people and punks (punks are people too) only to have them picked off one by one. It’s going to happen, it’s the nature of the game, but your main goal is for them to survive long enough so you can use their abilities and do the same to your opponent.
The real tension kicks in when a camp is left unprotected. When it’s yours all you can do is sit there hoping beyond hope that your opponent doesn’t have something that can damage it, or worse destroy it before your next turn where you’ll be able to throw anyone in front of it to give you that much needed protection. If it’s your opponent’s camp that’s exposed then you're now praying that you’ve got something either in hand or in play that can help you exploit that lapse in defences and give you the edge. Never is this more true in both cases than at the start of the game when no one’s bases are protected. The first few turns are a desperate rush to both get your camps protected and, if possible, sneak in a cheeky bit of damage to a camp. It actually makes for a fun devil's bargain at the start of the game. Sure you could protect your camps, it’s the smart move, but if you’ve got the right cards then it could be all too tempting to stick your post apocalyptic boot in to do some damage and run away like you're playing a destructive game of knock down ginger.
This one time at Radlands camp.
The camps themselves come into their own as a constant source of actions and a great way of upping the replayability of Radlands. Camps can always be used even if they are damaged. The range of abilities on these camps and the huge range of possible combinations gives the game a great bit of asymmetry and being able to pick from six at the start means you have the potential to tailor each game to how you want to play. You could even get your own devastating engine going with the right set of cards.
There is one set of the starting camps that I don’t think is particularly great. Two of them are all about damaging yourself or even destroying your own camp to do more damage to the enemy and as fun as those abilities are, I’m not sure I personally like them as first game camps. I tend to take that particular combination myself if I’m playing with someone new just because I do think you’re best off having at least one game under your belt before you’re confident destroying your own camps. That being said, once you’ve got a grasp of the game then I’d suggest picking your own as soon as possible.
“Punks are people too”
For a new player I think this is definitely worth a second go. The first game will most likely go to the experienced player so another go straight after, once you’ve got a handle on how you should be playing is worth it if you can.
My one real negative would be the alternative end game trigger. If you manage to cycle through the deck twice before one player's camps are destroyed then the game ends in a draw. It’s good that they have an alternative there, but it’s just too long. This happened to me and my daughter on her first game and the game just dragged on as we were locked into this Doctor Strange style loop of damaging each other’s last base and then repairing it again. I can see why Dormammu got fed up and gave in. I’m not sure what the alternative would be as I think just cycling through the deck once would be too quick. Luckily this has only happened once so I can’t imagine it’s going to be a regular occurrence though. In case you were wondering we settled that game with a good old fashioned game of rock, paper, scissors. I lost. But that’s pretty much par for the course these days.
Radical, awesome, mega!
In a world where great two player games exist (you know your saying that in the voice of the trailer guy) Radlands is a stand out. It’s fun, quick, beautiful to look at and gives you a ton of replayability. Who knew trying to steal your neighbours water would be so much fun! #punksarepeopletoo