Designers:Jonathan Gilmour, Ben Pinchback, Matt Riddle
Publisher: Pandasaurus Games
Age: 12+ (reviewers recommendation)
Playing time: 120 minutes
In Wasteland Express Delivery Service, civilization has finally crashed and sank into a post-nuclear fashion oblivion — everything is all blood, sweat, tape, and spandex. You need to move water, food, and weapons in order to pick up enough scrap to keep your rig roadworthy and knee-deep in eyeliner. Upgrade weapons, storage space and other variable sundries in order to keep up with the competition. Attack and pillage raiders moving across the Wastelands or send them head first into another rig. The bulk of your time, however, will be moving materials for three different factions, picking up other contracts, and dealing with various catastrophic events. The player who first completes three objectives, wins…and then takes a bath.
Unless you are actually living in a post-apocalyptic fallout shelter (give it another year), you have heard of Wasteland Express Delivery Service. Draped in an aggressively busy post-apocalyptic setting and featuring an intensity of artwork that would make Tank Girl blush and Mad Max *finally* go home and change his pants, WEDS is a delightfully chunky mess of a game with a solid pick-up-and-deliver frame. The box is big, the inserts are sponge-worthy (reference), and the rules and set-up requires two advance degrees and a crow-bar to get through. However, once you get this game rolling along, it just keeps on trucking into blissful oblivion.
I haven’t had much time to really dive into this game so take everything with a grain of salt. I did have some quick thoughts and wanted to comment whether it is a good fit for a library setting (it is if you are experienced). Despite all the chrome, miniatures, and all the extra bits, this, in essence, is a simple Pick Up and Delivery game with an obscene amount of customization added. The basic mechanisms of the game are already there for you: Move, Pick Up, Move, Deliver, Make Money, Pillage. To their credit, Gilmore, Pinchback, and Riddle (the law offices of…) have designed a wonderfully engaging and exciting game around that notoriously dull mechanism and Pandasaurus Games developed it into a gorgeous piece of sexy shelf candy.
Similar to Scythe (advance warning, I’m going to compare WEDS to Scythe often), the art direction does not correlate directly to the player experience. If you are expecting plenty of Road Road style action between players and factions, you will be disappointed. There is very little direct player interaction although quite a bit indirect interaction (moving Raiders around the board, messing with the commodities market, racing to fulfill a contract). However, unlike Scythe, where the beginning of the game is on rails and basically predetermined, WEDS provides a wide variety of actions and movement across the board. Specifically, the concept of movement momentum was novel where you can move up in gears during your turn (sacrificing other actions) to move further and faster during later turns and burn across the board. In Scythe you have a vast field to explore but will barely move past your starting hexes (just like the lonely peasant you are). In WEDS you get to move all over the board.
The bulk of the gameplay is very Euro, BUT, it is Euro with tons of trashy chrome to liven it up. Ordinarily, I’m not a fan of chrome. The over-the-top components and miniatures don’t appeal to me. But WEDS offers a solid foundation with some mechanical chrome and it makes it sexy af. On top of the basic delivery framework you have a veritable chasm of customization to drive your rig into. It allows for a level of tinkering and strategy that flows nicely with the simple core. Meanwhile Scythe feels like a bunch of mechanisms bundled together with spit and twine that works but doesn’t necessarily move or hold together well. In WEDS, the mechanical chrome is slick and adds to the gameplay. Oddly enough, it ends up feeling like a tactical game but you’ll be planning out 4-5 moves in advance in order to fulfill a contract…if you are lucky that is.
The economic system provides just enough interaction to keep the competition on their toes without blowing them up completely. As you complete deliveries you need to make important peripheral decisions on how you upgrade your truck. More space? More guns? Nukes? Turbos? Armor? The action selection (which provides the darling little momentum movement mechanism) is not overwhelming by focusing on “micro-actions” which provide a limited amount of smaller actions to take. It limits AP and keeps the game flowing at a quicker pace without allowing players horde one action and build an engine. The game makes you move and keeps you moving. It is practically a race to the end from the moment you begin. This emphasis on quick decisions, movement, and a focus on completing three contracts to win rather than some sort of totaling (money, points, etc.) makes the Euro feel so much more trashy and fast paced and I love it. The pacing is perfect. No engines to build. No dominant strategy to develop. Just you, your rig, and some assholes temporarily in your way.
Quick aside: I love the terrain tiles. The modular game board with the intermixed terrain hex-tiles and the square location tiles come together nicely. I’m not sure why *this* is the one thing I find so oddly satisfying but I do. When prototypes and images began to leak out during the development of WEDS, it really stuck with me. Theme aside, I wanted to see how that terrain setup would work. The game trays are also one of the shinier bits in the game. WEDS has something like 600+ bits included and the trays are *mandatory*. In fact, they should now raise the bar for all large strategy games. If I’m dropping $80 on a bulky beast I want these trays included to ease set-up, teaching, and storage. Everything is game trays forever. Thanks, Pandasaurus!
With so many objectives included in the game, plus the double-sided terrain hexes and the variable location set-up, *plus* the focus on customization and variable player bonuses, WEDS has the potential for lots of variability. Additionally, it includes a campaign narrative arc that is played over 10 sessions plus randomly generated single session scenarios which taps into the immersive narrative popular with storytelling games like Tales of the Arabian Nights; legacy games; and euro/storytelling hybrids such as Above and Below and Near and Far. I am not sure how successful WEDS is in the tricky world of immersive narrative play as I haven’t attempted any of these variants yet but I certainly appreciate their existence and would like to snuggle up with three other people and test them out.
“Wasteland Express Delivery Service is big, beautiful, daunting, and sexy af with a straightforward gameplay core and bursting at the seams with mechanical chrome. It is a game where players race to the end while throwing obstacles at each other to be the first to complete a variable set of contracts. The artwork and design is evocative of the theme and setting and the presentation courtesy of Pandasaurus is next to flawless (I’m practically salivating for Dinosaur Island now). WEDS won’t make it into a circulating collection due to the size and amount of components but it will be the center piece of your game-night. Your rig may be cobbled together but Wasteland Express Delivery Service is smooth as silk. Witness me!