APEX: TDBG – Stomping Grounds – What’s New, Different, and Possibly Better

Remember Apex: The Deck Building Game? Remember how much I adored it? Well last year Die-Hard Games launched a Kickstarter campaign for something called the “Stomping Grounds” expansion, along with three new playable predators and some much-improved packaging. It even comes with player boards! So of course I ended up backing it.

Well all the goodies recently arrived in the mail, and I figured some folks might want to know about the changes/improvements/additions/omissions/whatevers with this latest release, which is already showing up at retail.

Do you need to own the original release?

There's something very satisfying about putting all those old cards in the nice new box.
There’s something very satisfying about putting all those old cards in the nice new box.

Unless you’re specifically looking to upgrade your earlier edition to this new one, you won’t need to own or even to have played Apex before. The full, non-add on box contains everything you’ll need to enjoy a bit of prehistoric hunting and survival rivalry. While there are some apex predators that aren’t available in the new base version, their omission won’t have any effect on the game itself – you’ll just have fewer playable characters.

How does it combine with original Apex?

Some sorting is required, and there’s no real instruction on how to do so, but it’s not very difficult to integrate the earlier version of Apex with all the new stuff. You will have to separate out some cards from the Stomping Grounds expansion – and even a few from the new predator decks – but it’s mostly just a matter of looking at the right side of a card to find its type and then putting it with its friends. Mechanically, everything gels together to the point where you won’t even know what’s been added unless you have a more intimate familiarity with the original edition’s cards.

What about the Exotic Predators edition?

At least the old dividers make them easy to spot.
At least the old dividers make them easy to spot.

The Exotic Predators edition of Apex was a limited release that was given to Kickstarter backers and retail buyers who were fortunate enough to get their hands on it before quantities ran out. Unfortunately the Exotic Predators add-on that was supposed to be included ended up being left out due to some kind of logistical/processing error, so I haven’t been able to get my hands on the Quetzalcoatlus northopi and the Sarcosuchus imperator extra cards or dividers. They’re still useable in the base game, and should be fine in multiplayer so long as you don’t play with alpha cards, but otherwise you’ll want to sideline them until the add-on is available.

Okay, so what’s new?

Makes me think of the ending to Jurassic Park, actually.
Makes me think of the ending to Jurassic Park, actually.

The new Apex (minus any of the new expansions) has gotten a lot of cosmetic changes for the better – although I’m not crazy about the oddly too wide box that’s kind of a pain to fit on the shelf. Larger box with (maybe too much) room for future expansions aside, you’ll get some lovely new card dividers to help you organize everything, a really sweet-looking T-Rex standee for use as first player marker (mine arrived broken, I think due to the plastic holder not holding the figure’s base as snugly as it should), and most important of all: player boards.

I do love the new game board.
I do love the new game board.

This was one of my gripes with the original release, and thankfully what we get in this new edition removes that complaint entirely. Now there’s a designated Hunting Grounds board that makes keeping the game trail, evolve pool, environment deck, and everything else organized a snap. It also looks pretty darn good. Even more significant are the included player boards, which will make separating out and keeping track of all those little piles of cards (hoard, apex deck, discard pile, etc) significantly easier.

The individual player boards are great, too.
The individual player boards are great, too.

Finally, there are the Alpha cards. Each apex predator has a total of three Alpha cards (which I’m missing most of due to an unfortunate fulfillment error that’s still being addressed): Juvenile, Adult, and Veteran. As you play you’ll sometimes have the opportunity to rank-up your Alpha (from Juvenile to Adult, and from Adult to Veteran), which will make it much more powerful and harder to kill. The reason this is important is because the other players will be gunning for your Alpha, and you for theirs’, and when an alpha is killed that player is out of the game. This is what multiplayer Apex was missing: actual player-versus-player interaction, instead of just everybody doing their own thing and hoping they end up with the most victory points at the end.

And how’s about those expansions?

The Stomping Grounds expansion adds even more new content by way of additional afflictions, brand new evolutions, and even more types of prey (and menace and predator) cards for the game trail. Unfortunately, due to that previously mentioned fulfillment issue I haven’t been able to get my hands on this specific expansion yet, so I can’t talk about it with any authority.

Newcomer number one.
Newcomer number one.

One of the new playable predators, Saurophaganax maximus, is an interesting combination of specializations. Kind of a jack-of-all-trades if you will. It can take advantage of both ambushing and pack hunting. It’s sort of similar to the Velociraptor mongoliensis and Utahraptor ostrommaysorum, though not quite as powerful, but it can also manipulate the game trail and even ignore the hunt effects of certain types of prey. It also includes the Allosaurus boss and minion cards, as well as a few new creatures for the game trail and a new environment card.

Newcomer number 2 (and a personal favorite).
Newcomer number 2 (and a personal favorite).

Then there’s the Carcharodon megalodon, which was pretty much the main reason I jumped at the chance to back this project in the first place (I have a “love/am terrified of” relationship with sharks). It’s also a Kickstarter exclusive, so heads-up on that. In many ways it feels like a replacement for the Sarcosuchus imperator from the Exotic Predators edition, because the Megalodon specializes almost entirely in ambush hunting. There are a few cards in its apex deck that can deal out decent raw damage, but most of them get sizable damage boosts when ambushing and can even be exempt from alert penalties. Admittedly it’s a little weird to be playing as a 100% aquatic predator hunting 100% terrestrial prey, but I just imagine that they were going for a swim or something. And then I ate them. The Megalodon expansion also includes new game trail cards and a new environment card, as well as a special aquatic boss (and minions) known as “Livyatan” for a little bit of potential theme continuity, but that thing is no joke. You have been warned.

Newcomer number three.
Newcomer number three.

And finally, we have the Therizinosaurus cheloniformis, perhaps the most mechanically interesting predator of the three newcomers. In addition to the swanky name, Therizinosaurus is the first apex predator I’ve seen (including everyone from the base game) with abilities that focus on scavenging – it can pull carcass cards (not necessarily its own, either) into its hoard for later consumption. It also features a number of cards that allow it to take afflictions in order to increase damage dealt, making it a tricky predator to play but with a very nifty risk/reward factor. And of course it also includes a new environment card, new game trail cards, and the Velociraptor boss and minion cards.

Wow, okay. Anything else?

Why yes! “Die-Hard” Kickstarter backers also received the Promethean Wars expansion that serves as a sort of preview of the publisher’s upcoming strategy game – only it’s a playable apex deck. Rather than adding a specific playable species, this expansion brings in an assortment of cyborg dinosaurs with lasers and cannons grafted to their bodies, and lots of other stuff that only those specific backers will get to see. Yeah, I love Apex but I couldn’t really swing the $120 required for that tier. So I have no hands-on experience with this one, but it sure looks cool in a completely ridiculous way.

Goofy or not, the zombie dinosaurs look pretty awesome.
Goofy or not, the zombie dinosaurs look pretty awesome.

The Stomping Dead is another Kickstarter exclusive expansion that’s almost as ridiculous as Promethean Wars. Almost. But instead of cyborgs, you have zombies. Zombie dinosaurs. I kind of love it. You can’t just fold it into the base game and be done with it, though; The Stomping Dead includes a special extinction event, new environment cards, zombie-centric afflictions, infected prey for the game trail, and a special zombie T-Rex boss along with zombie minions. The expansion doesn’t come with any directions on how to integrate it, but it’s not that tough to figure out – just add the boss like in any other solo setup, mix in the environment and affliction cards, and keep the Infected prey in a separate deck off to the side.

As goofy as it is, I do really like The Stomping Dead. The new event cards, as well as all the minion cards, will often have you eliminate carcass cards while adding infected prey to the hunt deck (because it’s corpses coming back to life, get it?) and I find that to be really clever. Brutal, but clever. Though I have to admit I was actually rather surprised with how quickly I was able to finish off the boss. Maybe I did something wrong – but with no directions I can’t really tell – but it seems like The Patriarch is actually fairly easy to kill (well, kill again) if you can catch it early with a decent ambush. If you reach the expansion-specific extinction event, however, any and all remaining infected creatures will boost The Patriarch’s health and make it significantly more difficult to deal with. I like the idea, and I plan on messing around with The Stomping Dead a lot more, but at the moment the “extremely hard” boss actually struck me as kind of easy.

Final Thoughts

So yeah, this newest edition of Apex is basically more Apex – and that’s great! The new mechanics like alpha cards are neat, the extra components (player boards, etc) are fantastic, and the new predators are pretty cool and varied. I’m especially fond of the Megalodon and Stomping Dead expansions.

Have you already gotten your hands on the new Apex? Are you looking forward to it? Let us know what you think!

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5 comments

    1. You can find most of it on Amazon with a quick search for “apex theropod deck-building game,” but unfortunately the Megalodon expansion was Kickstarter-only.

        1. Yep! It’s the one that doesn’t come with an absurd price tag. The Exotic Predators edition is from the first release and is cool, but it doesn’t come with all the extra goodies like the player boards and whatnot.

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