When a body steps out into the irradiated nightmare of the wastes, you gotta know what you’re signing up for. You’re signing up for pain, and thirst, and danger around every turn. Those of us who brave the wastes know that our very survival is constantly-
Jess: WITNESS ME!!! I am a road warrior, high octane guzzoline flows through my veins! My heart is a V-12 engine of death and destruction, let all who would stand before my might cower in the face of my war rig!
It’s no secret that two of our favorite designers are Ben Pinchback and Matt Riddle. These two have designed some of our most-played games, like Fleet, Morocco, and Ladder 29. Joined by Jonathan Gilmore (of Dead of Winter and Dinosaur Island fame), this powerhouse trio brings more design power to the table than, well, a psycho guitarist jamming out with a flamethrowing dual-necked six-string hanging off the front of a monster truck made of speakers.
But for all the ‘wasteland’ and ‘express’ that the art, bits, and presentation speed-inject into Wasteland Express Delivery Service, the truth is that the game is actually all about the ‘delivery service’. Through and through, Wasteland Express Delivery Service is a pick up & deliver game, and your success as a courier through the radioactive badlands depends entirely (appropriately enough) on how efficiently you manage to complete your various service contracts.
Each game of Wasteland Express Delivery Service revolves around a race to complete 3 priority service contracts (unless you’re playing the game’s campaign mode). Each player will drive their rig through the wasteland, traveling between outposts to buy and sell supplies as well as complete contracts for the three major factions, all the while avoiding (or pillaging) raider trucks and enclaves.
Andrew: Now, one of the most important things we can say in this review is that Wasteland Express Delivery Service, while it does a fantastic job of embracing its theme (in some ways at least, more on that in a bit), it also tends to come off as looking far more complicated than it actually is.
Jess: Yeah, for sure. Despite the abundance of tokens and tiles and bits, Wasteland Express Delivery Service is not at all a mechanically complicated game. And thankfully, setup and teardown are greatly sped up by the Game Trayz insert/organizers that are included in the box!
Andrew: Those organizers are absolutely clutch – I can’t imagine what it would be like trying to keep all this stuff accounted for with plastic boxes and zip-top bags. I haven’t met many games in more desperate need of component organization than Wasteland Express Delivery Service, and the fact that it comes standard in the game is absolutely fantastic.
Each round starts with the lead player reading an event, which can have a variety of effects (both positive and negative), and then each player takes turns spending their 5 action points. Action points can allow players to…
- Move – your rig picks up speed by moving over consecutive turns, adding a neat bit of strategy
- Activate outposts – different outposts provide $crap, upgrades, service contracts, and more
- Engage in combat – pillaging Raiders or assaulting a raider enclave
- Purchase goods – What cargo is available is random, as are the prices, but savvy buying can make you rich…
- Deliver Goods – …by selling at a tidy profit. The value of goods is dynamic and shifts with demand
- Complete contracts
While players are racing to be the first to complete the three high-priority contracts, they will also pick up contracts from various wasteland factions along the way. These contracts offer opportunities to make $crap, gain allies, upgrade their rig, and generally give players the edge they need to actually take on the task of the high-priority contracts.
Andrew: Not only that, but some faction contracts actually count as high priority contracts, so it’s possible for you to draw a contract which you can work on in secret that will progress you towards your goal of completing 3 high priority contracts, thus winning the game.
That said, there is definitely some combat to be had in the rough-and-tumble wastes. Traveling across the irradiated landscape can be tough, and your passage will sometimes be blocked by raider rigs. When you encounter one, you will roll combat dice to determine who emerges victorious, and various truck upgrades, like machine guns or rocket launchers, can make all the difference.
Andrew: No, they never will. Raiders aren’t actually interested in taking your stuff – all they ever really do is take pot-shots at your rig as you go by. It might damage something on your truck, but you can just get that fixed. In fact, attacking raiders is sometimes the best way to get goods – each raider truck is carrying valuable stuff you can grab from them if you out-gun them!
And that question, actually, brings us really neatly to the theme of Wasteland Express Delivery Service. It feels strange to say it, since so much effort was clearly put into it, but this is where the game gets a little uneven. Everything about Wasteland Express Delivery Service absolutely drips theme – the art is phenomenal, the flavor text is funny and immersive, the game’s table presence does a great job of making it feel like a long stretch of barren road. We love the miniatures, we love the component bits, we love the oddball allies and often wacky missions.
See, the theme isn’t exactly a misdirect, but the gameplay, that of keeping an eye on the market economy, flipping product for profit, and racing to out-deliver (rather than out-gun) your opponents, probably isn’t want you imagine when you first see Wasteland Express Delivery Service sprawled out across the table.
There is no player vs player combat, your rig won’t blow up into a column of flame and glory no matter how damaged it gets, and those pesky raider enclaves really do little more than sit there, waiting (ironically) to be raided. And for some folks, the absence of those things is going to make Wasteland Express Delivery Service not precisely the game they hoped for.
Once you buy into what Wasteland Express Delivery Service is, though, the theme shines through once again. As we said before, the flavor is present everywhere, from the components to the art to the contracts and missions themselves. I mean, there’s even a dude who’se half-man, half-car! You just can’t go in having forgotten about the ‘delivery’ part of Wasteland Express Delivery Service, because it’s the heart of the game.
On the whole, we really enjoy Wasteland Express Delivery Service. It’s a clever, highly thematic game, which is only made moreso when you start immersing yourself in the flavor text and taking on the campaign.
Andrew: Yeah, that’s my only serious ding against it. 90 minutes for a 2-player game is a lot, and though the turns can be quite quick, the rounds themselves tend to get lost to setting up your big plays.
Jess: Yep. Especially if the market is bad, you might need to spend a turn (or several) gathering the cargo or $crap or whatever you may need to work towards a contract. And if you need, say, water, and there is currently no one currently selling, it can be tough.
Andrew: My problem is that those turns you spend scrounging for $crap or grinding your way across the waste don’t particularly feel interesting. The payout, though, when you manage to get everything together and make a big delivery or buy some awesome upgrades feels pretty great.
That said, we preferred Wasteland Express Delivery Service as a two player game. We found that, despite some of the advantages of more players (the market turns over faster, which can make a huge difference, for better or worse, and raider trucks move more frequently), the more players we added the worse the downtime between turns got. At maximum, our group (which rarely suffers from long turns or analysis paralysis) couldn’t get the game done within 2 hours, and that’s a bit much.
Jess: Yeah, I think you really have to go in with the mentality that it pays to upgrade your rig. Once you get some extra storage, a gun or two, a rad shield, maybe some armor, and a speed upgrade, suddenly your turns get much bigger and the whole game ramps up really nicely.
Andrew: Of course, it’s a race, so you need to be clever about how you split your resources between upgrades and grinding out those contracts. But, like your clunky delivery truck, it’s a race that starts out slow, but can build up real speed once it gets going.
The bottom line is that Wasteland Express Delivery Service kicks ass. The flavor is great, the gameplay is smooth and fun, and the presentation is top notch (though we sure do wish the minis were painted). Yeah, it can plod in places, we don’t love it at max player count, and Imperator Kittyosa over here probably wishes she could blow up a war rig or two…
…But the fact remains that we’ve enjoyed Wasteland Express Delivery Service every time it’s hit the table, and we think it’s absolutely worth checking out!
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(Gameosity received a review copy of this game. We were not otherwise compensated.)