[SPOTLIGHT] Salvation Road

And now, to something completely different: I am a big fan of board games and a fan of almost anything “post-apocalyptic”. A while ago I was able to buy a used but as-good-as-new version of the post-apocalyptic board game “Salvation Road” and would now like to introduce you folks to it.

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Salvation Road is a cooperative board game for 1 – 4 player from Van Ryder Games. If you follow this link here you will be able to get the rules as a PDF. Every player slips into the role of two characters: one hero, who has special, unique bonus abilities, and one “survivor”. The “survivor” does not have a bonus ability but an added, unique handicap. All these characters make up a group of desperate peoples who holed up in the former prison of a small town named Maldito. Sadly, they cannot stay there. A nearby reactor is about to overload in the coming days and their only hope is a truck and a rumor of a settlement named “Salvation”. But the road to Salvation is dangerous, they need resources to get there AND the settlement itself demands a “tribute” from those who want to join. So, the characters must move through the ruins of Maldito to gather resources (for their journey and for the tribute) and scout the road to Salvation …all while more and more raiders begin to gather to murder and rob them of what is theirs.

The town of Maldito (or what remains of it) is represented by a number of random locations on the game board (different cards in the style of old polaroid photos, every game there is a different combination of places to discover and loot). The road to salvation and its obstacles is likewise represented by row of cards (part of which the characters will need to “draw” during the game while scouting the way). Each of this cards are encounters on the road and demand a certain number of different resources to be overcome (always three from one resource and two of another). The back of the cards tell the player what resources are needed, but not in which exact number. This is only revealed at the end of the game or if that section of the route is scouted further. Talking about resources, these are represented by, (guess what?) small tokens that are to be searched for and gathered out of the ruins of Maldito so they can be transported back to the “camp” of the survivors and stored inside the truck.

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Sounds easy enough, doesn´t it? Well, the rules are easy, but the game is not. First and foremost, each character has two actions each turn. Moving to a place is one action, moving to another is a second. Searching for resources is an action (which “generates” resource tokens with the help of a card deck for randomization), picking up two “found” resources is an action, and so on. So, it is impossible to get out of the camp (called “the compound”), do anything AND get back to it in one move. But one would really love to do this, because it is dangerous outside. And the end of the turn, all characters outside of the compound might suffer harm by marauders, which is simulated by a damage dice that needs to be rolled. The more the characters “use” one location, the more the marauders will pay attain to it and the more damage dice a character “caught” there must roll. Damage dice may result in wounds, wounds reduce the amount of resources a character may carry AND might kill him or her in the end.

Second, the marauders start to lay siege to the compound. At the end of each turn a event card is drawn from an event deck and a number of marauders tokens is added to the compound. If a certain number lays siege to the compound (determined by the number of players) the marauders get in and the players lose. Of course the characters can fight the marauders before they enter and thereby remove the tokens, but by doing so they risk damage or must spend ammo tokens (one of the resources).

Last but not least, the event deck is called an event deck because it not only generates a new number of marauders to be added to the siege (that is more a kind of “side effect”) but… well, brings in events. And in the post-apocalypse, these come in four flavors: war, pestilence, famine and death. And I don´t make this stuff up here, the cards are named and themed that way! These events will cause wounds to the characters if they are or are not inside the compound (some events hit you while you are out, some hit you while inside) at the end of the turn or if the character does not have a certain resource with them in order to spend it to negate the effect. By the by, the resources are: fuel, ammo, medicine and food.

As you can see, there are a lot of things to manage. You need to gather resources, fight of marauders, scout the way to Salvation and keep your group alive. Because, if the marauders overrun your compound, you all lose. If you are not able to make the way to Salvation when the last card of the event deck was played, you all lose. If a player loses BOTH of his or her characters (the hero and the survivor), you all lose. If you are on the road to Salvation and cannot pay the “resource toll” of one of the road encounters, you all lose. If you reached Salvation and cannot pay the final, random tribute (two resources of one kind, one resource of the other), you all lose.

This paragraph above might have sounded a tad daunting, so let me say this:

I ! LOVE ! IT !

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It is a wonderful game and I am very happy that a close friend of mine pointed me towards it AND was able to arrange this “used, but as-good-as-new”-buy for me.

The game components are beautiful, functional and durable. While it is all cards, card boards and “standies” it functions perfect that way and helps the immersion. The board itself looks like something a group of survivors might have drawn on a piece of cardboard, the locations look like actual polaroid photos, the place to store the markers and cards have matching in-game aspect artwork on the board as well AND, let me stress this, the quality of all those game elements is top notch. I will be able to play this often without much fear of anything “wearing out” quickly. The iconography on the cards is easy to understand as well and the whole design is, all in all, just wonderful and makes a wonderful set.

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The game rules are simple to learn but allow a game that is both quick and demanding. It is about tough decisions, and in my books any thing with a post-apocalyptic flair should be about those. There is no easy way out. The characters will gather wounds and at some point you will begin to life with the fact that not ALL of them will make it to salvation. You do not play “till the end”, either. You gather up the resources you need and while you do so, you begin to consider the risk of starting the journey RIGHT NOW (“do we have all the stuff we need?”) against the risk of staying in Maldito (“what will happen next?”). The events from the event deck can be a real kick into the groins and will cross your plans sooner or later.

The characters are nicely made as well. There is NO “survivor” that is a desirable option as all of their flaws are FLAWS. Even if you choose them instead of assigning the characters at random (as the rules suggest) you will scratch your head about which of these you shall try to drag along. And all of them come with a little bit of extra artwork on their cards (beside their portray) that helps you to get a feel for the background of this person. These are not just “roles & stats”, they are figures in a story.

The only thing one might argue about in regard tot he game is the final. I like it the way it is, a close friend of mine (and fellow game enthusiast) has a bit of “beef” with it (so he all in all shares my opinion that this is a good game). I will tell you his point of view, and my personal reason why I still consider the mechanic in question “a-okay”.

The one point that one may complain about is the “end game”. The end game is not really a “game” anymore as the players are not really doing anything from this point on. When you leave Maldito, all you do is turn over the “road cards” one by one and check if you can “pay” the resources toll they demand. If you don´t, you lose. Once all road cards (which exact number are again determined by the number of players) are solved, you draw another card from the resources deck that tells you the “tribute” you need to pay for entering Salvation. If you cannot pay this one, last tribute you lose the game.

The fact that the end of the game is just about revealing cards that do not ask the players for any decision is a “bummer” to my friend. He sees it as anti-climatic as there is nothing to be actually done. The last, full-random-tribute is a point he is not found of, either. In regard to the road cards the game at least gives him a guess about what is needed. The last tribute is next to random (two options: two resources of one kind or one of another) and as the main part of the game is no piece of cake, simply stocking all resources as potentially needed seems next to impossible. That is bit to much randomness for him, especially as he does not even has a chance to guess at what might be asked for in the final tribute. Or at least, that is what I got from his explanation. But, and let me repeat this, he still says it is a good game.

Personally, I see his point but I can life much better with this random factor here as it is a post-apocalyptic game. To me, these are supposed to be hard and sometimes even to be brutal and unforgiving, so the “final tribute” is fine with me. And I don´t feel that the “road part” is anti-climatic. To the contrary, for me it is tension when one card after the other is revealed, as these slowly reveal if we will make it or not.

My friend would rate this game at least a 7 out of 10, potentially an 8/10 if you like either the genre or theme. Personally, I say this game is an 8 out of 10, or perhaps even a 9 out of ten. The reasons for this I explained above, and the game even comes with a lot of little “alternate scenarios” with special rules that allow you to play a bit different or even with up to eight people.

If you like post-apocalyptic games, if you like cooperative board games and you don´t shy away from the price tag, buy it. If you shy away from the price tag, try to get a used version of the game.

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[SPOTLIGHT] Salvation Road

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