Kulkmann's G@mebox - www.boardgame.de



Marek Mydel

Badger's Nest

No. of Players:
2 - 4



When the first edition of Talisman was released over 30 years ago in 1983, the game quickly became highly popular for players all around the globe because of its simple but versatile approach to fantasy gaming. Talisman knows no long rulebooks and endless tables for skill checks and combat like in Role-play games, but the game runs on a simple, almost primitive dice-rolling mechanism which is used both for movement and combat. The versatility of the game comes by a rather high amount of Adventure cards which are used to bring up all kinds of events, and more cards and even whole gameboards were added by the - for this time impressive - total number of six expansions. Talisman certainly has some weaknesses based on the fact that all kinds of enemies and events all come from the same deck of Adventure cards, effectively denying any gradual increase of the enemies' strength values. In addition, the decision making left to the players is rather meager since the players are mostly just deciding whether their character moves clockwise or counterclockwise. Nonetheless, due to the game's popularity Talisman has seen a good number of clones in the following decades, and there have also been some improvements which have found their way into the 4th edition of Talisman or its official Warhammer 40k clone Relic.

So, considering the age of Talisman, what elements possibly would be changed if a new adventure boardgame was designed today? Before turning to the game mechanics, a more general point which possibily would be changed is the setting itself, since the classic adventure setting with wizards and goblins - even if not fully outmoded - is a bit moldy. The most recurring topic in modern games seems to be a Zombie outbreak, or - speaking more generally - some kind of apocalypse which threatens the existence of mankind. Indeed, a good share of the adventure games released at the SPIEL'15 has chosen this thematic background, and this certainly gave me an incentive to check out one of those games to see if some interesting new playing mechanisms can be found, or whether all goes back to dice rolling and the drawing of Adventure cards. The game I chose to present today is Waste Knights, a post-apocalyptic nightmare trip to Australia designed by Marek Mydel and released by Polish publisher BADGER'S NEST.

As indicated, the thematic background for Waste Knights is a futuristic version of Australia, devastated by a corporate war and a massive earthquake which has resulted in a continental drift, separating Australia into two parts. The players take the role of heroes (?) who try to make a living in this barren world, trying to solve some minor tasks while at the same time being involved in a larger mission which the players have chosen from an included Mission Book. Even though all the player characters share the common dislike of the creatures of the waste, Waste Knights is not a cooperative game, but instead each player tries to solve the common mission first (or to collect more Victory Points) in order to be declared the winner of the game.

Beginning with the characters, the players can chose from 13 different "Knights" included in the game. Each knight comes with his own set of starting gear, including a Vehicle Card, and some of this gear actually is printed on the character sheets. Later during the game these items can be covered with other gear claimed by the players, but the old starting gear always remains available to the player, regardless of whether his character might have lost all his other stuff (actually a quite good idea to save printing space since the playing cards are reserved for the more interesting items). In addition, each knight possesses some kind of special ability plus an identical set of six skills which will be used during different situations during the game.

The skills range from combat to other survival and communications skills, and the skill values do not actually depict a knight's aptness in using this skill, but instead the are used to determine the number of dice the player will be allowed to roll in a skill check. When a skill check is triggered (by Wasteland cards, during combat etc.), the triggering event lists the dice value which must be rolled to pass the check, and after applying some modificators (resulting in increasing or lowering the hand of dice available to the player) the active player rolls his hand of dice to see if at least one dice comes up with a value needed to pass the skill check. As you can see, this mechanism for sckill checks is quite similar to skill checks known from traditional RPGs, despite the fact that Marek replaced the traditional modificators for the dice value by a modification of the number of dice which needs to be rolled. However, this approach to skill checks seems to be advantageous for a full-size boardgame like Waste Knights, because the checks actually are resolved faster than by applying modificators from all kinds of tables.

So, rolling dice still makes up a major part of Waste Knights, but let's now check out some unique elements which set the game apart from some more traditional games like Talisman. Quite prominently, the whole issue of travelling has been designed following a totally different approach. The gameboard is modular, and provided his knight possesses any kind of vehicle a player is free to decide how far he wants to travel. Well, there is actually one restriction, and that's the Fuel gauge on the player's character board. When plotting his route, a player has to check whether his knight has enough fuel to make the trip, and apart from the landscape through which he wants to travel the fuel consumption also will be influenced by the vehicle used. Just like in real life: the heavier the vehicle, the more fuel it consumes.

In addition, the chosen route is not just used to determine the amount of fuel which the player needs to spend, but also how many Wasteland cards will be drawn by the Waster. The role of the Waster, an ubiquitous entity representing the evil spire of the Wastelands, always is taken by a player sitting opposite to the active player, and during all kinds of events and mishaps it will be the Waster who makes any decisions which need to be made. So, instead of trying to emulate some kind of artificial intelligence, Marek puts the competing players in charge when it comes to hampering their opponents by means of enemies and events.

Returning to the topic of travelling, the Waster reveals new Wastelands cards for every new space entered by the active player's knight on his voyage, but not all these cards actually will be activated. Instead, the Waster has the possibility to activate just one of these cards, but the longer the route travelled by the active player, the higher the chance that the Waster might reveal an especially nasty card. In addition, travelling through the wastelands is no leisure stroll, and so the players are constantly given the option either to travel through especially dangerous locations (more Wasteland cards for the Waster), or to spend fuel making detours.

From my perspective Marek's approach to the topic of travelling can be seen as a very positive effort to establish a plausible and versatile alternative to the old dice-rolling approach of some other adventure games. The way of travelling presented in Waste Knights allows for some decision making on side of the players, and especially the possibility to actively decide between real alternatives is something adventure games often lack.

Talking about decision making, one of the most outstanding features of Waste Knights is the mechanism for resolving combat, and here it can be felt most that Marek has tried to give the game it's own unique approach. Combat often is triggered by the appearance of a creature of the waste, but it is also possible if a player enters a space occupied by one or more knights of other players. When combat arises, the active player and his opponent (the Waster or another knight's player) each take an identical deck of five Combat cards, and during a total of three rounds (clashes) both sides try to decimate the health value of their opponents, aiming to win the combat by knocking out the other combatant.

At the beginning of each clash each player choses a Combat card from his hand, and both cards will be revealed simultaneously in order to see how both sides will act. The most common action is to attack, and this usually will result in skill checks to see whether a hit can be scored. However, there is a number of factors which can influence both the skill check and the combat result, and most of these factors depend on the weapons used by each side. At the beginning of a combat both sides usually face each other at medium range, ideal for firing small firearms but not really good for using a hand weapon. So, the skill checks performed by the players strongly depend on the weapons they have readied, and for each range (close, medium and long) certain weapons will be advantageous in terms of initiative and modificators.

Due to the combat results depending on range, another type of Combat cards which can be played by the players is used to change the range for the following clash, and alternatively a player also may chose to play a card which allows him to prepare for the following clash, gaining him additional dice for attacking. The choice of cards available in both Combat decks is completed by a multi-attack action and a defensive action, and so the players actually have to decide which action might suit them best at the current situation of the combat.

Apart from trying to make the opponent loose Life Points, the cards played by each player and the number of hits scored also will influence the factor which combatant is dominating the combat. A Dominance Track is used to record the current balance of power between the combatants, and if, after three clashes, no combatant has been knocked out the combatant with the Dominance factor on his side will have won the battle.

Even though this domination issue might seem to overburden combat with unnecessary detail, playtesting quickly revealed that it is needed to prevent playing time to get out of hand due to overlong combat resolution. While the use of Combat cards certainly is not new (anybody remember GAMES WORKSHOP's first version of Fury of Dracula from 1987?), Marek has constructed the combat mechanism to be quick and brutal while at the same time leaving space for things like individual weapons, skills, luck and other combat-related factors like range. Without the limitation to a maximum of three clashes combat might get out of hand, but with all mentioned factors coming together the combat resolution blends in quite well with the other elements of Waste Knights. Indeed, each scenario available in Waste Knights also sets a maximum number of rounds to be played (ranging from 6 to 12), and so there will be no talis-manic everlasting running around the board, trying to slay the one or other enemy.

Quite a handful of small but interesting other ideas like a well-implemented trading market and a very useful outer frame for the board also have found their way into Marek's design, but it would go beyond the scope of this review to list each and every detail. Nonetheless, among the points which should also be mentioned is the interesting approach to player interaction, since two knights facing each other always will start playing Combat cards, but certain combinations of cards may instantly end combat and instead result in friendly interaction (i.e. trade). This leaves interesting room for bluffing and nasty tricks, once again blending in quite well with the general spirit of the game. Another strong point of Marek's design are the task cards, displaying small quests which the players can solve to gain benefits. Falling in with the restricted number of rounds, these cards have a limited lifetime of just three rounds, and so the players really need to focus if they want to solve a task before it disappears again.

Welcome to the future! Even though the future as depicted in Waste Knights is not as bright as we could wish for, the game really stands for a modern approach to adventure gaming. In a way, Marek has found a quite good blend between traditional elements like the skill checks and modern, decision-based mechanisms which give the players more freedom of action. Being the result of a small polish crowdfunding project, Waste Knights certainly exceeded my expectations concerning innovation and playing atmosphere, and if players are not deterred by the martial theme a grand adventure waits within the gamebox!

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Copyright & copy; 2015 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany