Wasteland Express Delivery Service First Impressions
When my friend first told me he had bought Wasteland Express Delivery Service I only knew two things about the game – Firstly, it is a post-apocalyptic game about running a courier service in a post-nuclear wasteland. Secondly, it took him around two hours to punch out all the cardboard tokens.
The Wasteland Express Delivery Service (which we will shorten to Wasteland Express to make it easier) is more than that – so today I thought I would go through a few first impressions of Wasteland Express – how the game came across and how we found ourselves lost in the theme. Please note that this isn’t a full review, and like with normal reviews I won’t be going through a “how to play”.
If you do want to know how to play the game, there is a fantastic Watch It Played video that I will share below:
Okay, now that’s shared, let’s start getting into it – what were our first impressions of the Wasteland Express?
Wasteland Express: First Impressions
Before we begin – just to get a few core points out in the open. Wasteland Express is a 2-5 player game. We played it with two players. The game box suggests it takes around 2 hours to play. Our first play through took almost exactly 3 hours, but that was with rule checks etc.. Wasteland Express was designed by Jonathan Gilmour, Ben Pinchback, and Matt Riddle. To add some context to those names – Jonathan Gilmour was one of the designers behind Dead of Winter. Ben Pinchback and Matt Riddle designed Fleet. Wasteland Express was published by Pandasaurus Games, the name behind Dinosaur Island and Duelosaur Island.
Okay, and now onto the first impressions.
The Wasteland Express Concept
Wasteland Express is a game with a somewhat unique premise. You, the players, are unique drivers working their way around a post-nuclear wasteland in search for sales and scrap. You drive your own rig, represented by a unique player board and unique miniature, to drive around. You hire your allies, you buy and sell resources, and you fight raiders both in enclaves and across the barren dirt that you call home.
The concept is a sound one, and there is a reason I have a sudden urge to watch the first Mad Max movie – quickly followed by Mad Max 2, Beyond Thunderdome, and Fury Road. Wasteland Express is a game that oozes that Mad Max feel, mixing it with healthy dosing of Fallout and Borderlands. It is a game that takes the whole post-apocalyptic genre, using the best bits, to create an incredibly thematic experience.
There is no doubt about it, if you are a fan of the genre then Wasteland Express is a game that pits itself as an essential addition to the shelf. It is bright and robust, and it has a huge heap of personality. You can edit your rig, adding weapons, sleeping quarters, shields, and more. You can hire allies and build up a whole team of motley members, each of whom gives you unique abilities throughout the game.
The board is modular, meaning it changes each and every time. In between each octagonal tile are locations – places to deliver goods to or complete missions at.
The Goal to Winning
The goal of Wasteland Express is to complete three first class (or priority) contracts, and it is the first player to complete those contracts who wins the game. There are always three common goals visible beside the board at any one time; however, players can pick more up from one of three faction hubs around the board. As well as the players, and the raiders, there are three different factions – The Archivists, The Oracles of Ceres, and The New Republic Army.
Those three factions all have locations to their names, and they each have unique personalities.
What is really nice about this system is that it is a race to be the first person to finish three goals. It feels more thematic than a points based system – you are survivors of the post-apocalypse after all.
That being said, this racing for the win is not without its weaknesses. It is very obvious throughout the course of the game to see who is winning, and this stands the chance of being disheartening for any players left behind. Throughout Wasteland Express it is possible to see a runaway leader and, although in many ways it helps support the theme (yet again), it stands the chance of being off putting to some.
So, all in all, with all of that in mind, what is Wasteland Express like to play?
Well I, for once, have to admit that the theme works incredibly well, and the gameplay is fast and furious. This is a game that is, in my opinion, something that lives up to what you would expect for it to be. You find yourself whizzing around the wasteland, changing components in your rig, picking up turbo boosters, and blasting from outpost to outpost.
There is, of course, a combat system in the game, and the wasteland is far from empty. Three different raider trucks move around the board, with their movement determined by what the player does on their turn. Those trucks also carry resources (cargo – weapons, food, or water) around on their backs, and those resources can then be traded for scrap at locations that have a certain demand.
At any one time there are 21 outposts on the board – 17 of which are outposts, and 4 are raider enclaves (where raiders can be fought at any given time). Some of those outposts sell cargo for scrap, and others buy it. Those that buy cargo have a randomised demand, that affects a marketplace. Once that demand is satisfied, like when a piece of cargo is sold, the demand and availability of cargo changes.
Now this – this is a really neat mechanic. It is so cool to see a marketplace that is affected by on-board events, as well as one that literally has a fluctuating demand. At the start of our game, there were loads of places demanding weapons, but no where was selling. There was one raider truck that had ammo, and so we both headed to it since selling ammo would make us rich.
Following on from that, demand returned to a state of normality for weapons, and food was suddenly in demand.
What this means is that the game is constantly changing. It is constantly adapting, and it feels chaotic. As such, although possible to have long term goals, it is impossible to plan more than a few turns ahead. This forces you to play the game as it comes.
So, what does this means for the world of the Wasteland Express? What does it mean to be able to customise your rig, have a working market place, be able to hire your own allies, and ultimately rule the wasteland? Well, what it means is that Wasteland Express is a game you can really dig your teeth into.
Getting Lost in The Wasteland
Myself and my friend found a core issue with Wasteland Express when we were playing, and I have to admit – it is an odd one. Wasteland Express is a rich game. Where some games are a small cupcake, Wasteland Express is a full blow gateau, and we found ourselves getting lost in the game. This meant the game lasted a lot longer, and when one of us finally decided to complete objectives the other had to suddenly snap out of it in order to keep up. It is a bizarre problem to have.
In fact, taking this one step further – Wasteland Express is probably one of the most immersive board games out there due to the fact that there is a lot of unique art and it is an asymmetrical game. It provided, for me at least, a more immersive experience than a game like Gloomhaven. I was enjoying running a post-apocalyptic courier service and exploring what the world had to offer.
When missions then started getting ticked off, I was very quickly snapped out of that immersion and suddenly had to optimise. That snap meant that the game lost some of what made it special and unique in that final moment; however, up until then it was fantastically enjoyable.
That enjoyment, how lost I found myself getting in the theme, is a rare thing to find – and as a gaming experience, as a story telling experience, and as an experience where we could customise more-or-less everything, Wasteland Express will stay with me for a long time.
Wrapping Up the First Impressions
The more I think about it, the more I am sure that Wasteland Express is a whole series of awesome concepts put together under a loose structure to add some formality to the game. The three high priority contracts are more of just a method of ending an otherwise intriguing game. The world feels gritty and interesting. The gameplay is smooth and customisable. The whole experience is very well made.
All-in-all, I think a large part of the enjoyment of Wasteland Express is getting lost in the theme. We both wanted to get lost in it and had a fantastic time. That being said, even if there is even one player around the table who wants to optimise rather than sink deep into the rich world that has been created on the table, I can imagine the experience cascading for all into a full blown race to complete contracts. That may sap some of the fun.
Wasteland Express is a game I want to play more of. Unfortunately, the friend who owns it is moving away, so I will just have to buy my own copy – ho hum. I can’t wait to play again; however, I would be careful about who I play it with due to wanting to stay rooted in the theme for the best possible experience.
And there we have it – a few first impressions of Wasteland Express. There are so many other aspects to this game, and ideas I want to explore more once we’ve played it more.
With that in mind, what are your thoughts? Have you played Wasteland Express? Do you enjoy it? Do you agree or disagree with our first impressions? Let me know in the comments below.