Battlelands: Aftermath Edition is a card game that pits players against each other in a series of battles that will determine the outcome of a post-apocalyptic war. Players must manage their resources from battle to battle, choosing when to commit and when not to, as well as picking how to prioritise between victory in battle and obtaining powerful technologies that can swing the tide of combat.
Root has a lot to answer for. The asymmetric woodland-warfare game mastered the trick of taking a very grim and brutal game, slapping cutesy woodland animals over the top and getting away with it. Following in those aesthetic footsteps comes Battlelands: Aftermath Edition, from designers Jerry Hawthorne and Andrea Mezzotero. A spin-off from Plaid Hat’s forthcoming Aftermath narrative game, Battlelands sees opposing factions compete in bloody combat in battle after battle. The victor of each battle claims points for the territory they’ve won and, at the end of a gruelling war, these points determine the winner. The fact that the combatants in Battlelands: Aftermath Edition are all small furry creatures or pet lizards in Mad Max-style post-apocalyptic get-up somewhat covers up the no-holds-barred nature of the conflict.
The design of the different factions are a strong draw for the game: The art is lovely and it is very difficult to resist the charms of a plucky field mouse wielding a contraption that shoots push-pins. The aforementioned powerful technologies all have a vaguely-daft, hodgepodge style to them as well, ranging from a War Spork to a Toy Jeep. The contents of the box don’t stretch too much more than these decks of cards but that is to be expected for Battlelands: Aftermath Edition’s modest price-point and the quality of the cards is nothing to sniff at.
Behind the aesthetics of the game lies something similar to Jason Little’s Blood Bowl: Team Manager game (Fantasy Flight) in terms of play. Six battlegrounds are laid out on the table, revealed one at a time. After a battleground is revealed, players take it in turns to commit units from their faction to it. Each unit has a strength and iconography to indicate whether it is a ranged or melee unit (a difference that only comes into play from card effects). Many units will also have an ability that triggers when it enters play such as flipping an opponent’s ranged unit or allowing you to return one of your units from your discard to hand.
After every player has determined they no longer wish to continue committing resources to the battle, the strength of all units there is totalled with the victor taking the battleground card and the points associated with it. At that point, the next battleground is revealed and the cycle starts again, with the key factor being that any units used in the previous battle are not available for this one. This continues until the end of the third battle, at which point the first war is said to be over. All players regain all their cards and the second war takes place, with a new series of three battlegrounds.
So far, so straightforward and, really, Battlelands is a fairly straightforward game. There isn’t too much to complicate the outlined gameplay beyond the technologies. When a battleground is revealed, a number of these cards are placed face-up next to it equal to the number of players minus one. Whenever a player passes in that round they take one of the technologies, with only the last player to pass not gaining one. These technologies go straight into your hand for the next battle and are worth points at the end of the game (although, in some cases, minus points).
This combination of mechanics really makes the game a strategic question of where and how to commit your resources. Playing to a battleground in strength, only to lose to another player, can be catastrophic to your chances of victory as the player will be at the mercy of other players who passed earlier in the round, retaining resources for later fights.
The individual card effects can add a nice bluffing mechanism or ability to turn the tables too. Some of the card effects will allow you to commit units then effectively take them back later if you don’t like the way things is going or to force an opponent to commit units. Others will let you flip a whole bunch of cards from your opponents if you’ve played it right (and they’ve played it wrong). There are more abilities than this and each can give a powerful advantage if used correctly.
At its heart, Battlelands: Aftermath Edition is really a game about memory. This may sound counterintuitive given the gameplay but what is key here is that each faction has a relatively small number of unit cards (seven in fact). That means that after a few games have been played it is possible to know at least roughly (if not exactly) what unit cards your opponents have access to and what effects those cards can trigger. From here it becomes a game almost akin to Love Letter in terms of determining what cards your opponent has and what they are likely to play.
All of this means that there is a question about the long-term replayability. Where Love Letter’s simplicity and game design means you can play it over and over again, Battlelands: Aftermath Edition’s options are limited enough that it is possible to plan and know your optimal moves in most circumstances, with enough knowledge and experience of the game. The secret mission mechanic (whereby a number of unit cards are removed from the game until the very end for bonus points) complicates things a little but not sufficiently to escape this potential speed bump.
Having said that, your first dozen or two dozen games will not have this problem (indeed, it might never come up depending on how your game group plays) and what you have then is a very simple, quick game that is easy to explain and accessible to gamers of all ages and experience. This accessibility is helped further by the lovely art style and design and the character of all the factions. Ultimately though Battlelands: Aftermath Edition is a game that lacks the depth of Blood Bowl: Team Manager or the genius simplicity of Love Letter. As a result it may end up drifting to the bottom of your pile of light games, increasingly rarely seeing the light of day.
Battlelands: Aftermath Edition is available for purchase on Amazon.