Designer Gordon Calleja and publisher Mighty Boards have doubled down on their radiation-soaked epic, Posthuman Saga which has recently hit the shelves following a successful Kickstarter. Can this gorgeous looking production capture the post-apocalyptic theme without outstaying its welcome?
Remember Fallout: The Board Game and its relatively dull expansion New California? No? Me neither, even though I reviewed them both. Unfortunately, despite their experience and the strength of the IP, even Fantasy Flight Games couldn’t make the most of Bethesda’s legendary series when it came to converting it into a tabletop experience.
Mighty Boards has taken a very different approach, thankfully, despite capturing most of the same mechanical features. Posthuman Saga is still a game in which the players explore a wasteland, forage for food, scavenge suppliers and equipment, whilst levelling up their skills by fighting increasingly challenging foes.
A number of story beats run through the structure of the game, dished out through any combination of objective cards, landmark markers, random events and specific missions, whilst a full complement of companions can also be recruited. All of this unfolds over about two hours usually, although Posthuman Saga is easily capable of lasting for more like three with a couple of inexperienced players involved.
There are also several modes to play in, including a standard competitive mode, a team versus and a solo mode — the standard mode is where I spent most of my time. In this default state, Posthuman Saga wisely veers away from player versus player combat, instead allowing each of the four players to forge their own path on a segregated quadrant of the map.
It seemed odd to me at first that the players were effectively involved in their own separate adventures, but since the theme is based on each one being an explorer sent from the same enclave, it makes sense that each would forge out on their own. With this in mind and thanks to clever use of objective cards and landmark tokens as well as seeded event tokens across the sixteen rounds of play, each player will see completely unique events.
From a confrontational perspective, this means that the players will never face off in combat, but what Posthuman Saga does ingeniously well is introducing some very unexpected eurogame elements that drive competition for points. After all, what good game isn’t won by the player who scores the most points?
This next bit will be hard to explain, but I’m going to have to try. Simply put, each objective that players compete will convert to points (usually just one or two) and so will things like defeated bosses and reserved XP. So far, so simple. However, where Posthuman Saga differentiates is in the way that it asks players to compete in a race to complete their different objectives and how they actually do so.
Each main objective has a first and a second half that will be completed by exploring the board and placing down the relevant map tiles, then visiting them in sequence. With the first half complete, a side mission will be unlocked which, if completed, will score a further two points. As they explore their personal section of the board, players will also place down recon tokens that show resources of four kinds that have been located in that sector, chaining these together in an orthogonal sequence will unlock recon objectives, also worth points.
As I said, it’s hard to explain and no doubt hard to visualise, but because players have some control over which tiles and recon tokens they take, and where to put them, the usual randomness in exploration games is completely removed without losing any of the excitement. Chaining the recon tokens together feels thematically detached at first, but when you think about it and realise that each new tile is a full day of exploration, it’s equivalent to searching a whole area and marking resources on your map and then relaying back the coordinates.
As more and more objectives are concluded, not only are points scored but so too do the missions become more and more interesting. You may see the same actual base objectives from game to game as there are only about ten, but it’s unlikely you’ll see them combined with the same recon objectives and the same landmarks every time. Random events and combat introduce further variety, as does the simple need to stay alive — to eat, to rest, to recuperate.
I now realise of course that I haven’t mentioned how the game flows and how some of these things happen. On a turn, a player simply has four actions to choose from and will do so by playing a card. Players can rest, forage, scour or trek, each of which is fairly straightforward conceptually, but with nuances that make the timing of when to do one or the other quite important to the overall gameplay.
Resting simply allows the player to place the camp token on the board, allowing them to refresh broadcast tokens (which I’ll explain in a moment) and to recover fatigue, whilst not having to spend food on the next morning. Foraging allows the player to take the resource for the current tile they are on without question, whilst also allowing them to test their mindset skill in order to try and gain a bonus resource.
Scouting is where broadcast tokens come into play, with the player who calls a scout action being able to open the bidding on one of the four available location tiles. Trekking, fairly clearly, allows the player to move from one space to an adjacent one (orthogonally) which can result in any of a number of things, including both hostile and non-hostile encounters.
When combat occurs, which it inevitably will, or in fact when certain kinds of tests come about, the player will use a deck of challenge cards to try and overcome them. Some of these have ranged or melee attacks, whilst others show successes for non-combat situations. Depending on the enemy, the players may be shot at before reaching melee range, or if they end up in melee combat with a mutant enemy, they may even pick up mutations of their own that bestow (generally) negative effects.
It can be tempting to regard the whole experience as multiplayer solitaire at first and to a certain extent, that is undeniable. Each player lives out their own story and in doing so, the other players will occasionally just need to wait for them. It’s a mistake to think that Posthuman Saga is not a competitive game however, and because the scoring is generally quite low, every extra point for being first to achieve one objective or another counts.
I don’t know whether lessons were learned specifically from the Fallout games, but I can say that where the FFG game and its expansion could bog down and simply break because one player did a certain thing, Posthuman Saga simply can’t do that. What is lost in exploring a shared wasteland is made up for by the reliability and competitiveness of the gameplay, which remains fair and balanced throughout, with each player able to compete on equal footing.
Even though the base game presents a relatively stiff challenge thanks to the dangerous enemies and progressive increase in difficulty, I’ve also had the chance to play a couple of games of the day one expansion, The Resistance, which adds two new playable characters, a whole third tier of enemies and a new slave train mechanic for players to score.
The Resistance, frankly, is an expert-level expansion to an already challenging game and therefore it’s a “nice to have” rather than a must-buy for many players, but I really enjoyed the slave train mechanic because it gave the players a common target to go after that again doesn’t break the game or damage the fundamental elements of the turn structure. The new enemies are hard as nails, however!
Overall, I find Posthuman Saga a very interesting and enjoyable experience that is as unique as anything I could name. It’s a heady mix of combat, hand and resource management, tile placement and racing and I think it’s virtually impossible to classify alongside other games. It does have the issue of being overly long and complex for some players (especially during the first few games) but the gameplay itself isn’t that heavy once the sheer number of things going on has been understood.
I’d recommend Posthuman Saga to fans of post-apocalyptic games who enjoy smart combat, crunchy mechanics and who have the stomach for longer games. This isn’t a dice chucker or a miniatures game, and it’s demanding enough of your time that you need to put aside an entire evening for a single game, more often than not. Because I can’t think of another game like it, I think it’s a keeper for sure.
You can pre-order Posthuman Saga on Thirsty Meeples.