Friday, February 21, 2020

Board Game Review - Apocalyptic Picnic

I got Apocalyptic Picnic with the direct goal of it being a fun, light card game that would appeal to my daughter. Our family plays a lot of games but my daughter is not a big fan of many of the games we play. She's a fan of the party game vibe and she does LOVE light card games, especially those with a zany feel or somewhat outrageous mechanics. Based on the description of the game, we felt like this was something that would be right up her alley that we could play together as a family.

Opening the game, we were impressed with the sturdy box and insert. The box shape doesn't fit neatly on our shelf but it holds the cards well and is set up for good organization. The cards themselves have a nice feel and a fun graphical design. The theme and artwork are quirky and cartoony but just gruesome enough to evoke the theme.

The idea of the game is that you have come to a large family reunion picnic. You have 5 cards in front of you that represent your immediate family. To begin the game, one of your family members has already become a zombie. Your goal each turn is to manipulate the cards you draw and play to "bite" or otherwise infect other players' family members to turn everyone else into zombies while you keep the last non-zombie family member in front of you.

The rules are simple, which made this easy to quickly set up a 4 player game, teach and jump right in. And that's when the trouble started. We circled the table again and again, drawing cards and playing cards. We threw bites and infected food around the table and yet after 30 minutes only one player had lost an additional family member (and one player had actually healed his family and was just gathering cards to protect himself).

After another 10 minutes or so, and a bit of ganging up, we finally eliminated one player from the game. One player lucked out and drew a few "unblockable" attacks to help knock out another player and bring it to a one-on-one final confrontation. I don't remember how long the back and forth went, but finally the last player was defeated (admittedly, they intentionally failed to block a couple of attacks).

I immediately asked if anybody wanted to play again. The first to answer was my daughter with a vehement "no no no" followed closely by No's from everyone else. I asked why and tried to gather their thoughts.

The resounding message in the answers was that the game was boring. It outstayed its welcome. It was funny for the first few minutes but the deck is very poorly balanced such that it is almost always possible to protect yourself if you're playing well. As a result, you can go 'round and 'round for ages with almost nothing happening until/unless someone gets the power attack cards.

The instructions mention alternate rules. One suggestion is for a shorter game by starting everyone with fewer family members. I suggested this option to the family and they still weren't game ("unless we play with only ONE family member"", someone joked). Another option allows eliminated players to continue in gameplay and even heal their zombies to rejoin the competition. While this can help with people who don't like being eliminated, this seems like unnecessary torture as it could result in a game that would never end.

My daughter, who loves super random, super light games (with or without "take that" elements) was the first to admit that she felt like there was no point to this game. Each turn was super obvious what action to take...and when you're attacked it is similarly obvious what to do. The choices were almost non-existent and when there were choices, they weren't engaging. There is some strategy in intentionally sacrificing a family member to be able to spread more "bite" but this strategy can easily backfire if your opponent has unblockable attack.

It all came down to the luck of the draw...I asked my daughter to compare to games like Uno or Exploding Kittens (which can have similar complaints made and which she does enjoy). She said that in the case of Exploding Kittens, it is almost always just as obvious what action you should take but that game does have the tension of the card draw and it also doesn't last as long (we played a 6 player game of ExpKit that came down to the final 5 cards in the deck...and it wasn't even half as long as our play of ApocPicnic). Speaking about Uno, she admits that Uno can come down to lucky card draws and can be a long game but she says she does like that there can sometimes be decisions that may have an impact (changing to Blue rather than Green could make a difference sometimes). While I still don't love Uno as much as her, the way she articulated her comments made me agree.

Overall, Apocalyptic Picnic fell absolutely flat for us. The quirky fun of the game didn't last long enough for us to find the full experience enjoyable. The game outstayed its welcome and this was a picnic we were all too ready to leave behind.

1.5 out of 5 stars

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