Wreckage by Fantasy Flight Games takes place on post-apocalyptic Mad Max-style desert highways. The art and design of the cards and game pieces are superb, readily setting the stage for car combat mayhem despite the game’s threadbare story.
Playing the game with my group did not, however, unlock the fun that its impressive-looking components suggested. Rather it revealed another case of style over substance. Yet it feels like there is some potential within this game, unrealized by the rules, waiting to be released.
The goal of Wreckage is to grab gasoline cans by driving over them; easy when they’re out in the open but later in the game you’ll have to destroy your opponents to retrieve the final cans necessary to win.
Taking a cue from the likes of Robo-Rally, Wreckage employs turns in two stages. In the first stage each player selects two steering cards to control the movement of his or her car, such as “turn left” or “accelerate,” along with various special cards such as “jump” and “bootleg” unique to each vehicle. During the second stage each player moves his or her car by executing the first steering card and moving his or her car based on its current speed. This leads to a little strategic planning and trying to out-think opponents in order to come out on top in the automotive combat; for me this aspect was one of the game’s highlights. Beyond the fact that I got to drive around in a spiky-looking gas-powered death mobile loaded up with guns, which practically says “good times” all by itself.
In fact, selecting and modifying the car you get to drive is probably the most interesting part of the game. Before play starts each player chooses one of eight cars, then drafts three pieces of auto equipment in the form of weapons and upgrades. It’s not as deep as some video games (Rock N’ Roll Racing comes to mind) but there’s a pleasant assortment of weapon capabilities and upgrade utilities.
So why would I hesitate before playing this game again? What would bring down this otherwise enjoyable combination of light tactics and carefully crafted visual style? In a word, Ram.
You see, collisions are a large part of Wreckage, both colliding your car into obstacles and inter-vehicular crashes. They can also be far more deadly than most of the guns in the game, especially if they occur at high speed. Weapon damage is mitigated by “handling,” an armor-like factor that subtracts from damage scored before it is applied to a vehicle. Collisions are unaffected by handling, upon impact vehicles suffer full damage based on their speed.
When two vehicles collide they both take damage, often in relatively large amounts. The Ram card turns this fact into a powerful weapon when you possess it, by allowing your car to ignore damage from collisions. Pairing Ram with a fast, maneuverable car can make for an extremely hard-to-beat combo.
It became apparent that the design of Wreckage was effectively broken when I saw that Ram is so powerful it becomes a necessity for any player to try and draft it, so that, at the least, they would not have to face down an opponent wielding the card. Ram is somewhat akin to Umezawa’s Jitte, for you Magic fans.
Wreckage House Rules
I intend to give the game another chance, but not before dealing with Ram. There are a number of possible house rules that might address the problem, and potentially result in a fun gaming experience for anyone who dreams of cars with guns:
- Remove Ram from the equipment deck. Probably the easiest fix, and playing this way would demonstrate whether the rest of the game is solid fun.
- Make Ram more costly. If Ram took up two equipment slots, perhaps it might be more balanced against the other weapons and upgrades.
- Limit Ram’s use. Ram might be perfectly balanced if, like the one-shot rockets, it was discarded after use. (Those concerned about the “logic” of this could easily invent justifications. After all, the steel plates are discarded after use; perhaps the ramming apparatus is irrevocably damaged after collision.)
- Limit Ram’s effectiveness. Instead of preventing all damage during a collision, the Ram might reduce it by two, down to a minimum of one damage card.
- Limit Ram’s coverage. The rules are a bit unclear whether you can cause a collision by turning left or right, but they do indicate that turning to execute a bootleg can cause a collision. By limiting the Ram to affect only collisions that result from forward movement, the Ram might be better balanced.
I personally like the sound of number three, but I’m interested in hearing from anyone who decides to try out one of these house rules with their group; what do you think?