Thursday Review: Apocalyptia

I’m getting back into doing the occasional review; these will be rarer than they used to be, because I am no longer a featured reviewer on DriveThruRPG, but when I get around to getting a new game I will try to write a review of it.

Apocalyptia caught my eye as a free and open source tabletop game over at DriveThruRPG. Since it has a post-apocalyptic theme and I’ve been on a post-apocalyptic kick recently, I gave it a good look and it is fairly interesting, although it’s not necessarily a stand-out title.

My main gripe with Apocalyptia is that there’s little unique feel. It’s a good game for what it is, but its mechanics and setting are fairly simple. Despite this, it is able to emulate a number of other games; it’s a game that is very much in the vein of classic tabletop schools of design, with loads of random encounters, gear, and more. There’s 110 pages, and if I had to give a rough guesstimate, there’s about 10-15 pages of fluff throughout the whole book, with the remainder being devoted to mechanics, game systems, and content.

Stylistically, Apocalyptia has a mixed bag. It follows the time-honored RPG tradition of having primarily black-and-white art, much of which is taken from public domain sources. This works well for the most part, though there are a few places where there is a style clash. The typesetting is for the most part decent, though the fonts are not always the most readable; these are actually its main departure from the military manuals it is styled after. Looking at my 2006 copy of FM 6-0, there’s a use of very clean sans serif fonts for non-paragraph text and a serif Times New Roman font for the main text. While I think the intent was to mimic an older style, my FM 19-10 from 1987 still uses similar font schemes, and some of the issues are exacerbated by underlining and bolding certain characters wherever they occur, as well as changing fonts. I didn’t find the book particularly difficult to read, but it certainly detracts from what could otherwise be a very readable book.

Mechanics-wise, Apocalyptia is well-designed for its system. A core single d6 mechanic means that there’s not terribly much resolution for resolving actions, even though it is based on an exploding d6. Again, I am reminded of classic games like Twilight 2000, with a focus on simplifying mechanics and having a lot of random encounter tables. About 40 pages or so are devoted to fleshing out random encounters, which makes it easy to play without much preparation. Apocalyptia is designed to allow a choice between several different apocalypse settings, with more or less every option covered, with multiple zombie apocalypse setups, alien invasions, and robot uprisings giving GM’s a tool to easily replicate many different settings that have embedded themselves into pop culture. There’s base building as well, though it takes on a minor role compared to many other games of its type.

However, Apocalyptia’s simple mechanics belie its user friendliness issues. While there are glossaries, indices, and tables of contents that make it easy to find what you are looking for, there are also significant issues with the complexity of the system: it’s rather complex with all the parts put together, which seems to conflict with the simplicity of its core mechanics. There are tons of tables of effects and modifiers, which add to realism and help mitigate some of the issues with relying on a single d6 for resolution, but which would terrify about half of my group of regular role-players.

To actually play the game requires a fair deal of setup for each player character, and while it’s nice to see that a game that is fully featured (there aren’t a ton of character skills, but that’s a design decision rather than necessarily rules-lite principles shining through), it seems like a game torn between one-shot play (with its focus on light preparation for the GM) and lengthy campaigns (with its focus on detailed characters for players). It’s not a game for novices, though people who have played a ton of tabletop games over the years could probably pick it up easily.

So what are my overall thoughts on Apocalyptia? It’s dark, but it’s also inspired by a lot of classic apocalyptic settings, with tones of everything from Mad Max to Terminator to The Walking Dead depending on how you want to run it. It’s a free game, and there’s clearly been a lot of effort put forward into making it, but it’s not particularly user friendly. As someone who enjoys the genre and can appreciate the mechanical complexity, I’d call it a modern take on the GDW games like Traveler and Twilight 2000 with concessions to newer schools of game design, but the complexity and realism of such table-heavy games.

http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/133760/Apocalyptia?affiliate_id=275198

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