I never knew being a truck driver could be so much fun.
Wasteland Express Delivery Service is a new board game from Pandasaurus, designed by Jon Gilmour (Dead of Winter), Matt Riddle (Fleet, Back to the Future) and Ben Pinchback (Fleet, Back to the Future). It pits two to five players against each other as couriers in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, each racing across the scorched landscape in an attempt to complete assignments faster than their opponents.
Think Kevin Costner's The Postman meets your delivery guy.
An overview of WEDS' main playing area.
WEDS takes place on a 4x4 grid of large terrain tiles and smaller settlement pieces that you shuffle and randomise each time you play. Beginning at the centre of the map and with a list of missions available to them, players are free to set out and wander the wastes at their own leisure, picking up supplies, delivering them for profit and upgrading their vehicles.
Which all sounds relatively peaceful, especially as there's no direct combat between players. But you share the wastes with gangs of raiders, who are not only holed up in camps across the map, but who also have three gnarly little plastic trucks which roam around attacking any player who gets in their way.
And while there's no direct confrontation between rival truckers, you are all competing for the same goods (and often the same objectives as well), meaning that games are all about finding a balance between keeping your truck and cash flow healthy while also moving fast enough (and doing enough fighting) that you're getting ahead on your missions.
With a randomised map and the same six characters to choose from, you'd think this was just a skirmish game, something that you pull out and enjoy because jumbling up the location of outposts and radioactive pieces of terrain creates a new and interesting challenge each time you play. And you can certainly do that, and it's fine, and it's fun!
But what's cool about WEDS is that it does so much more than this. There's lore here, a lot of lore, to the point where each faction in the game has their own extensive backstory, and you can play a campaign that goes into incredible detail explaining each scenario and the story that's unfolding throughout it.
Coupled with the art — which I'll get to in a minute — it means this feels like more than a 90-minute skirmish board game where you're driving wee plastic trucks around. It starts to feel like part of a universe, allowing you to develop an affinity towards certain characters and factions that you might not otherwise had WEDS not gone into so much love and detail.
Combat in WEDS is pretty simple. Every time you attack (or are attacked) by a Raider you draw a card that shows how strong they are. You then roll at least a couple of dice (upgrades you purchase can bolster this) and if you match/beat the number, you win. If you don't beat it, you suffer damage, which in this game is actually a fairly big deal, since repairing is time-consuming and damage robs you of cargo space you could be using to carry cargo around.
A Raider will only attack you if they move onto your space, and they can only move when another player moves them (this works by having most terrain spaces carry the logo of a Raider faction... if a player ends their turn outside an outpost and on a space with a logo, they can move that Raider truck one space), making this the only real way players can indirectly try and harm a rival. Beat back a Raider attack and you can just carry on.
More fun are the times when you choose to attack a Raider, because if you win, you get to take the cargo they were carrying. And you literally get to take it: The plastic trucks have space in the back for cute little cargo tokens which you remove and place in your own stash, which helps make the heist feel a little more satisfying.
Some of the Raiders you'll meet in the game.
OK, let's talk about the art in this game. Holy shit. Pandasaurus got comic artist Riccardo Burchielli to do most of the game's more important art, and it made a massive difference to how I experienced and enjoyed WEDS. Burchielli's work on DMZ is some of my favourite comic art of the last 20 years, so it was a joy to see him given free reign here to come up with a weird and wonderful cast of characters.
These are the Raider cards you draw when engaging in combat. The big number is how many hits it takes to kill them.
Not only are the six playable options each unique and interesting, but the army of Raiders are even cooler, some paying homage to stuff such as Mad Max, others being completely fresh takes on what comic book bad guys of a post-apocalyptic wasteland would look like. The first few times I played it was important to draw Raider cards to see who I was up against, but it was also a blast getting to check out the art of whoever it was, because it never fails to impress.
WEDS is fun because it's always moving. You're never sure how far away a rival may be from claiming one (or more) of their objectives. You always have somewhere to be, something to do, a set of needs tugging at you requiring you to weight up how far you have to travel to do something vs. what it's going to cost to get you there.
And if it all goes wrong and someone gets in your way? Then it's still fun, because there are so many possibilities across the map that there's rarely a dull set of turns, and almost never a time where you feel like things are in a lull or that there's nothing you can do in the immediate future.
But it isn't without its problems. Mostly down to the game's initial unpack and setup, which are some of the worst I've encountered.
Just look at that box.
While a standard game of WEDS will usually set you back around two hours, I'd recommend allowing for around four hours for your first playthrough. That's down to two main culprits: There's an almost farcical number of tokens that need to be punched out then placed in very specific storage locations, which takes around 60-90 minutes, and then you need to actually learn how to play the game, which when you add up all the pauses for reading and watching can easily take well over an hour.
All of which would be fine were it not made a lot harder than it should be by poor documentation. It's harder learning how to play WEDS than it is to actually play WEDS, if that makes sense. There's no quick start guide, no reference card for things like turn order and key terms, there isn't even an index in the manual. All you have are a list of terms and concepts in a book, which is almost useless if all you want to do is get the game out of the box and learn to play as you go. It's so bad that to get my first game going I had to rely almost entirely on a third-party rules video, which is never a good sign.
The other slightly disappointing thing is that even though the game supports up to five players, the interaction between everyone is limited to moving the Raider trucks around the map. I appreciate the lack of direct player vs player combat — we're truck drivers, not tank drivers — but within that context it would have been nice to have some way for players to cross paths, even if it was just a basic form of cargo trading. Without that, it can get a bit lonely at times, as with everyone working individually there isn't much scope for discussion.
The hassle of the initial setup is compensated down the line, though, with the inclusion of something I'm going to start expecting from all resource-heavy games from now on: A collection of sturdy, dedicated storage containers for all of WEDS' pieces.
The midpoint of WEDS' transition from "cardboard token hell" to "storage and organisational utopia"
The game comes with plastic boxes for the trucks, plastic trays for the tokens, plastic card holders for the various decks... If WEDS uses it, it has a protective home waiting for it somewhere inside the game box, all provided as part of the initial purchase, not something you're compelled to shell out for down the line. And the best part is all these boxes and holders are designed to click together and atop one another and fit perfectly inside the game box.
I had my doubts about this game as I opened the box and first got a handle on the rules. The post-apocalyptic setting seemed a bit tired, and the lack of player interaction had me worried I'd be spending two hours sitting in silence as my friends went about their own business.
But WEDS manages to take something that sounds boring as hell — playing as a truck driver — and through incredible art, context and smart design creates an experience that isn't only constantly engaging, but a real treat for the eyeballs as well.