24th Jan2020

‘Aftermath’ Board Game Review

by Matthew Smail

aftermath-box

If you’re familiar with the previous storybook games from talented designer Jerry Hawthorne, you’ll know exactly what to expect from Aftermath. This latest addition to the series that saw Stuffed Fables and Comanauts released over the past two years continues the trend of delivering a tight, story driven experience that mixes interesting combat scenarios with light RPG style moments. The icing on the cake where Aftermath is concerned is that the game returns to Hawthorne’s love for heroic animals.

Specifically, Aftermath takes place following the collapse of humanity. Hints throughout the opening text and on the cards and pages you’ll work through cumulatively suggest that some kind of disease has wiped out us completely, and as a result animals – in particular small rodents – are now the most sentient creatures on the planet. Wearing clothes and armed to the teeth, these rodents occasionally venture from their safe havens on a variety of missions, and it is ahead of one such quest where we pick up the thread.

Aftermath is not a true legacy game in the sense that the players will destroy components, but it does provide an episodic campaign that will introduce numbered cards and send players to different areas of the storybook board, some of which will differ depending on your actions and choices. If you’ve played either Stuffed Fables or Comanauts, the system in Aftermath is very similar in terms of how the story unfolds, albeit simplified in comparison to Comanauts and with none of the dice rolling that occasionally ruined Stuffed Fables.

Keeping with the theme of comparing Aftermath with the two games that preceded it, I must admit that this outing feels a lot like the sum of of Hawthorne’s past experience. The issues raised with both of the previous games (which were still pretty good in their own right) are almost completely resolved, with a card based system replacing the dice in Stuffed Fables, and a return to gorgeous plastic miniatures and a more child-friendly (whilst still engaging for adults) storyline in comparison to Comanauts.

In broad, general terms (and without any major spoilers) each player will take control of one or two characters. Each is named and has their own miniature, starting items and special skills, as well as a box that keeps their progress organised from one game to the next. As I mentioned earlier, Aftermath is an episodic game but not a legacy game in the sense that any items are destroyed, so the game can be completely reset once you’ve finished playing it. Theoretically, the players will retain the same character from game to game, however there are ways around this if one player drops out or wants to introduce a different character mid way through.

Gameplay in Aftermath is very straightforward, although the number of decks to organise makes it seem a bit daunting at first. With the initial sorting out of the way, players will realise that many of the tokens, miniatures and cards will become relevant later on, with the basic storybook board, a few status dials and a couple of decks being used for the first game. Setting up each character is simple, with each having a starting skill and a weapon, but not a whole lot more to contend with.

Each turn is structured around the use of the action cards to drive movement, combat and whatever else the players want to achieve (such as searching, or sneaking, perhaps.) The players simply use the cards in their hand to achieve these things (in a similar way to how dice are used in Stuffed Fables) and several abilities allow players to affect their cards, add base stats to them, or even share cards between the characters. When these cards are drawn, certain cards can be drawn that add to the existing threat level in the area, potentially resulting in enemies activating and attacking the players.

Whilst the basic movement and combat plays out much like the previous games in the series, the inclusion of some of the new dials that track the population of the animals enclave add some further nuance. Feeding the colony, maintaining a healthy population and a few other things will inform decisions during the game and may result in either positive or negative effects, some of which will (again) drive the players to different locations. As an example, you may need food so badly that you make a choice to visit a risky location, where had you not had such a challenge, you would have skipped at least a page or two entirely.

As with the other games, the majority of the experience focuses on small scale exploration and page by page storytelling, but on occasion there are elements that change the gameplay in interesting ways. Whilst trying not to spoil anything too much I can say that the inclusion of a few “vehicle” tokens hint at exactly what you might expect them to, and chase sequences, whilst few and far between, break up the normal gameplay in an enjoyable enough way without materially breaking the basis systems.

The quality of the components, as always with Plaid Hat, is very high. The card quality and artwork is great and the storybook and card components that make up the “board” in traditional terms are fantastic. The miniatures look great, with a heavy, chunky feel and a very high standard of cast, although the material makes them brittle enough that I had one or two broken pieces (small things like claws) right out of the box.

In general, I’d say that Aftermath is the best of the storybook games that I’ve played, with a fantastic story that works for both older and younger players, without being dull for anyone. The ideal age range is probably somewhere between eight and fifteen years of age with one or two parents or older players to keep things moving, but the key thing is that Aftermath is a superb family experience. I enjoy the feel of the game and the use of cards to solve the various different challenges, and each episode is about the right length.

**** 4/5

Aftermath is available online at 365Games.co.uk, or at your local games store. Don’t know where yours is? Try this handy games store locator

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