Well, this is the second article in a while, and I owed it to the Outrider guys to get this out sooner, but my schedule has been bat-shit crazy of late thanks to a remodel I’m doing, as has many of the Circus Freaks’ schedules. Our rules are very strict on what we need to do in order to produce a proper review, so I was, sadly, forced to delay this article. I feel doubly bad about it since this is a Kickstarter preview, and they launched this past weekend. As always, I have been given full assurance that the copy I got mirrors the copy you’ll get, or we would not be doing a preview, and their KS project page indicates this as well. Anyhow, as many of you know, I have a wickedly sinister addiction to all things post-apocalyptic, and this game just looked too cool not to examine. When I asked about the release schedule, I was offered a review copy. I’m here, so you know how that turned out.
So, what is Outrider? It was a print-and-play, post-apoc car combat game that’s been around for almost 4 years now, and they decided to take it to the next level and produce a full boxed version of the game. I don’t know about what the stretch goals may hold in the future or anything, but based on the proviso that I get what you’ll get, I am sad to report that the cars are all flat cardboard pieces, not Matchbox cars with serious kitbashing work. If you’re looking for a real car to have fun with, how about this 1956 ford f100.
Now, I know that were I to buy this game, the first place I’d go is Stan Johansen Miniatures, but be that as it may, there’s nothing but cardboard in the box, which is a bit of a disappointment after seeing all the stuff on their Facebook page. Hell, much of the reason I was interested in the game was directly proportionate to the images I saw there. It’s no biggie, really, because I will drop 10$ and 2 hours of my time to buy some Matchbox cars and pimp them out with leftover bits I have lying around.
Anyhow, you didn’t come hear to listen to me bitch about what’s not in the box, so let’s drill down and see what Outrider is about. Outrider is an odd bird, from a “board game” perspective. It is very reminiscent of FFG’s “Wreckage”, but with a board rather than being played on any old flat surface. This game is most assuredly a miniatures game sans miniatures, sort of like how I characterized Summoner Wars. Now, in some of the “promo videos” I’ve seen out and about on the web, many don’t have the board, they just have rocks and buildings on the table. That’s all well and good, because were I to play a lot of this game, I’d most assuredly use my miniature terrain to do so, because, again, if this game had miniature cars instead of cards, I would have liked it more, because I am an unabashed bits whore. While I stand by my assertion that it would have been better from an aesthetics perspective, the car cards really do a hell of a job because they give you a lot of information that the cars wouldn’t be able to easily transmit, the most important of the information being fire arcs. In most of the videos and their own promo photos, both cars and cards are used anyhow, so maybe I’m lamenting over nothing. What can I say…I just like toys. But, let’s stop there, because I’m getting ahead of myself.
When you set up the game, you have four dice, some markers, some maneuver cards, a reference card, a “dashboard” card, and your car card. The single most important choice you have in the game is your car, because they vary incredibly. The game can literally hinge entirely on which car you choose for the mission you’re attempting, and in this way I find the game to be very flexible, because each car has four key attributes, but the firing arcs of each car are limited, to a degree, by its attributes. The attributes are simply bonuses to your roll, and you customize the cars by using the dice (D6, D8, D10, D12) and applying them to your dashboard, which gives you a huge variety of car builds. Further, each car card is double sided, with one side having lower attribute bonuses but larger firing arcs. You could literally play this game several hundred times and never have the same car build, which again underscores the flexibility of the system.
Once you’ve got the car built out and are ready to rock and roll, you begin. There’s an initiative mechanic that favors the faster cars, which determines turn order and provides some powerful bonuses during the round. Once you know who goes first, you get to take your turns, one at a time. To do things, you simply line the maneuver cards of your choice up, apply some action tokens to any card that you want to perform an action, which generally means shooting, and then begin your movement across the cards. Some tedium comes into play when performing turns at high speed and things of that nature because of the nature of how you move in this game. Each maneuver card has a value on it, and that value indicates the difficulty of performing that particular maneuver. Add an action token to it, and it becomes one point harder. Your vehicle’s handling bonus and driver die are that which control your ability to not wreck out each turn, and while many maneuvers are basically automatically passed, such as driving in a straight line, if you built a car with low handling and a shit driver, but loaded with armor and guns, you can fail your maneuver roll and come to a stop, overshoot, skid off into the sunset, or if there’s terrain, you’ll smash into something. If you built a car with a small engine, you can play fewer maneuver cards, and therefore can shoot less often. I guess the short version is that you can either attempt to be balanced and have each game feel similar, or you can build crazy cars with massive armor and firepower, but that are slow as molasses and can fire very infrequently. In all honesty, I think my favorite part of the game is building the cars and then experimenting with them to see just how far you can push them.
Sadly, this game is far more of a simulation than I initially had expected, and I think it’s probably the biggest weakness, because instead of simplifying things through either omission or abstracting mechanics, you’re forced to do a bunch of die rolling on some maneuvers which, while creating some memorable moments, feels just a bit tedious and kind of “mathy”. There can be so damned many competing bonuses to keep track of that it’s not uncommon to have a player sum four or five numbers just to see what they need to roll, and this doesn’t even begin to mention that with all these competing numbers, +4 is the maximum bonus that can be granted. It can be frustrating in this regard, because you might end up with the following scenario: “Let’s see… the target number for this maneuver is a base of 5 (Punch it (1), Hard Left(2), Easy Left(1)), then +1 for driving through a hazard, +1 for attacking while driving, +1 for driving in reverse, so my target is 8. Got it. Now I roll my Driver skill, rolled a 5, then add +1 for my attribute bonus, SHIT! I failed on a 6. Now I have to count the cards until I get to 6, which is my roll, then roll to see if I spun out based on what card I am on when I failed…KILL ME NOW”. This part is unfortunate, because it didn’t need to be this hard. Now, in a game like Heroscape, it becomes second nature (+1 for height, +2 for Raelin, +1 for Valiant Army Bonus…) so it might just be that I’ve only played this four times so it’s just not second nature yet. That said, I never had to refer to the Heroscape rules often because it’s intuitive, where this really isn’t.
Once you’ve waded through moving, you can start shooting, and that’s when it goes from mediocre to white hot fun. No matter if you failed or passed your driving roll, you still get to perform the movement and/or actions you chose up until that point. So, let’s say that you spun out at the end of your movement track, you still get to move and shoot up until that point. So, you take your little rangefinder cards, line up as many as three of them to your firing arc of choice, and then your opponent does some math and determines what you need to roll. If he has a bigger engine, that’s a +1. If he has an armor upgrade on his car choice, that’s a +1 (or +2). If he has the initiative card from winning initiative, not only does he get a +1 bonus, that bonus can exceed the +4 maximum that normally applies to all bonuses in the game. So, the player rolls his “Armor” die, adds up all the bonuses, and the attacker then rolls his “Firepower” die, adds all his bonuses, and if the enemy’s total is lower than yours, you nailed him. He takes one hit, and if he took his sixth, he’s scrap metal. Again, I’m not super keen on the math in the shooting, and I’m really not super keen on the fact that despite me packing the Outrider equivalent of a tactical nuke and him packing armor made of recycled cardboard, he only gets one hit. We almost immediately house ruled that so that the defender takes 1 hit on a successful attack, +1 additional for every additional 2 “pips” rolled above the defenders (ie. Attacker’s total is a 12, defender’s is an 8, so he took 1, plus 2 more for rolling 4 points lower than the attacker). It made the games much quicker because cars were getting blown to shit, but it also felt like the weapons choice mattered a hell of a lot more. Instead of just “I hit ya!”, it became “I just fucked your shit up!”. Instead of a satisfied chortle, it became high fives all around and really uncomfortable pelvic pumps in the air. Well, uncomfortable for the other players, maybe.
So, I still like the game, on balance, despite it being a little over-complex for what should be fast and furious car combat. Some of us didn’t like it as much as I did, and some liked it more, but I will say that one person absolutely despised it and refused to play again because she just couldn’t wrap her head around the rules. I think if you take into account the house-rule that we came up with, the game fares much better and is much more exciting because the stakes are higher, so you definitely try riskier moves to attempt to get out of people’s firing arcs. I wish there was a way to abstract or house rule the movement without really unbalancing things, but if I were to play this a lot, I’d spend some development time trying to figure out how to do that. I think that if anything, a set of “basic” rules that try to make it less tedious and math-heavy would be a good idea, leaving the current rules intact as the “advanced” version. In any event, I can see this game being played again, and especially when I get my house unpacked so that I can start painting up some cars. The fact is that this is a fun little game that doesn’t take long to set up and play through a scenario, it’s very thematic, and it’s the kind of game that has been missing from my game shelf since Car Wars was there so many moons ago.
Why This Outrider Trumps Dash Rendar’s, All Day Long:
– Really nice art and good components make this look great on the table
– The quick pace of the gameplay and relatively intuitive ‘programming’ system keeps everyone involved
– The replay value is ridiculously high thanks to the large variety of options
– At a $40.00 USD price point, including domestic freight, it’s a pretty good deal
Why I’d Rather Ride Out Of Town Than Play This:
– While it sounds worse than it is, the bonus/neg structure for simply moving the car can be tedious and mathy
– NO PLASTIC CARS!!! AAAAAARRRRRGGGGHHHHH!!!
I guess in the final analysis, this is a really fun, but sometimes frustrating and mathy little shoot-’em-up with really good bits and a great theme. I would definitely recommend this to fans of Car Wars or Wreckage, because I think it takes the bones of those games and, through some clever streamlining, delivers on the promise of a fast and furious car battle game with lots of customization and replay value.
Check out their Kickstarter project here:
Superfly Circus Disclaimer:
This is a PREVIEW of a game, and therefore no score will be listed, and the final product may vary greatly from what I just wrote. We did our level best, in good faith, to tell you all what we RECEIVED, and if the game changes during the production or development cycle, take it up with the publisher if you bought it based on this preview. I can only write about what was received, and as far as I’m concerned, Kickstarter projects are vaporware until they are actually produced and delivered. Caveat muh-vuggin Emp-tity-tor. I, as of this writing, have backed only a very small handful of products, only one of which was a game, so let this be my two cents of advice: Be very careful with Kickstarter “backing” because you can be fucked stupid just as easily as you can get delivered the game of your dreams. Whatever you do, don’t use the above preview as anything other than a review of a game BEING DEVELOPED AT THE TIME OF WRITING, and the game is just as likely to be completely different than was described as it is to be exactly as described.