22 September 2017
We head into the post-apocalypse to recover what we can from this mess
If you end up having to fight for survival in the post-apocalypse, at least join forces with people with amusing names. This is the main takeaway from Outlive, a worker-placement game with some interesting gameplay ideas that is ultimately let down by significant flaws and a deeply unsatisfying experience.
Things start out well, as players set up their nuclear fallout shelter and gang of survivors, led by a random character. These leaders dictate each player’s starting resources, equipment and placement on the central board and are of little consequence past the first few turns. More importantly, they boast some of the best names around, with Swifty Bingham and Mary Koolpepper among the potential picks.
Unfortunately, this is where things start to head downhill. Specifically, as soon as you open the rulebook, which has been poorly translated from the original French. It is riddled with typos and clunky phrasing throughout, making it difficult to understand the basics of the relatively straightforward game and hard to engage with it on either a mechanical or thematic level. The problem extends to the rest of the game, too, with widespread spelling errors – including on the back of every ‘equipments’ tile.
Once you battle your way through the rules and things get underway, Outlive picks itself up a little. The main tension centres around the board’s eight locations, which players will travel to and explore using their four meeples, collecting the items, water, food, ammo, wood, metal and microchips needed to survive the wasteland.
What makes this interesting is that each meeple is emblazoned with a number representing its individual strength, from three to five. The number reflects how many actions that piece can perform on a location – searching for equipment, collecting resources or trading for water – but also defines its ability to hold off rival players’ pieces. Stronger pieces can apply pressure to weaker explorers already in an area, stealing a number of items from those players unless they are driven off using ammo. Strength can also be used to hunt for prey, which gathers meat that can be used to feed survivors for that turn only – unlike canned food, which lasts.
The varying strengths and player interaction make knowing not only where but when to move your pieces vital in order to gather the most resources and avoid losing them to opponents.
This all plays into the second half of the game, which involves managing a bunker full of survivors at the end of each round, feeding and watering them so they can operate useful rooms built using resources (which provide bonus effects) and protect against the increasing radiation outside – which can also be reduced by finding and eating seaweed, an apparent natural aid. Event cards are drawn at the beginning of each new round that set in motion ongoing effects, but can be resolved by spending resources, stopping the effect and giving that player bonus VP. Discovered equipment similarly starts off broken and can be fixed, providing extra benefits and points after the game’s six rounds are up.
There’s a lot happening, and you can see occasional flashes of clever design in the messy execution – the problem remains that it never becomes all that interesting or engaging when put together. The events rarely make enough of a difference for turns to seem distinct from each another, and quickly begin to feel repetitive. One of the issues is that the game board is reset at the beginning of every turn, with minor variations based on certain event cards – perhaps keeping resources as they are and forcing players to clash over the limited supply would’ve been more involving. Even then, the lacklustre turn-to-turn decisions and abysmal language issues mean you should steer well clear.
Outlive buries its moments of innovation and tension under tiresome gameplay and an absolutely unacceptable level of sloppy presentation. It’s not that there’s nothing to enjoy or appreciate here, but the amount of effort to uncover it isn’t ultimately worthwhile.
Publisher: La Boite de Jeu
Genre: Worker placement
Time: 25 minutes (per player)
This review originally appeared in the August/September 2017 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here – or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
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