When the apocalypse arrives us gamers are going to be very prepared. Whether it's fighting zombies or curing diseases we'll have played enough games set in the post-apocalyptic wasteland that we'll know exactly what to do and Raid and Trade is another game that can train you up for the worst.
Set in the remains of a once great city, you will venture forth from a central base, raiding dwellings, gathering junk and crafting items in a hope to gain entry into the Golden City. It's kind of like a board game version of Fallout 4 but without the 50s Americana.
Central to the game is the concept of raiding (it's in the name). You move to a dwelling, draw a card and see how many items you collect. For some dwellings you will have to roll a dice to see how good the pickings are and in some dwellings will be occupied or downright hazardous and you'll lose favour with the Golden City for raiding occupied houses, unfortunately you won't know this until after you've decided to raid.
Victory in Raid and Trade is achieved in one of three ways; craft enough items to raise your engineering skill to 20, raise your influence to its maximum or complete three quests. Although you can switch which of your the goals you want to achieve you'll often find that one comes at the expense of the other. For example some of the quests require spending your skill or influence, thereby making it more difficult to achieve these goals. At the same time it pays to be flexible as an abundance of a particular item may aid you in one way more than another.
In order to win you also need to spend 20 energy in a single turn, and this is where the rules get a little odd. You start each round with 15 energy and this is your action counter; moving, fighting, raiding, trading and crafting all cost energy and you have to carefully balance your energy use with your goals. You also need energy to defend against attacks, so keeping some in reserve is always a good option.
There are a few methods of gaining more energy, mostly by using some of your crafted items or eating the food you’ve scavenged. The weird part is spending that energy, since you can use energy by moving, the winner basically just needs to create 5 extra energy and then run around the board. It's such an odd concept that in every game we just ruled that as long as you could gain the energy you could win rather than the player sprinting around the board in some crazy victory lap.
This isn’t the only place where Raid and Trade is a bit of a clunky game. The game is trying to balance a lot of mechanics, which has the benefit that the game gives you plenty of options and multiple routes to victory but this leads to the odd mechanic that doesn't really work. Unless you can jump a player with no energy or a lack of ammo, then combat often ends up being a let-down, with the expenditure in ammo and energy not often worth the potential reward.
The quest system isn't very well explained in the rule book and it often feels more like luck than judgement when you complete a quest. And then there's the Outpost, a location where you can raise your favour by spending energy. The Outpost feels a bit like an afterthought, that a balance needed to be made for people who wanted to go the favour route and so this building had to be added.
It’s a veritable tool bag of different mechanics and options and sometimes those tools don’t work well together. For example trading, another element mentioned in the title, is going to depend largely on your group. Just like Settlers of Catan the amount of trading happening will depend on how open your game group is to exchanging valuable resources. In my experience I found most players where very protective of their resources only offering trades when they were particularly desperate and even then the opposing players would try and make it an extortionate deal.
I did however find that the game works better, and more trading also occurred, with more players present. Even though the number of dwellings to raid scales with the number of players, with more players present perceived scarcity of resources and it encourages more trading and more combat.
One thing to be said for Raid & Trade is that even with all these mechanics bouncing round like ping pong balls in a tumble dryer, the game is really well balanced, scarily so in fact. In all the games I have played everyone has been under the impression that a player was way out in front, only for another player to pipe up and state they have won.
With three different win conditions it can feel like you're far behind the leader and there is no way you're going to win, and then something just clicks, like that one last piece in Tetris and everything pulls together. It may be that this is just luck but it's happened too many times to be coincidence, making me think that Raid and Trade may actually be one amazing well designed game.
Raid and Trade’s main problem is its kitchen sink design ethos, it’s just one too many mechanics and so if feels a bit too much and loses focus. If Raid & Trade where a movie I would say it needs an editor just to make it a bit punchier. Although there’s a scarcity of resources, the scarcity isn’t quite enough. A few less resources of each token would force players to attack each other or trade more, but instead it’s more beneficial to run around hoovering up the unraided dwellings.
I’m coming across overly critical here as there is some fun to be had; it’s definitely an enjoyable game and my favourite Mage Company game so far. There’s a sense of exploration, struggle and development. In all honesty I’ve barely scratched the surface of the game as there is also a second set of board tiles and even a scenario game.
There’s also a selection of different characters to play with, each with their own special ability, and more importantly different items to craft. These different characters don’t force you to play their way but instead gently pushing you towards a different playstyle.
Its times like this I regret my own decision not to include a review score on Polyhedron Collider, because Raid and Trade is a straight down the middle kind of game. Exploring the city and collecting the resources does evoke the same kind of vibe as the recent Fallout video games. You can play the game your way, and whereas it’s not as big as a sandbox as games like Xia, there’s definitely enough breathing room to experiment.
But there are just a few too many things in the air in Raid and Trade, a few too many mechanics that don’t quite work or feel a little unwieldy that it’s going to put some people off. My advice is that if you can, go try this game because it’s hard for me to judge if this game is going to be for your taste.
This review is based on a full retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.