Overview: As you know, the Mayan apocalypse is fast approaching. What you may not know, however is what the world will be like in a thousand years, when the few humans that survive have organized into clans, ruled by animalistic warriors. That’s the setting of 3012, a deck-building game from Cryptozoic.
Players: 2 to 4
Ages: 13 and up (mostly for theme)
Playing Time: 45-60 minutes
Rating: Good, but weird. A little over-the-top thematically, yet it has some appealing mechanics.
Who Will Like It? Fans of deck-building games who like a bit of humor with their doomsday.
As I’ve described above, the game takes place a thousand years after the apocalypse, which broke down barriers between humanity and the spirits of nature. Ancient supernatural beings emerged and new monsters appeared, and the world was thrown into chaos. The artwork in the game is dark and sometimes gruesome, with a lot of fangs and claws. The names of these animal-human hybrids are Mayan-sounding: Ixtoki, Llaallcoaatl, Syssulkan.
However, despite the grim theme, there’s also some humor — most notably on the encounter cards, which represent the various enemies you battle. Each one has a small bit of flavor text at the bottom (in fact, these are the only cards in the game with flavor text), and many of them inject humor into the game. For instance, the “Slugadon” card says: “If you were twenty feet tall and covered in slime, and you spewed toxic breath, you would be in a bad mood, too.” The juxtaposition is a bit jarring, and prevents you from really being immersed in your role as a post-apocalyptic warrior. It can be funny, but it’s odd because most of the game doesn’t look like it’s trying to be funny.
1 game board
- 120 Action cards
- 5 oversized Hero cards
- 20 Ally cards
- 20 Weapon cards
- 48 Encounter cards
- 20 Scout cards
- 25 Gold tokens
- 5 Hero tokens
- 1 six-sided die
The game board is fairly large, but (as with Thunderstone) it isn’t entirely necessary. It’s more a player aid to set things up, and has an experience track on it, but a large central portion is simply the “Field of Play,” the cards you’ve played this turn that haven’t yet been discarded. It seems easier to just play these in front of you, the way you would with any other deck-builder.
The cards themselves are fine, and most of the text on them is pretty straightforward. I only have two main complaints. The first is with the Allies: although you can hire an Ally from any clan, you get a bonus for claiming those from your own clan. However, the name of the clan isn’t always listed on the cards — instead, they use your hero name (Tohizotz, Peepohu, and so on). It’s easy to tell the jaguars apart because of their spots, but the gars and snakes can look similar, as do the monkeys and bats. It’d be nice simply to have “Monkey Clan” printed somewhere on the card. The second complaint is with the Encounter cards. There’s a skull in the top corner which indicates the Defense value of the card. Underneath that are two small numbers — the red one is Renown and the beige one is Experience. But it’s hard to remember which is which, and other than color they look identical. The one Action card that provides Renown points doesn’t have a skull or number in this location, so you just have to remember to look for it at the end of the game.
The gold tokens are small cardboard punch-out tokens and the die is a pretty standard (green-and-gold) die. The box itself, like the board, has a lot of extra space in it: a huge well to hold the oversized Hero cards, and another well of the same size to hold the handful of tokens and die.
The object of the game is to have the most Renown at the end of the game — typically by succeeding in encounters but there is one type of action card that is also worth Renown points. The game ends when one player reaches the end of the experience track, but experience alone isn’t enough to win the game.
Each player chooses a clan and takes the appropriate Hero card, the four Scout cards of their clan, and one gold token. The Allies and Weapons are shuffled and put in their spots in the board, with three of each placed face up on the board. The Action cards are separated into two decks: cards costing 2 or 3 in one deck, and the rest in the other. These are shuffled separately and placed face down on the two Action card locations. The Encounters are separated into four stacks, based on their Renown value (1 through 4), and placed face down on the four Encounter spaces.
Each turn consists of these phases: Replenish, Assembly, Combat, Acquisition, End.
Replenish: Draw back up to four cards. Fill in the three Ally slots and three Weapon slots from the decks if they are not already filled.
Assembly: Reveal the top card of each of the two Action decks. You can use these two cards at any time during your turn as if you had played them from your hand, whether you end up acquiring them or not. Cards played during your turn are put in the Field of Play section and are not in your discard pile until the End phase.
Combat: You decide whether you want to enter combat or skip it based on the cards in your hand and the two Action cards you revealed. To enter combat, you pick a level of Encounter and take the top card from the stack, face down. The Encounter level will tell you the range of the Defense level, but there can be other modifiers as well. Before you face the Encounter, each player in order may play one Scout from their hand to Aid or Block you, which adds 1 to your attack or to the Encounter’s defense, respectively.
Then you reveal the Encounter card, satisfy any die rolls that may be listed on the card, and use any cards from your hand (or the revealed Action cards). You can play Allies from your hand and equip weapons to them (or yourself, the Hero). Unequipped weapons do not do any damage. If your total attack value meets or exceeds the defense value, then you succeed, and place the Encounter card in your discard pile. Otherwise, the Encounter card goes back to the bottom of its stack.
If you win, then you and the players aiding you divide up the experience points (indicated on the card) and move your Hero tokens along the Experience track. If you lose, then the players who blocked you divide up the experience points instead. Also, if you lose, you lose any gold tokens you have that aren’t on a reserved card (more on that below).
Acquisition: This is when you buy cards. You can use gold shown on the cards in your hand (the little pile of coins icon) and cards you played or revealed this turn, plus any gold tokens you have. You can buy Allies, Weapons, and either or both of the two face-up Action cards if you can afford them. Anything you purchase goes into your discard pile. At the end of the phase, if you have any unspent Gold on your cards, you may take 1 gold token from the supply. Also, each player (starting with the current player) has a chance to “reserve” one of the unpurchased Action cards by placing a gold token on it. You can only have one reserved card at a time; during your Acquisition phase you may pay the balance to purchase the card.
End: Discard all cards you played this turn, plus any in your hand. Sacrifice any remaining face-up Action cards (into the “Sacrifice” pile, which puts them out of the game). Draw four more cards from your deck.
The game ends when a hero reaches the Exalted space on the experience track. Everyone adds up the Renown in their decks, and the player with the most wins. For ties, the higher level hero wins.
3012 has some great mechanics that make gameplay interesting, but there are also some design choices that leave me scratching my head. First, here’s what I liked: the experience track, in conjunction with the aiding and blocking, is good. Not only does it signal the end of the game, but it allows you to increase your experience even when you’re not doing the fighting. Yes, aiding somebody does move them closer to victory, but it also increases your own experience, which will help you with your own combat. Your Hero’s attack power grows as your experience builds up, so you do want to move up the track. Plus, it divides up the experience earned by the other player, preventing them from leaping ahead too far.
Since you can only aid or block with a single Scout card, it’s not quite like Munchkin where the player in the lead will just get smacked down by everyone, and eventually somebody plays kingmaker. You can only help or hinder a little bit — and there are action cards that allow the other player to get rid of your Scouts anyway.
One thing we discovered was an odd tension that can happen when you start nearing the end of the experience track. In one game, I had gained the most experience by aiding and blocking successfully, even though I hadn’t won the most encounters. I realized if I got any more experience, I would end the game — probably with fewer Renown points. At the same time, if I allowed the other player to successfully pass an encounter without blocking him, then he would get even more Renown points, making it harder to catch up. That tension between not wanting him to win but not wanting to block him was very tricky, and made for some difficult choices.
I also like the way that you can use the two revealed Action cards as if they were from your hand — it is luck-dependent which cards you get, but it gives you some benefits even when you haven’t been able to buy anything yet. I suppose that’s the reason why you only get a hand of four cards, because those two effectively make it six, but they’re not always cards you would have chosen to put into your deck. But also, because you draw back up to four both at the end of your own turn and at the beginning of your turn, you can use cards during other players’ turns and not worry that you’ll start the round with an incomplete hand of cards.
The reserved card option is also a good mechanic: on your turn, if there’s a card that you don’t want other players to have, then you’ll want to buy or reserve it yourself so the others don’t get a chance to take it. On the other hand, if you’ve already got a card reserved and haven’t paid for it yet, you may lose the opportunity to reserve other (possibly better) cards later on.
Ok, so then the things I didn’t care for. One is that the Encounter cards, once they’re in your deck, do absolutely nothing. I guess this is similar to Dominion, in which the victory point cards don’t do anything in your hand, but typically you have ways of getting around that, like the Cellar or Adventurer cards. In 3012, you just have to be lucky enough to turn up one of the cards that gives you more card draws or lets you discard and draw, or hope that an opponent leaves it around for you to reserve. It is a catch-up mechanism of sorts, in that the player with the most encounter cards (and likely the most points) will also have more hands when he can’t do anything. On the other hand, that’s sort of balanced already by the fact that your Hero gains attack points as you level up, allowing you to go after more valuable encounters.
Another odd fact is that the five clans are not actually equivalent. Each Hero gets a bonus when equipped with a particular type of weapon — for instance, the snake Hero gets a bonus when equipped with a bow — but there are equal numbers of each type of weapon in the deck, overall it’s balanced. Each Ally also gives a bonus to their own clan leader, but this is where it differs. The snake clan allies allow the snake Hero to get an extra gold token; the monkey clan can use Scout cards to attack in an Encounter; the bat clan can re-roll dice in an Encounter; the gar clan can discard and draw cards; the jaguar clan gets extra attack power in an Encounter. There’s no way for you to get the bonus another clan has — that is for them alone, and that is the only ability any of their Allies will grant. But this is something we discovered during play, because it’s not mentioned in the rulebook anywhere nor on the Hero cards. I haven’t played it enough to know whether all the various powers are balanced, but at first glance they don’t seem to be: the bat’s re-roll ability is only useful during an Encounter, and then only if there are dice to be rolled. Extra damage in an attack, whether through the monkey’s Scouts or the jaguar’s Allies, can be extremely useful for earning Renown points.
The game doesn’t really work well with two players, mostly because of the aiding/blocking mechanic. When there are only two players involved, then it’s odd to assist the other player except to earn a little extra experience — but you can’t do it too often, because your opponent is earning experienceand Renown. With three or four players it’s much more interesting because there can be shifting alliances depending on everyone’s positions in the game.
The game seems to end before I expect it to, which has its pros and cons. It means that the game won’t drag on forever — if people are blocking, then somebody will earn experience points, which brings you closer to the end of the game. However, it also can make the game feel incomplete, like you were still building up when it ended. With the expense of some of the weapons and allies, you can spend several rounds trying to get enough gold just to purchase a single card, and then you might not ever get to actually play it.
3012 has its good points, but ultimately I just didn’t find it as satisfying. I wonder how well the Mayan apocalypse theme will hold up after the New Year (assuming we’re still around to play games). And if the prophecies are true, well, I don’t know that 3012 is the game I want to be playing at the end of the world.
For more about 3012, visit the Cryptozoic website. The game is available from Amazon.
Wired: It’s like Thunderstone with a dash of Munchkin, coated in a Mayan apocalypse theme. Some interesting mechanics allow for some flexibility not found in other deck-building games.
Tired: Do you really want to play Thunderstone Munchkin?
Disclosure: GeekDad received a review copy of this game.