“Do not, my friends, become addicted to water. It will take hold of you, and you will resent its absence!” – Immortan Joe
The Earth has dried out, civilization shaping into a crippled husk of its glory days. Survivors glide across the cracked ocean floor in handmade land-sails, pushed by the wind and the shriveled vestiges of ambition. When the raiders arrive upon their guzzling motorized vehicles, terror clings upon their wings. This is Saltlands.
If the concept doesn’t grab you, that hot-damn art definitely will. This post-apocalyptic adventure game is many things. It’s a cooperative game, it’s a competitive game, and it’s also something in between. Players take on a unique character, traversing the torn landscape to unearth rumors of an exit to this forsaken land. The idea is to get the hell out of dodge just as Lord Humungus and his crew show up to throw a party (that’s a Road Warrior reference for you youngins).
The game plays mostly the same whether you engage cooperative or competitive mode. In the former, you are simply more likely to trade supplies and help a brother out, in the latter you can attack each other to steal victory cards which are needed to escape once the map exit is determined. Classic mode is the preferred method of play where more than one player can win if you all hit the door simultaneously and you can’t harass or impede each other’s progress. Typically, player conflict would add a great deal of oomph to such a title, but here the 2+ hour game can occasionally overstay its welcome as-is, so throwing in PVP-style attacking merely slows things down for little comparative gain.
Saltlands is relatively streamlined for a big box adventure title. On your turn you travel around the modular map, spending actions to pick up tiles or vanquish AI-controlled enemies. Raiders travel around in a variety of cars and all-terrain vehicles, taking every opportunity to gut you in between player activations. The difficulty here is kind of wobbly, as you can die somewhat easily if you don’t possess defensive cards in hand. But with enough care and tactical decisiveness, it can occasionally feel a cakewalk. Luckily there are options to nudge the challenge level up or down.
The problem with Saltlands is that it comes across as somewhat mundane. At its worst, it can feel as though it lacks drama and fails to offer surprise or tension. There’s no event card system or unexpected shakeups in the environment, so it’s mostly about efficiently managing your hand and action allotment. It can feel repetitive and the inclusion of additional scenarios beyond the standard setup would have helped alleviate this.
But it certainly has its moments. The concept of including a huge variety of equipment is pulled off very well. Many items give the option of sustained low-proficiency use, or permanent expenditure for a one-time large effect. This allows satisfying elements such as chucking your spear at the semi-truck smashing into your side or discarding a shotgun to blast a garbage pail kid in the dome.
Combine the item manipulation and hand management with the interesting crew based action system and you have compelling moments. To perform many actions in the game you need to exhaust a crew member. You will hopefully gain more throughout play which will increase your effectiveness. When you’re wheeling around with multiple passengers and a solid hand of cards, you can hit moments of strong synergy where you fly through some combos to eliminate a couple of raiders and pick up some nifty loot. It can feel very satisfying.
The single most tantalizing mechanism of Saltlands is the handling of wind. Players begin with land-sails and their movement is heavily influenced by wind direction. The angle and strength of the air currents will change over time, affecting how you move and travel across the board. It’s a simple thing but it’s very neat and is pulled off in a thematic and exemplary way. The only problem with this mechanic is that it is undercut occasionally by players ditching their land-sails and occupying raider vehicles. While this is not often strategically rewarded as the land-sails can travel much faster in certain directions, it can still feel disheartening at times when no one is flying around on the currents and instead burning guzzoline.
Due to Kickstarter overfunding, Saltlands has hit the market with an expansion. Lost in the Desert features new tiles, new equipment, and new characters. This is certainly not a mandatory addition, but the increased variety is appreciated. The largest benefit here is the inclusion of more characters which helps add a bit of spice to play. Archetypes like the mysterious Shaman, katana-wielding Soldier, and double-mint Twins add a new approach to play.
The expansion also features a new epic mode for the clinically insane. This adds another turn to the game with additional raider AI cards, but most will not make use of this feature as Saltlands is plenty lengthy as-is. For those who want to stretch out their play to as long as possible, the option is there.
Oh what a day…what a lovely day!
Saltlands may not be spectacular as a whole, but it’s certainly a decent entry into the Mad Max inspired post-apocalyptic genre. It has powerful moments and is visually inspiring. If you want to retire on a yacht in the blistering desert, trading blows with motherless heathens as you make the sign of the V8, then Saltlands may be your cardboard poison.
Are you a fan of post-apocalyptic games? Have you tried Saltlands? Let us know in the comments!
Featured Image Credit: Antler Games
Image Credits: Antler Games, Charlie Theel