What's Eric Playing? #229: Outpost: Amazon
Full disclosure: A review copy of Outpost: Amazon was provided by IDW Games.
And we’re back with more games from IDW! Next one up is Outpost: Amazon, the sequel to Outpost: Siberia!
In Outpost: Amazon, you’ve been working out in the rainforest for a while and it’s alright. Some inexplicable things have been happening and there are some really weird videos showing up on the security feed, but other than that everything’s pretty normal. Then, one night, you’re awoken by someone telling you that it’s time for y’all to get the heck out. That said, you’re an extremely curious scientist, and you’d be really missing out on an opportunity if you didn’t collect some samples on your way to the rescue ship. Will you be able to make it out alive? Or will curiosity kill the you?
So, for setup, there are a few types of cards you should familiarize yourself with. First, give each player a character:
Now, give each of them a health marker token; they should place it at their maximum health value.
There are three types of cards — Threats, Good Events, and Bad Events:
Threats are monsters you’ll want to kill or capture as you try to escape your outpost:
Good and Bad Events are just things that … happen, along the way:
So, take some of the Good and Bad Events and shuffle them with the Threats to form the Expedition Deck:
- Easy: Randomly pick 4 Bad Events and 8 Good Events.
- Normal: Randomly pick 6 Bad Events and 6 Good Events.
- Hard: Randomly pick 8 Bad Events and 4 Good Events.
- Custom: Do whatever you want, as long as there are 12 total Events added.
Set the Expedition deck face-down in the play area, with the purple side of the card back facing upwards. Shuffle the remaining Events together to form the Outpost Deck, which you’ll place above the Expedition deck, green side of the card back facing upwards. Give each player a card from the Outpost deck; that’s gonna be their hand. You can keep that face-up by your Character if you want; there are no secrets from people fleeing the Amazon together.
Last thing — place the Cage cards to the side, but take the Starting Cage (capacity 14) and add it to the center of the play area. We’ll call this area the Supply.
You should be ready to start!
A game of Outpost: Amazon is played by exploring the rainforest around you and capturing or killing the wildlife until you’ve exhausted the Expedition deck. If you can survive that long, you escape! If not, well, you die. That’s a bit of a bummer, so try to avoid that.
The game is played over multiple rounds, each consisting of a player turn with several phases. I’ll go over each in turn.
Before each player takes their turn, the group decides which player goes next. You cannot choose a player that’s Exhausted (more on that later), and if a player got attacked by a new monster this turn (more on that later, too), they must go next. Once a player has been chosen, they take the next turn.
During this phase, you’ll draw three cards from the Outpost Deck. In order, you must:
- Discard one.
- Add one to your hand.
- Place one face-up on the table, in the same area as the Starting Cage (the Supply).
This means if you were ever to be forced to draw fewer Outpost cards, you’d only be able to discard one, first, then keep one in your hand. That’s a bummer.
Cards drawn from the Outpost deck will end up in your hand or in the Supply. In your hand, you only focus on the CV of the card (its Combat Value). You can only use cards from your hand to attack monsters.
Cards placed into the Supply can only be used for the green effect on the “top” of the card. They can be used by any player on their turn, and are then discarded. You cannot use cards in the Supply to attack monsters.
The Supply is limited to 10 cards (including cages). I assume if the Supply is full, you may choose which card gets discarded: one from the Supply, or the one you just drew. Up to you!
If you’d like, you may discard cards from your hand to attack a monster that’s currently face-up. If there are no monsters, you cannot attack any, tautologically. When you attack a monster, slide the card you used underneath of it so that its CV is visible. If you ever have cards behind a monster such that the total CV of the cards is greater than the monster’s health, you’ve killed it! Discard the monster and the cards used to attack it to the Outpost discard pile (you’ll be able to use what’s left of the monster as resources on subsequent turns; so handy). If you’d prefer to capture the monster, rather than kill it (playing too much Yokai Septet, I imagine), keep reading.
USE EQUIPMENT (OPTIONAL)
You may use any of the Equipment in the Supply to accomplish tasks. There are only four types (Food and Water cannot be used in this phase), and they do different things:
- Wreckage is just stuff you find lying around, but you’re handy. You can use Wreckage to buy cages by spending Wreckage equal to the cost of the cage you want. Note that you cannot make change for Wreckage; you spend the total amount on the card. When you do, add the purchased Cage to the Supply. Again, you may only have 10 cards in the Supply (each distinct Cage and its occupants collectively count as one card).
- Torches are great ways to avoid obnoxious monsters. Using a torch prevents a monster’s ability from affecting you until the start of the next round. Handy! Solving problems with fire.
- Nets are your only method of monster capture. To capture a monster, you have to attack it until the difference between its health and the total CV of the cards you’ve placed on it is less than or equal to its Net Value (NV), the number by the net on its card. If you discard a net, you may stuff a monster in a Cage with other monsters, provided the Cage has capacity. Capacity is the total HP of the monsters in the Cage. Your starting Cage is 14, so you can hold up monsters up to a collective 14 HP in that one. Thankfully, you can buy bigger cages.
- First Aid Kits are really good ways to avoid dying. Use one to let a character go back to their full health. Y’all are just really, really gifted medical practitioners, here.
You are not required to use any equipment, even if there is some present.
ENDURE EXPEDITION CARD
You didn’t think this was a fun trip to the Amazon, did you? Like The Amazon Trail video game? No, it’s not.
Flip the top card of the Expedition deck. Resolve it as follows:
- It’s an Event: Good or Bad, Events have a cost. You must pay 1 Food or 1 Water (indicated on the card), otherwise one character must lose one Health (regardless of the card’s effect). Then, perform the effect listed on the card.
- It’s a Monster: The monster always gets the jump on you. It injures one character equal to its combat value (the number by the scratches). The only rule here is that you cannot injure an exhausted player (again, more on that soon). If all players are Exhausted, you can choose any player (though I’m not sure, practically, how that happens). If you ever have 5+ monsters active at this point, you immediately lose! Try to avoid that.
If nobody died, play continues. If you have now run out of cards in the Expedition deck, you win! More on that later.
Turn your character sideways. All this exploring has gotten you tired. Now, another player gets to start their turn, with one caveat. Again, if a player got attacked during your turn, they go first.
END OF GAME
Again, if any player takes damage such that they’d drop to 0 (or lower) Health, they die and all players lose! If you ever have 5 monsters active at the end of a player’s turn, you also lose. Otherwise, once the Expedition deck runs out, you win! Count the HP of the creatures you captured and compare it to this handy chart to see how you did:
- 90: Perfect score!
- 80 – 89: So close!
- 70 – 79: You found some good samples! Try again!
- 50 – 69: Not too great.
- 30 – 49: You killed more than you captured. Looks like you are going back for another stint at the Outpost! (They realize you almost died, right???)
- 0 – 29: What are you doing out there?! Back to training!
PLAYER COUNT DIFFERENCES
So the game is kind of all over the place based on player count, because there’s no real adjustment made beyond “you have more characters”. I find that makes it hard to keep players engaged at high player counts, since the turns aren’t long, per se, but they’re not terribly interesting to watch and there are a lot of them. Also, the game feels significantly easier at six, as you can distribute more damage and just kind of have certain characters tank the game. At two, it’s just hectic. Not unwinnable; just hectic. I’d probably say that if I were to put a sweet spot on it, 3 – 4 players seems about right. That said, your mileage may vary.
- Be proactive about turn order. We generally let the player with the least health go first so that they don’t get randomly killed by being the only unexhausted player and then having to get hit by the freshly-drawn monster. It’s a decent strategy; I’d recommend it.
- Pretty much never use torches. I haven’t seen much use for them, especially at higher player counts. You can avoid most End of Round effects just by killing the monster. I’d rather have Food, Water, or a First Aid Kit. Or a Net; Nets are really great.
- Get cages early. Well, get at least one extra Cage early. They tend to fill up pretty quickly, all things being equal. You don’t want to get to a spot where you need to cage a monster and can’t because you’re fresh out of cages.
- Use your player powers. They’re generally pretty useful, and you can usually use them outside of your turn.
- Know which monsters to leave and which to capture and which to kill.
- Honestly, for your first game, don’t worry about scoring. It’s just gonna be a distraction. Capture when you can; kill when you need to, but don’t try to get that perfect score.
- Ada’s ability seems to be one of the best ones. You can reorganize the top four cards of the Expedition deck. This means you should never get killed or taken by surprise, as you can plan ahead for just about anything. You can also use that once per round, which is handy.
- Cheese the First Aid Kits. If you already have a First Aid Kit and you know a threat is coming up, you can take the damage from the Threat and then get healed by another player. We did this a lot, especially with the 4 Health folks; we’d essentially get them down to 1 Health with a guaranteed First Aid Kit and then heal them up on our next turn. It worked pretty great, as far as regaining a lot of health goes. It lets the bulkier characters tank.
- If you’re not sure which card to discard, discard the one you wish you could put in the Supply. If you know you want to put a card in the Supply and you have another card that you wish you could put in the Supply, make that one the one you’re forced to discard. That ensures that it’ll get shuffled back into the deck and enter into the rotation quicker. If you use it to attack a monster, it might get stuck there for a while and be useless until a player finally gets a Net. That’s … not usually helpful.
PROS, MEHS, AND CONS
- The art is fun and diverse. It feels kind of like a comic book, which I appreciate. I especially like the card backs on the Expedition / Outpost cards. They’re very nice, and thematic!
- I don’t have many green boxes. It’s nice to see some novel colors on game boxes. Keeps things fresh.
- I generally like multi-use cards. People I played this one with had some issues around their readability / the information they conveyed, but generally I think it’s a fun idea.
- There’s a nice sense of tension around item availability. It’s fun to try to decide whether you want to capture or kill a monster for its resources, especially when you have no nets to capture it with and you’re not sure when you’re going to get more nets.
- The characters’ abilities run the gamut from highly useful to mostly useless. We had one character just kind of … use their ability during the game so that they’d have the chance to do so. One other, the character who can reorganize the top four cards of the Expedition deck every round, is so incredibly useful that we would just do that whenever possible. It’s critical to make sure you can avoid taking lethal damage.
- Tin games aren’t my favorite. They just never fit well on the shelves. Add in that it’s a weird size and it’s just a lot to deal with. It feels like it’s aiming for a portable game but it has too much of a footprint for that to be viable when it’s being played, in my opinion.
- Doesn’t really feel that Amazon-based. Like, I get that the monsters encountered are definitely thematically placed in Central / South America, but there’s no real sense of that connection to the gameplay. It feels like this could have been set anywhere and had the monsters be like, zombies or something. The disconnect makes it harder for people I’ve played with to really meaningfully engage with the game.
- The short blurb about scoring tiers doesn’t … really incentivize me to perform better. Like, last game I played the majority of players voted to just ignore the scoring and just try to make it through alive. I see why players might be inclined to replay the game to beat their previous high score, but that’s not really a modality I find interesting in games.
- Rulebook is fairly sloppy. There’s a part that refers to Outpost: Siberia, despite being the previous game in the series. That … doesn’t bode particularly well for the rest of it. It notes what to do if every player is exhausted, though I don’t think that’s possible? It also says you can choose which player goes each turn, and then contradicts that somewhat later in the rulebook (by specifying if a player got attacked, then that player goes next). It’s just odd, since I imagine most people will miss that rule. It also notes that the starting cage is 13, rather than 14, which is an important difference.
- The game doesn’t make any adjustments for player count. At two, you’ll have much less overall health and End of Round effects will happen every other turn. At six, you’re only going to see an End of Round effect if you draw one right before the round ends. That’s … not particularly threatening. Plus, at six, you can distribute health much more easily. We saw painfully few First Aid Kits and basically had no problems for the entire game. It was close, sometimes, but never too close for comfort.
- Generally, decisions in the game seem pretty straightforward based on the information available. Especially at higher player counts, you really don’t have enough cognitive load that one player couldn’t just run the entire thing, a la Planet of the Apes. That’s a bit disappointing, as this also makes players feel uninvested in the game at best; at worst they get shut out by a player just telling them what they should do on their turn. In the games I’ve played, there’s rarely been an important decision beyond “this will prevent us from dying”.
- The cards serving three different purposes is pretty confusing for new players. Most players do not get the distinction between Hand and Supply, to say nothing of trying to figure out how to read the Events. It’s frustrating for them, I’ve found.
- The characters’ health seems … arbitrarily chosen. The “best character” in the game (the one who can reorganize the Expedition deck) has 4 health, the highest amount in the game. Several other characters have 2. It’s just an odd thing to have, but maybe the designers saw this particular character as less useful than we did when we played.
OVERALL: 3.5 / 10
Overall, uh, Outpost: Amazon isn’t really for me. I brought it to one of my favorite game groups (if not my favorite game group) and played it with one of my favorite people to game with and both politely requested that I not bring it again. At six, we had no fewer than three players completely tuned out on it; they weren’t engaged by the mechanics or the content and the game was so simple that there wasn’t much of a point for them to be engaged. With one other player, we were so consistently up against a wall that it was hard for us to do anything beyond survive before we eventually lost or barely won (both times, or we lost one and won one). Neither loss was particularly satisfying, either, which made them all the more frustrating. It didn’t help that a number of players were confused by the multi-use cards and the theme wasn’t really clicking for them. It seems like four players may be the right target for this game to keep it balanced between letting all players be engaged but without it being overwhelmingly difficult, but that’s … odd. Oh well. If you like survival horror or are fascinated by what you think might be lurking in the jungles of the rainforest, you’ll hopefully have better luck with Outpost: Amazon than I did!