Review – Radlands

Radlands

 

Designer Daniel Piechnick

Artist Lina Cossette, Damien Mammoliti, Manny Trembley

Publisher Roxley

Category Dueling Card Game

Length 15-30 minutes

Release Date 2022

Player Count 2

Price $25, $40, or $60 MSRP depending on deluxe options

From the beginning, Roxley has made themselves known by stellar components. But with their Radlands Kickstarter, they actually showed cards being completely bent in a “U” shape and returning back to their original shape, a terrifying video I’ll never forget. But Radlands is not just about good components! In this head-to-head card game, players play as opposing tribes vying for water and influence in a post-apocalyptic setting. You may have noticed, but there are a lot of two-player dueling games out there… Does Radland stand out enough? Let’s look!

There is something to be said when a medium — board game, video game, or otherwise — can take you places you didn’t think you would want to go. I’m not exactly enamored with High Medieval France, but Castles of Burgundy makes it worth the trip. I have little interest in Norse mythology, but Blood Rage still amazes me. I have very little interest in post-apocalyptic / “X-punk” settings, but man does Radlands sell it.

The art and colors in this game are absolutely fantastic, some of the best I’ve ever seen in a board game. The crazy bright neon coloring enhances without distracting. The iconography is concise and clear (though the terminology has a few hiccups; the online rulebook is now version 1.15). Regarding the various editions, I’ve (for weird reasons) actually owned all three. While the playmat is a huge help for learning the game, it isn’t strictly necessary and ruins the portability of the game. I also found that both deluxified versions had the deck fit really awkwardly into the deck box in a way that was kind of annoying, even though the heavy duty water tokens were great. But the retail version is by far the most bang for your buck. And no, I never tried bending the cards of any edition; I’m too scared!

What really sells Radlands is that in this $25 little box, you get a completed game and a completed “ecosystem” like 7 Wonders: Duel or Jaipur, not a head-to-head game that will be followed with 30 more expansions, which is almost every other game in this genre. In part, Radlands achieves this through some of its more Euro-inspired design elements, such as multi-use cards. But the most important thing that gives Radlands replayability is its bases.

The goal of the game is to destroy your opponent’s three bases. Before they’re destroyed, though, each base has a unique ability. And that’s important to emphasize here: play the game at least twice before you make a judgment. I would use the recommended bases in the rulebook for a first game, but in the second game, being able to choose your own bases (deal six, choose three) completely opens up the game and lets you feel much more like you are strategizing and not just at the whim of each turn’s card draw.

Yet, I can’t help but still feel at the whim of those card draws, and now I have to give my one criticism of Radlands. For a head-to-head knock-each-other’s-stuff-over kind of game, this is one of the best I’ve ever seen, and I’ve played a lot of these. But, no matter the game, they all seem to end the same way. While you have the occasional nail biter, quite often the last few turns of the game involve one player already seeing the writing on the wall, but desperately, slowly drawing one card from the deck in hopes of some kind of turnaround that both players know can’t happen. Summoner Wars can occasionally flip things around with (un)lucky dice rolls, but after fifteen years of Magic I recognize this motif for what it is, a somewhat automatic aspect of the genre. Yet, as I’ve moved on to deckbuilders like Star Realms, drafting games like Splendor Duel or 7 Wonders: Duel, or even the monstrous Twilight Struggle, I look at the games I want to play with two players and I’m no longer satisfied with that kind of ending, at least not at the frequency in which it happens here. I want to call it maturity, but it’s really probably just old age; I’ve got limited time to game these days and I’m not as lenient on how that time is spent.

All that being said, this genre is obviously very popular or we would not continue to see game after game after game pitting two players against each other in (card) battle. And within that genre, Radlands really is among the very best. It plays smoothly, it looks fantastic, it’s affordable, and clever. What else do you want?

The Bottom Line

The smooth gameplay and flashy style of Radlands put it up there with the best dueling card games out there.

 

8

Derek Thompson