Moonshiners of the Apocalypse has raised over $100,000 in their actively-running Kickstarter Campaign. It's an odd take on a strategy game with mixed elements to simulate a 4X campaign in moonshine country. We took a look at the Tabletopia version which has been available throughout the campaign to play for free.
Stand Out Features
Unique Theme: The end of the world is coming: one man, Uncle Harding, has a way to safety via his hot air balloon. Unfortunately, he can only take one person with him. You’ll need to acquire as much Gold as you can by making moonshine, in order to bribe your way onto that balloon. The craziness of this setting extends to the crazy “relic” items and the drunkards that are harassing your towns. This sort of crazy redneck humor may not be for everyone, but it seems good-natured (if dark), and the art sells it.
A Little Bit of Everything: This game has a lot of strategy game elements mixed up together. These elements include map building (Catan style), combat (a unique dice rolling system), trading (you can trade for combat-enhancements in the form of booze, and upgrade resources), and engine building (to succeed you need to build an engine to turn your raw resources into gold.) You will need to balance your actions between all four gameplay areas in order to come out ahead.
What We Liked
Moonshiners is a game that defies expectations. It looks like it would be some sort of battle game, with lots of miniatures, but at its core it’s a simple low-combat Area Control game. While you must battle the Drunkards to acquire villagers, you cannot attack other players. Player interaction is light, but you can take advantage of another player not staggering their turn out correctly and grabbing a land they’ve uncovered via an Explore action.
There’s also a good action selection tension here as you are trying to determine the best 4 actions to take on your turn - and just as importantly - in what order to take the actions. Should you scavenge and take a chance to get some relics and scrap? If you do that, you won’t have time to attack that Drunkard that’s trampling over your village. The actions here are good and feel like you are advancing the game.
What Could Be Improved
Generally “Moonshiners” has an underdeveloped feel. While the core gameplay sticks and works, it feels like a lot of time and effort went into the artwork, while the gameplay implementations aren’t complete. Specifically, the Booze, Relics and the Drunkard cards have lots of flavor and great artwork, but the actually functionality of the cards in a gameplay sense is identical. While each card exudes personality, in-game they just have a bland flat value with no additional gameplay flavor.
Take the Merry Undertaker and the Tiny George cards above. There’s some great artwork, and some horrific flavor text below, but in-game they might as well be two colored pawns because they function identically. (And they are in-fact implemented with generic pawns in the game, however the Kickstarter offers standees for the Drunkards.)
This extends to the relics which have lots of great character, but the only thing that matters on this card is the number circled at the top. These cards can only be used for trade double their value, so why aren’t the card’s value just doubled?
Ultimately these problems make it feel like the theme is disconnected from the actual game.
Additionally, there do not seem to be enough drunkard cards for even a 2-player game. You will be shuffling them back in to form a new deck when you reach the bottom. Having old enemies come back doesn’t feel right here. The Tabletopia version includes 12 Drunkards, while the Kickstarter promises 15 with stretch goals. This still isn’t remotely enough not to see several repeats during the game.
Finally, there's a couple of problems with the actions. First, there's the free move action. With the move action you can move anywhere for free provided you still have actions left and the hex is either explored or adjacent to one that is explored. This means you can effectively move around the whole board freely, and it means that the layout of the board is actually in is pointless.
Second, the Trade action allows you to get Booze. When you get Booze you will draw the top 5 cards from the deck which means you are destined to get the best item which is a level 3 booze item. I'm not sure why you would take anything but that when it comes up almost every time you draw.
Third, when you are in combat, it's almost impossible to be knocked out. You actually get to choose to use a Stamina (and move one step closer to being knocked out) before rolling the dice. This means there's not much "press your luck" in the combat, and that feels a bit flat.
Notes on the Tabletopia Version
There are some technical issues with the Tabletopia version. The explore tiles don’t actually fit the board, this can be very annoying when playing because they sit uneven, so when you move a 3D piece onto the tile, the piece have a tendency to fly around. The Relic cards are missized and sit extremely tiny in your hand.
It appears that some of the elements in the TT version were changed before the Kickstarter launched. At some point, the playable characters were given extra abilities; these don’t exist in the TT version
Moonshiners has great art, and no doubt an original theme. Unfortunately, the actual gameplay feels half-baked. Hopefully 2fat2fly games puts it back in the oven to build out some of the gameplay elements before the game goes to press.
Time To Learn: About 30 minutes reading the rules / watching videos.
Price: The Kickstarter offers the base game for $59 and the deluxe for $69.
Thom: (5/10) Mediocre - take it or leave it.
Jinko: (6/10) OK - will play if in the mood.
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