Raid & Trade

Charalampos Tsakiris
3 - 5
12 - 199
InteractionComponents & Design

What happens after the worst has happened? Post-apocalyptic settings are incredibly popular at the moment. Maybe I should be more worried that so many people think about the aftermath of a third world war, but I’m not writing a political blog here. As post-apocalyptic games go, Mage Company’s Raid & Trade is on the positive side. There are still people, and not all of them have turned into desert-dwelling horrific mutants. Some survivors were even able to band together and found a city, the Golden City, a place with high walls and massive gates protecting the safety and prosperity of the people inside. That specifically does not include the players. They are hanging around outside the city walls and try to make their way in.

The Golden City’s inhabitants are a reclusive bunch and will only let in the first person to meet one of three conditions. You can become an accomplished craftsman with 20 skill points – the maximum in the game – because they always need people to build thermonuclear mouse traps. You can complete three quests cards, because they always need someone to run errands. Or you can get ten favor points, because they always need someone to suck up to the nobility. Inside the Golden City, everything is very civilized – or so we assume, the game ends when the first player enters so we don’t know for sure – but outside it’s a three-headed mutant dog eat three-headed mutant dog world. Only one player can enter the city and the players will not always be civil with each other or with the other inhabitants of the wastelands.

Players do things around the wastelands using an action point system. Players start a round with 15 action points and then take turns spending them, one action at a time. The action points are marked on one of three dials on the player board, to be turned down every time you spend points. The player boards, like everything in the game, look great and the dials are perfectly balanced to move easily, but not so easily you might nudge them and lose your number. When it’s your turn to take action, you may do two things – plus a couple of other, minor things – for your points. Once per turn, you may move. That’s easy enough, you can move as far as you want as long as you pay one action point when you cross from one of the nine map tiles to another and when you cross a red-bordered obstacle. Before or after the move you may pick one of four actions for this turn.

Hero Electician
Hero Electician

The first action is Raiding, and it’s the most common one, too.  If the title Raid & Trade didn’t make that clear already. It’s an unfortunate truth that resources will be scarce after the apocalypse, and so you’ll spend a lot of time kicking in innocent bystanders’ living room doors and taking their crap. There are three sizes of house, and the larger they are the more loot you can carry out, but the more action points you take to do it, too. Sometimes you may simply take a bunch of random resources, other times you have to roll a dice and take more or fewer resources depending on the result. And sometimes you have to make a moral choice and take resources, but gain a bad reputation  in return because the house belonged to the old lady baking cookies for the whole street. A bad reputation has two downsides for you. One is that it’s basically negative Favor points, and Favor is one way to win the game, the other is that a too bad reputation makes it impossible to raid some houses. If you’re infamous enough they just open fire before you can knock. But those tasty, tasty resources are just so tempting that you’ll often find yourself accepting the bad rep.

Instead of robbing innocent bystanders, you also have the option to mug your less innocent opponents. Initiating combat with another player is just as simple as raiding. You spend action points and one Gun resource, one type of resource you collect to attack. Your target then chooses whether to defend himself or not – since defending also costs action points and a gun, not fighting back is sometimes a strategically better option. Then you both roll a die, and if the attacker scores a hit that the defender doesn’t have defense against the attacker wins and takes his reward. He may either take five resources from the defeated defender but let the defender choose which, or he may take three resources but choose himself. One of many small, tactical decisions you make throughout the game. The combat dice also have other outcomes that depend on the character you play, you may for example steal crafted items from your victim, or gain a skill point. No, I don’t know how you gain a skill point hitting someone, you probably did it in a very crafty way.

Ruins of the not-so-golden city
Ruins of the not-so-golden city

Crafting items, the ones you may be able to steal in combat, is the third possible action. Each character has her or his own deck of item cards fitting with the character’s theme. For instance, Carter the Bodyguard can craft a variety of guns, the biggest of which automatically make him win in combat – not as overpowered as it sounds because all crafted items can be used only once, but still. Zoey the Electrician can create a Flashlight that lets her find more resources when raiding or a Stun Grenade that cancels another player’s raid after he already spent the action points for it. All the items have in common that you need the right resources to create them, that creating them gives you a number of Skill Points – the ones you can win the game with – and that only one character can create them.

Which is where the fourth action and the second part of the title comes in, because you can Trade with the other players. All resources and crafted items are freely tradeable as long as two players can agree on the trade and both spend an action point. Trading to everyone’s benefit is just as effective to advance your own cause as attacking another player, it all depends on doing it well. Instead of trading with another player, you can also trade with the Black Market on the central map tile where you discard four resource tiles to take one tile that has to be in one of the colors shown on the Black Market. The Black Market is one part of Raid & Trade I have a big problem with, by the way: the resources it offers stay the same for the whole game. Since all characters have one type of resource they need more than anything else, you may find the Black Market completely useless while other players happily trade there, effectively giving you fewer options than they have. Turning up a different Black Market tile every round as a house rule helps balancing that.

Knock knock
Knock knock

The four main actions are what you will spend your action points on, but they are not all that you do. The minor actions have just as much of an impact on the game. In addition to your main action, you may also buy a quest card. Remember that three of those are enough to win the game, and they usually offer some added benefit during the game, so they are quite attractive. But they are expansive as well, costing resources, skill points, favor points, action points or pretty much anything else you can think of that hurts to lose. Acquiring one of those babies is one of the bigger decisions in Raid & Trade, because you will miss whatever you paid. As another minor action, you may buy an incident card. One of those is turned up and placed of the board every time a player enters a new map tile, a player on that tile may spend the required resources to take the card. Like crafted items, incident cards offer one time benefits. The Recycle card, for example, lets you recover two resources when crafting an item that costs three or more. Incident cards are neither as powerful nor as expensive as quest cards, but picking them up is still an important decision because you won’t have those resources to spend on anything else.

That’s sort of the mechanical theme in Raid & Trade: most decisions you make do not have a huge impact on the game on their own, but you make a lot of small decisions all the time, and their sum decides your victory. Spend two resources on an incident card isn’t much. But the same two resources could go into crafting an item, or they could be traded with another player for another, more useful kind of resource. On the other hand, the Incident card that lets you trade a skill point for two favor points might be worth it, after all. Or how about those two resources you could gain in a raid at the cost of just one point of bad reputation. One point of bad reputation isn’t so bad, right – until, much later, you have nine points of Favor and lack that one point to win the game, and you still haven’t used those two resources. Or you might spend some resources with no immediate benefit only because the player with the fewest resources starts the next round and picks an event card for that round. Everything you do in Raid & Trade is a trade-off. Many small decisions, but they end up creating a real story, that’s very cool. Because of the player interaction, both in combat and trade, Raid & Trade works much better with more players.

Now Fight!
Now Fight!

But nothing is ever all good. I already complained about the Black Market somewhere higher up in this wall of text. Another thing that will go under the heading “not for everyone” is combat. Of course combat is an essential part of a post-apocalyptic game, there are always people that need a bit of murdering. But one fight going badly for you can have a much larger impact on the game’s outcome than most decisions you make. Losing three resources, if your assailant picks the ones that you really needed, can throw you out of the game. I know that some players like the tension that comes with this and will happily follow their attacker around for the rest of the game seeking vengeance, but I also know that other players hate nothing more than losing a game because of a bad dice roll, and that can happen.

If we still want to use the old distinction between European and American style games, then Raid & Trade sits comfortably between the two. It’s not a big dice fest like classic American games, but it does have the combat element that eurogames mostly avoid.  And it is more concerned with a balanced and fluid game experience than with theme and story, but it does doubtlessly tell a story as well. That story is a tense one, too, the game is balanced well to make sure that resources get scarce towards then end, but never run out to the point of being frustrating. They just might force you to attack another player in order to get that last thing that you need. Raid & Trade gives you the choice to play mostly peaceful, but not usually to avoid combat completely. If that is a style of game you’re comfortable with, then this one is a lot of fun.

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