Hello amazing board gamers!
Welcome to my review of The Pioneers Program a post-apocalypic town builder from GCT Studios. I actually got this given this game for free at the Firestorm Games Cardiff store from a very generous guy who had a stall at their bring-and-buy sale.
The Pioneers Program is a slightly different take on the post-apocalypic game being primarily an engine builder. Most apocalyptic games focus on survival or fighting zombies, but this in this game each player is competing to build the most succesful town in a harsh new world.
Let’s get stuck in!
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No. of players: 3-6
Designer: Odin Mentlak
Artist: Mihajlo Dimitrievski
Publisher: GCT Studios
Time: 60-90 mins
First off, I love the artwork on The Pioneers Program – it is a wacky cartoon imagining of a chaotic end-of-days setting with monstrous characters and lots of guns!
Each player chooses one of six ‘Player Mats’ which are identical except for the colour. The Player Mat has spaces for your Head Quarters and resources and forms the bases of your town. As your town grows, you will be adding structures, items and personalities to your Player Mat. Each of these will have their own effects. You also choose a ‘Survivor’ to lead your town each round.
Everyone begins with a ‘Small’ town with a corresponding ‘Small HQ’ but once you manage to aquire 5 structures (incuding you HQ) you will upgrade to ‘Medium’. This is a nice mechanic, as at Medium size, you also upgrade to a ‘Medium HQ’ and likewise, at 7 structures you will upgrade to a large town with a ‘Large HQ’. At each increment you will unlock more effects and at Large you get the choice of a ‘Civil’ HQ or a ‘Martial’ HQ which will allow for different strategies in game play.
The Central Board
There is a larger, central board which represents the outside world, or what is left of it! This board tracks the rounds, turns and victory points and stores unused Survivor cards. There are also three extra elements of game play which are crucial to game.
The first is the ‘Wastes Deck’. As an action each turn, a player can visit the wastes to see what they can scavange. All the cards in the Wastes Deck are useful, but depending on your current strategy, some will be more handy than others. In the Wastes you will come across Personalities, such as ‘The Gunslinger’ who adds 2 to your combat rolls; ‘Attack’ cards which you can use to weaken your opponents; ‘Events’ which have a variety of effects and ‘Items’ which you can play for certain bonuses.
The second main game element is the ‘Reaseach Projects’. These are shared goals which the players can compete to the be first to achieve. Completing a Research Project takes a fair amount of investment in terms of resources but the rewards are hefty too, including Victory Points and cool actions or effects such as taking an extra turn, a permanent modifier in combat or an increase in food production.
The third main element from the central board is the ‘Market’. Here there will be various things on sale which a player can purchase on their turn. Most of these are Structures for your town, but there are also Personalities on offer. There are so many nice little mechanics in The Pioneers Project, and the Market Stalls is just one of them. There is a sliding scale of prices from 5 Credits down to zero Credits and each turn any unsold Market cards move down a price slot. This leads to some nice tactical thinking as you need to weigh up the pros and cons of buying a good card early for high price or waiting for its price to drop but risk another player snapping it up.
The basic rules are fairly simple, but the there is a lot going on so you are constantly on your toes! Each ‘Round’ consists of two ‘Turns’ and in each turn you have several actions to choose from. You can visit the Market, take a trip to the Wastes, ‘Plan’ which means earn ‘Response’ tokens or dedicate some resources to ‘Reasearch’. And through all this you need to keep an eye on your compeitors towns to make sure they are not dominating the game!
It is a relatively faced-paced game as the turns are quite swift so there is not a lot of down-time between your turns. There are various cards which allow interaction between players, so even when it is not your turn you may find yourself very engaged in the game play. You may come under attack or another player may conduct a raid on your township or you may be asked to provide some training to a rival to assist them in combat against a third party.
How do you win?
The winner is the first to maintain 4 Victory Points until the end of a Round, or the player with the highest number of Victory Points (VP) at the end of the game. Victory Points are earned for the size of your town (1 VP for a medium and 2 VP for a large town), completing research projects and for having Personalities in your town.
It feels like a lot of care has gone into the blend of game mechanics in The Prioneers Project. Mentlak has managed to combine engine building with card-management and dice-based combat as well as resource management. Each card you play will either produce resources or need resources to maintain, or both, so it is important to balance your Structures and Personalities carefully to avoid losing important assets: Ifyou can’t maintain a structure or personality, they are discarded which could result in your town being downgraded a size too!
I love how every micro-decision you make is important to the continued survival of your town and will affect the balance of power between the players. The Pioneers Project is an enjoyable, tactical romp through a dog-eat-dog, Mad-Max style wasteland with artwork which is as cute as it is horrifiying!
There is something for everyone in this game! I was drawn to it initially for its setting but I’m going to keep coming back to it for its many-layered tactical game-play and because it’s loads of fun!
I’ve only just scratched the surface of The Pioneers Project here but hopefully I’ve wet your appitite! Give it a go, I bet you won’t be dissapointed!
Let me know in the comments below if you’ve played The Pioneers Project and what you thought of it. And let us know what your favorite engine-builders are or if you have a favorite post-apocalyptic game!
And as always, thanks for reading!