Every Week It's Wibbley-Wobbley Timey-Wimey Pookie-Reviewery...

Saturday, 6 November 2021

1981: Attack of the Mutants!

1974 is an important year for the gaming hobby. It is the year that Dungeons & Dragons was introduced, the original RPG from which all other RPGs would ultimately be derived and the original RPG from which so many computer games would draw for their inspiration. It is fitting that the current owner of the game, Wizards of the Coast, released the new version, Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition, in the year of the game’s fortieth anniversary. To celebrate this, Reviews from R’lyeh will be running a series of reviews from the hobby’s anniversary years, thus there will be reviews from 1974, from 1984, from 1994, and from 2004—the thirtieth, twentieth, and tenth anniversaries of the titles. These will be retrospectives, in each case an opportunity to re-appraise interesting titles and true classics decades on from the year of their original release.


Yaquinto Publications was a publisher of board games—in particular war games—and roleplaying games between 1979 and 1983. Its most successful was The Ironclads, which simulated combat between the first armoured ships, or ironclads, during the American Civil War and won the Charles S. Roberts Award for ‘Best Initial Release of 1979’. It also published a number of roleplaying games such as Man, Myth & Magic and Timeship—both now published by Precis Intermedia. However, perhaps the publisher’s most interesting innovation was its packaging design for a line of board games known as the ‘Album Games’. Essentially, titles in this series were packaged in what were double-LP record albums. The game board would be presented on the inside cover, and where the record or records were sleeved were stored the rules, counters, and other components for the game. In later entries in the series, a spacer was used which made each Album game an inch or so thick. This made the game less like a record sleeve (each Album game carried a disclaimer on the cover stating it was a game only and that no phonograph record was to be found inside) and the spacer could be used for storage. Over the course of twenty-titles, the Album series covered fantasy, Science Fiction, historical wargames, and family games, including a game based on then extremely popular soap opera, Dallas.

Published in 1981, Attack of the Mutants! is a two-player board which depicts the last moments of Humanity following the Big Melt-Down of 1993. In the Science Building at Central State Tech, kindly old Professor Applewhite, assisted by his daughter and research assistant, the wholesome, clean-scrubbed Penny, has discovered Dynamic Ultimate Place and is about to open a gate to another, safer world. This is only just in time, for outside the building, clamouring to get in is horde (or four) of multi-armed/bodied/headed and/or tentacular mutants, all intent on smashing their way in, taking their revenge on mankind’s last survivors, and if not that, capturing the bright, but eligible marriage Penny! As the absentminded old professor races to activate the device, doors have been locked, barricades put up, Kamigawa 4697J Janibots armed with appliers, saws, files, and laser welders have been posted as guards, and the surviving members of the ROTC—including Leon ‘Buck’ Bukaw, who just happens to be Penny’s recently found, first love, stand ready to take the fight to the mutants as they smash down one door after another and spill into the next room or corridor, getting ever closer to the Tech Room and the means of mankind’s survival!

What you get with Attack of the Mutants! is a three-part board, twenty-five by twelve inches in size. One side depicts the main play area of the Science Building with its various corridors and rooms—including a summoning circle! On the other side is the Combat Display and the game’s various tables, whilst in between them in the crease of the packaging is a turn tracker. The game requires two six-sided dice, one per player, which do not come with it, but are easy to find. The game comes with over a hundred, small but on thick card, counters. On the Human side, these consist of the eight survivors and twenty-four Janibots, whilst the more than fifty Mutants consist of the Mutant Leaders (black), Radioactive Mutants (red), and ‘normal’ Mutants (green). There are also counters to indicate broken doors, barricades, and turn order. All of the Human and Mutant counters have a number on them to indicate their combat strength. This is either four or five for the Humans and three for the Janibots, whilst each of the Mutants has two combat values—one against Humans (which is either three or four) and one against the Janibots (two or three).

The Humans are all illustrated with their respective faces, whilst the Mutants and the Janibots are done as single colour silhouettes. Notably all of the characters—whether Human or Mutant—are named. So the Humans include Joey Cabelli and Percy Fitzwalter as well as Penny and her father. The Mutants include Amos, Ozzy, Rusty, Bud, Bodine, Hoss, and others. This adds an element of individuality to the game and in play can lead to some storytelling and table talk as the game proceeds and the players come to identify more and more with their counters and their characters. For the Human player, this is helped by the thumbnail descriptions given in the Designer Notes.

Set-up is simple enough. The Human player sets up first, placing Professor Applewhite and Penny—the two Techs—in the Tech Room, then stationing the other Humans and the Janibots throughout the Science Building. He also places a number of barricades which are impassable by the Mutants. These can be placed anywhere on the board, so their placement will vary from game to game. The Mutant player then places his forces around the four sides of the Science Building, making sure that there is one Mutant Leader on each side.

A turn consists of six phases. In the first two phases, the Mutants move and attack. This will also mean that they have to smash down doors, requiring a die roll, the more Mutants involved, the greater the chance of success. If there are Mutants on both sides of a door, they can open it. Once a door has been smashed, the Mutants can freely back and forth through the doorway. In the second two phases, the Humans move and attack. Humans do not have to smash down doors, even if they are members of the ROTC. Movement for either side is one space only and Janibots cannot move unless accompanying a Human.

Combat, in both the Mutant Combat Phase and the Human Combat Phase is handled on the Combat Display on the other half of the board. In groups of five against five, the Humans and Mutants face off against each other, their respective players rolling a die simultaneously, trying roll equal to, or less then, their respective Combat Values. If they do, their opponent is eliminated. Although the Humans and Mutant Leaders have higher chances of defeating their opponents, lucky rolls can lead to both sides killing each other! Combat continues until one side defeats the other in a location, and involves a lot of dice rolls and thus a lot of luck.

The final phase is the ‘Glow and Go’ phase. For each red or Radioactive Mutants in play, the Mutant player rolls a single die. If a six is rolled, the Radioactive Mutant succumbs to the effects of his radiation sickness and dies. His counter is removed from the game.

Play continues until the end of turn ten. To win a decisive victory, the Human player must have one Tech and three Human Guards in the Tech Room at the end of the game. If he has at least two Humans—Guards or Techs in the Tech Room, it is a Marginal Victory. Similarly, to win a decisive victory, the Mutant player must one Mutant Leader and three other Mutants in the Tech Room at the end of the game. If he has at least two Mutants, of any type—Leader, Radioactive, or Ordinary, it is a Marginal Victory. Anything else is a draw.

In addition to the basic rules, Attack of the Mutants! includes options for adjusting the balance between the Humans and the Mutants, facing Overwhelming odds, Humans and Mutants running away because of the latter, and adding hidden movement. This hidden movement is done on a separate and reduced game board, repeated in black and white rather than colour, and on the reverse of that is an alternate scenario where the Mutants have come from another world and are escaping into ours via the newly opened gate. Can the world be saved from this invasion from a doomed world? The sheet also includes some developer’s notes which provide more background about the Science Building and the Humans defending it.

Physically, Attack of the Mutants! is decently done. The cover of the album is brilliantly gaudy pastiche of the schlocky Sci-Fi horror ‘B’ movies and cheap paperbacks the game is inspired by, and the game board is clear and simple to see and play on. However, it does get a little cramped with all of the counters in play and then the constant movement of them from the main board to the Combat display and back again needs to be done carefully so as not to shift counters already there. It is accompanied by Robert Crumb-like cartoon illustrations that capture the horror and the desperation of the setting. The counters are also bright and easy to read, but the rules booklet and the developer’s notes are plain and unillustrated. However, they are easy to read and understand.

In addition, Yaquinto Publications published a second version of Attack of the Mutants! This was a simplified version that came as a two-page cardboard folder and was designed as an introductory version, intended to, “…[I]ntroduce people to the general concept of Adventure Gaming.” This was packaged with orders from the publisher and was also available via Game Workshop mail order in the early nineteen eighties. This version would have been many a player’s first introduction to the concept of Album Games, and may well have spurred them to purchase a full copy of Attack of the Mutants!, and potentially, other titles in the line.

Attack of the Mutants! is a two-player wargame, a tower defence style game long before there were such things. It is intended as an introductory level game, easy to learn, and providing a decent degree of playability and challenge, but little in terms of the type of simulation which might be found in a more traditional type of wargame. It is also designed to be fun for players new to the hobby and for those who have some experience of it. The introductory level means basic movement and combat, the latter involving a lot of dice rolls, but the results can often be wild and chaotic, which would fit the game’s theme. It also means that there is little in the way of tactics or planning as the two opposing sides clash again and again, although if he can, the Human player might want to target the Mutant Leaders as that would prevent a decisive victory for the Mutant player. Conversely, the Mutant player just needs to kill Humans, and if he can get to the Tech Room, kill one Tech to prevent a decisive victory for the Human player. All of which not only makes it sound bad, but also makes it sound bad because it is an old design. Nothing could be further from the truth, because forty years on and Attack of the Mutants! is easily comparable with a game like Zombies!!!, and if you were comparing the two, Attack of the Mutants! is more focused, has a shorter playing time, and is self-contained. Remake Attack of the Mutants! today as Attack of the Zombies! and would anyone raise an eyebrow?

Attack of the Mutants! is simple in its design, but it is intended to be an introductory board game. It is also chaotic, but that fits the theme of the last few Humans holding off the hordes of Mutants, making a last desperate stand with a Janibot by their side or scrambling to get back to the Tech Room and through the gate just in time to escape. As the game progresses and the Humans and Mutants fight, their stories can emerge in play and they become just a bit more than counters with names on, all helping us to engage with the theme of Attack of the Mutants! And what a gloriously cheesy theme that is—rampaging Mutants, stalwart heroes with jaws made of granite, a heroine ready to scream at the right moment, and mankind’s last stand!

Attack of the Mutants! not only succeeds as a fun way to introduce people to the general concept of adventure gaming, but as a very light, highly thematic game full of glorious clichés and fifties ‘B’-movie bravado. Ameritrash it might be, but by god, it’s American Ameritrash!

No comments:

Post a Comment