Mutant: Year Zero is a survival-oriented post-apocalyptic game. Before Modiphius Entertainment sent me a copy for review, I thought all post-apocalyptic games had an element of survival built into them. After all, that is was living after the apocalypse is about, right? Well, not really. To date, I’ve been exposed to post-apocalyptic games that were ultimately more about creating a setting where survival is difficult and possibly an integral part of the mechanics, but it was always secondary to some other aspects of the setting. In Mutant: Year Zero, survival in a post-apocalyptic world is everything and all the mechanics have been designed around that concept.
For starters, Mutant: Year Zero is a success-based dice pool system which uses fall-out symbols to mark success, failure, or risk. You only need one success to proceed with an action. Failure means no successes were achieved, but adding risk to to the system presents you with new options – you don’t have to deal with a simple failure. By re-rolling, there is a new risk involved with a particular failing symbol that causes some type of traumatic thing to happen. This risk versus reward mechanic adds to the feel of survival. Do you simply cope with not succeeding or are you so desperate that the character takes dangerous steps to ensure his or his allies’ survival?
Second, the setting resides in what breaks down into an unknown world. From a metagame standpoint, players will recognize structures and locations with little to no problems. Their characters, on the other hand, simply have no idea what’s out there. They don’t know what different buildings are, they have no sense of their locale, they don’t understand their surroundings, and every time they venture out, they’re exploring. This is resolved on a gridded map whereas each square has to be explored in order to create safe passage the next time around. Akin to a board game, the characters cannot simply walk around at ease without the continuous fear that something might be lurking in the shadows. There are no maps, and there are few safe areas out there. Throughout the course of a campaign, you are responsible for discovering everything around your home.
Third, there is a presence of decay, called rot, embedded in most things outside of the characters’ home. This has a very adverse side effect that creates another risk versus reward mechanic. Do the characters risk entering an area of rot in order to retrieve some valuable item? Or do they play it safe and try to stay clear of this mutating force.
The final point I’d like to make about the game’s design is the character roles. Much like board games that assign roles to specific character types in order to further along the game’s mechanics, these roles allow the team to overcome key features of the setting. This includes the gearhead who can create important tools out of junk or the stalker who knows how to find the safe paths throughout this unknown land. Everybody has a basic job that correlates to overcoming a certain survival aspect of the game.
Mutant: Year Zero is obviously more than just a book of mechanics. However, I won’t spoil the setting as it reveals too much about what the PCs are meant to discover during the course of a campaign. Overall, the book looks great, the mechanics are clean, and it’s possibly the best representation of an actual post-apocalyptic survival game that I’ve seen so far. Most post-apocalyptic games are not actually about survival, but this one sure is. If you’re looking for that type of setting, then there’s little reason to look any further than Mutant: Year Zero.