Every now and again, in amongst the dozens and dozens of games that I get to look at I find something that really piques my interest, something that is suitably familiar or perhaps very different. Every now and again there is a game that I really want to play, or more likely that I really want to run.
Mutant Year Zero is definitely one of those games.
In fact, it is both familiar and yet different. The familiarity comes from the simple nature of the mechanics. It’s a little bit old school; simple archetypes with a point building system for character creation. The numbers are simple to handle, skill levels, attributes and gear denote the number of d6 you roll for success. And for that reason it’s a comfortable system to learn, it takes minutes not hours to pick up the rules and generate your first character.
But then, it’s also sufficiently different and innovative. Your character is a mutant and it is the mutant powers that will most likely keep her alive in the very hostile post-apocalyptic world of Mutant Year Zero. But then, using those powers has a cost and one that will slowly but surely cause you to degenerate and die. Along the way you’ll become more powerful as your body continues to mutate, and this will kill you – if the environment, the deadly Rot, the others struggling to survive in this world don’t get you first.
For me another huge part of this game is its collaborative nature – your best chance of survival is with others by your side. For that reason, character creation includes detailing relationships with the other player characters and also with significant NPC’s. There is a strong community focus, you have grown up in an Ark – a refuge from the hazards outside. You contribute to the development of the Ark, you have a role to play in its society and in decisions that shape how it grows.
I almost passed this game by, there are so many post-apocalyptic survival games and I was suspicious of the fact that you can buy custom d6’s with symbols instead of the 1’s and 6’s. There is also a deck of cards which are referred to in the rules, and I’m always sceptical of games that “need” these little extra expensive goodies to work properly. But whilst having played with them I would recommend the extras (especially the dice), you don’t need them, after all they are just d6’s and everything in the card decks can be found as tables and descriptions in the core book. They are enhancements, not essentials.
I’ve played a few standalone games, and they work really well, but I think the real beauty of this game would be in playing an extended campaign watching the character’s stories unfold as they pursue their big dreams, as they develop their community and as they finally succumb to the inevitability of the environment. This is a very story led game, there is an overarching metaplot detailed within the core book and it is up to the GM as to how much this plays into their specific game.
What will be important is survival, the need to eat and drink regularly, to track your bullets (not just for your weapons but as currency), to look after your health and to balance the use of your mutant powers, the need to “push” your dice rolls against the ongoing impact to and deterioration of your character.
One last thing that I think is worth a mention is the use of maps – not for the purpose of miniatures or pseudo-wargaming, but for discovering, recording and detailing the player’s environment. You’ll start the game with a mostly empty Zone map – there are two provided with the setting, but you might find it interesting to create your own based on your home town or a favourite place. My games have focussed on Brighton, the Palace pier partially collapsed and become the Ark for my adventurers, a defensible sprawl with a population of around 200. The coastline, the towns, cities and the south downs have become the areas to explore and with rumours of a larger city – The Big Smoke – even further North across the Infected Rot lands. Players will note points of interest scribble notes on the maps, share them with other explorers, discovering and creating their game world as they go.
Mutant Year Zero is a great game, it is balanced and intriguing, it makes for good story led collaborative roleplaying. It will appeal across the age ranges and is accessible to both new and experienced players. The core book runs to around 280 pages and the production values are also very high, the quality of the artwork, the comic book styling also makes you want to read it.