Way back when I was on holiday in the Netherlands as a young teenager with a friends family I bought this game because it has a cyber T-Rex on the front. That was all I needed to know back in those days, yet the back of the box had more, with promises of a tough Tyrexian, a renegade Kangaroid and a Penguinoid all facing off against each other!
The overall premise of Gammarauders is that you control one of six different factions and each of those factions has one of twelve Bioborgs (large mutated beasts such as the aforementioned dinosaur) fighting to claim a region of a post apocalyptic land. This will be done by trashing your opponents’ fortresses and claiming victory tokens for them. If you trash a fortress in partnership with one or more of your rivals then you each claim a token and the first player to get three tokens and have your own fortress still standing wins!
However, Gammarauders has a whole separate background book which is very interesting as it details each of the Bioborgs that you will control and each of the factions that you will be part of. It is a good read but it is likely that only the owner of this game will read it and that background doesn’t really appear on the game pieces. It is a shame as playing green F.O.W.L.O.T.Es will mean little unless you know that it stands for Friends of what’s left of the Earth who fashion their war machines out of wood and tend to use tie dyed armour.
First each player takes a Bioborg standee and sheet, and then all the counters for their chosen faction. The Bioborgs are all different with special powers and different weapon slots, while the factions are all mechanically the same. The board is made up of twelve hexagonal pieces and these are laid out to form the play area. Each board is subdivided into different areas, Cities where you can place your faction Fortress, Water, Plains, Mountains and Irradiated Pod areas – where Energy pods form to be collected and used to power your victory.
There is also a deck of cards, which includes weapons that attach to your Bioborg and Fortress, Reinforcement cards that rebuild your forces and Factoid cards, which have varied functions in game. You receive a hand of ten to begin the game, placing any weapons facedown on your Bioborg to start the game.
At the beginning of each turn, you deal out the Turn Cards that are numbered 1-6 and give the play order for that round. If there are less than six players you still use all six cards to get the player order.
Next you get to Trade and Reinforce. You can trade cards in hand, and Pods in fortress between players, you can discard combinations of cards for Reinforcements (units as shown on card, more cards equal more units), you can burn a (singular) Pod for five cards or units in any combination, similarly you can trade your Turn Card in (to miss turn) for cards or units in any combination equal to the number on the card. At the end of this phase you can only have five cards in hand.
The next step is to Place Pods; each player rolls 2D6 and places a Pod on the relevant Irradiated area. So more players means more Pods!
Any player with Turn Cards now gets to move any and all of their units, with each player completing all of their moves before the next player starts their moves. Any move to pick up a Pod ends that unit’s movement. Different units have different movement rates, with Bioborg able to move six locations, Infantry only three, Hovertanks five and Gammajets unlimited. However only Bioborgs can pick up Pods.
Again any player with Turn Cards now gets to Rebuild/Refit their forces. If their fortress has been destroyed it must be rebuilt, and if their Bioborg is in the fortress it can be refitted with weapons in hand.
Finally at the end of the turn you Resolve Attacks with all enemy units in the same square having the option to attack each other – this is not enforced, as there could be an alliance between those forces.
First to decide is who attacking whom, and if any other forces are lending support. Next is the simultaneous burning of pods, each player with a Bioborg or Fortress can burn some pods to gain additional D6s for the combat. Finally you reveal weapons, by choosing one weapon either on Bioborg or in hand if defending a Fortress.
So each side rolls 1D6 for Bioborg, 1D6 for each Pod, +1 for each friendly unit and finally +X weapon strength. The highest wins the battle claiming all unclaim/carried pods and one card from the losers’ selection of cards (face up and hand), the loser must also discard the weapon card used and army units equal to the difference in results between attack and defence.
Finally if a fortress has just been trashed, the attackers all get a token.
The game ends when one player has managed to get three different enemy tokens and their Fortress is intact (original or rebuilt).
As you can see the very basis of the game encourages trading, negotiation, cooperation and backstabbing. For some groups then this game is great as all the old rivalries come out and you can trash talk each other while fighting for victory over the wastelands of Earth.
However for less aggressive players it can be hard to feel engaged and in control of your destiny as there is a lot of luck. You could easily find all the Pods appearing on the other side of the board, while your weapons are little better than Supersoakers! Also sitting back is quite powerful and tends to bog the game down, especially as there is no game end mechanism other than the tokens acquired. Which will be difficult if your Fortress is packed with troops and a patrolling Bioborg.
Gammarauders is also a game that can end up with stand offs happening, or players happily turtling with nothing in the game to break that deadlock. For example in a four-player game I played two players had two tokens and needed the third one to win. That other player’s Fortress was already destroyed, and he had no real incentive to rebuild because it would be quickly attacked.
Because this is an older game the counters are quite small and fiddly. Which is made worse by the fact that they are double sided and different on each. One side might be a Gammajet, while the other a Hover Tank each with different abilities so this can easily lead to mix ups accidental or otherwise.
So it is a game that needs five players really to help break stalemates and provide potential game long allies. It also needs players to move forward to keep the game interesting, which is easier to do after a number of plays as you will be familiar with what works and when.
The game is good, but not great and I expect that anyone who has spent some time playing it has created house rules to keep everything ticking over. So if you find a copy available then please bear in mind who you might play it with, and how often.
There is an expansion to the game that adds new units, variants, new Bioborgs, and a killer super Bioborg that plays against all the other players. I have this expansion but haven’t fully played it so cannot comment upon it other than it does iron a few kinks but does not remove some of the problems from above.
A second edition could be great, with plastic troops and maybe even Bioborgs. It would be a good idea to have fewer regions per hex so there would be faster movement around the board and also more space for figures. Perhaps also a turn limit within which you have to achieve victory, or it could be decided by who has the most tokens at that stage.
It could easily be expandable with further borgs, factions and tiles. Perhaps Fantasy Flight or WizKids would be interested?