What is this game about?
Godforsaken Scavengers, the first release from Drawblack Games, is a brutal, insect-themed game in which you try to cross harsh terrain and scavenge for the resources you need to survive. Each round, you divide the scavenge deck into three draw piles, pick one, and push your luck. Will you pull another card in hopes of finding something useful? Or will you stop and stick with what you have? If you draw a "peril" card, you lose the good stuff that you've scavenged. Not only that, but you are likely to gain an affliction—a physical or mental injury that hampers you further as you continue your journey. Pick up three afflictions, and you lose the game.
The cards you already have in your hand play an important role in the scavenging process. Your cards have numerical values that allow you to feed at the end of the round, so you need to keep an eye on your food supply. But they can also be used to perform actions, such as healing afflictions, canceling out peril cards, and allowing you to scavenge more efficiently. You can have bad luck in Godforsaken Scavengers, and you definitely won't win every time. But learning how to play your cards well can help you last a bit longer.
For added strategy and complexity, it is also possible to play with characters who have different special abilities. There is also an optional "caravan" that can provide extra cards at important moments, but it requires upkeep when resources are already scarce.
How does it play solo?
One of Godforsaken Scavengers' scenarios is specifically designed for solo play. If you're willing to play two-handed, you can also play one of the two co-op scenarios that are included in the game. The other, "Last Hunt," is cooperative but also time sensitive. I didn't try that one. In the solo scenarios, your starting equipment (and sometimes afflictions) are geared towards solo play. All scenarios are clearly marked with a difficulty level and and rough indicator of time to completion.
In addition to the solo and co-op scenarios, Godforsaken Scavengers also includes a solo campaign mode. The campaign is made up of multiple sessions, each with a set of random areas to populate it. Different areas trigger different events, and each campaign session also allows players to make story-related choices that impact future goals and rewards.
Godforsaken Scavengers has a lot of good points. The art is thematic and eye-catching. There are several cool card interactions that you can trigger, and you will feel smart if you pull off a particularly clever combo. There is a lot of potential there.
However, I have several issues with the game that impacted my enjoyment. Most importantly, the rulebook is confusing. I found myself looking up Ricky Royal's demo video for clarification because there were important things left unsaid—for example, whether you still got to progress through an area even though you didn't collect enough food. (The answer is apparently yes, you still move on. Where the rules specify this, however, I still do not know.)
The campaign rules were also unclear. I eventually pieced it all together, but it took me multiple read-throughs. Additionally, the campaign ends up being pretty shallow—the story is simplistic, choices do not affect the story long-term, and the goals and rewards that go with your story choices are based heavily on card draw. For example, your goal might be to "have Hunt and Rush in hand," but there is no guarantee whatsoever that those cards will turn up during play.
My main issue with the campaign, however, is that it involves collecting escaped slaves—something I strongly dislike in any game, regardless of theme. Not only was slavery unnecessarily inserted into the campaign plot line, with you as a participant in the enslavement process, but the theme itself doesn't hold together overall. You're an insect in a brutal world, but sometimes that world involves weird blasphemous rituals, while other times you are just avoiding predators. It's all dramatic and sometimes interesting, but it doesn't all hang together.
Also, if you choose to acquire this game, be warned—the cards should be sleeved. They are not particularly durable.
Do I recommend it?
No, not really. If you find yourself tremendously attracted to this game, I'm not going to tell you you're making a mistake--Godforsaken Scavengers has its good points, and I would be willing to consider the next game designed by Drawblack based on the potential I see in this one. But it is thematically incoherent, its rules are not clearly written, and solo play of this game is going to wear thin very quickly. I would personally recommend that you spend your money elsewhere.
Overall Rating: 2 stars
5 stars — I love it!
4 stars — I really like it.
3 stars — I like it.
2 stars — It's okay.
1 star — Meh.