Apocalypse World was my very first attempt at running an RPG. Prior to Apocalypse World my only RPG experience was a few months playing Dungeons and Dragons at a local game store. I wanted to run a game with my friends so I got them together on Roll20 and we jumped in from there. There were a lot of things I liked about the game, but I was trying my best to run it as prescribed by the rules and was finding it difficult. The improvisation required in Apocalypse World was daunting for someone that had never GM’d before. The rules say to start the first session with nothing planned, and I did just that. Unfortunately after characters were created I was left in a mild panic about where to start. We took a quick break (also recommended by the rules) and pulled a situation out of thin air to get us started. It wasn’t great, but it worked. After the first session I was finding it difficult to wrap my head around how fronts worked and how to incorporate them with what I filled out on the GM worksheet. Feeling somewhat overwhelmed I talked to my group and we abandoned the game for the D&D 5th Edition starter set instead. In retrospect I wish I had toughed it out and tried harder to grasp the rules as written. The world we had created in three sessions was fun and there was potential for some interesting situations to arise.
Now recently released in physical form comes Apocalypse World 2nd Edition from Kickstarter, with more playbooks, improved rules, and an opportunity for me to get a hardcover version of the book. I just received my copy and wanted to do a quick review of the book and the changes to the game that I noticed after looking through it. This isn’t a review of the entire game because if you hadn’t noticed from above, I haven’t played all that much of it.
The hardcover book looks great on first impressions. It has a glossy cover with a photo of a gas-mask-wearing resident of some future post-apocalypse. The back cover gives the game’s elevator pitch and then a rundown of some of the different character types available to the players. It’s unfortunate that the back of the book is marred by a typo, but it’s there. On the inside of the book, I was a little disappointed in the quality of the paper; it is pretty thin and I have tried to be conscious about turning pages carefully after an “almost creased the page” moment early on. Content-wise, it is very similar to what I imagine the inside of the first edition looked like but some sections have been revised.
Flipping through the book you are immediately welcomed by stark black and white illustrations that covers the page, each section of the book illustrated with a minimalist representation of scenes from some version of the post-apocalypse. They do a good job of setting the mood of the game and conveying the dark atmosphere you’re likely to be playing in. I haven’t spent a lot of time researching what changed between the first and second editions but the differences that stood out to me have all been positive. First is the addition of battle moves. In the first edition of Apocalypse World violence was handled by two moves which often ended up feeling pretty ambiguous for just doing damage to a target. The second edition added a move called “sucker someone” for attacking an unsuspecting target and an entire section on battle moves for when the game calls for something more specific than the basic moves allowed.
Another addition to this edition was some updates to the GM information sections. The worksheet you are encouraged to use when running the game has been changed completely. The original threat map was laid out with items in scarcity surrounding the players like cardinal directions. The new threat map eliminated these and uses actual cardinal directions and some rings to indicate how close to the players the threats are. This new layout is much more straight forward and something that I would have a much easier time finding useful after a first session. Fronts are now Threats, which is a much more straightforward way of addressing what they really are – a series of dangers your players will have to deal with or face the consequences of their inaction. In the new Threats section, two new types of Threats have been added to further expand on the way your players can struggle. Threats also now include a miniature version of the Threat map I mentioned above, which can be used as a fast way to indicate to yourself how the Threat physically relates to the players. I’m sure there have been other changes and refinements to the game as well, but I’m not nearly as familiar with the system as I was a couple of years ago.
I’m really pleased that Apocalypse world received a second edition, and the opportunity to have some revision that will make the game more accessible. Though my experience with the game is still pretty limited, I think it will always hold a special place in my heart as the first game I ever made an attempt to run. With the additional rules clarity provided in the second edition, I am excited to give the game a try again with a little more confidence under my belt. This book has moved Apocalypse World back near the top of my “we should play this” queue again.