Apex is a deck-building game, played solo or with up to 5 friends. You play as one of seven prehistoric apex predators competing for territory and resources against other predators. Each playable species has a unique deck to master. Each deck has different strengths, weaknesses, and strategies—creating a varied and constantly evolving experience.
Your species must overcome a very brutal environment including harsh climate changes, disease, attacks from predators, grievous wounds, infections, and deadly prey. The game incorporates many dinosaurs that behave in their own distinct way. The goal of the game is to endure the environment, build up the population and evolve your species, and become the Apex predator.
* Summary from publisher’s website. Images from BoardGameGeek.
Apex is a game I waited a long time to get my hands on. Then I got it, and it took me nearly as long to learn how to play.
I’m exaggerating, but my unfamiliarity with deck-building card games combined with a poorly written rulebook certainly tested my patience during my first few games. The game designer has since published a second, much easier to understand rulebook and posted gameplay videos, all of which helped. I’ve now nailed down the core mechanics of the game, although I’m still a long way from mastering it.
Was all the time I sunk into Apex worth it? Definitely. Apex is the best dinosaur board/card game currently on the market. But it is not a game that will appeal to everyone, with mechanics that will likely confuse people whose experience with board games doesn’t go much beyond Monopoly.
Apex is a game for one to six players—or eight if you have the Kickstarter edition—in which you take on the role of a carnivorous dinosaur in the Mesozoic. You hunt prey, fend off other predators, and even “hatch eggs” that can become cards to add to your deck. Most of the game’s 600 cards represent an impressive range of dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals that lived during the Mesozoic. (Except the giant snake Titanoboa, which was included for its coolness factor.)
At the start of the game, each player chooses a deck of cards that represents a specific predator. You then “hunt” prey cards using cards from your deck. Every kill earns you points that can be used to purchase new apex predator cards for your deck or “evolve” cards that give you special abilities. Trouble comes in the form of non-player predators that periodically pop up in the game to either kill prey or attack you. If that weren’t enough, you must contend with a super-predator “boss” that can not only deal out a lot of damage, but will take multiple hits to bring down. And did I mention this boss has minions to make your life even more miserable?
One thing Apex does beautifully is merge theme with game mechanics. A lot of the rules simply make sense in context of simulating a predator in the wild. For example, there are disease cards that require you to add a wound card to your deck every time you draw them. That’s logical: Just as a disease whittles away an animal’s health, disease cards make your deck progressively weaker. One rule I really like is ambush. You can set aside up to three cards to ambush prey in a later turn, but you must add an “alert” card to your deck to do this. If you draw the alert card later on, not only do you lose the element of surprise and return your ambush cards to the deck, but you activate any alert rules on prey in play, making them harder to hunt.
Another plus for Apex is it’s simply beautiful to look at. Apex was the creation of one man—Herschel Hoffmeyer —who not only came up with the game mechanics but also did all the art himself. That’s an impressive achievement, and I’m a bit flabbergasted at the amount of work that went into the game. The art is not just good game art—it’s good paleoart, with a degree of anatomical accuracy you usually don’t see in entertainment products. I’ve often found myself not playing the game but simply looking at it, enjoying the depictions of the dinosaurs spread out on the table before me.
Are there downsides? As I’ve already mentioned, the rulebook that came with my copy of the game was hard to follow. Another drawback is Apex isn’t a game you can just jump into on a whim. It has a significant setup time, with players needing to shuffle and sort the several card decks used in the game before they start playing. (This is probably less of a problem with more players given each person could shuffle a different deck.) Also, while I have only played Apex solo, I’m left with the impression there isn’t much player interaction during the course of the game. There are few cards you can play against other people but otherwise players are playing against the mechanics of the game itself, not other players. Whether or not this bothers you depends on what type of gamer you are.
Negatives aside, I love this game. I had never been much of a card game person before, usually preferring games with dice. Apex opened my eyes to a whole genre of games I had missed out on until now. Unfortunately Apex is not a game you can purchase and begin playing the same day, which will limit its appeal to casual gamers. The game has a bit of a learning curve. But if you are willing to invest the time to learn how to play it, you will be rewarded with the best dinosaur game since Dinosaurs of the Lost World.
- The nine playable predators in the game are Acrocanthosaurus, Carnotaurus, Giganotosaurus, Spinosaurus, Tyrannosaurus rex, Utahratpor, Velociraptor, Quetzalcoatlus, and Sarocosuchus. The last two are only available in the exotic predators edition of the game.
- Since I wrote this review, a second edition of Apex was released and a few expansion packs were unveiled as well. The second edition only made minor adjustments to many cards. Unfortunately, a second Kickstarter for the game was mired in controversy, with several backers not receiving their full pledges. The company also went out of business, so copies of the game are hard to find.