One of the defining features of Mutant Year Zero is The Ark. The Ark is the home of the player characters, the location where the characters grew up with other mutants and the home that is relying on you to find salvation before everyone in it succumbs to the wasteland.
The best part of this is the fact that the player characters build their Ark. This makes every game of Mutant: Year Zero different as the player characters get to set their stakes and invest in the background of their characters by customizing the Ark to their vision.
Building an Ark is an involved process where the player characters start defining their home. This begins with a general location, and a map of the immediate area around it. They also get to define what type the Ark is, whether it’s an Airplane Wreck, or a Bridge or maybe even a Subway Station or Prison.
Players are also asked to draw a map of the Ark itself, placing the important details such as where the PC’s shelters are, as well as the Elder’s Refuge and the dens of the most important Bosses and the water source.
Bosses are given extra attention here as they are influential movers and shakers in the Ark and a lot of conflict revolves around their interests. Players get to define the Bosses in the location and the game provides a handy list of different archetypes, each with their own idiosyncrasies that might make them easier or harder to work with.
Other NPCs are defined after, along with an eyeball of the population size, where the water source is and distributing 12 points across Development Levels.
Development Levels are distributed across 4 broad categories that describe your Ark’s starting level of civilization. These are: Food Supply, Culture, Technology and Warfare. As you can see, each of these is vital, and to be honest 12 points doesn’t get very far. For perspective, the first tier of the Warfare Development Level category goes up to 9 points, and all that gets you are simple barricades to defend your Ark form outside forces.
During the campaign, player characters may choose to undertake projects. A project is essentially a means to upgrade your civilization beyond their starting levels. These improve the Ark in different ways, but it is important to keep an eye on how your civilization is evolving.
Projects have a minimum DEV requirement, and require players to actively participate in their creation. The benefits are useful however, as each of the projects bestows bonuses to one or more of the Development Level Categories.
Life is hard in Mutant Year Zero, and the Ark is not immune to misfortune. There may be instances when the Ark is attacked, and the players have to defend it. The game provides rules on how to measure the success or failure of an attempt to defend against an attack, as well as how to calculate for losses and destroyed projects. It’s a painful sight, but a sad reality in the post-apocalyptic world.
At the end of each session, one of the players gets to roll a D6, this result dictates how many of the inhabitants of the Ark have died in the time of the adventure, on top of any other NPCs wh o may have died in play. It’s a morbid sort of countdown clock… the player characters have only so much time before everyone in their community dies unless they find new residents or finally find a way to bring children to the world.
Part of what makes Mutant Year Zero so impactful is the fact that the players are made to understand what the stakes are for the game. By building more than just their own characters, they invest themselves into the setting and if they want to protect this thing they’ve built together, they’re going to need to do the impossible. It might feel helpless and overwhelming, but the players are going to go ahead and try anyway.
Because otherwise, only a slow extinction awaits them.