Ok, it seems like you came in at Gothic Horrors (the second Kickstarter). That’s good as there were some big changes. Yes, the scavenging thing was pretty head scratching as folks very quickly broke (played) the game at release by just camping and churning scavenge decks. This lowered the difficulty substantially by making action super efficient so starvation, monsters, and deck burn were much less of a concern. Essentially the Gothic Horrors Kickstarter aimed to fix all of that plus add difficulty and content.
For me, I played Maximum Apocalypse 1.5. That is, I learned about it during the second Kickstarter, bought the base game locally, then played with the updated rules including making my own grab bag. Thus other than a game or two for reference, I didn’t play much 1.0 Maximum Apocalypse. I have the Gothic Horrors content, but have not played it yet so I can’t really comment on day/night, movement, or newer critter sets.
As to the grab bag, I like it. I played both ways and prefer the bag. I have other games with grab bags, but I don’t really think much about the use there. To me, without the grab bag, MA can feel a bit to Settlers of Catan with knowing how an 8 space should be handled over a 12 space. I like the flattening out of the curve via the grab bag such that 8 is still common, but that 12 gets more scary each pull until it hits. For me this adds to the tension and unpredictability that goes hand in hand with the theme. I also like the ambush difficulty modifiers that can go with the grab bag.
This brings up point two. Yes, the game has this build your own difficulty element (“you decide”) especially with all the Gothic Horrors options. I know this isn’t your thing. You seem to really lean hard on designers to do all this ahead of time. I get that. And, I agree in part. To me board gaming is such a varied customer pool that I also recognize that is a pretty tough demand too. Board games are exploding. Most of my friends play them. However, nearly all of them are pretty light gamers and have no interest or tolerance for difficulty, rules, or learning curve. They accept the day of Monoploly is done, but asking more than Cards against Humanity from most game night combinations, is tough.
As a grizzled gamer, I too want the Doom “hurt me plenty” setting right from the start. I expect designers are afraid of cutting their market down by doing this. You and I might be ready for Dark Souls level board gaming all the time, but most of folks (unless you have a similar minded gaming group) don’t seem to land there. I expect this is especially true if a game leads with comic book styled art for a zombie apocalypse.
So, I appreciate the difficulty options. The first core release did hedge towards the easy side. However, I also am one that has generally accepted tweaking and house ruling to tastes over the years. That said, I would like a Doom level set of suggestions out of the box for low to very high difficulty ruleset and Apocalypse choice combinations. And maybe that invalidates my entire point.
I like the game though. I really like the theme. I like the hunger, scavenge, and deck economy. I like the exploration. Map setup is also a “you decide” element that is pretty big. Making a serpentine map with lots of holes rather than a basic square can really shake up the game and choices.
I dunno. I like Maximum Apocalypse. I like its theme and open ended setup (but still random and hidden) options. It is a fairly engaging analog rogue-like with all the tropes from Mad Max to The Walking Dead. I am glad at least that I was not left behind by a crazy easy difficulty curve and have options, but still have options to drop this game on casual night (aka most nights that are not me solo at my table).