Originally conceived as an April Fools' joke from multiplayer engineering lead Bradley Olson, the game took on a life of its own. The scenario is a battle royale type of game that takes place in a post-apocalyptic world where each faction competes to be the last one to survive.
In an irradiated wasteland inspired by Fallout and similar franchises, players assume control of one of eight civilizations ("factions") and fight to secure a spaceship and escape the planet. The radioactive mass enveloping the planet is known as the "Red Death," and any units that end their turn in it sustain damage and are unable to heal. The amount of damage inflicted by the Red Death increases as the game progresses, but units can avoid taking damage by remaining inside the "Safe Zone," which shrinks every few turns as the Red Death spreads.
Players are eliminated when they have no remaining Civilians. The last player with a surviving Civilian wins.
Civilians and six kinds of military units - Infantry, Machine Guns, AT Crews, Helicopters, Rocket Artillery, and Tanks - are available in Red Death, all with modified promotion trees. All units are also modified to have faster HP regen (+20 per turn) and gain full XP from Raiders until they reach level 6.
Each player starts with one Infantry and one Machine Gun. New units are then available randomly in city ruins and Raider's Camps, and you can gain new units and supplies in the following ways:
- Finding and walking in a Ruined City can grant an Infantry, a Machine Gunner, an AT Crew, a Civilian or 20 experience points.
- Clearing a Raider Camp grants a Helicopter, an AT Crew, or a Thermonuclear Device.
- Supply Drops can appear near the Red Death ring edge after it has started to advance. These lucrative drops can grant a Tank, a Mobile Artillery, or a Thermonuclear Device.
- Cultists (Deeply Invested Cultists)
- Civilization Ability: Observing The End (All units have +3 sight.)
- Borderlords (Very Goth Borderlords)
- Jocks (Meanest Jocks)
- Mutants (Horribly Scarred Mutants)
- Civilization Ability: Radiant Personalities (-50% Red Death damage.)
- Civilization Ability: Radioactive Movement (+3 Movement for all units in the Red Death.)
- Civilization Ability: Radiant Personalities (Mutant units absorb 10 Radiation Charges per turn starting in the Red Death or WMD fallout. Mutant units spread Red Death to non-contaminated hexes once per Radiation Charge. Mutant units do not take damage from Red Death hexes they've created.)
- Doomsday Preppers (Insane Doomsday Preppers)
- Civilization Ability: Always Prepare for the Worst (All units have +100% experience bonus.)
- Pirates (Irradiated Pirates)
- Mad Scientists (Ethically Challenged Scientists)
- Civilization Ability: This Will Only Hurt a Bit (All units heal 2x faster.)
- Wanderers (Free Willed Wanderers)
- Civilization Ability: See You Later (Infantry and Machine Gunners, as well as Civilians in formation with them, have faster Movement on Woods, Rainforest, and Hill terrain. / All military units have faster Movement on Woods, Rainforest, and Hill terrain. / Civilians and non-mechanized units have faster Movement on Woods, Rainforest, and Hill terrain. / All non-mechanized units have faster Movement on Woods, Rainforest, and Hill terrain.)