Explore the Spencer Mansion from a completely new perspective in Resident Evil: The Board Game.
Steamforged Games have carved out something of a niche for themselves as publishers of board games based on video games. Whilst their release of Dark Souls The Board Game wasn’t hugely praised, though I count myself as a fan of it, they’ve gone from strength to strength since. Now, I haven’t played the previous two board games based on the Resident Evil series, but being as this release is based on the first video game — specifically the 2002 remake rather than the PlayStation original — it seems like a good place to jump in. It’s designed for one to four players aged 14 and up. Let’s see how quickly we die.
As I mentioned, I haven’t played the board games of Resident Evil 2 and Resident Evil 3, so I’m going into this totally unaware of the previous mechanics. Interestingly, I can see some of the DNA from Dark Souls The Board Game here, with the node-based movement, different dice for different weapons, and dodge mechanics. This feels much more refined though, with tighter gameplay sessions lasting around an hour, and a campaign designed to be played over multiple sittings. You’ll start with a small map of the mansion and its various wings, but as you play through missions it will expand to give you access to the crypts, gardens, and labs.
Each mission has its own map setup based on a number of tiles, which is shown in the campaign book. This includes where enemies are, points of interest, and items you can pick up. The setup for each mission takes a little longer than I’d like as you often need very specific tiles for the map alongside setting up the various decks of cards needed for that stage. It’s not a huge amount of time, but I think it could have been streamlined a little.
Once you’re in though, things move very swiftly. Each player gets four actions on their turn, with moving, attacking, picking up items, and opening or closing doors all being options. After all the actions have been taken, the enemies get to react by moving towards and attacking players. Finally, you draw a Tension card that adds zombies to the board or makes those already there more dangerous. Then it’s onto the next player until victory or defeat.
You spend most of your actions, a few too many if you ask me, moving around the area. When in range of enemies you’ll often want to attack them by rolling the dice your weapon comes with. Early on, fighting really isn’t a good option as your pistol and knife are quite ineffective. Most of the time they’ll simply push foes back, and only occasionally damage them. Add to that the limited ammo, and you’ll probably want to try and run past them. This is possible if you can make a successful dodge roll when moving through their tile, but even this can be tricky if there are large numbers of foes or bigger opponents.
As the campaign goes on though, players will gain access to better weapons like shotguns and flamethrowers which are significantly more effective. Not only do they cause more damage, but they also don’t leave behind bodies, meaning the dreaded Crimson Heads won’t turn up nearly as frequently. Ammo for these weapons is more limited, so you’ll still likely want to make a run for it from time to time, but that increase in power as the missions progress is really appreciated after that initial difficulty.
The minute-to-minute gameplay is quite satisfying, with there often being several directions to move in, often opening doors to unseen areas, necessitating the use of the exploration deck that reveals new rooms to explore. It manages to keep the tension of the original game quite well, as you may want to hold back from moving through a door when you don’t know what’s on the other side if you don’t have many actions left. Slowing down will progress the Tension deck though, and should it run out during a mission, you’ll fail that stage and need to retry it.
In a nice touch, you can decide on which mission to try in any order within reason. There are four missions initially, and only once you’ve found specific items will you be able to unlock new areas, much like in the video game. Cleverly, these items aren’t always in the same place thanks to the partially randomised deck of key items. You may get the key to the 2nd floor East wing very early on, or it may be much later depending on your specific setup. I liked this randomness to an extent, but it does mean that you may not be able to access some rooms in certain missions if you don’t have the right key. This isn’t game-breaking, but you can miss out on resources, and there’s no way I can see to revisit previously completed areas.
There are a few other mechanics at play too, with enemies being more or less aggressive depending on the previously drawn Tension card, the mansion danger level increasing from mission to mission making Tension cards more dangerous, and the inclusion of reserve characters. This latter mechanic felt like a misfire to me, with you sometimes having to draw Mission cards for them to complete. Most of the time these missions didn’t add anything for success or cost anything significant for failure. There were a couple of useful ones, but most of the time they just felt like they took up additional time and nothing more. On the whole, though, there’s a well-built game here, with tight mechanics that keep everything moving quickly. Yes, luck is still a factor, as bad dice rolls and card draws can absolutely ruin your run, but equally a good run can be very satisfying. Chris taking out four zombies with his pistol in a single turn was a particular highlight and rescued us from dire circumstances.
The version I played was the retail release, rather than the big fancy Kickstarter edition with all the extra content. This is worth mentioning as a lot of the pictures I had seen online included plastic doors and other terrain which aren’t included in the retail version. Instead, you get cardboard tokens for doors, typewriters, item boxes and the like. This is fine, and they feel solid enough, but the cardboard pieces are very dark in most cases, meaning the difference between a door and an item box isn’t always clear. I tended to just find any piece that looked the right size and used that, referring to the campaign guide if we couldn’t remember what was what.
Additionally, without all the extra Kickstarter content and expansions, the selection of enemies is very limited. Aside from Lisa and the Tyrant, the two included bosses, there are only four enemies, those being zombies, zombie dogs, Crimson Heads, and hunters. It doesn’t lend itself well to significant variety, and in the early stages, you’ll face off against the same foes over and over. No crows, wasps, or giant spiders here. Those and other iconic bosses are in expansion packs, so if you want an experience containing everything, be prepared to fork out for those boxes too.
That aside, there’s a lot of fun in the base game, including lots of scenarios, including nods to the video game. The grin I had on when we found one of the missions included the legendary broken shotgun puzzle must have been a sight. The random nature of the item discovery and the choice of four characters, each with their own abilities, means that there are plenty of opportunities for replays too. You can even play some missions as standalone games if you want to have a game with people other than those you’re working through the campaign with. As a board game adaptation of a classic video game, Resident Evil: The Board Game is very well done.
Resident Evil: The Board Game is available now for pre-order.