As tabletop gaming is booming worldwide, it is no surprise that both the video & board gaming worlds are getting smashed together, resulting in the lines between the two becoming increasingly blurred. XCOM, The Witcher and Dark Souls are just three from a plethora of titles that are attacking both hobbies head-on, and if recent Kickstarter campaigns are an indicator of this, then just check out the Dark Souls campaign page.
Today’s game is themed around one of the most pioneering and important video games that has ever been released. One can argue that without this game, huge titles such as Battlefield and Call of Duty just might not exist, certainly not with the success that they have received. The game is a demon-annihilating, monster massacre that teleports you to and from the depths of Hell equipped with a double-barrelled shotgun and the one and only BFG 9000. So, with further ado, I introduce Doom: The Board Game.
Published by Fantasy Flight Games, this is the first Doom board game for twelve years, and with mechanics such as modular boards, variable character abilities and dice battling, it’s an obvious question to ask whether this 2-5 player dungeon crawling-style game is just another Descent: Journeys in the Dark or Star Wars: Imperial Assault with the Doom theme plastered over the top. We’ll answer that later, but let’s first look at the components.
The box is your standard Fantasy Flight box with the cardboard ‘trench’ style inlay. The artwork on the box, however, is fantastic in a very simple way by showing the ever-familiar main antagonist, the Cyberdemon, battle ready and striving forward in true first-person shooter style.
The game board mirrors that of Imperial Assault, both in the sense that it’s modular and the art work on the space ship/factory side of the tiles, which is pretty much identical. On the reverse side are the ‘nasty’ places that the Marines will need to visit, such as a demon’s lair. Again, it’s all very recognisable from previous Fantasy Flight games, although I will stress that usually they are all of very good quality. Although it is worth mentioning that you don’t seem to get as many tiles with Doom as you do with its aforementioned cousins, and for me that was quite apparent as soon as I began to punch them out.
For those of you that are new to this style of playing surface, it is simply a mix of tiles that interlink with one another to create various scenarios, meaning each mission will have a completely new board for you to master. It does add some time onto initial set-up but adds a lot more replay value and allows players to customise or create their own scenarios.
Doom has twelve different card decks, so I won’t go through them all, but as with the board, players familiar with Fantasy Flight’s games will be right at home when using these cards. They are set out in the usual manner with the artwork at the top followed by the normal special ability text, speed, range or hitting power, etc. All are very easy to use, and without any hint of ambiguity whatsoever, this makes gameplay run extremely smoothly and at a good pace. The artwork on the cards is hit & miss. The Execution and Ferocity event cards are exquisite, providing yet another first-person shooter style experience, but then others seem slightly too dark and bland, most notably in the action deck. Hit & miss might be a little harsh, hit – hit – hit – miss is probably more accurate.
The very first thing that struck me when I opened the box were the THREE rule books which I know will be slightly daunting to some gamers, especially when one expects any Doom experience to simply be a lock-load-shoot-anything-that-moves kind of game. Not to worry though, as only one of the three books is an actual rule book that in reality players will only actually need to read a couple of times due to the second book being a rules reference guide. This is the book that players will become more familiar with, as the index literally has every keyword that a player will need to look for, which massively cuts down the ‘dead play’ time of thumbing through a hefty rule book. These two books also have a quick reference guide on the back page, so each player is reminded of turn order, activations and token types, etc.
The third book is the operations guide; this is where set up of each scenario will be explained, as well as suggested cards to use and victory conditions. Each scenario has a short introduction as to what has happened or is about to happen, such as rescuing survivors from an infested science facility, etc. This is something that I’ve always liked in a game, especially one as thematic as Doom should be, as it really helps plug players into the whole experience and the Doom universe.
Also included are the map tile numbers used for that particular scenario, which have previously been missing from older games and makes set up so much easier.
All three books are of the same high standard as all of Fantasy Flight’s rule books seem to be now. All are easy to read, all use excellent coloured diagrams to make understanding that much simpler, and all have artwork interspersed throughout that helps add to the thematic experience.
I know what you are all thinking, ‘Shut up and tell us about the minis’, right? I’m pleased to tell you that the miniatures are outrageously good, looking extremely cool even in their non-painted forms. All have a strong level of detail without going over the top and making them too hard for us ‘regular’ painters to do them justice. Fantasy Flight’s miniature quality in general is just going up & up after having been criticized in the past. When you bring that Cyberdemon into play, there’s a ‘hell yeah’ from the Invader player and a collective ‘god damn’ from the Marine players, which is pure gold for any games company when it comes to gaming experiences.
The Revenant demon is possibly my favourite, he’s a red skeleton with lasers strapped to his torso, although the Baron of Hell is just as impressive with his huge horns and forearm-length claws. In general, there isn’t a single mini that I can criticise as they are all spectacular and will eventually all be painted. The four Marines are probably the most generic out of the lot, and if not painted, they certainly require a dab of colour on the bases just so players can differentiate one from another. They all carry different weapons and have slight differences with their armour, but at a quick glance, it is pretty hard to tell which one is which, especially Alpha and Bravo.
Along with all the components that I’ve already mentioned, you also get a ton of various tokens and five combat dice that are all up to the usually high Fantasy Flight standards. Enough about the components, let’s talk about the gameplay:
Set up won’t take any longer than ten minutes once players are used to the initial deck building format; the board fits together easily, and there isn’t a load of intro/objective spiel to read out either. Each mission will have its own objective card which will explain to all players how they can win. For the Marines, it might be ‘secure the map’ or ‘gain four objective tokens’, and for the Invader, it will always be ‘gain six frag tokens’, which basically means kill the Marines six times.
Each mission will also state the use of one of three threat cards that will detail how the Invader player can bring his nasty demons into play, which in true Doom style will be by bringing them through portals. These portals are colour coded, meaning that only certain demons can be brought through each particular portal. These portals correspond with the invasion cards that will list the available demons by type and number. The Invader will have a demon card for each demon group that will denote its hit power and special abilities, etc.
The Invader will then create an eighteen card event deck by choosing three event groups and shuffling them together; this will give the Invader special actions throughout the game, such as adding extra attack dice or allowing the Invader to draw extra event cards.
The Marine players will choose which Marine they are going to play with, which at this stage simply means Alpha, Bravo, Charlie or Delta, and they have no differences other than colour. Each Marine gets a set of generic starting action cards that will give each player some combat armour and a pistol. To give each Marine their own personality, it’s now time to give them a class, which could be Sentinel, Commando or Tactician, as well as twenty other ones. Each class will give that Marine a special ability, such as adding extra movement or reducing a demon’s health or rearrange the top of the initiative deck, etc.
Each Marine player is now allowed to customise their Marine loadout by choosing two different weapons; each weapon will come with three action cards which will be shuffled with the generic starting action cards to form a ten card action deck.
The last deck that needs building is the initiative deck, which basically determines turn order. The initiative deck consists of one card for each of the Marines and one Invader card for each demon group. This deck will be shuffled throughout the game, meaning that turn order will not only change but also throw players’ strategies right out of the window.
Demons will now spawn onto the board, the Marines will teleport in to save the day and we are ready to begin, starting with the activation phase.
The top card of the initiative deck is shown and it’s Marine Charlie, his player will have already drawn three action cards from his action deck. Marine Charlie will have one action, i.e., be able to play one card with the main action symbol on it, which could allow him to move, shoot or a combination of both. He can also play any number of bonus action cards that he holds in his hand; these might allow him extra movement or an extra attack or even allow him to draw more action cards. Once all applicable cards are played, Marine Charlie’s turn is finished, he will draw action cards back up to hand size and the game will progress by revealing the next initiative card.
Let’s say the next activation is a demon who will now attack Marine Charlie. The demon is in range, as denoted on its card, and has line of sight, i.e., isn’t trying to shoot through bulkheads. The demon will roll combat dice (again shown on the demon card) to determine how many hits it may inflict. Charlie will then flip the top card of his action deck which may have a number of defence icons on it, divide the hits with the defence icons and apply damage tokens as required. If Charlie were to reach his damage limit, he would then be fragged, the Invader player will gain a frag token and Charlie will respawn on his next activation.
Generally, the Marines will be searching to fulfill their objectives, finding extra weapons of health packs along the way whilst the Invader will be trying to frag them six times.
That’s pretty much the basic gameplay, but there are a few things I’d like to talk about before going into my summary.
First is the Glory Kill, which is not only cool, to say the least, but massively effective in-game. Each demon has a stagger value which will be slightly less than its health. If a demon has damage equal or greater than its stagger value, then it is considered staggered, meaning that if a Marine runs into it, that Marine can perform a swift execution and put the poor demon out of its misery. It’s not just a cool way of killing off demons, it’s very effective and can save valuable action cards that could be used on other demons. The Marine will also receive a glory kill card that will allow him to immediately recover two damage and give him an extra ability to use throughout the game, such as removing dice from demon attacks or gaining extra movement, etc.
Another thing that separates Doom from the other Fantasy Flight games is that it only comes with one condition type, which is stunned. If a player is stunned, its offensive and defensive capabilities are temporarily lowered by having dice removed from an attack roll or being unable to draw action cards to defend itself. I’ve lost count of the number of condition cards in Descent, such as cursed, poisoned and immobilized, which for me hammered home the real concept of what Doom is trying to achieve, more on that shortly.
Third is the deck building aspect of Doom, which for me was a great addition to a game of this type. Usually, players would go through a long and arduous process of completing quests or missions and slowly build up gold to customise your hero. Not in Doom. Players simply choose their starting weapons, shuffle a deck and are ready to go. That deck can be added to throughout the game by finding better weapons, but it also restricts what a player can do during their activation. With Imperial Assault, especially in latter rounds, a hero can be so overpowered that they simply carve through the enemy until they meet Vader, for instance. By drawing random cards, this prevents that, as you may only get a weapon such as the BFG, for instance, every third or fourth activation.
Defending with cards is something that I thought I’d hate in Doom, as I am and will remain an ardent supporter of dice combat, but it didn’t detract from the game really, and I still get to attack with dice, which definitely softened my stance regarding the defending mechanism.
I also really like the initiative mechanic, meaning no one knows which player will activate next, which adds a great deal of randomness to each mission.
A couple of negative points, one being the number of threat cards available; only having three can mean the Invader will constantly play in the same manner depending on the text on the card. It’s not a big deal but certainly detracts from replay value.
Also, Marine Alpha, Bravo, Charlie and Delta? Come on, we can do better than that, can’t we? Add some personality! I get the whole ‘unnamed marine’ thing, but for me even M156 makes it a bit less sterile than Bravo.
Lastly, and it’s a criticism of a lot of Fantasy Flight games (and I have a lot of Fantasy Flight games), give us more dice! When you’re sat around the table in FFG HQ and you come up with the number of dice that will be included in your games, take a minute to reflect then double that number, I don’t want to have to buy a ‘dice pack’ to supplement my games, and as I’ve mentioned, this isn’t just a one off.
So, now that we are at the end of this Doom: The Board Game review, I think I’m able to answer my initial question of whether this is just another Descent or Imperial Assault, and if so, would I replace either for Doom? The answer is a resounding “no” on both fronts, and a “no” in the most positive manner possible.
Firstly, despite having many of the same mechanics and components as the other two, Doom is a very different experience. It’s fast and explosive, brutal and gory. Never once was the game slowed because a hero stood up only to be knocked out again or movement blocked by twelve Stormtroopers wedged into the same corridor.
The lack of a campaign is not an issue for me, as I have all the campaigns I can possibly need in the other two games above, as well as various others, if I’m honest. If it happened to be story-driven in the future, then fine, I’d play it quite happily, but for now I’m more than happy just to execute demons or unload a full clip into a possessed soldier, just for the hell of it. In this regard, it wouldn’t replace the others, as it isn’t trying to be one of them. Related these games might be, but it’s more like third cousins than brother and sister. Different theme, alternative feel and definitely a very distinct experience!
Designer: Jonathan Ying
Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games, Esdevium Games
Release Date: 2016