Deep Dive: Resident Evil 2: The Board Game
Welcome to our close look at Resident Evil 2: The Board Game, including
Full Written Review!
As a big fan of the PlayStation One hit game Resident Evil 2 the start to 2019 - some 21 years after it's release - was shaping up to be a great one. We have a complete remake of the videogame coming out on modern consoles at the end of January which by all accounts looks incredible, and the guys at Steamforged Games have also been tasked with making a board game adaptation of the endearing classic as well. Steamforged have taken up the mantle as some of go to guys for videogame to board game conversions of late, releasing board and card games for Dark Souls, and the recently Kickstarted Horizon Zero Dawn alongside the Resident Evil game. When I saw the news and the minis and the campaign I just had to back Resident Evil 2, as the game, and the series, has been a big part of my gaming history. Last week, the game was delivered with a big box of extras that I had apparently sprung for, so let's take a look at the base game and see if it has captured the same magic, some 2 decades later.
Resident Evil 2: The Board Game is a cooperative, campaign based, survival horror game that plays 1-4 people, from 1-2 hours per mission. The gameplay will be familiar to anyone who has played other thematic, map based adventure games like Descent and Imperial Assault, but this time with Zombies. On opening the main box and starting to unpack and pop everything out the first thing that will strike you is the fact this game is dark, and I don't mean in theme or gore, but the map tiles the game is played on are so dark, on first look it's hard to make out much of anything. I'm one of them weirdos that always turns the in game brightness up a few clicks when starting a videogame, but unfortunately there is no option to do that in the real world. The map tiles are also not unique scenario based tiles and are instead sorted by generic shapes, so when you put each mission together they can often be a mishmash of inside and outside. You can spend time making sure the pieces make sense together for the layout you have to build and I would highly recommend doing so as it definitely adds to the game. Component wise, the cards in the box are all standard quality, but the tokens and dials are a bit below par for such an expensive box, most of the dials that are used to count down ammo and boss health are a bit wonky, and though these are mostly ancillary parts to the game, but it would have been nice for the quality of everything to be slightly higher. One place where this isn't a problem though is the miniatures, which all look fantastic, and the box insert, which has moulded spots for each model and card. In the main box you'll get hero minis for the 4 player characters, Leon, Claire, Ada and gun shop owner Robert, as well as 12 zombies in a variety of poses, 4 zombie doggos, 2 Lickers, and 2 boss monsters. You also get the rules and scenarios for an 8 mission campaign which is the meat of the game.
After a quick read of the rule book, the first mission then acts as an introductory game, with a small map and simplified mechanics, as it tries to ease players in. I always prefer a game do this, especially a scenario based campaign that will get progressively longer and harder, it's good to have a learning mission that can allow players to get to grips with the gameplay before the stakes get too high. The rulebook itself is informative and flows well, with good graphic design. It's a good one to pass through once but when referring back to for rules checking can be a little tricky. We had particular issue with one set of rules, those for when zombies move and attack when players make noise by attacking, that we struggled with for a couple of missions before figuring it out, but that might have just been us.
Gameplay is pretty simple, players have 4 actions on their turn before nearby zombies will move and chomp and then a card is plucked from the tension deck, which will either signal an all clear or spawn more enemies or bad things around. Players can move, shoot, stab, pick-up items, and everything you would expect a normal person to be able to do. If there's one thing this game does really well, it's the thematic ties it has to the game that fans will really enjoy. As an example, straight from the get go you will realise, just like in the videogame, that the handguns that everyone starts with, are janky useless pieces of trash. This is also where the very luck based combat rears it's head, as all attacks are made using a number of 6 sided dice, which for most of the early weapons in the game, require you to roll a 6 to do any damage. As alluded to in the manual, and throughout some of the set-up pages though, this is a game - much like the original - all about survival, and not about blasting everything away. Players have limited ammo for their weapons, and melee attacks are even more useless than the handguns, so a large part of the game is knowing when to unload a clip into a zombie, when to dodge and evade, and when to run away and shut the door behind you so nothing can follow you through the Racoon City Police Department. It was about mission 3 when this really clicked for us, and really ties the theme of the situation into the way the mechanics work in a meaningful way, discussing swapping weapons around between us and using player abilities to their fullest while trying to escape is really where the game shines.
Speaking to the theme, they have done a great job at incorporating bits and pieces all throughout the package, some of which will only be recognisable to fans of the videogame though. For example if a zombie gets to close and bites you, you take a damage and push it one square away, which is exactly what happens when you get bitten in the game, allowing you space to shoot back. There are also a lot of scenario layouts, and surprise moments in the game that instantly call back parts of the games and will make fans smile. We played with a mixture of players that were and were not familiar with the game though, and while those of us that recognised the elements were quite chuffed, those that didn't still recognised them for what they were, cool gameplay elements or story progressing parts that tied into the whole experience.
After 4 scenarios of fighting just zombies, doggos, and lickers, when you get to scenario 5 you get the first taste of a boss monster. There are 2 in this base game - the big baddy is in the last of the 8 missions - and they play with a different set of rules. Once you enter the boss room, you cannot leave, and instead of them aimlessly moving towards you the boss movement and attacks are managed by drawing from a boss behaviour deck that is unique to that creature. This is a good fun mix up of the gameplay from the hours played before and is definitely one of the highlights and more stressful situations in the game. The boss can be seen on the map for the whole level, so you have a sense of impending doom coming your way as you try to conserve as much special ammo as possible before all grouping up to jump in there together to take them out. Unfortunately, then it's back to basic enemies for another couple of scenarios before ending the campaign with the other big baddie in the box. These scenarios are easily the most fun and most tension filled in the game, so it's a shame there are only 2 in the main game, though I guess that's what the expansions are for if players are inclined to spend more to see more.
The campaign structure itself makes sense from a gameplay point of view, with players only recovering some ammo, and no health, between each mission, it makes conserving and planning ahead even more important. And you quickly learn to respect the tension deck, as going off on your own to some seemingly simple objective with no zombies in sight can mean you are quickly surrounded by enemies attempting to eat your face off. Luckily there is something immensely satisfying in rolling a whole load of dice with a grenade launcher or submachine gun later in the game to mow the enemies down, especially as the low ammo means you really have to time these situations to your best ability. There are even some items you can find in each scenario that are useless there and then, but holding on to them allows you to use them later on in the campaign to rig doors, unlock passages, and find rarer and better equipment, all staple elements from the videogame, and all welcome additions to a scenario based thematic game like this. As far as game balance goes, having tried scenarios with 2, 3, and 4 player characters (with 1, 3, and 4 humans controlling) the game definitely seems balanced for 4 characters, and then 2, with by far the longest and most drawn out game we had, and that we also came closest to losing, was when we used 3 characters. Each scenario itself seems well balanced though, with players never feeling completely in control or completely overwhelmed, the campaign therefore was an enjoyable romp through the main Resi 2 story line with set-up and ending goal text for each scenario providing the bulk of the story.
Overall then the game is a familiar outing for fans of the thematic, scenario, map, based games that Resident Evil 2 The Board Game takes it's inspirations from, but also different enough to have it's own place in the genre. I've mentioned the video game plenty of times in this review and I think it's a fair comparison to make when not just the Resident Evil IP is being used but the specific entry in the series, and it's safe to say fans of the game who are also board gamers will have a lot to like here and at least have an enjoyable time. For board gamers who have no connection to the game, I would also say there is definitely enough here in the mechanics, theme, and the campaign and scenario structure to have a good time with, though for fans of the Resident Evil 2 videogame who might not ever have played a modern board game before I think they might have a harder time with the rules and general randomness of combat. As far as value goes, I know everyone's perceived value on anything will be entirely subjective so it's always hard to say definitively, but at the current retail price (£90 for just the base game) I would have wanted maybe a little more in enemy variety, and maybe more missions or bosses. The Kickstarter price was lower and contained some expansion content so the value there was much better, but at the current RRP this is getting dangerously close to Gloomhaven pricing, with only a fraction of the content. But that's the additional cost of having one of the most recognisable gaming licenses in history attached to the game, and for those fans I think it does a good job, and I think this will do well off the back of that. We enjoyed every scenario in the box and I know I'm looking forward to playing more, and busting out some of the expansion content.