It’s birthday week, and it’s Hellboy week, so it’s only right for this week’s game day to take a look at the recently arrived behemoth of a board game! It’s Hellboy the board game from Mantic Games!
Originally touted on Kickstarter almost exactly a year ago, the game smashed through its £100k funding goal, eventually getting to almost £1.5million during the funding period. Ironically, of course, this isn’t really that impressive for Kickstarters these days, though I suppose for a licensed product from an established company, it is fairly standard. Designed by James Hewitt, the brains behind none other than the recent Necromunda Underhive from Games Workshop, the game is basically a dungeon crawl, with the heroes going through a series of encounters with enemy minions as they make their way through the board towards the final boss enemy. Pretty standard fare, I’m sure you’ll agree. The system is pretty straightforward as well, without anything as complex as the classic dungeon crawler Descent.
The game begins with the Agent phase, where each hero gets the chance to make three activations. It’s a co-op game, so you can mix and match just how you make these activations – if you’ve got a better explorer character, they might be the best choice to look into a room, before the heavy hitter can then wade into the fray and start punching things.
Once the Agents have had a go, there is the Doom phase, where the Deck of Doom advances (basically the game’s version of an AI, responding slightly to the hero actions) and the Impending Doom marker advances – this can trigger the end confrontation with the enemy boss, so acts as a bit of a timer for you.
After cleanup, the new round begins with the Enemy phase, where any enemy minions on the board get to do stuff based on a keyword activation system. The whole thing is fairly slick, and there is a tutorial game included in the box to run you through the process to get started. I’ve played the tutorial twice now, and think I’ve got a fairly decent grasp of how things go as a result.
The game isn’t really designed as a campaign system, but more as pretty much a traditional board game – you sit down, you play, you pack it all away. There are four Agents included in the game (a whole lot more in the Kickstarter edition, though I believe the game currently only supports four-player tops), each Agent coming with two Starting Gear cards. You also get to choose a piece of kit that might come in handy from the Requisition deck – each card has a cost (such as the Warding Talisman, above, costing 3), and depending on how many Agents are on the trip, you get a budget to spend on these cards. It’s fairly thematic without being overly complex. However, as far as customization options go, that’s pretty much it.
It’s worth noting, as well, that Agents can only shoot if they have a ranged weapon card, whereas they can usually always make a melee attack due to having fists or whatever. It’s something that I felt wasn’t entirely clear in the rules, and while it probably won’t always come up, you may find yourself trying to shoot with an Agent who actually can’t do so.
The game leads up to a Confrontation, usually with the big bad guy of the scenario you’re playing – in the tutorial game, that’s the Giant Frog Monster. These chaps are quite beastly, but with some lucky dice rolling, I’ve managed to survive fairly easily. I think this is probably due to the dice mechanic of the game.
During the course of the game, you get the opportunity to examine clues, which will in turn allow you to advance the Information Gathered track. This track also contains tokens at specific points – if the track is advanced beyond these points, you collect the tokens which, during the Confrontation, allow you to upgrade dice you roll when attacking the boss. The dice system is probably the most unique thing about the game that I’ve come across. On the agent sheet shown earlier, there are four skills shown in colour-coded blocks in the top-left corner. Hellboy has a melee characteristic of red, a ranged characteristic of yellow, and both examine and defense characteristics of orange. The dice system runs from yellow dice (worst) through orange (medium) to red (best), with black dice for super-best. When making a test, you roll three coloured dice plus the blue effect die – this die can be brilliant for you, doubling the highest-scoring die result, or removing it, and all sorts in between. It’s really quite a cool mechanic, and all sorts of in-game effects can improve or reduce your dice efficacy, such as having monsters in the same board area as you, etc.
Having two information gathered tokens during the Confrontation meant that Hellboy was punching the Giant Frog Monster with two black and one red dice, however, and during my second game with Hellboy and Johan, I made some spectacular rolls for both of them, meaning that, even though Johan was nearly dead (well, dead-er), I was able to defeat the monster after only a single activation of the big bad guy.
The miniatures are pretty decent for gaming pieces. Since I became a Warhammer nerd, I’ve become super critical of these things, but even the plastic pieces are really quite nicely detailed, overall. I didn’t get the resin miniatures, but I’d imagine they’re even more detailed.
The Kickstarter box is an absolute beast, and certainly the biggest game I’ve ever bought. It manages to fit the core game and two full expansions inside, as well as a host of the Kickstarter stretch goals unlocked throughout the campaign. I find this quite an exciting experience, and quite interesting in the way that Kickstarter games work. I’ve basically bought a core game and two big-box expansions, with maybe three or four smaller expansions on top. I suppose I’m just used to buying into games at a slower pace!
In addition to the core game, we get the Conqueror Worm and the BPRD Archives expansions in here. Conqueror Worm is a new scenario, alongside Nazi minions and, of course, the giant Worm itself as a boss miniature. The BPRD Archives expansion is a curious beast, as it is basically a whole collection of standalone scenarios that allows you to create whatever game you want. Rules for setting up the board, including which minions and bosses to fight, are all included on tarot-sized cards, and there is a veritable menagerie of enemy miniatures included for you to battle. I’ve not tried that method of play yet, but from briefly looking through the process, it seems quite straightforward, and there are promises for future expansions to include stuff for this deck constructor mode, ensuring that you can always use this expansion to create new games with the mountain of stuff available!
So far as Kickstarter exclusives go, there seems to have been a bit of a redesign for their inclusion in the box, and I do quite like it. There’s a design blog from James Hewitt that talks about how these things work, and the original concept of villains with their own Confrontations has shifted to the more modular inclusion of Fiend cards that allow these Lieutenant-style baddies to show up without waiting for the very end. I like this because the game can otherwise feel like a massive swing – from one minute battling minions to suddenly having a huge beast to contend with.
There is part of me that wishes we could get some kind of reward for defeating such villains, though I suppose I’m just thinking on a simplistic level. It’s not like every bad guy is carrying round bags of gold that they drop as soon as you defeat them!
On a similar note, I’ve seen a lot of people express disappointment online for the lack of a campaign system, and the inclusion of the sandbox-type BPRD Archives expansion seems to have been an affront to such people, who feel it lazy or somesuch. Personally, I think it’s a terrific way to expand the game, allowing for a whole lot of replayability, and the random-encounter feeling of the game is very much in keeping with the fairly random-encounter feeling of the comics. Sure, the storylines do weave in and out of each other, but there are a lot of one-shot-style adventures our intrepid heroes embark upon, and that is quite decently replicated here. It’s great for people who want those kind of one-off games, and you’ve got to remember, Hellboy pretty much exists as he is in the comics: he doesn’t really level-up and become better at what he does, he just does it all the way through. Not saying he doesn’t learn lessons of course, but that’s what the Information Gathered track is there for.
It’s also how James Hewitt originally envisaged the game design, being modular and customisable like this.
I like it, anyway!
Backers still have the Box Full of Evil to come, which features some more Kickstarter stretch goals and two mini-expansions, not sure when we can expect that to arrive at the moment, but hopefully it’ll arrive soon. In the meantime, it’s not like I don’t have absolute masses of game material to wade through and enjoy!!