The Conqueror Worm

For whatever reason, back when my blog was 5 and I featured Hellboy during Birthday Week, I neglected to get to the fifth trade paperback in the series, The Conqueror Worm. Which is weird, because my goodreads profile tells me that I did read it back then! When I had first got into Hellboy, this was as far as the series went, and I had wanted to relive the early 2000s with my birthday feature, but never mind – let’s correct this oversight now, in fact let’s do so twice!

Firstly, let’s talk about the comic. Back at the start of 1939, the Nazis had attempted to commune with the elder beings floating around in space, sending up a dead body for one of these monstrosities to inhabit, but the plan failed before they could recall the rocket. Well, the rocket has been spotted in 2000 and the BPRD are dispatched to investigate! Hellboy and Roger are led to Hunte Castle in Austria by a local police officer, who later turns out to be Inger von Klempt, granddaughter of Hermann von Klempt, the Nazi scientist who led the experiment in 1939. Lobster Johnson, something of a Captain America figure from the WW2-era, and believed dead when the original Nazi plot was disrupted, reappears and teams up with Roger to destroy the castle’s power generators, while Hellboy is initially tortured by von Klempt and his cybernetic Kriegaffe (war ape).

The rocket lands and a gas comes out, transforming everybody present into frog creatures. Inger has been protected against it to some extent, but when the Conqueror Worm itself emerges from the capsule and begins to devour the transformed mutants, she asks her grandfather how he could possibly hope to control the beast. Hermann tells her, after the failure of so many projects to bring about Nazi domination, he just wants to watch the death of the world as the Conqueror Worm will awaken the Ogdru Jahad. Roger is able to kill Hermann, and Lobster Johnson then uses a lightning rod to attract a massive jolt of electricity to kill the Worm. After his experiences with the BPRD, Hellboy decides to quit, and travel to Africa.

In an epilogue, Rasputin’s ghost is taunted by Hecate, who herself is inhabiting the body of Ilsa Haupstein still contained within the iron maiden. Rasputin’s plans to release the Ogdru Jahad will forever come to nothing, as the only force capable of releasing them is Hellboy’s stone right hand. Rasputin screams in defiance, to the point where his spirit shatters; Baba Yaga collects a fragment to wear in an acorn around her neck.

The book is quite glorious, I have to say. Some of the panels have such a gothic imagery that it really speaks to the search through the lower depths of Hunte Castle, and the sense of foreboding and dread as if the gargoyles are watching Hellboy’s progress. There’s something of a 90s feel to some of the panels, as the Conqueror Worm goes about his business – a lot of the colours and shading brings to mind the Dark Empire series, for me. The story is just exactly what I think of when I think of Hellboy – crazy Nazi scientists with their doomsday plots, it’s all delightfully over the top. The epilogue though, is really quite eerie – there’s a sense of the evil puppet masters, behind the scenes going over their plots, and so on. I especially liked the addition of Baba Yaga at the end, as well.

All in all, very creepy, and exactly what I like in a Hellboy story!

Secondly, I played with the Conqueror Worm expansion for the first time not too long ago, and I was really quite impressed! For years, despite having the graphic novels, Hellboy to me was Big Red going up against the Nazis and their Project Ragna Rok, thanks to the movie portrayal. While the frog monsters make sense within the board game universe, it’s still really quite special when you get more into this side of the Hellboy universe. The expansion features five types of Nazis, plus the eponymous Worm himself, as well as new scenery and rooms, and the associated card decks, along with two new playable agents: Lobster Johnson and Roger.

I’ve played The Cold Shoulder scenario, and I found it to be really thematic for this particular storyline. I’ve talked about it before, but there are very few “big” stories within the Hellboy comics – for the most part, two parters are as long as things get. So it’s nice to see a big story like Conqueror Worm get the big expansion treatment here. The game starts out with the agents exploring the hallways of the castle until they come across a point of interest, which (spoiler alert) reveals the laboratory where the Nazis are containing the Worm itself. With this tile placed, the Confrontation begins, and in order to win you’ll need to place charges in specific rooms and blow the castle up. While the Worm only has a move characteristic of 1, that miniature is huge, and it’s really quite frightening to see it coming across the board at you! As it happens, I somehow managed to block it in a chokepoint with a piece of terrain, not sure if that was played correctly, but it did slow it down enough that I was then able to move through and place the remaining charges to rig the castle, and get out before it all went boom. Poor Lobster Johnson did actually almost give his life for the cause, though I was able to heal him enough before the final showdown so that we all made it through!

This was my first game with three agents, and I think it definitely helped, as I was able to do a lot on my turns, and the game overall felt like it went much faster for having those increased options. Of course, I’m not sure if I’d always want to do that because the game does scale up for more agents being on the board, but still, it was a lot of fun, and I thought this was perhaps the first time when I felt like the game was a real co-op experience.

The Hellboy board game is truly shaping up to be one of my favourites here, and in recent weeks I think I’ve now doubled the number of plays with it. I think it helps that we’re in that season when it’s good to hunker down with a game, and despite all of my rantings and ravings about Kickstarter games here on the blog, there is something quite exciting about opening up a massive box that is choc-full of trays and trays of miniatures. The Hellboy theme is just the icing on the cake, really!

I do have Hellboy volume 6, and I think I may have investigated one of the stories in there, but I’m soon going to be in uncharted territories with the comic book series. I’m hoping to increase the library there soon, branching out into the BPRD series as well, to see what that’s all about. As for the board game, I definitely want to see more of the BPRD Archives expansion, and start putting together my own case files, as well as trying out more from the core set. The only thing that kinda gives me pause on that is just the sheer amount of frogs… Having all of the Kickstarter goodness does make me feel like mixing things up with some of those other miniatures for some variety, you know? There are suggested rules for that, as well, so I’ll have to take a look into the wider game and see just how I can bring that about. I have clearly been spoiled…!

Hellboy Musings

It’s been more than two years since I took delivery of that big box full of evil goodness, and in that time, I’ve managed to play it a grand total of just four times. Four times! It’s shocking, even though I have moved house and had two children in that time! I honestly don’t know why I’ve not wanted to get it to the table, either, as it is a really nice dungeon crawler. It reminds me of Descent in many ways, but with a much more unique theme than the fairly generic (by comparison) fantasy realm of Terrinoth.

The box is huge though, being a Kickstarter game and all, full of miniatures that basically make up two fairly substantial expansions, plus a few smaller ones, as well as the main base game. It can be quite off-putting, and it has got me thinking about either splitting the box up, so that it’s much more clear what I’m looking for, or else making a list (who doesn’t love a list?) of everything and where it belongs. It never ceases to amaze me, when I look at this game, just what precisely is the actual base game.

I’ve played the tutorial three times now, as well as one of the “proper” case files once. The tutorial game is a bit drab by comparison to the main game, as I think a lot of other commentators have said. When I played the game last week, I did veer away from the tutorial and found it to be a bit better. You’re still going up against an incessant number of frogs though, which does get a bit boring… I think if you had the retail core set and played this tutorial, without any of the additional bits and bobs, I could well imagine a lot of people might feel this is hardly a game worth keeping.

Once you get past the tutorial game, of course, things can be pretty exciting. There is some level of customisation available through the Requisition cards, something that is almost tucked into the back of the rule book, but which does give a bit more to the game. In a two-player game, you get 8 points to spread around among the agents, from extra equipment to backup agents. The main thing, though, is getting to play with more of those wonderful minis that are weighing the box down so much!

Rasputin is of course a classic Hellboy villain, especially after his appearance in the film, and it was great to play against him in my one and only game outside of the tutorial game. But looking through the Kickstarter bits and pieces, and trying to get a sense of what it all is in there, and I’m particularly intrigued by the idea of the Unexpected Threats. This mechanic allows you to include up to three random enemies in the deck of doom – so you have the chance to come up against Ilsa Haupstein or Karl Ruprecht Kroenen, which again is rather magnificent to see! The scenarios are mainly geared towards that final Big Boss confrontation, while the comics do have a lot of small threats because so many of them are short stories.

The Kickstarter box comes full of stuff that supports the BPRD Archives expansion, a way to allow for near-infinite replayability to the game. The main Archives expansion comes with a series of generic case file cards, split into seven types, which are put together to create a custom scenario to play. So it’s a bit like a guided custom thing, if that makes sense. There are cards which determine the setup, the minions, and so on, providing random twists as we go much like the main case files. I think it’s really cool to see the expansions building on this, though, and giving yet more cards to feed into this custom generator. I’ve not really dabbled much at all with the expansion yet, mainly just looking through it all to see what’s in there. But there is something of the random nature of the Hellboy comics that comes through here, with the support to allow for games against random witches and swarms of bats.

With the additional amount of Kickstarter content, though, the possible case files become kinda ridiculous in their scope, and it really feels like an endless array of stuff that you’ve got to enjoy. I think this is an expansion that I can see being one of the go-to sets in the future, where I just fancy a bit of a random game involving all manner of weird stuff. I mean, while it seems meant to be completely random, there’s nothing to stop you from pre-selecting a couple from each deck, and then making the final selection random, to help give a bit more theme. Or perhaps pre-selecting the final confrontation, and the journey there will be a bit more random? The scope is fairly huge, really!

I’ve not made a tremendous amount of in-roads with the Box Full of Evil, either, but that thing is also choc-full of miniatures! It contains two expansions, plus additional bits and pieces from the original Kickstarter, such as the Oni and the Floating Heads. The sheer amount of options for this game is staggering, to say the least, and it’s going to take a long time to work through things! I suppose that’s part of the issue, of course, because the game has almost been designed for built-in replayability, with a myriad of monsters and such that make no two games exactly the same. It does this almost at the expense of any kind of campaign system, but then the comics don’t really tell a linear story.

But then, as I’ve said before, I kinda like the fact that this is a game that you can set up and play, without worrying about any bookkeeping. It’s nice to have the RPG feel of a campaign brought into some games, for sure – but some games are just nice to pick up and play, you know? And Hellboy is definitely one such game, designed for straightforward fun with next to no fuss. The co-op aspect is fantastic too, and the fact you can decide on the order of each agent’s actions, rather than each agent taking their whole turn at once, is a fantastic way to keep the whole group involved. I’ve read a few reviews where people recommend three agents at a minimum, and I can definitely see me trying this at my next game; two seems much more all-or-nothing, somehow. Certainly, in my last game we had our asses handed to us by the Giant Frog Monster!

That’s for sure part of the appeal of this game, however. It feels like it’s straight out of the comics, where Hellboy is routinely thrown into a brick wall by a wayward tentacle (gonna be sore in the mornin’!) but nobody is an absolute pushover if the team works together. It’s definitely one that I want to play more often, so hopefully I’ll be talking again about the game before we see the end of 2021!

Hellboy: The Board Game

Hellboy the board game

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.

Hellboy the board game

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.

Hellboy the board game

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.

Hellboy the board game

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.

Hellboy the board game

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!

Hellboy the board game

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!

Hellboy the board game

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!!