Board Game Review

Failing to Kill the Dead (Resident Evil 2: The Boardgame)

This review is also available on the magnificent Zatu here!

Ever get nostalgic playing boardgames? Like a certain element, aspect or mechanic throws you back to your younger years when all was right in the world? Sadly, Resident Evil 2: The Boardgame by Steamforged Games won’t do that. It’ll throw you back to the fear of hiding behind the controller as the dead very, very slowly make their way to you, making questionable noises and groans. RE2: The Boardgame captures the memories of anyone who has played the video game classic and throws them back to that adrenaline filled adventure through the ruins of Raccoon City. Anyone who hasn’t will be immersed in the scenario-based story adventure set on the original’s events, and will very quickly see why anything Resident Evil rules the survival horror genre!

Solo or coop, you take on the roles of the classic heroes; Leon S Kennedy, Claire Redfield or Ada Wong (or you might draw the short straw and play as Robert Kendo). Each character has their own weapon specialisms and can only make use of a specific arsenal. There’s no use in greedily taking stock of everything if you can’t use it. The magnum will make you feel manly, but it’s not Claire’s forte. Even more so with the rarely found healing items. You may be saving them for a rainy day but if one of your co-survivors kicks the bucket it’s game over for everyone! Frustrating as it is for some, the main game is entirely coop. Banding together against the legion of undead abominations is the main focus, there is no hierarchy of top to bottom survivors; you need to communicate throughout, discussing your actions and planning ahead. The dead aren’t quick or overly dangerous on their own, but you can very quickly become outnumbered!

All players get a character card, set starting items, and begin in certain locations at the start of the scenario. The player card tells you the character’s weapon specialisms, special skill, storage capacity and it also tracks their health. Generally, you’ll start with a handgun and a knife, however as scenarios go on you may have picked up one or two more extra bits to add to your arsenal, which you’ll be keen to hold on to! The game is set up using the scenario book, with all the tiles matching that laid out within the diagram. Some scenarios use maps with multiple floors, some use lots of long narrow corridors.. it completely depends on where you’ve ended up on your journey!

Every turn, players are able to complete actions including movement, attacking and collecting/using items. Once their turn ends, enemies move towards the closest player they can access and then a tension deck card is drawn. You might be lucky and get an all clear… but Resident Evil isn’t big on luck. Run out of tension cards by having too many turns and it’s game over. Eventually a mechanic is added where players can use typewriters, yes the old classic, to “save” and restock the cards from the discard shuffled, however ink ribbons are rare!

Movement is key within the game and navigating through the predetermined levels set out in the scenarios is what will allow you to complete your objectives. More often than not, they are true to the original, however there are some obvious removals to ensure that the boardgame scenarios don’t last so long that the tension deck will definitely run out. Movement also allows for you to take the most sensible course of action when surrounded by enemies; flight. Fighting is a key element and is unavoidable at times, but choosing your battles is way more important! I had a shocking run in my second scenario and ended up locked in a room with two Cerberus (undead dogs). The man in me screamed “Yeah we can take them! One or two shotgun shells and boom, job done!”, whereas the common sense in me forced me to book it to the door and close it behind me. Luckily for me it was a case of open the door, leave, close the door, breathe. (Later on we had a similar situation, however with two of us in the room we felt more confident in our chances and got revenge for my earlier shame!)

Combat is unavoidable at times and ammo isn’t exactly common later on in the scenarios. There is also no guarantee that you will kill the enemy you shoot, like many Steamforged Games, the combat is dice roll based on a tier system; the stronger the weapon the higher the tier of the dice associated to it. Many enemies only need one shot on them to kill them, but rolling that double hit marker result isn’t guaranteed, and spending three turns missing or simply staggering the enemy can be infuriating. Fail to escape and you’ll inevitably have the opposition trying to nibble on your insides. Some enemy attacks are unavoidable and you’ll need to reduce your character’s health track, whereas some can be avoided. Luckily! The combat dice also have dodge results; the results are tiered and some enemies need the top dodge, whereas zombies will probably not. Anytime you are going to take avoidable damage, you roll dice according to your dodging capability. Dodging can mean avoiding all damage, but failing means taking a hit! What’s worth knowing is that all enemies attack the closest player. If you are going to get attacked by three enemies you’ll need to dodge each attack or end up as a sharing platter.

Once you’ve learned that ‘flight’ is available, you’ll find yourself getting through scenarios with far fewer combat headaches. But even then, running to leave 6 zombies in a room is fine until a card says all enemies move one room towards the players and you find yourself cornered by several very hungry, very rotten individuals. Should you take the fight choice, give yourself a bravery sticker, then choose your weapon! As previously mentioned, characters specialise in specific weapons. Using a weapon with ammo costs and reduces that weapon’s ammo dial by how ever many shots were fired (some weapons can be fired multiple times per action to increase your chances of success) and the dice used for the result is determined by the weapon. All gunfire is done on line of sight. Corners are frequent and numerous, meaning you’ll often need to reposition yourself before getting ready to shoot. Or, should you be really brave, you could use the knife! The knife is arguable your best friend in combat. Even if you aren’t going to kill the enemy with it, you might be able to knock them back a space and give yourself some time to think! Enemies that are defeated are removed from the board and are one less problem to think about, but you’re never truly safe!

Items are often the line between win and lose. Characters have a set number of spaces available for them to hold items on their character card, and these are generally healing items, ammo, weapons or keys. The classic feel rocks back up when you need to use herbs found throughout the scenarios to miraculously heal your arm back onto your shoulder! Some items aren’t always disposed of on the first use though. Much like the original, one key may open many doors, and the advantage to having the sky view of the game is that you can see where the key is needed. Also, being able to see the whole map lets you see the essential and non-essential items hidden amongst the bodies; red being essential and white being non-essential. The only thing is, the essential stuff is usually in a room 5 infested corridors away, and with 4 moves per turn, it’ll feel like an uphill struggle. And hiding inside the essential items are herbs, first aid meds and other single use items that you’ll be great full for, but won’t help you progress the scenario.

Every scenario has its own win objectives that are laid out in the scenario book. You may need to have all players in a specific room, you may need a specific item in a certain place, or you may have a boss to defeat. It follows the original story as much as it can for the A Side game, but sadly for the B Side you need that expansion. However saying that, the core game is more than enough fun for 1-4 players who either need the nostalgia trip, or those who like the tactical, survival element of the game! The tension deck is set for each scenario, but the order of the cards is random, and as scenarios go on more tension deck cards are used.

The biggest benefit to the boardgame over the original is that all those moments of running blind with dodgy camera angles hindering your every move are gone. You’ll no longer need to creep three pixels lefts before being able to see the monstrous beasts chasing you. Old school Resident Evil is known for shocking camera angles and it became somewhat of an inside joke amongst players. Now, the boardgame allows you to see way ahead of you; every obstacle, item.. basically the entire scenario. Some people are going to see this as a downside, however seeing what’s ahead does not remove the fun! Though enemies are set at the start of a scenario, a wide variety of enemies can and do turn up throughout the game; the tension cards drawn can be unforgiving and may be what kill you! Also, knowing what you left behind can be twice as frightening as the unknown… Running from a Licker or two but needing to go back that way means you’re going to have to face them, and you’ll probably be far less prepared from the journey!! The actual downside to the boardgame? It cannot be mastered. The video game is something you can learn, remember and master. The boardgame does not allow for this, which I personally believe gives it the edge! I’d play the video game endlessly but eventually find it easy, remembering every secret location and enemy start point… No way I’d ever edge my bets on the boardgame; something will always rock up to bite you on the bottom (often literally!).

The visuals of the boardgame are of a very high standard. The zombies look like they’re decaying (in the best way possible), the other enemies look equally as horrifying, the tiles look dark and dangerous, and the item cards look pretty damn gorgeous too. Any eager or talented artist or miniature painter could easily up the visuals further and add the gory details to the miniatures to make the game that extra bit more absorbing! The only qualm anyone would have is the difficulty identifying the elements on the game tiles, however the theming of these is on point. Red lines are for player’s benefits, everything else is aesthetic!

Much like a hardcore Resident Evil fan trying to get a nostalgia trip, you’ll find yourself coming back to this game time and again. There’s no escaping it! And once you do finish the game, you have the expansions to claim! The B-Files expansion is where you’ll face the terrifying and relentless pursuit of Mr X, and the Survival Horror expansion allows players take on the other survivors of Raccoon City and try to complete their own selfish goals in a far more competitive manner! Communication is key. It cannot be overstated how important it is to ensure everyone knows what everyone else is going to do! Whether you decide to delegate zombie management and item retrieval, or move as a pack, you’ll need to talk. It only takes one person to not have a weapon or healing items for the group to be in disarray. There is literally no time to be disengaged from this game. Every player’s turn affects the state of play, regardless to how minor their actions. Leaving doors open will make enemies begin moving, and failing to notice your own or someone else’s lack of ammo will leave the entire group stuck and struggling! That’s not to say the team can’t take a break or stop to discuss the matters at hand, but everyone needs to contribute, everyone needs to survive. The moment you take you eye off the ball, you’re zombie chow!

This boardgame is a beautiful homage to Resident Evil’s classic survival horror feel. Whether you’re a fan of Resident Evil or not, if you’re fond of horror or tactical scenario based adventures, this may very well be for you! For some of us, the main element of this game is nostalgia. Regardless to the survival horror elements, the one thing you’ll feel if you’ve played the original is nostalgia. Now, don’t get me wrong, playing the original on PlayStation classic is more a good laugh than anything now, and the Remake is tremendously more scary and intense, but this boardgame is a beautiful reflection of the original’s character and charm and it takes us back to our survival horror roots. Despite the unfortunate timings of both boardgame and remake’s releases, to compare it to the remake would be unkind, unfair and wouldn’t do the game justice as it is a reflection of the original’s atmosphere and tension. Half of the enjoyment of this is the winning and succeeding, but any true survival horror fan knows that the fear, paranoia and horror is the other half. We’re an odd breed, but we adore that panic; it’s probably the reason we’re likely to replay the game late at night with the volume high, lights off and nobody else home!