Fantasy Flight Games originally released Doom: The Board Game in 2004 to much praise. It was the birth of a flexible dungeon crawl system that evolved into Descent and later Imperial Assault. It’s 2016 and everything has come full circle. Doom is back baby and it’s arrived with a thundering boom of a BFG.
First things first, this beast of a box is absolutely gorgeous. Presentation is top notch and the miniatures are the sharpest FFG has ever produced. When you dash down the hallway and see that Tim Curry-esque Baron of Hell, your marine will wet their 28mm plastic fatigues.
The structure here is old hat. One player takes on the role of the Invader, playing puppet-master to the worst hell can muster. You draw event cards each round and play them at tactically appropriate times to influence outcomes and manipulate combat resolution.
One to four jabronis–yeah, all of my marines sound like the Rock– control a member of the Union Aerospace Corporation, pushing against the rising horde and dashing about the Mars base to accomplish scenario specific objectives. Action alternates with an interesting initiative system based on drawing cards from a deck to see who activates. This is nearly identical to the approach taken with the fantastic recent release Gorechosen, and it works wonderfully to create tension and unpredictability in an otherwise innocuous element of tactical miniatures games.
When Beelzebub and his fiery cohorts activate, the Invader player chooses a type of demon that is not yet exhausted. All of the figures of that type activate and may move about the board and fling balls of explosive death. Combat is dice based and more streamlined than FFG’s comparable offerings, consisting of only two colors of six-siders. Red dice are a little stingy with the burst symbols while black pile on the damage in heaps. That’s it. No additional markings or iconography. Roll and try to get bursts, maybe re-roll or influence the dice pool with an ability or card.
If you’re hit, you draw a card from your personal deck, referencing shield symbols in the top corner. These are subtracted from the total number of bursts on the dice and the difference is damage sustained. Again, fast and streamlined.
When you kill a marine, you earn a frag token which puts the Invader player another step towards victory. While the marines are focused on running around to collect samples and investigate, the Invader is all about stomping face and splattering ichor on the walls. They’re all about that Christmas spirit.
Marine activation, like David S. Pumpkins, is its own thing. This is where the game really kicks it into high gear and makes a name for itself. Each player has a personal deck of cards that dictate their possible actions. What’s so damn fantastic is that these cards are comprised of smaller sets linked to the weapons each marine possesses.
If you start with the super shotgun then you’re going to wreak havoc at short range. Trade out a shotty for a pulse rifle and you’ll pick up distance as well as stun effects. Run across a chainsaw while hurdling demon bodies out on the pitch? Bam, three new cards added to the top of your deck which let you absolutely rip through meat like a butcher on amphetamines. This sense of deck-building via scrounging up implements of carnage to influence your action economy is phenomenal.
The action set you draw each turn forms a slight tactical puzzle as you work to optimize the best moves and make use of your gear. It adds depth to the decision tree while utilizing intelligent design cues to enhance the first person shooter feel. The way weapons combine movement with powerful attacks and special abilities is a strong parallel to the recent release Adrenaline. Doom takes the edge by packing more drama into the design.
Let out a guttural “G-G-G-GLORY KILLLLL!!!” Seriously, do it. You’ll feel better.
Fine, but the first time you score a Glory Kill in Doom you won’t be able to resist the urge. When demons have suffered a number of wounds equal to their personal threshold, you can simply move onto their space to mimic the elegance of a high-octane finishing move. I can picture Negan dropping a shoulder and exclaiming “damn, that feels good”.
The inclusion of items that naturally lower that threshold (vroom vroom, Mr. chainsaw) meld thematically to capture that elusive FPS feel. Listen, 2004’s cardboard version of Doom was great and of huge historical importance. But it never really embodied that twitch jacked up feeling of slamming WASD while trying to peer over your wall of Mountain Dew cans. 2016’s Doom hits that mark and wears out the letters on the keyboard.
If there’s a bug or two in this release it has to be that the system for the Demon player isn’t as drastically innovative. There are small and subtle tweaks that make playing the role enjoyable, such as modular sets of cards and varied spawning systems linked to scenario, but the tricks are mild and tame compared to the fantastic marine play. When comparing to recent overlord accomplishments in both Conan and TMNT: Shadows of the Past, Doom struggles just a tad.
It’s also an incredibly long game, taking two plus hours on average. The turn-to-turn pace is fast and frenetic, but it can be hard to maintain that edge for such a long period of time. The power curve in the scenario design is handled expertly, however, as those precious new cards are doled out at just the right speed.
What matters most is that when you teleport into the action and start letting loose with double-barrels, everything else fades away. You push through your deck looking for that grenade or rocket launcher card to blow the living hell out of Satan’s spawn. It’s visceral like you read about and you can’t help but want to hit the bloody pavement again and again.
Have you played the previous version of Doom: The Board Game? Interested in trying out this new one? Let us know in the comments below!
In addition to Geek & Sundry, Charlie Theel writes for Miniature Market’s The Review Corner and co-hosts the gaming podcast Ding & Dent. You can find him on twitter @CharlieTheel
Images courtesy of Fantasy Flight Games