Whether you enjoyed the new Hellboy film or found yourself missing the magic of Guillermo del Toro, the style and vision of Mike Mignola’s seminal work have found their match in Hellboy: The Board Game. Courtesy of U.K. publisher Mantic teaming up with designers James M. Hewitt and Sophie Williams of Needy Cat Games, this is Hellboy as it was meant to be.
In this cooperative game, 1-4 players (yes, it plays solo quite well) embody members of the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense (BPRD). While Hellboy himself may be the main draw, the other protagonists each have interesting supernatural powers, such as pyro Liz Sherman or half-fish-man-weirdo Abe Sapien. The characters’ asymmetrical abilities and personalized equipment offer a high degree of atmosphere and crunch for you to dig into.
Following in step with the colorful cast is the collection of frog men perpetrating the sewers and ruins you will be investigating. There are different minions, each with various temperaments and effects, as well as a couple of large hulking beasts for you to pound, or maybe give you a pounding.
Quality is extremely high. Alongside The Walking Dead: All Out War, this is the best product Mantic Games has produced. The illustrations and graphic design are excellent and the miniatures are crisp. As a complete package, Hellboy: The Board Game will have fans giddy.
This is sort of a dungeon crawler with investigation elements, and it contains a strongly varied enemy pool including bosses with unique deck compositions and behavior. They’re utilized across six scenarios, each sealed in a plastic envelope to hide its secrets until you’re ready to launch into the paranormal noir.
The scenario structure is perhaps the most interesting bit of design space. You will work your way through oversized cards, setting up the room tiles and building the enemy set. As you progress, traps will be sprung and surprises will be had. Rooms are explored to reveal unsuspected contents and you will trigger specific cards based on conditions.
So, for instance, you may have a card in play that suggests you flip it once you’ve explored every room and cleared the board of enemies. What occurs afterward is a mystery. Some scenarios will branch and offer alternate paths. Yet another card will instruct you to flip it once the doom track reaches the sixth spot. Both could occur or even neither if another condition is met. The paths here don’t tend to be wild or extremely divergent, but they will often lead you to a boss fight through alternate vectors. The road you take may affect the difficulty of the encounter or offer additional weapons or knowledge to fight the monstrosity.
All of this is terribly exciting. It keeps you on your toes and ties the narrative into the actions of play. The downside is of course that the branches are finite. Upon replaying a scenario the edge of certain encounters will be worn a little. This is not a deal-breaker as stories remain enjoyable and varied due to a slew of tools such as unpredictable dice-based combat and randomized room contents. Still, this narrative trigger of events comes at a cost and you will enjoy a scenario most upon your first playthrough.
Some may also object to the light nature of the storytelling. While triggers are scripted, flavor text extends to a couple of sentences. Dialogue is non-existent and the designers did not take a heavy hand in exposition. Much of the story is left to you and your actions as you navigate the road.
The other quirk is that the game is so steeped in its own colorful existence that those unfamiliar with the content may feel a sense of detachment. Why is The Creature From the Black Lagoon working for the BPRD? What’s up with this red dude’s big fist? The game won’t help you.
Hellboy is realized in a way that is potent, which has the side-effect of possibly distancing those already distant. This won’t be a problem for most as the common themes of violent heroics are a staple in the comics genre, but it may cause a few to stumble or lack interest.
The care and attention to detail is vast. Beyond the excellent stories are dozens of flourishes and quirks waiting to be teased out of the maelstrom. Little touches such as literally throwing bad guys into each other to inflict boatloads of damage are extremely gratifying. The dice system is absolutely fantastic as you utilize weapons and resources to upgrade dice and boost the upper end of the odds spread. Manipulating character bits to maximize potential, such as Liz Sherman’s Inferno track, really ties the system to the intellectual property in a mesmerizing way.
Hellboy’s focus on investigation is also handled expertly. Most scenarios will have you racing the doom clock to collect clues through the various tiles. This is a small injection of detective work amid the more typical dungeon crawl revolving combat, but it’s compelling due to the reward cycle. Seeking out those clues is important as it weakens the final boss and will give you a fighting chance against a foe that is often incredibly strong.
All of this ties into the dramatic heart of this release. As an experience, it’s one of building excitement and constant atmosphere. You will bust through obstacles and set the house ablaze. You will load explosive ammo into your honkin’ revolver and chuck a harpoon into a frenzied toad’s face. 2019 may not be the year of Hellboy on the big screen, but it may just be the year of Hellboy on the table.
More Hellboy Goodness!
- Hellboy Creator Mike Mignola Reflects on All Eras of His Comics Career
- EXCLUSIVE REVEAL: Hellboy Celebrates His 25th Birthday with New Titles
- 5 Mike Mignola Heroes You Should Meet After Hellboy
Image Credits: Charlie Theel, Mantic Games
In addition to Geek & Sundry, Charlie Theel writes for Ars Technica, Tabletop Gaming, Player Elimination, and co-hosts the gaming podcast Ding & Dent. You can find him on Twitter @CharlieTheel.