Designed by: Jonathan Ying
Published by: Fantasy Flight Games
Playtime: 120-180 Minutes
Review copy supplied free of charge by Esdevium Games.
Y‘know, when you think of vidoegames that could be easily adapted to the medium of boardgames DOOM is not one that springs to mind immediately, and yet somehow this is actually the second attempt at translating the carnage of DOOM into cardboard. Weirder, still, it’s actually pretty damn good.
I admit that one thing that annoys me about Fantasy Flight Games is that their products often look too similar due to the fact that they tend to reuse a lot of stuff in the manufacturing process in order to save money. However, what isn’t debatable is that they do put out quality components and DOOM is no exception with a small mountain of beautifully detailed miniatures packed into the box, the star piece being the towering cyber demon who simply dwarfs everything else. The only real complaint I have with the game’s presentation is that the back of the cards are a bit of a jumbled mess and not the most recognizable. Oh, and you get the usual cardboard insert that Fantasy Flight makes, which is to say utterly useless.
But they do get the rulebook right, once again employing their now standard system of having three books: one for the simply getting you play as soon as possible, one containing the various missions and another one which acts as a rule reference so you can find out any smaller details that the basic rulebook missed. They’re easy to read, reasonably well laid out and make getting play hassle free. Good stuff.
This is a game for up to five people, up to four of whom take on the role of classic DOOM marines while one person, known as the Invader, gets to control the forces of hell. The marines need to complete a simple mission like rescuing daft people who have gotten themselves in trouble or seizing intel while the demons just need to gather enough frag tokens by murdering the marines repeatedly via overwhelming numbers and plentiful fireballs. To be blunt mission design is not the game’s strong point, but it’s hard to care when it so brilliantly replicates the frenetic mayhem of the videogame.
To get going you simply pick from one of twelve operations included in the base game which will list a bunch of double-sided terrain tiles you need to snap together, a system which FFG has used many times in the past to good effect. Once the board is seeded with tokens and initial monsters it’s time to get the players sorted out. Whoever has opted to be the king or queen of hell gets to pick one of four cards which dictate when they get to spawn new minions from the portal tokens, with each color of portal giving them a choice of two groups. They also create an event deck by picking three sets of cards to shuffle together. The operations book provides helpful suggestions on what it things you should use, but you’re free to mix and match however you see fit.
As for the marines they get their respective player cards, a special class card which grants bonus abilities from the surprisingly thick deck, and then decide on their two starting weapons which will be used to form their action deck. More on that soon.
You also need to create the initiative deck by taking one demon card for each enemy type on the board (this step gets repeated at the beginning of every new round) and one marine card for each marine player and then shuffle them together. This deck is how play order is determined and is central to the game’s feel; sometimes the demons and marines will trade turns back and forth, while other times the demonic forces might get to unleash all their might before the marines can even run away. It’s a system that instantly stomps on your plans with a savage, metal boot and tells you to make it all up on the fly, just like the videogame. Of course, the downside is that an unlucky player might find themselves getting completely decimated in a single round without getting a chance to fight back or run away. Still, generally, it manages to balance itself out.
So let’s talk about the actual gameplay, starting with the marines. There’s no set actions or movement amount here, instead, everything you can do on your turn is determined by a hand of cards drawn from an action deck. At the beginning of the game you’ll pick two weapons from the basic ones on offer and then use their matching cards, along with four standard cards that all marines get, to form your starting action deck. If you pick up new weapons along the way those cards are shuffled and then added to the top of your deck, immediately readying them for the following turns. In this sense there’s a touch of deck-building going on. If you opt to stock up on so many weapons that airport security might actually manage to finally catch a threat you’ll have more options open to you, but at the cost of having a bigger pile of cards to cycle through. With that said the big weapons are worth chasing. Who doesn’t want a chainsaw? Or the freaking awesome BFG? These power weapons can really turn the tide, so I’d advocate carrying enough weaponary to make the American military feel inferior.
So how do these cards work? Well, during your turn you’ll have a hand of three of these cards (four if there is just two marines) and you can play them to move and to attack, with each card listing a movement value, weapon range and the dice you get to roll when shooting/slashing/blowing things up. You can play one “main action” card per turn, plus any number that have the secondary action logo. There are also reaction cards which are played whenever certain things occur, such as the basic armour card that can be used during an enemy attack to block some damage. Perhaps most importantly is that movement points can be divided up and spent at any time, so you can merrily jog backwards and then unleash a hail of bullets before side-stepping behind cover.
What this system creates is a more frantic pace that mimics the videogame where you’re very rarely static. For people who love to strategise it’s likely going to be infuriating because one turn you might be bristling with weapons that can devastate a horde of demons and the next you might be really needing some defensive options and have none in your hand because of a bad draw, but to me it’s a fun mechanic that stops you from ever developing the “best” way to deal with things and instead makes you use what you have at hand.
The downside to this is that the game is arguably quite shallow. You don’t need to think very hard to work out how to use the few cards you have access to, and planning for the future isn’t exactly encouraged most of the time through the mechanics. However, this is also DOOM’s greatest strength; it isn’t huge and complex, it’s simple and fun instead. Perhaps that’s why FFG didn’t opt to include a lengthy campaign despite the game closely resembling Imperial Assault, because this is much better enjoyed by getting together and playing a mission every now and then rather than investing a huge chunk of your life. Instead, we get two vague campaigns with zero story or anything really linking them together.
When it comes to attacking a demon it’s pretty simple stuff; you check it’s in range and that nothing is blocking your line of sight by tracing two lines from your square to the target’s, and then roll whatever dice are listed on the card you played in order see how much damage you do. Cover plays a role here as you can hunker down behind walls and pop off shots while being safe from return fire, unless of course the enemy just moves. In such a mobile game where many cards let you shift around at will the cover system feels a little redundant at times.
The demon player then gets an opportunity to defend by flipping over the top card of their event deck and subtracting any shields shown in the corner from the damage total. Special abilities and event cards can also be used to reduce damage further. Finally, provided the attacking marine didn’t manage to outright kill the demon, damage tokens need to be tossed onto the board beside the targeted enemy in order to keep track of their health, which can become a bit problematic when you’ve got a pile of miniatures vying for space on the quite small boards.
But that’s not all because a major part of the videogame is Glory Kills, savage insta-kill moves that can be activated on staggered foes in order to regain some health. The boardgame replicates this awesomeness by giving enemies a stagger state when they take a certain amount of damage, at which point a marine can move into their space in order to finish them off and draw a Glory Kill card. Aside from restoring a couple of health points the cards themselves provide extra bonuses. Just like the videogame chaining a bunch of glory kills together is satisfying and fun. It also has the benefit of keeping the pace quick. They encourage you to be wonderfully reckless by charging in and kicking ass before immediately regretting your life decisions because you’re now surrounded.
Of course being dice and card based the combat can be rather swingy, a few bad rolls or cards leaving you cursing whatever Gods happen to be nearby with no way to effectively counter or mitigate the damage.
Eventually, then, you’re going to get fragged, the much more awesome way of saying brutally murdered in the face. When a marine is fragged the Invader gets a frag token that counts toward their victory, and then the dead marine gets to respawn at any teleporter on the board with their health restored. These teleporters can be turned on by marine players, too, creating sort of save points. Yet another point for theme.
Alright, so what about the Invader? Well, whenever a demon initiative card shows up he or she gets to pick one of their demon cards in order to activate every single matching miniature on the board, which can potentially be quite a lot. Unlike the marine players the forces of hell don’t have to play cards in order to attack, rather they have default movement points to spend and attack dice to roll, along with special powers. If the marines are all about raw individual power then the demons are all about overwhelming force.
There are also the event cards, of which the demon player has six to choose from initially with his or hand getting replenished at the end of the round. These provide even more benefits to the Invader like extra ways to stun a marine or raising the stagger level of all demons on the board, and brings a level of hand management to the demon player’s game to match that of the marine’s.
On top of that there’s Argent Energy to consider, special tokens the Invader gets when summoning up reinforcements. These tokens get placed on any of the demon cards and are spent to activate special skills, like Pinky’s ability to absorb two points of damage. Aside from getting them when summoning new demons to the board you can also trade in up to three event cards per round, generating an Argent Energy token for each one.
And boy does the Invader need options. A lot of effort has gone into balancing the game even if there are less than four marines, with cards boasting powerful effects being handed out. For example, if there are just two marines on the board each will get a card boosting their health by two, increasing their hand limit to four and letting them play two main action cards per turn which massively increases the damage they can do. In contrast as the Invader I often felt like I on the back foot, my demon hordes seeming to be mere cannon fodder. This is true to the videogame where the player gets to rip through enough body parts to make even a horror movie fanatic wince, but in the boardgame it just led to the marines feeling as though they had the edge. Some small adjustments to the number of frag tokens needed for the Invader to win can counter that, however, and during missions where there’s a time limit the Invader stands a far better chance as all they have to do is hold the marines up for a while.
Once you mix everything together you get a lovely, chaotic soup full of body parts, gore and croutons in the form of bullets, served up while thrash metal music plays in the background. In other words, it’s incredibly good fun…in small doses. I did find that as enjoyable as the mayhem is and as faithful as it is to the source material the shallowness of the gameplay combined with the actually quite long playtime of some missions makes it something I don’t want to play too much of in a single sitting. It’s best to play a mission at a time and leave it at that, I feel.
I think it’s also fair to say that the hefty dollop of luck involved might leave dissuade a lot of people, which is a shame because that luck is the game’s strength in many regards, helping to create that frantic feel that the videogame has. With that said it’s also fair to argue that while the videogame is chaotic and gory it’s also based mostly on the player’s skill and their reflexes. Here the initiative alone can play a huge role in who wins, and combat resolution largely comes down to the luck of the dice. Where player impact comes from is hand management and positioning on the board, but even then there are times when your input feels minimal, like you’re along for the ride and little more
By the end my lasting impression of DOOM: The Board Game is how well it manages to translate the manic, blood-thirsty nature of the digital game into cardboard and dice. The fact that the initiative system stops you from having a concrete plan wonderfully replicates the videogame version where you simply charge in like a lunatic and start pulling the trigger, while the way you can use movement points before and after attacks nicely mirrors the constant movement you experience in the videogame. Best of all marines and demons alike can have fun as they rend each other limb from limb, even if the balance does feel a bit off. It all adds up to something that fans of the videogame and just fans of boardgames, in general, can appreciate.