Sunday, 28 July 2019

Resident Evil 2: The Board Game. Preliminary Review & Solo Campaign 1A: Getting to the Police Department

As mentioned in the previous article, Games & Tea will largely be focusing on board games with a single player option for the time being, starting with Steamforged Games' Resident Evil 2: The Board Game.

Just like the original videogame, Resident Evil 2 drops the players into Raccoon City; the epicentre of a zombie outbreak.  And, just like the videogame, Resident Evil 2 is a game of survival horror.  Unlike some other zombie board games such as Zombicide, which reward players for going on a zombie-killing rampage, Resident Evil 2 will mercilessly punish reckless players, and leave you asking yourself "Can I really spare the bullet to take down the next zombie, or should I take my chance and just run past?"  The one and only goal in this game is to make it out of the city in one piece, and before the outbreak becomes inescapable.

Nice little nod to the videogame as soon as you open the box.

Rather than the simple box contents and gameplay format our reviews would typically take, this time we're recording a campaign run.  With the board consisting of modular tiles, the Campaign Book included with Resident Evil 2 allows you to choose between a number of different scenarios of increasing difficulty, each of which can be played as a standalone game session.  However, for those feeling a little adventurous and wanting something they can really get their undead teeth into, there is the option (and additional rules) to play them sequentially as a campaign.  For this purpose, the back of the Campaign Book does include a blank campaign sheet, which it's recommended to photocopy a handful when the opportunity presents itself.

If the photocopier at work is monitored with a login, try and con Kevin from accounting into copying some of these for you.  Everyone hates that guy anyway.

At the start of each scenario, the board needs to be put together using the modular tiles and following the map printed on that scenario's page in the Campaign Book.  As well as the board layout, this will also include the starting positions for the players, for all starting enemies, and any items, doors or terrain features.  Our campaign series will be using some of the Kickstarter exclusive upgrades to replace the terrain tokens with plastic models, however the rules and gameplay are the same as the retail version.  If the opportunity comes up to get your hands on the 3D upgrades however, it's highly recommended to take them.  As well as simply adding to the immersion of the game, the printing on the cardboard tokens is very dark at times, and can be a struggle to make out.

Once the board is assembled and ready to go, you should have something like this!  Next, you'll need you character card, a player board and health tracker token, and your starting equipment...

This campaign will actually be primarily following Leon, which is why I wanted to show some Claire love here!
Finally, the decks need to be prepared and then you're ready to go.  First of all, there's the Tension Deck...

At the end of each player's turn, a card from the Tension Deck will be drawn and resolved, with green cards having no effect, yellows presenting mild danger, and red being a high threat.  The makeup of the Tension Deck is outlined on the scenario page in the Campaign Book, but the deck should usually consist mainly of green cards.

Then there are the Item Decks.  Again, these are outlined on the scenario page, and are broken down into Item Deck A and Item Deck B, each of which can only be accessed by getting to a square with a corresponding token.  Deck B tends to feature the more powerful - or scenario-critical items - but the tokens tend to be in more hazardous to reach areas.

And without further ado, it's time to get this campaign started!

"The characters have arrived in Raccoon City, only to find it overrun!  With the streets no longer safe, they must make their way to the Raccoon City Police Department, which should be much more secure..."

During each player's turn, they are allowed to make up to 4 actions, choosing from move, open/close door, search, trade, use item, and attack, with no limits to the number of times they can utilise one type of action.  So players can either use a turn to sprint full-on towards the door, or could stand their ground and attempt to thin out an approaching hoard of zombies!

Seeing as Leon has started the scenario 2 spaces away from a zombie - and also for the purpose of explaining game mechanics - he's going to use his first action to attack.

Each weapon has different stats which are covered on the corresponding card.  Left to right, the first stat is the range - "LOS" indicating that if the enemy is in Leon's line of sight, he can shoot it.  Next is the number of attack dice to roll - the blue "1" indicating that one single blue die must be rolled.  The dice have impact and double-impact symbols on them, and the next two boxes show the results of those rolls.  The arrow under the single impact means the enemy would be pushed back one square, whereas the "1" under the double-impact means that one point of damage would be done to the enemy; enough to kill a basic zombie, but just a scratch to larger enemies.
The bottom of the card shows any special features of the weapon.  In this case the three bullet symbol indicates that the pistol is a rapid fire weapon, meaning that up to three bullets (and thus up to the three dice) can be used in a single action.

As I don't want to be too frivolous with my limited ammunition, I'm going to fire 2 shots at the zombie...

One single impact - the zombie has been pushed back, but is still on its feet...

...and now I've expended 2 rounds of handgun ammo, taking the count down from 15 rounds to 13.

After a second, single-shot attack which knocked the zombie back again, I moved Leon forward 2 spaces to complete his 4 actions, and ended the turn.  Now it's the zombies' turn!

After each player completes their actions, the zombies have a Reaction Phase.  During this phase, all enemies within range of a player will make an attack, and any which aren't within range will move towards the nearest player, as long as they're on the same tile or a connected tile.  This is where the importance of doors comes into effect.  If a door is closed, the two tiles are no longer connected, and enemies will stay where they are.  This can lead to some serious tactical decision making, over whether to spend a precious action taking the time to close the door behind you, or whether to leave it open and hope that you don't get (literally) bitten on the behind over the decision later on!

After the enemies have all made their actions, the final phase of the turn is to flip over and resolve a card from the top of the Tension Deck.  Fortunately as this is the tutorial scenario, 16 of the 18 cards in the deck are green (no effect), so at least I should be fi-

Never mind.
Well it could have been worse.  The red cards have the most serious effect.  This one simply means that if I'm on the same board tile at the end of the next turn, I'll draw 3 cards from the Tension Deck instead of just one, thus increasing my chance of hitting the dreaded red card.  Time to get out of here!

With ammo being scared, and 3 rounds already depleted, I decided to try and run past the zombie to get to the door!  But as anyone who's played the Resident Evil videogames will know, zombies are grabby creatures, and will not just idly stand by as you waltz past.  For those of you questioning the curved arrows on the attack dice from the previous shot, this is where they come into play.

Each player's character card includes the number of dice they must roll to evade.  If you attempt an action other than an attack while in a square with an enemy, you must pass an evade roll.  In this case, my action was to run past the zombie, so I needed to roll at least one arrow to get past.  Finally I struck lucky with my rolling and darted past the zombie with ease!  If I'd failed the roll however, the zombie would have had a free bite at Leon and I would have lost the action.

Dodging the zombie on my first attempt was a stroke of luck, as I had just enough actions to open the door and make it through before the end of the turn, negating the risk of the Echoes in the Darkness card.  I've had to leave the door wide open for now, but I can close it next turn to give myself some breathing space.

A couple of turns later and things are looking more promising!  No red tension card yet, and I've now obtained an ammo refill for the handgun!

After 11 increasingly tense turns (it turned out the dreaded red card was second from bottom of the Tension Deck!), Leon has made it through the streets of Raccoon City and through the front doors of the RCPD!  Along the way he managed to pick up the shotgun from Item Deck B - a much more powerful weapon which will hopefully come in handy in later scenarios.  It didn't come without cost, however, as an unlucky dice roll left Leon with an unfortunate zombie bite and one less health point.

As per the campaign rules, I was able to fully refill my handgun and add 3 extra rounds to the shotgun, but then had to discard the additional handgun ammo I'd picked up along the way.  Had I found a healing item I'd have been able to use that between scenarios, but as it stands I'll be heading into scenario 2A with a minor wound to take care of.

So tune in for the next scenario and see how Leon gets on within the walls of the RCPD!  As mentioned, this was the tutorial scenario, which made for quite plain sailing whilst also allowing a demonstration of the basic game mechanics.  There are additional mechanics which come into play in later scenarios, so we'll cover those as and when we reach them!

For now, I hope you enjoyed Leon's little stroll around the zombie infested streets of Raccoon City, and come back for the next scenario of Resident Evil 2: The S.T.A.R.S. Office.

On a parting note, one of Resident Evil 2's weak points is the box.  While the insert is great for keeping the miniatures and cards secure and in good order even if stored on its side, it doesn't really leave much room for the plethora of tokens included in the game (made even more of an issue if you get your hands on the 3D upgrades!).  As such, it's worth picking up a small hobby box - this one in particular was £3.99 from B&M, so shouldn't break the bank at all.  This way you can keep them all nicely organised and easy to get your hands on whatever the scenario requires.

So, breaking down the game and giving it an initial score based upon the first few scenarios (score to be updated when the campaign is complete):

The Good Points
  • Resident Evil 2: The Board Game definitely captures the aesthetic of the source material, with survival favoured over the action more frequently seen in this genre.
  • Solo mode is an option (huzzah!).
  • Campaign mode will appeal to hardcore gamers, while more casual gamers can enjoy the scenarios on an individual basis.
  • The mechanics are fairly straightforward, with the tutorial scenario easing players in nicely.
  • The components are generally of a high quality, as expected from Steamforged.
  • Mercifully short set up time, as long as the tokens have been pre-sorted.
The Bad Points
  • Some of the tokens are printed very darkly.  The double-sided doors are a prime example, with it being difficult to tell at a glance whether the door is open or closed.
  • The game may have limited appeal to those who aren't established fans, and therefore have no prior attachment to the characters and settings.
  • The price is a little steep for the core game.
  • A better box design to incorporate some token space would have been nice.
Recommended Number of Players: 2(?)
While this campaign will be putting the solo mode through its paces, many of the scenarios demand a minimum of 2 characters.  While up to four can be used (Leon, Claire, Ada Wong and Robert Kendo), the game does appear to be set up to favour 2 players.

Average Game Time: 90-120 minutes
The game length will vary depending upon the chosen scenario.  While it took me a while to get through the tutorial due to stopping for photos and typing, it probably should have only taken 15 minutes or so to get through.  The more complex scenarios later in the campaign, however, promise quite extensive play experiences, and the estimated time given by Steamforged themselves is 90-120 minutes.

Replayability: Medium
With a selection of different characters and scenarios, plus the random element provided by the tension deck, Resident Evil 2 should have a decent degree of replayability.  That said, there are only 8 scenarios in the core box including the tutorial, so a dedicated gaming group could probably exhaust them quite quickly.  The B-Files expansion offers more scenarios and the Survival Horror Expansion adds additional characters to give it a little more shelf life, but the core box alone runs the risk of fizzling out amongst a single group.

The Future: Bright
Resident Evil 2 launched with the aforementioned expansions already available, along with The Malformations of G (and The Malformations of G: B-Files), giving additional bosses to butt heads with.  All of this gives players the option of further fleshing out the core game once it starts to get a little stale.  In addition to this, there is also the possibility that Steamforged may push on in the wake of Resident Evil 2's popularity, and bring out titles connected to the other games in the series.  After all, who doesn't want to wander the creepy halls of the original mansion, or flee from the Nemesis through the zombie-ridden streets of Raccoon City?

Price: £65
Resident Evil 2 does carry quite a hefty price tag, and will set you back somewhere around the £65 mark.  While you may look at the above images and think you're getting a long of bang for your buck, it's worth remembering that these included all of the Kickstarter upgrades.  The core set includes 4 characters, 12 zombies, 4 dogs, 2 lickers and 2 William Birkin boss models, which doesn't feel like much for the asking price.

INITIAL SCORE: 7.5/10 (8.5/10 with Kickstarter upgrades)

Tea consumed during this review: Teapigs Darjeeling Earl Grey with a dash of milk and 2 sweeteners.  Brew rating 10/10.

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