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Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Doom: The Boardgame

As indicated by the earlier Apokalyptica posts, The Girl and I sat down with some serious time playing Fantasy Flight's Doom: The Boardgame. We made up to and almost halfway up to the last scenario that comes with the game in just about three days. This is a feat not, repeated, not recommended for childrend under the age of six. They are likely to just plain go insane from lack of sleep.

Playing a boardgame translation of a video game franchise is somewhat bizarre. It takes the Doom III rendition of designs and "story", which isn't the worse thing since that update did at least provide some interesting high poly concepts of the original sprites from the game. The production value is quite high. You can tell even from holding the box, which has a rough sheen to the outside and is heavy, pardon the pun, as hell. The plastic models are excellent recreations from the game, especially the impressively massive cyberdemon.

Setup can be a bit daunting. For one thing, plan on lots of table space. Each player is going to need some room to hold on to tokens, reference sheets and cards. The board itself is laid out in sections which jigsaw together. Twice we had to dismantle earlier portions of a map to accomodate the board on The Girl's very large dining table. Most of the pieces can be punched out and ready to go in quick order, although the stands for the doors have a little to be desired as they are so tight we used a butterknife to pry them in an effort to not rip the cardboard.

Once you have your pieces, it's time to comb through the rules. All players should take a couple of passes at the main rule set and then keep the manual handy. This is essentially strategy lite, but it's not without nuances. Even up to the end we found ourselves debating the ins and outs of various rulings.

The game plays out with one Invader player taking on the other Marine players. Marines have a variety of movement options which range from simply standing and unloading into enemies or sprinting across the room. The Invader gets a handful of cards which contains various events to throw at the players and also controls the monsters in the game. Two marines can take out nearly any single baddie without much trouble, but the Invader is encouraged to throw as much force as possible and pull out dirty tricks whenever possible. The game is essentially a war of attrition. Invaders are constantly wearing down the marines with attacks. During the first scenario, it took two of us about an hour to get through the first couple hallways.

Which is another point. Experienced players might be able to make it through a scenario in a couple of hours. For the everyone else, schedule plenty of time and pack a lunch.

Course the big question is ... is it fun?

The simple answer is ... hell yes. Sorry, I'll try to stop using the word hell. I think my favorite moment was when I was low on health, low on ammo and surrounded by an imp, archvile and a zombie. Not an ideal situation. But I had a decent amount of armor, so I simply dropped a grenade on my spot ... took a hit ... but blew the hell (sorry) out of everything around me. Doom's rules are fairly easy to follow but allow for a decent range of strategy. The combat is fairly relentless but never feels redundant. A marine can choose to cautiously move through a room and take slow aimed shots ... or rush headlong with a chainsaw. One strategy isn't always better than the other, it just depends on the situation.

The biggest problem with the game is that an inexperienced Invader can easily wipe out a team of inexperienced Marines. The Girl was playing The Invader and by book rules would have won about twelve times over. Ammo is a constant concern for marines, an issue so prevalent that even the designer of the game admits that giving ammo pickups with weapon pickups is a worthy "mod" (one thing about the videogame conversion is all the parlance that carries over ... fans will call house rules "mods" and errata updates "patches). Some of the Invader event cards are particularly cruel, especially when used all at once (cards can be played at anytime depending on their conditions). Take a Dud card, which removes one ammo token, Trap In someone (jams the door behind them), and then pop a Darkness card so they can't see as far ... and you likely have one dead marine.

A couple times one night I was just running around because I had no ammo and could find no ammo and didn't have much luck against the Hell Knight using my fist.

However, while this can produced some early frustration it's also still plenty of fun. As the marines master the rules a little better, they get a feel for how to survive and not constantly burn their ammo supply. An expansion pack is due out with new monsters, deathmatch rules, and new scenarios ... and we're kinda eyeing it. If you have a group of 3 or 4 people which might be into some tabletop fragging, you probably don't need to look much further than this game.

Some tips:

- Invaders should read the whole scenario they are about to play a couple of times, to get down any odd intracies like teleporters or key cards.

- Marines can use the Ready move, place an Aim order and immeadiately discard it for an unmoved aimed attack ... or as I started calling it "Ready, Aim, Fire". Aimed attacks allow for rerolls and are extremely handy for keeping that last ammo token around longer.

- Fists and chainsaws are far more useful than they might seem.

- Both the event cards and marine cards (which add character abilities) are best used in conjunction, so keep an eye out for where they complement each other.

- Sometimes it's better to soften up a dark room with some kind of incendiary device.

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