Friday, October 5, 2007

Doom: The Boardgame (Review)

Last night I started feeling an itch to play "Doom: The Board Game" again. If you haven't played this game, but enjoy "questing" boardgames, then you might really like it. Fantasy Flight Games released this gem about two years before "Descent" and used the same game mechanics, although in an unpolished form.

One player controls all the aliens that appear on the board and one or more other players control individual marines. The game story is set on the planet Mars, where scientists have been studying a dimensional doorway they've discovered. But, as these things typically do, everything goes wrong. The dimensional rift is opened and evil creatures invade our dimension, killing everything they see. Like all Fantasy Flight games, the board pieces, tiles, tokens, and figures are wonderfully detailed and help create the atmosphere of dark action and alien horror intended for players to enjoy.

At a game convention I attended over a year ago, I overheard someone refer to this game as "broken". I'd been playing the game for at least a year and knew a little of what he was referring to first-hand.

The question of "balance" in games like these seems to come up often, I think, because everyone has a different idea of what makes a "balanced" game. Personally, I enjoy playing the bad guy with the game weighted somewhat in the good guy's favor. It feels like GMing and there's no pressure for me to compete with anyone. But many like a perfectly even chance to win no matter what role they play in a "questing" game.

The game makes an effort to self-balance by changing the number of monsters that appear depending on how many marines are in each game.

Since I've only played this game with one other player, I can't speak to the balance of the game with multiple marines in play. But I can say that I've removed a couple skill cards that, when used in a one-player game, make it ridiculously easy for the marine to win. (Primary example being the "Recon" card, which allows marines to move through enemy figures and obstacles. If you don't have to help anyone else traveling with you, this card allows you to simply "run" through the entire mission with little to no combat. Not a fun way to play.)

Fantasy Flight Games released an expansion pack for the game that fixes a few of the balance issues and gives some optional rules to help you adjust the balance to suit your playing style. The great thing here is that the new expansion set rules are available to download for free in PDF form at the FFG website. So if you have the basic game and don't want to buy the expansion pack, you can still get the rule "fixes" for free at the website.

Although it seems clear that FFG worked all the bugs out when they modified the same mechanics of this game for use in "Descent", this game is still a lot of fun to play and scratches the "sci-fi/action" itch that this typically fantasy themed type of board game normally doesn't.

In terms of Relevance, this game is way off the mark theologically, depending on how you look at it. The creatures you are fighting come from another dimension that feels like the traditional description of "Hell". Some of the monsters also bear a resemblance to folklore renditions of demons. Of course, tradition and folklore, even CHRISTIAN tradition and folklore, often leave the Bible out of the loop when it comes to demons and hell. We have no reason to believe that demons look anything like the creatures in this game. Additionally, the creatures are all said to be from another dimension and the hellish theme seems to represent a "shorthand" description that the characters in the game developed to describe creatures and things far outside the norm.

So if the Hell theme is troublesome to you, it need not be. After all, if these were real demons, a shotgun wouldn't do much, would it? Secondly, playing this game may open up opportunities to discuss the true nature of the spiritual world as described in the Bible.

If you see a copy for a price you're willing to pay, I'd recommend picking it up. Most of its flaws are fixable with a little extra time on your part, and your gamer buddies will dig the action and atmosphere that this game delivers.

Quality: 8.5/10
Relevance: 7.0/10

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