Review: DOOM: The Board Game

I buy a fair amount of board games, and all of them are meticulously researched beforehand. Reviews read, videos viewed, forums frequented. I like to know exactly what I’m getting before I fork over my hard-earned Nelsons.

Not this time. The most expensive game I own is also the only one I’ve ever bought while knowing nothing about it. The only real info I had was a) it’s Doom, and b) holy crap would you look at those Cacodemon minis.

To properly field-test this entirely untested purchase, I called in fellow Doom-lover and hairless Ameritrash reprobate, Dane Remendes. Did my blind buy pay off? Find out after the jump.

Doom is a one-versus-many game, which means one person controls the demons as the invader and everyone else controls a marine. The marines generally have some kind of objective to fulfill, while the demons only care about one thing – killing the marines.

There was actually a Doom-themed board game released back in 2004 based off of Doom 3, while this new version is based on the 2016 Doom video game. This is clear in the art style and overall design of the game, but the differences go much deeper than that. This new Doom has a streamlined rule set, smoother combat and in general, less fiddly bits. It also has much, much better miniatures.

The setup can be a little overwhelming on your first outing. There are a ton of different card types and little cardboard chits that have to be arranged and separated, but after your first game everything will be a breeze. This is a game which you could easily teach to people who’ve never played a modern board game, while at the same time offering plenty of opportunity for strategy and good decision making.

The turns are pretty straightforward. Marines play cards from their hand which offer movement, special abilities and the ability to shoot things. Demons activate a single group of demons of the same type on their turns, of which they’ll usually have several. These demons have similar stats for movement and attacks, as well as special abilities. In addition, they have optional abilities which can be activated with Argent Power, which is limited and must be used carefully. These demons are complemented by the invader’s hand of cards, which offer various bonus abilities.

The combat is equally simple – the attacker rolls dice, the defender flips cards for defense. It all fits together neatly, and it feels so damn good. Dane could scarcely conceal his glee when I left all my Imps grouped together and he was sitting with his freshly-drawn rocket launcher.

A look at some of the marine action cards.

Marine players have the option of picking their weapons at the start of the game, along with one of many, many special abilities. The specific cards for these weapons form that player’s action deck. As more weapons are picked up from the map, the cards for the new weapon are shuffled and added to the top of the deck.

The demon player has even more variability, selecting how the demons are spawned, what demons are available and what sets of cards he/she wants in their action deck.

There’s a book of suggested scenarios that lay out suggestions for all of these things so you don’t have to, but you have the option to customise everything – the map, the weapons, the cards, the enemies, the objectives and the special abilities – which gives this game near-infinite replayability. You won’t be getting bored of this one.

It’s not short either. Each scenario will probably take somewhere between two to three hours, although with more familiarity a 90-minute game might be possible. Much like the video game, however, this never feels like a slog. It’s nonstop action from start to finish, and in the case of Dane and I, the outcome of the game came down to a razor’s edge finish that could have gone either way. It was 3am on a weeknight, we were exhausted, and both of us were grinning like loons.

The feel of the game captures the video game extremely well. The design philosophy of “push forward combat” comes through strongly, as marine players are rewarded for constantly getting into the fray and actively pursuing objectives. If you don’t keep the demon force in check, it will overwhelm you. This is emphasised by the inclusion of glory kills – demons can be staggered by certain damage thresholds and then torn apart at close range, which rewards the marine with a heal and a bonus ability card.

Glory killing a cyberdemon is an achievement-unlocked moment in itself.

Weapons all make thematic sense – the super shotgun can shoot two targets if they’re next to each other, the rocket launcher has splash damage and can salvo a single target for multiple shots and the BFG, well, the BFG tears the world in half. Theme oozes through every little detail in this game, and the gorgeous miniatures make everything that much more tactile and satisfying.

It’s a dice-chucking dungeon-crawler that perfectly captures the essence of Doom. The game supports two to five players, but what I loved about it is that, unlike other games of this type, if you have less than four marine players nobody has to control multiple characters. The game has special balancing in place to make it work at any player count. In the case of me versus Dane, he played one absurdly powerful ubermensch.

So in summary then, the game is stupid fun, highly variable and replayable, well-produced, well-balanced, strategic, dripping with theme and simple to learn and teach. If you’re a fan of the Doom franchise and have never dipped a toe into board gaming, this is a great place to start. It’s not cheap, but for what’s in the box it’s pretty reasonable.

Doom is in stock at Timeless Board Games at a cost of R1,650.

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