24 April 2017
We rip and tear our way into this hellish adaptation of the gloriously gory video game icon
In the pantheon of video games that get the blood pumping, Doom is probably right at the peak, dripping in blood and stood atop the piled corpses of its rivals.
The seminal first-person shooter series saw a resurgence of sorts last year, with its on-screen reboot garnering plaudits and prizes from critics and players alike for returning to the ‘90s original’s fast and furious gunplay. Now, Doom’s 2004 tabletop adaptation has similarly received a reimagined makeover – but can it live up to the praise of its virtual counterpart?
The best thing to say about Doom: The Board Game is that it feels like Doom: the video game. Casting aside Fantasy Flight’s recent fondness for replacing human antagonists with app-powered AI, one player controls the forces of hell as they invade Earth, while the remaining players are the heavily-armoured, heavily-armed super-soldiers that will shoot, blast and smash their way through the demons.
The core box comes with two operations made up of various missions with different objectives and environments, all of which feel distinct on their own (a plus if you only have time for a single scenario) but have enough light narrative attached to form a pleasingly cohesive campaign that suitably ramps up in intensity.
Driving the feeling of excitement are the invader’s threat cards, which are kept secret and spark sudden changes in the mission, such as spawning more enemies, when the players trigger specific situations. The invader also has the choice to choose different combinations of demons to spawn depending on the portals and invasion cards in play, meaning there’s plenty of room for variability.
On the player side, the soldiers can load out with different combinations of weapons and class cards, presenting the chance to approach each missions with a different strategy each time.
Firearms chosen during setup or picked up during each mission are added to a player’s arsenal using a light deckbuilding element, where predetermined sets of cards for each gun are mixed with a selection of general abilities, which provides a satisfying variety of weapon-specific moves. Each card grants attack and/or movement points, which can be racked up and used at any point in a player’s turn. This allows momentum to be maintained, with the soldiers able to sprint around while blasting demons – a mechanic that perfectly captures the sense of speed seen in the video game.
Combat is a simple case of rolling dice to dish out hits, with the defender drawing the hidden top card of their deck to negate some damage or dodge it altogether. The aspect of luck can be gamed by the use of specific cards that react to specific attacks, helping the mechanics feel snappy and unpredictable but not completely random and impossible to counter.
Rather surprisingly for Doom, which on-screen eschews the modern shooter reliance on taking cover, there are light terrain and cover systems, but these just help to balance some of the luck-driven aspects of the combat mechanics rather than getting in the way or slowing things down completely.
When demons have been weakened to a ‘stagger’ limit, players can move onto their square to instantly 'glory kill' them, regaining health and acquiring glory kill cards, which grant bonus abilities. It’s an effective way to encourage both more aggressive play and keep players moving around the map, mirroring the video game’s own risk-reward mechanics – and recalling the magnificently grisly ways of dispatching the forces of evil in the virtual world.
That’s not to say that it’s easy to take down wave after wave of demons; the invader player has plenty of tricks to pull using their own cards and the powers of the monsters.
Many of the creatures have extra argent power skills, which are more powerful attacks and capabilities that cost the disposable resource to utilise. This helps the various minions feel satisfyingly different in their movement and attack tactics, from floating cacodemons and fast-paced imps through to the enormous barons of hell and cyberdemon, which are slower to manouvre but land seriously heavy hits.
Playing with fewer players (we’d actually recommend going one-on-one for the original ‘Doom’ feel) grants specific squad cards that do an excellent job of accounting for the unbalanced odds, while the random use of initiative cards (which are shuffled at the start of each round) provide a tense amount of unpredictability from turn to turn. Killed players (granting the invader a ‘frag’) respawn on their next turn, lending a distinct video-gamey atmosphere to the kill-die-repeat proceedings.
The various map tiles lock together using jigsaw-like tabs that result in a solid construction on the table. 3D door standees provide a nice verticality to the layout, helped by the gorgeous miniatures for the soldiers and demons. The figures can be a little delicate – one of our revenants had to be glued back together out of the box – but all of the models are finished to an impressive level of quality and more than look the part when filling up the hallways and hellscapes of each environment.
Speaking of which, the Earth terrain sides of each tile do suffer a little from grey corridor syndrome – not entirely unsuitable given Doom’s history – but the reverse hell artwork glows with brilliant oranges, red and yellows, conjuring the same excitement of stepping through the portal in the virtual world. Additionally, the Earth map tiles are the only aspect of the game lacking in colour – the cards, tokens and even rulebooks all throb with vivid hues of green, blue, yellow, purple and more, leading to a resplendent overall appearance.
As you may expect from Fantasy Flight, you get what you pay for in terms of component polish, with everything feeling delightfully weighty and robust to pick up. Our one knock would be against the box – although it showcases the fabulous artwork of the game, the inelegant design wastes much of the free space and results in having to cram everything in together or awkwardly fumble under the cardboard inlay each time, risking potential damage to the miniatures.
Doom is arguably the perfect adaptation of its source material, in that it succinctly captures the simple base mechanics, visceral gameplay flow and gripping turn-to-turn excitement and tension of the first-person shooter. The combat mechanics may not be deep enough for everyone and you’ll want to craft your own custom campaigns (it’s not difficult with so many variables) once the two operations in the box are finished in order to keep it completely fresh but, once in motion, Doom is a non-stop rollercoaster ride that pins you back against your seat and sprays demon blood and viscera in your eyes. It’s a lot more fun than you might expect.
Like its video game source, Doom takes otherwise simple concepts and mechanics and combines them for a transfixing experience. The actions, environments and monsters all feel true to the game while providing plenty of variety and strategy, and the gameplay is an absolute rush to execute. You’ll soon be begging it to hurt you plenty.
Publisher: Fantasy Flight
Time: 2-3 hours
This review originally appeared in the April/May 2017 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here – or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
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