29th Apr2019

‘Hellboy: The Board Game’ Review

by Matthew Smail

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Based on the hype that appears to surround Hellboy: The Board Game, I’d be surprised if there was anyone left who is interested in the game but hasn’t already purchased it. When games like this come to retail, stripped of their Kickstarter exclusives and multiple expansions, they are sometimes revealed as little more than attractive shelf ware. However where Hellboy: The Board Game is concerned, that is most definitely not the case. This attractive and exciting game is designed by Games Workshop veteran James Hewitt and debutant Sophie Williams. Between them, the pair have produced a game that is fast paced and modern, albeit backed by relatively classical dice rolling and movement. Mantic Games always exceptional production values ice the cake.

Hellboy: The Board Game is a one to four player game that stays close to the well-trodden path beaten by previous Mantic Games offerings – and nearly every other miniatures game set in a popular universe. Mantic’s own The Walking Dead: Here’s Negan is a game that feels remarkably similar, but so too do games from other publishers like Resident Evil 2.

This gives Hellboy: The Board Game an immediately familiar feeling that makes it easy to pick up, learn and get stuck into very quickly. A fast setup helps, requiring only that the players grab a small deck of scenario cards which will then be followed to setup the board pieces, any furniture (depicted in the retail game by tokens) and any minion cards or other specifics.

Setup for each of the four characters (which I think is a slightly measly count) is also straightforward. Each player chooses who they wish to play as and then takes the matching character sheet. Hellboy, Johan, Abe and Liz are all included, each with their own starting items and several specific actions printed on their sheet.

The board is made up of modular pieces ranging between one and four squares in size. Honestly, I’d say the artwork and overall visual aesthetic is dull, and there are relatively few tiles in the box. That’s OK though, because what this approach lacks in appeal, it makes up for in simplicity, because players don’t need to search for specific tiles to suit each scenario, and there are no printed environmental factors to consider.

Each player also receives three action tokens that can be spent in various ways. Standard actions like moving and searching cost only one action, as do basic attacks. Each character has access to several special moves (including attacks, recovery and support effects) that work in various ways and can cost anything from one to three actions to activate.

It’s the uniqueness of each character and how they link to the core IP that makes Hellboy: The Board Game so much fun in my opinion. Liz, for example, generates heat (which is also affected by how much damage she takes) and can use it to set fire to enemies and rooms. This is powerful and must be used to the players advantage, but if it gets out of control, she explodes. Johan has the ability to possess dead enemies, whilst Hellboy, of course, punches things.

These special skills will need to be put to good use, because most missions don’t lack for action. Enemies are spawned based on randomly drawn minion cards that will detail how a room should be laid out. This can include spawning the various kinds of Frog Monster that feature in the game, and it can also yield some bonus loot or booty. It’s a system that ensures the players have a different experience each time they walk into a new room, and it works well because it is both fast and fun.

As I mentioned earlier, each adventure relates to one of the BPRD case files that come in sealed packs when you first receive the game. There are only five plus a tutorial scenario in the box, which feels a little stingy to me, but given that each one is highly replayable, it’s not the end of the world. Hellboy: The Board Game goes to elaborate lengths to avoid spoilers (so you’ll find none here either) but what I will say, is that there are a few surprises among them, as well as a couple of bosses.

I keep saying that the action in Hellboy: The Board Game comes thick and fast, but to really get the feeling for it, you’d have to experience it yourself. In words, the players will take their turns in any order they like, then the enemies will take a turn. Enemy turns are always driven by the behaviour printed on their card, which makes them predictable, but nonetheless quite deadly. Hellboy: The Board Game is no joke when it comes to challenging the players and things can quickly get ugly.

Whilst standard monsters are manageable, a doom tracker and a deck of doom can add events both scripted and unpredictable into the mix. The doom tracker sits above an investigation tracker, both of which are used to advance the actual story events within the current story deck. As a rule, the players will achieve a better outcome if they can reach certain investigation milestones (by finding clues) before the doom track reaches a given point. The Deck of Doom simply introduces random, but usually more manageable game effects to keep the pulse racing.

Whilst I am not overly impressed with the board pieces, I love the card art (which is done in a comic book style that fits nicely) and the miniatures are particularly exceptional. There are lots of them too, ranging from the frog swarms to a couple of giant minis that I won’t spoilt. The written materials are excellent, and the presence of a bundled tutorial mission is a nice touch.

With its relatively lightweight but thematic gameplay, Hellboy: The Board Game is perfect for fans of the comic who might not be regular gamers. At the same time, it should equally satisfy more experienced gamers thanks to the powerful abilities and the interesting synergies between characters, not to mention the level of challenge on offer. Ultimately, Hellboy: The Board Game lives up to the hype, with my only reservation being that the base game feels a little pared back in terms of content.

**** 4/5

Hellboy: The Board Game is available online at 365Games.co.uk, or at your local games store. Don’t know where yours is? Try this handy games store locator.

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