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Doom’s new board game will hurt you plenty

An FPS board game that doesn’t suck

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Charlie Hall/Polygon
Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

While this year’s reboot of the Doom franchise was seen by many as a light-hearted send-up of one of the most violent games of all time, the board game adaptation is surprisingly hardcore. Doom: The Board Game is more than a refresh of Fantasy Flight Games’ 2004 offering. It’s both deeper and more streamlined than the original, and it’s a hell of a lot of fun to play — even with just two players at the table.

Doom was unveiled at this year’s Gen Con in Indianapolis, Indiana. We spent about 20 minutes getting a feel for the game on the show floor, learning how the turn was structured and admiring the bits. I’m happy to say that the retail product looks almost identical to what was on display there.

The multipart miniatures come pre-assembled and are clean, deeply detailed and well scaled in comparison to each other. The Baron of Hell and the Cyberdemon tower over the others and look great on the table. The $79.99 game gives you nearly 40 minis out of the box, along with the modular game board, cards and chits. By weight alone, it’s a good value for the money. But the game plays great as well.

Charlie Hall/Polygon

Doom is an adversarial game that pits up to four marine players against one player in control of a host of demons. Turn order is decided by shuffling a deck that contains one card for each marine at the table and up to eight demon cards, one for each species of monster on the board at the beginning of the turn. As cards are drawn, players take action one at a time.

Demons spawn onto the board at specific locations marked on each scenario map. Each has a number of different powers, which can be charged up with special Argent Power tokens. There’s always a good number of them in play, and usually several types at one time so that the demon player always has a decent set of options.

Marines are much more complex. Each can carry up to two weapons, including the franchise’s memorable arsenal of shotguns, rocket launchers and the BFG 9000. What each player starts the game with is up to them, and weapons can be swapped out at certain locations on each map.

But don’t worry about having enough ammunition. Ammo is abstracted by the fact that each weapon comes with a set of three cards, which are shuffled into a unique deck for each marine. Players draw from that deck at the start of their turn and use those cards to perform all of their actions, including movement. So different weapons don’t necessarily give you more firepower, they simply give you the potential to have different options on your turn.

Where things begin to get really interesting is in the amount of diversity players get in their setup before the game begins.

For the demon player, there’s a deck of 12 Invasion Cards. These determine what the options are for spawning enemies onto the map. “Out of the Abyss” gives you a fair number of mid-level ranged minions, including the iconic Cacodemons right out of the gate. It also gives you the chance to spawn the massive Cyberdemon. “Cruel Mayhem,” on the other hand, is a more balanced card that gives the demon player a steady stream of melee and ranged demons throughout the game.

Charlie Hall/Polygon

Doom: The Board Game’s Cyberdemon miniature is more than twice as tall as anything else in the box. It also ignores nearly all of the terrain that bogs down smaller figures.

For the marines, there’s a deck of 24 Class Cards that run the gambit from melee-focused skill buffs to long-range sniping. For instance, the “Ranger” card allows you to trade damage to automatically stun the enemy, fixing them in position. The “Designated Marksman” card allows you to ignore cover when rolling to attack.

There’s even a small deck of four Squad Cards, which significantly buff marines for games with fewer than the recommended four-person squad. One of those, the “Solo Operative” card superpowers a single marine to take on the entire map by themselves. It grants an additional activation each round, increases health and hand size as well as allowing them to act twice on their turn.

The game comes bundled with two six-mission campaigns. Combined with the mix-and-match nature of the Invasion and the Squad cards, that provides a surprising amount of variety right out of the box.

Finally, Doom: The Board Game allows for a remarkable amount of improvisation on the part of the marines. This is because it steals one of the best features of the video game, called Glory Kills. Once a demon has been bloodied, marines can move into its space for an automatic frag. It encourages marines to get up close with the enemy, all in the hope of stringing together a multi-frag melee kill streak. Each Glory Kill rewards them with a special card that grants them one-time-use perks later in the game.

Charlie Hall/Polygon

While the art direction of card faces is clean and easy to understand for both players, and from both sides of the table, the card backs are sort of a mess. They’re a muddle or barely recognizable iconography from the video game. With 12 different types of card decks in the box, it would have been nice to just have the name of the deck printed somewhere on the back of each card. Instead, players are forced to flip to the component list inside one of the manuals to figure out which deck is which.

Those manuals, on the other hand, are fantastic as they carefully separate out what you need to know into three discrete books. There’s a Learn to Play manual that walks you gracefully through the a quick tutorial game and clarifies the most basic rules. The Operation Guide provides a complete walkthrough to set up and play each mission, start to finish, and includes recommended weapon loadouts, Class Cards and Invasion Cards to get you started. Finally, there’s a thick Rules Reference organized alphabetically for looking up edge cases.

All in all, it’s a fantastically executed product. It’s in stock now and shipping from Amazon. If you’ve got a fan of Doom on your holiday shopping list, or a miniatures enthusiast looking for a new painting project, this would make an excellent gift.

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