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The Resident Evil 2 board game plays well, looks like hell

What you get inside the $115 box is a bit of a letdown

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Two player characters fend off an all-out assault by iconic Resident Evil 2 characters, including a massive mutant. 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.

In 2017, Steamforged Games, hot off the success of Dark Souls: The Board Game, tossed up another ambitious Kickstarter campaign. By the end of its run, the U.K.-based team had hoovered up more than $800,000 from 7,583 excited backers for Resident Evil 2: The Board Game, an officially licensed tabletop version of the classic video game.

We’ve had a few days to mess around with the final, retail version of the game. While it plays extremely well, especially as a campaign game, we’ve got some issues with the quality of the components inside the box.

Resident Evil 2: The Board Game sells for $115 direct from Steamforged and significantly less on Amazon. That initial pricing puts it on the high side of average for a modern hobby board game. The presentation of the box and the manual is excellent, with a good mix of original art from the Resident Evil franchise and new interpretations of characters like Leon S. Kennedy, Claire Redfield, and Birkin throughout.

The big selling point for many Kickstarter backers were the elaborate, 32 mm-scale miniatures included in the base game. In this final version there’s 24 of them in all: one for each of the player characters, along with a dozen zombies in three different sculpts, a pair of powerful “lickers” ready to pounce, and four zombified dogs. The highlight are the two massive boss miniatures: the G-Mutant and Birkin Stage 3. Everything comes fully assembled and safely packed in a reusable plastic insert that makes the game easy to travel with.

The quality of those miniatures, however, leaves something to be desired.

Just as I found with Steamforged’s Dark Souls-inspired board game, there are slight imperfections in many of these plastic figures. Defects ranged from warped bases that caused characters to wobble on the table, to multi-part minis being assembled incorrectly. The issues are nothing that a little handiwork can’t fix, but for the price I’d rather not spend my time repairing and rebasing when I could be playing the game instead.

And, unlike Dark Souls: The Board Game, playing this tabletop version of Resident Evil 2 feels both fun and authentic. Steamforged has taken its cues from the classic video game’s mechanics, while not trying to reimplement them one-for-one on the table. I spent most of my time moving from location to location scrounging for ammunition, health, typewriter ribbons and funny-shaped keys. Combat is dice-based, and the game includes dials to track ammunition.

I was frankly surprised at just how authentic the experience is. There’s even a single-player version and a multi-part campaign that keeps track of player progress. At times, it feels even more like a celebration of the original classic that the recently released video game.

I especially liked that zombies move only in response to player actions. That design decision keeps the action moving quickly from turn to turn, but also gives the experience a surprisingly strategic layer.

Where Resident Evil 2: The Board Game shines is as a cooperative experience for up to four players. Some missions even feature scenarios that split the party, further adding to the tension of the experience.

The biggest letdown for me, however, are the game’s modular tiles. They’re just so unrelentingly dark that they might as well not have any additional art printed on them at all. In fact, the game manual itself instructs players to simply ignore the art printed on the tiles and focus on their basic shape when creating each level. That means that parts of the interior of the Raccoon City Police Department could look like a street corner outside or the guts of a secret laboratory and it will have absolutely no impact on the gameplay. For such an otherwise thematic board game, that was disappointing to see.

Adding to the graphic design trouble is Steamforged’s decision to require tiles to be augmented with plain black strips of cardboard to represent things like walls and pillars. The cardboard components were so thin that half of them simply fell apart while I was punching them out of the sprues. Once added to the table they’re far too easily jostled. At one point the ceiling fan here in my office even caused one to drift across the table.

Overall, the style and pace of gameplay are a big improvement over Steamforge’s previous video game tie-in. I just expected the game to look and feel a whole lot better for what they’re charging.

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