We started our Video to Tabletop series last year with Dark Souls the Board Game by Steamforged games, and since then we've looked at several different games, including most recently Street Fighter Exceed, a card game based on the famous fighting game series. Each game has the challenge to capture the feel of the franchise, something Dark Souls the Board Game went some way towards when we looked at it. Now with Resident Evil 2 The Board Game we're looking at Steamforged Games and wondering if they can do it again.
In this article, we’re going to focus on how the video game experience transfers to the tabletop. We’ll also talk to Sherwin Matthews the Lead Game Designer of Resident Evil 2 the Board Game and how he handled bringing the series to the tabletop.
In our Video to Tabletop articles, we look into the development process of making a video game into a tabletop game. We’ll talk about why more and more IPs are moving into the tabletop genre. We’ll look at video game IP tabletop games and talk to development teams about the difficulties of bringing a video game to life on the tabletop.
Resident Evil 2 the Board Game
Resident Evil 2 the Board Game started life as a successful Kickstarter and went on to fund a huge amount of stretch goals for additional products. The full pledge offered a range of alternative sculpts, additional enemies and scenarios to play. This article is going to focus on the core, Resident Evil 2 the Board Game box and the experience that comes out of that.
Resident Evil 2 the Board Game is a co-operative survival game. Players have objectives to achieve together, whilst avoiding the hordes of enemies trying to stop them.
The core mechanics are extremely simple and everything occurs during the players' turns. Each player gets 2 actions a turn, which they can use to move, use equipment or attack enemies. Actions are worked out using 2 colors of custom dice. The blue dice have dodge and attack symbols and are used for both. Rolling a dodge symbol while attacking means a miss, and an attack symbol is referred to on the weapon card for its effects.
There are three dodge symbols on the blue dice, these scale down as attacks become more difficult to dodge. A single zombie can be avoided by rolling any of the dodge symbols, but as the number of enemies increases, or as you fight more powerful enemies, symbols drop off, decreasing your chances of successfully avoiding the attack.
Enemies don’t have their own turn, they respond to the player’s actions if they can, like a player trying to move out of the same area as an enemy, or attacking an enemy in combat. Then at the end of the turn, all nearby enemies move towards the active character, or attack if able. Players also draw a random event card from a deck. This deck is built from cards dictated by the scenario. Most of the time, nothing happens, but as scenarios increase in difficulty, more and more negative event cards are added, increasing the chances that an adverse event might happen.
In the first few games, there’s no limit to the number of times you can shuffle the event deck and go through it again if it runs out. But after the tutorial games, if the event deck runs out, the players lose. There are typewriters around that can be used to shuffle the discard pile back into the event deck, but you have to reach them, using more of the valuable in-game actions.
This works very well in increasing tension and forcing the players into action, rather than a slow, safe, methodical playstyle. Risking enemy attacks as you run past them suddenly becomes preferable than taking out enemies, which can attract more enemies and slow you down further. Enemies can be herded into areas, and that is a viable tactic if one player does that while the others search for equipment. Searching is an integral part of the scenarios. There can be a couple of equipment decks, with keys required to complete the scenario shuffled between herbs, ammo, and weapons. The item A equipment deck will have to be searched by accessing the A tokens, in order to gain access to a room with a B token so that you can search the item B equipment deck in order to complete the mission.
This multiple deck mechanic means that scenarios are always different, as equipment locations are random. It also forces players to split up in order to maximize searching.
Characters start with a limited amount of ammo in their ranged weapons, and unless they find reloads, it might be all the ammo they have for the entire scenario. Some weapons allow you to spend more ammo in order to roll more dice, increasing the chances of hitting. This plays into a very interesting action/ammo economy. You can spend several actions taking a single shot each activation, which conserves your ammo but may take a while to remove an enemy. Firing attracts enemies so you may find yourself with more enemies to deal with as well. Or you can fire the maximum amount of ammo you can in order to increase your chances of taking an enemy out in one shot, possibly resulting in overkill and burning through your ammo quickly.
There’s a very real sense of tension throughout Resident Evil 2 the Board Game. You have ammo and combat options, but the race to complete the objective is key and utilizing the combat options, sometimes isn’t an option at all. The event deck has some great moments and the combat and action mechanics are simple, fast and allow a very stream-lined play.
We would have liked to have seen a bigger difference between how the characters feel to play. Each one has a different ability, but it doesn’t make a huge difference in your game experience between characters. Making the difference bigger might have had an effect on the ‘crunch’ of the game rules though and in the video game, the difference between characters is negligible.
Zombie AI is technically a simple mechanic, which is why it works so well in games like Zombicide and The Walking Dead. The enemy AI is straight-forward and streamlines play, allowing games’ designers to focus on making the rest of the game awesome, resulting in great co-op games. Sherwin Matthews talks about it in our interview below, but in RE2tBG you don't have enough time or ammo to kill all of the enemies. So moving and positioning them, luring them out into areas in order to rush past them is key.
This is what sets RE2tBG apart; rather than be a clone of those games, or even a Resident Evil re-skin of them, Resident Evil 2 the Board Game does a great job of bringing the RE feel to the tabletop. Games are tense. Ammo is scarce and shouldn’t be wasted and the heroes and villains you know and love from the game are here.
While RE2tBG focuses on the characters, enemies, and setting of Resident Evil 2 there's nothing stopping the other games in the series being created using the same mechanics. With the success of this for SFG, maybe we'll see a whole series of RE board game titles.
Resident Evil 2 the Board Game Developer Interview
We spoke to Sherwin Matthews the Lead Game Designer of Resident Evil 2 the Board Game about the development process and difficulties in bringing a video game to the tabletop.
TechRaptor: Talk us through the design process for Resident Evil 2: The Board Game. Where did the idea come from? Was it a Resident Evil IP first, with scope for different tabletop products, or was it always a board-game?
Sherwin Matthews: We nearly always approach our projects from fresh, and Resident Evil 2: The Board Game was no different. One of our first design steps when creating an adaptation of any licensed product is to deep dive into what the core game experience of the original product is. Ultimately, we know that however abstract our game might end up being (or not!), it simply has to reflect the experience fans are familiar with. Only once we’ve established those elements, we can begin to design game mechanics—because its those defining ideas which we’ll refer to at every step, to ensure we haven’t strayed too far from the beaten path.
TR: In the design brief, what were the most important elements to get across from Resident Evil?
SM: The Resident Evil series is well known for establishing the survival horror videogame genre and breaking this down to better understand it was crucial. Broadly speaking, a large element of this is resource management. In Resident Evil, players can’t simply unload all of their ammunition at every enemy, or keep healing themselves after every encounter. Players have to make meaningful choices at the start of every turn, deciding whether to try and defeat their enemies or evade them, based on their current situation.
Another vital element is suspense. Resident Evil has always been well known for keeping players on the edge of their seats, and we knew the tabletop adaptation had to create a similar feeling. There are a few different methods we introduced for this one, including reanimating corpses, variable encounter tables, and of course, the tension deck. Keeping players guessing as part of a dynamic playing area was key.
TR: Were there many changes from brief to production in terms of game mechanics?
SM: Absolutely! One of the most difficult realizations in game design is that sometimes, you just have to remove that mechanic which you really like for the good of the game. Whether you’re reducing complexity, focussing the experience, or streamlining for a faster gameplay time, not everything can make it in.
For Resident Evil 2: The Board Game, an obvious example is an early rule which limited the number of actions a player with extremely low health could make. A really simple rule, which mirrored the videogame perfectly, but in practice had several issues. Primarily, it simply meant the player was significantly more likely to get killed. Not being able to fight back or flee as easily was a death sentence, and this definitely reduced the tension around the table. Secondly, and a surprisingly important observation—a lot of groups simply forgot the rule. Whilst that might not sound so bad, looking in context, we had to ask ourselves, how important was the rule? Splashing reminders over materials might help as a visual aid, but if the rule was so unintuitive, was there a strong enough case for its continued inclusion? Eventually, we decided not and removed it.
TR: What was the biggest change during development?
SM: Believe it or not, we started out in the very early days with a DM player controlling the enemy models in a PVP setting, before making the decision to move to a fully cooperative experience. Our playing area went through several revisions also, starting out as a much larger single piece and then evolving to the multi-tile format you see now.
These changes obviously had a significant effect on the length and type of scenarios we could make—and choosing to support a campaign system was really what drove them. Instead of a pure standalone game, we knew that our audience would want to be able to play as part of a story arc across multiple sessions, just like the videogame.
TR: How hard was it finding the balance between survival and horror for the players in terms of difficulty in the scenarios?
SM: We were helped a lot here by the strength of the original videogame, in all honesty. Because we’d built our adaptation to closely match the locations seen in Resident Evil 2, several of our decisions for encounter tables, enemy locations, and items were already established. Our next steps were to fill in the blanks and flesh out the scenarios with characterful events.
The rest evolved via the use of tightly controlled tension decks, which gave our design team a fixed series of encounters that occur randomly, to keep players on their toes, dreading drawing the next card. Most of the suspense in Resident Evil games comes from trying to survive against the odds, so that’s what we leant into in a big way during development.
TR: How was it working with Capcom for this project?
SM: Capcom are absolutely fantastic to work with. From the beginning, they had a lot of faith in our design team to create a game that really celebrated this incredible classic. Throughout the development of Resident Evil 2: The Board Game, they were on hand to answer any queries we had about the setting or characters, and during the Kickstarter campaign, they were extremely helpful in promoting the project to their audience. We’re definitely looking forward to working with them on future projects, like Devil May Cry: The Bloody Palace.
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TR: Co-op vs AI Zombie board games have been growing in popularity recently. What makes Resident Evil 2: The Board Game stand out, other than the IP?
SM: One of the earliest design goals for the project and an element that we think we definitely achieved is that Resident Evil 2: The Board Game isn’t just a point and click zombie shooter. In order to succeed, players have to think extremely carefully, constantly adapt, and make meaningful choices. If they try to go in all guns blazing, they’ll quickly meet their untimely end—this game isn’t an exercise in simply throwing dice at a problem until it goes away.
Resident Evil 2: The Board Game also has a lot of gameplay depth hidden away for players to interact with, which is slowly introduced over the course of the campaign to keep the players engaged. At the start of each scenario, there are new challenges to discover, which amount to a lot more than simple objectives. This is also true across each of the expansions for the game; our team were very keen to ensure that all additional content introduced new gameplay content which justified its inclusion, rather than extra models just for the sake of it.
TR: Similarities will be drawn between Resident Evil 2: The Board Game and Zombicide, simply because of how well known it is. There’s not a lot of scope for changing zombie AI. What was the focus for the AI in Resident Evil 2: The Board Game?
SM: Resident Evil 2: The Board Game isn’t just zombies—it features a wide variety of foes for the players to pit themselves against, each requiring different tactics. Enemies like crows provide a static speedbump that can multiply if left unchecked; Lickers terrify players by moving out of sequence; Giant Spiders and Ivies provide characters with an enemy which makes deadly ranged attacks. Bosses also change things up quite dramatically, using AI decks with a variety of actions on them, meaning each turn is different and unpredictable due to a wide range of different behaviors.
However, the most important distinction is that Resident Evil 2: The Board Game is often a game about manipulating and repositioning enemies as much as it is killing them. Breaking up large crowds with attacks that cause pushes, lining up a perfect path to duck and weave past, or luring an enemy into a room and then locking them inside are all tactics which mean players are constantly interacting with the AI in unique ways that you simply don’t see in other tabletop zombie games.
TR: Are there plans for any other alt character models outside of the Kickstarter exclusive?
SM: Because we really want Resident Evil 2: The Board Game to remain focussed and concise to the original videogame, it's unlikely that we’ll see the release of any other characters from the series as additional content. We’ve also already done a fairly extensive job of digging through most alternate costumes and skins for enemies throughout the game also, thanks to the efforts of our awesome community during the Kickstarter campaign.
TR: Which is your favorite Resident Evil Game?
- Sherwin Matthews (Lead Game Designer): I’m going to come straight out of leftfield here—Resident Evil Gaiden. That will likely have people laughing, but honestly, I think its extremely interesting how the developers managed to convey the Resident Evil experience given the limitations of the hardware at the time. There have definitely been more accomplished games in the series, but I’m happy to give this forgotten gem a bit of love.
- Gareth Reid (HR & Office Manager): Resident Evil 2 remake
- Kieran Shiach (Customer Support Liason): Resident Evil 4
- Rich Jennings (Logistics Manager): Resident Evil 5
- Thomas Lishman (Sculptor): Resident Evil 7 - Amazing atmosphere and a big change from the standard Resi formula, while risky, clearly pays off with an immersive experience full of gore, horror and surprises!
- Jamie Perkins (Senior Game Developer): Resident Evil 1 - I have many fond memories of watching my big brother playing through it when we were younger.
- Alex Hall (Product Owner): Resident Evil 4. In my younger years, I found myself far more impressionable in terms of which games I did and didn't play. Other peoples opinion was everything, so it was the critical acclaim that initially got me interested. My previous experience with the Resident Evil franchise was sitting hiding behind a pillow watching my older brother play Resident Evil 2, so RE4 was my first dip into actually holding the controller and playing myself. This time it was my brother sitting over my shoulder watching me play 'the scary game', it all just created a great memory from gaming with a loved (sometimes) sibling. Hurling abuse at each other when either dared to jump or squeal, wouldn't change it for the world.
- Mike Appleton (Warehouse Supervisor): Resi 1 HD on Gamecube, the updated graphics added a new level of immersion and made it all the more horrifying, forever scarring my young brain
- Mat Hart (Creative Director): Resident Evil 1 - played through this game old school co-op with a mate, the controller got swapped whenever someone died. Had such an awesome shared experience as we worked our way through the game, both of us making the other more and more scared as we got further and further...
- Tom Rochford (Project Manager): Resident Evil 5, co-op campaign was absolutely quality, hours of zombie slaying and many new pairs of underpants...
- Rich Loxam (Founder & CEO of Steamforged Games): Resident Evil 2 - My first proper introduction into the series.
- Doug Telford (Concept Artist): RE1 because it was the very first Game to scare the crap out of me when the dogs smashed through the window!
- Paul Waters (Project Manager): I don't have quite the same Resident Evil pedigree as some of the other guys in the office, but I really enjoyed the Resident Evil 2 Remake when it was released earlier this year. I must have spent hours creeping around the Raccoon Police Department, trying not to make any noise so the tyrant wouldn't find me!
- Russ Charles (Lead Sculptor): I really liked the original Resident Evil when it first came out, and played it for hours - so I'd probably say that. Although, I'm flying out to Gencon later this month, and I'm planning on spending the whole time playing the remake version on my Switch, so I might change my mind.
- Steve Margetson (Game Developer): RE1 Remake because it maintains the classic Resi look and feel whilst providing modern conveniences(no more tank controls!) and upgraded graphics. It's a great example of where a remake does everything better, invalidating the need to go back to the original(other than pixelated nostalgia of course!).
TR: Who is your favorite Resident Evil character?
- Sherwin Matthews (Lead Game Designer): No question here, Barry Burton. Ever since I sat down with the first Resident Evil back in the day, I’ve thought he was one of the most iconic and badass characters in the series.
- Gareth Reid (HR & Office Manager): Leon S Kennedy!!!!!
- Kieran Shiach (Customer Support Liason): Albert Wesker
- Rich Jennings (Logistics Manager): "Boulder Punching Chris Redfield"
- Thomas Lishman (Sculptor): Albert Wesker
- Jamie Perkins (Senior Game Developer): They're not named characters, but I always thought the hunters were really cool, they moved so much quicker than the zombies!
- Alex Hall (Product Owner): The Merchant from RE4, those voice lines are impeccable *chefs kiss*.
- Mike Appleton (Warehouse Supervisor): Resi 1 Chris before he got swole and started punching boulders
- Mat Hart (Creative Director): Has to be Chris Redfield...he felt a lot more durable/tankier to me
- Tom Rochford (Project Manager): Chris Redfield
- Rich Loxam (Founder & CEO of Steamforged Games): Claire Redfield
- Doug Telford (Concept Artist): Cerberus
- Paul Waters (Project Manager): Robert Kendo! I know he doesn't get much screen time in the videogame, but on the tabletop he's an absolute monster. In my first run through the campaign the rest of the group gave him the nickname 'one-man army' because he was so devastating with the grenade launcher!
- Russ Charles (Lead Sculptor): That's a really tough one... I loved sculpting all of the characters for RE2tBG (including all the Birkin family), but some times you have to go with the classics. I'll say Jill Valentine, as the first character I ever played the game with.
- Steve Margetson (Game Developer): Barry Burton
TR: Thank you very much to you and the team Sherwin for taking the time to answer our questions.
The copy of Resident Evil 2 the Board Game used for this article was provided by SteamForged Games.
What's your favorite tabletop video game? What do you think of the Resident Evil 2 the Board Game's mechanics? Who's your favorite Resident Evil character? Let us know in the comments below.