A while ago, we here at TechRaptor reported that Steamforged Games would be returning to tabletop adaptations of the Resident Evil series. Specifically, they would be adapting the terrors of the Spencer Mansion from Resident Evil 1.
This raised several questions for me. Zombie games are plentiful. Horror board games investigating a mansion are abundant as well. So what exactly can Steamforged Games bring to a project that, adaptation of source material aside, do to help spice up such well-trodden formula and tropes? The answer was they set us up with a sneak peek of the game and answered my questions directly.
Thanks to the magic of Tabletopia, Steamforged Games' very own Sherwin Matthews and I were able to sit down and play a demo of the game. The scenario was pretty straightforward: We had to search our section of the Spencer Mansion for a key in order to get through a door and escape. I chose to play as the infamous Master of Unlocking herself, Jill Valentine, and Matthews chose to play as STARS' own medic, Rebecca Chambers.
And the first thing that caught my attention was how few tiles there were at the start. Worse still, they were very claustrophobic with tight corridors and sharp corners. This kind of architecture is effective for horror in just about any medium, in many ways the original PlayStation release of RE1 helped typify this for video games, and yet its dread translates quite well to a top-down board game perspective.
Matthews commented that this was by design. Resident Evil 2 and Resident Evil 3 were both set in the zombie-infested Raccoon City but at different scales, the former kept to a police station and the the latter scattered across the city's many districts. With returning to the Spencer Mansion, Steamforged wanted to mix the tension and consistency of a more scripted scenario-driven structure with some unexpected surprises thrown in; invoking the minor twists introduced in the game's remakes and remasters. Because of this, tiles are not revealed on the map until a door is opened. In addition there is the game's Tension Deck, which can reveal unwanted surprises every turn. The game instantly ends in failure if the deck ever runs out, but can be replenished if your team finds a typewriter on the map.
This mix lead to our first surprise. Each character gets four movements per turn. These include moving one space, opening a door, using an item, or attacking an enemy. Ammo is scarce, and firing draws enemy attention. Worse still, there isn't a way to get around them. This lead to a slow push through the first few corridors before exploring an abandoned laboratory for useful items, successfully killing one of the zombies along the way.
Then Matthews began revealing cards from the Tension Deck. In our case, one of the zombies returned as a Crimson Head and came right after us.
But even as an adaptation, this was still a Resident Evil game. So after using a combat knife and rolling well enough to shove our attackers into the laboratory, ran to the exit then closed the door. Much like the source material, zombies can't open doors.
The entire scenario continued to play out like this. Smart conservation of ammo. Only attacking when absolutely necessary. Keeping a close eye on health and items the entire time. All while the Tension Deck kept revealing more zombies showing up to our annoyance or invoking sighs of relief when an “All Clear” card was pulled. It was difficult, but it was exciting.
This all came to a head when we finally found the key we needed, except it was guarded by a Hunter. After emptying my handgun magazine to no avail, some successful dodge rolls and some healing spray, we managed to get out of the room with the key in hand. It was here that the Resident Evil: The Board Game showed another new twist to the formula: Missions. Once you interact with a token placed on the map, you choose a character not in currently in play and they basically go on an offscreen adventure. In our case, Chris Redfield was trying to answer a call for help. After tanking multiple wounds, he was able to get a character to safety, adding another STARS member to our collective supply.
It was only shortly after Jill and Rebecca escaped the scenario that Matthews explained how Missions would help the campaign-driven scale of Resident Evil feel more dynamic and engaging. Every single time a new scenario starts, you have to wager which character you'll play as. Do you let some characters sit it out and heal or do you risk taking them into whatever monsters lie waiting for you next?
Resident Evil Board Game Preview Parting Thoughts
By the time my session with Matthews concluded, I was more interested in Resident Evil: The Board Game. It emphasized the unknown terror and difficult resource management that the source material embodied so well. It remembered that the story is about a team of operatives working together more so than lone agents. But it also understood that some of the inherently campy elements of the franchise are important as well. If the day ever comes that zombies figure out doors, we're screwed.
The Kickstarter campaign for Resident Evil: The Board Game will be going live October 26.