Review: DOOM: The Board Game (2016)

Designer: Jonathan Ying
Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
Category: Fighting, Video Game Theme
Players: 2-5
Price: $79.95 Amazon
In 1993, the first person shooter genre was forever changed. The impact of Doom not only laid groundwork for every predecessor of the FPS genre, but Doom has altered the landscape of the gaming industry in terms of successful franchises, map/level design, and the rise of community and player modding. Of course, to say the aforementioned waves were the extent of Doom’s aftermath would be disrespectful. The game and series have left indelible impact on gamers who grew up blasting demons and saving Earth from hell.
After ‘93, the developers at id Software went on to release four additional sequels and remakes to Doom on PCs. This would go on to spawn an N64 title, mobile RPGs, a horrible film with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, a Descent-like board game, and the long-awaited Doom 3, which brought the flat, two-dimensional demons and environments to life. Though Doom 3’s 2004 release brought somewhat mixed reviews, many modders and gamers continued to enjoy the original PC games.

Knee-Deep in the Dead.

Fans heard yearnings of Doom 4 in 2008, with a game more focused on survival horror on an Earth ravaged by alien-like demons. id Software had success with the Quake franchise, though the more recent Rage failed to meet expectations. Disputes on creative direction ultimately split up and destroyed Doom 4.
Finally, after a hyped announcement at E3 in 2014, the new Doom became a reality. Releasing in the summer of 2016, Doom became a smash hit, picking up awards throughout the year, and returning to the series roots of shoot, explode, kill, rend, run, run, and run.
Fantasy Flight Games originally published Doom: The Boardgame in 2004. This version, based on Doom 3, reimplemented Descent: Journeys in the Dark, featuring a scenario system, and all the models, items, and corridors that made up the atmosphere of the video game.
At the end of 2016, Fantasy Flight Games released DOOM: The Board Game. The original game system from Descent, Doom, and Star Wars: Imperial Assault has been revamped many times, with DOOM at the culminating head of the one vs. many system. DOOM is designed by Jonathan Ying, who also penned Imperial Assault and expansions, as well as a few packs of BattleLore.

Content Guide

Unlike the video game, the board game actually only depicts blood on a few cards. All card art implies violence, some more than others. Most cards picture a 1st person view of a Doom Marine about to blast their weapon into a demon’s face, without having actually completed the violent act.
The invader player possesses a large number of demonic miniatures, all shaped from in-game creatures. These might be generally disturbing to some, especially those unfamiliar with the games.
I don’t personally see the need to dive too deep into this area, but for those unaware: DOOM is all about demon slaying. Like the video game, in some scenarios, players will find themselves descending onto the shores of hell and staving off hordes of demons. These players are all Doom Marines, which are potentially human or alien, but exist to complete objectives and destroy evil. On the flip side, one player acts as an invader, and controls the demonic forces. It might be uncomfortable for someone to act as a sort of demonic hell-commander, so you should take this into note.
For the purposes of this review though, I’ll assume the ones looking into playing DOOM: The Board Game are playing because of their interest in the video game series.


Review

Alpha gathered his breath. Bravo and Charlie stood close-by, eyes down the sights of double-barrels, aimed at opposing open doorways. Warm blood dripped softly from Alpha’s right gauntlet, pistol harnessed at his hip. The three paused as loud snarls echoed down the dark, metal corridor. Alpha nodded to his companions, and took a loud clank of a step forward. His cleated, armored boot created a new noise covering over the monstrous snarl. Raising his gauntlet and readying a concealed boltshot with the other, he pounded the door’s keypad, jutting the frame open. The other two flipped around to face the same sight as Alpha.

Facing off against a horde.

Streams of darkly phosphorus energy split through the middle of the room. Red bolts warped through time itself, ripping a hole through dimensions. A long slit, like a vertical pupil, was suddenly torn wider by three long claws. Now, jumping through, came the whole beast: an imp. Long, muscular, spindly, and deadly. Another pulled its way through as Alpha began charging his rifle.
To the surprise of the Marines, the portal came to close, but not before one giant hoof emerged, shaking the metal interior as it stepped in. As if bending apart the bars of a jail cell, out emanated a Baron of Hell. Its horns scraped the ceiling loudly, the portal snapping shut behind, as if barely able to contain its might, retreating in the Baron’s wake. The Baron let out a gigantic roar, wasted no time, and blitzed the three Marines before they could react.
As the Baron furiously rampaged at the trio, an even more vicious sound geared up for violence. Splitting the group of three Marines, and pushing forward at the titanic hellbringer, was the missing Delta. Having sustained injuries from a previous confrontation, Delta returned anew. He blazed and gunned a fresh can of gasoline in his chainsaw. The spinning chain seemed to scream, “let me loose.” Determination in the eyes of Delta, and blood-curdling vengeance raging across the massive frame of the Baron, the two slammed into one another. This would begin yet another wrathful conflict for either the liberation or domination of the Phobos Base.

Chainsaw, ready to go.

For one familiar with the frantic, spaztastic nature of Doom gunplay, this hellish situation is like recalling a fond memory of time spent with an old friend. The claustrophobic, metal hallways seem devised by a madman bent on turning his players into maze runners pursued by inter-dimensional beasts. DOOM: The Board Game takes every opportunity to fulfill its players’ dreams of committing demonic genocide on the tabletop. Not only are you given a plethora of options to devise tactical maneuvers, but instead of facing off against an AI, players will duel the minds and cooperate to fend off the demon-controlling invader player.
DOOM ships with 12 scenarios to choose from, divided into two pseudo-campaigns. Unlike other Descent-style campaign games (Imperial Assault), DOOM refuses the ways of old, giving players freedom to select whichever map they prefer. Each mission gives the invader player a deck of event cards, a specific demonic spawn loadout, and an objective. Objectives typically tend towards slaughtering as many marines as required to end the mission, though sometimes it will put Marines on a clock, forcing them to complete an objective before X amount of turns.

A full hand of cards for battle.

The Marine players have more flexibility with setup, giving them the option to draft from a 23-weapon roster, and choose one of 24 specialty classes. Weapons can be found in the form of pickups located on the map, but in general, grant the player with three cards, featuring different abilities. Classes might change a player’s hand limit, or grant the ability to heal as a medic. Each one tempers the otherwise imaginably straight-forward playstyle, and gives even more variance in gameplay.
Of note: if playing with less than a full four-man squad of Marines, the human players will receive a card that rotates between players. It might grant extra firepower or actions to help balance out the missing teammate.
After an expectedly tedious setup of map tiles, weapon spawns, medkit locations, teleporters, objective tokens, etc. players spawn a host of distinctive miniatures to denoted board locations.
Pause.
I’ve seen some beautiful board game quality miniatures before. Miniatures for the tabletop generally don’t compare to the level of production quality and detail that say, miniatures for Warhammer 40k or Reaper Miniatures would produce. Fantasy Flight Games, however, has only excelled in miniature quality. It’s true in Star Wars: Imperial Assault, and it’s undeniably true in DOOM. In fact, I fell prey to purchasing DOOM, with miniatures being the huge vacuum that sucked me in.

Look at this guy! I can’t stop, I’m buying this game again right now.

From the moment you open the box, you can feel the hefty bag of plastic rattling about underneath the cardboard insert. Dumping out the bag reveals a vast demonic army, coupled with the severed arms of the Cyberdemon. Each miniature is full of tiny, sculpted, awesomeness. Imps are stanced for battle and are deadly. A few Mancubus grossly sway about, blasting frightful, energy balls at foes. Doom Marines heave chainsaws, shotguns, and other weapons. Cacodemons and Pinkys snarl with menace, complemented by both bulbous bodies and sharp hides, ready for combat. Some of the infamous foes are missing, but I can only hope Summoners and Hell Knights might be featured in future expansions.
Play.
And just like that: we’re off.
Turn order is decided by an initiative deck. While mostly innovative in my eyes, this deck is crucial to determining each player’s fate. Each demon type on the board adds a single invader card to the deck, alongside a card for each Marine. These are all shuffled together and drawn one at a time.
Like punching in for work at a factory, when your card is drawn, your time starts.
On a Marine’s turn, they have a few options for cardplay.
  • Play a main action card: Usually gives a player movement and attack ability.
  • Play any number of quick action cards: Usually movement, card drawing, attack, etc.
  • Forgo a main action for sprint: Grants 8 spaces of movement.
Like Imperial Assault, players can take a few steps of movement, attack, and use the rest of their points to retreat. With the addition of quick actions, players might be able to chain large combos of attack and move options together, making for vicious assaults on their demonic foes.

A horde of the dead behind, objectives ahead.

If an enemy falls within range, a marine will receive a number of red (weaker) and black (stronger) dice. The player rolls for attack, counting up damage icons on the die totally up for potentially missing entirely, or dealing massive damage. After dealt, the invader player draws the top card of their deck, and depending on the number or type of icon on the drawn card, blocks damage, evades it entirely, or takes full damage to the inflicted demon. If behind cover, and line of sight is even partially blocked, the attacked player can draw another card to either assist or further seal his fate.
Combat feels swingy, as the roll of a die should. The Marines could be backed into a corner, relying on a powerful combination of cards and dice to get them out of the fray. A poor set of dice rolling might spell death. Most weapons are themed, and give additional instruction to play another attack card (fire the other shell in the shotgun), draw another card (chaingun spin-up), or even deal additional damage to nearby enemies (splash damage from the double-barrel shotgun). On the flip side, once players have dealt an indicated amount of damage to a demon, they might exceed that demon’s stagger value.

These dice determine your fate.

Stagger value is yet another thematic inclusion which enables one of Doom’s most prolific events: the glory kill. By simply moving your Marine over a staggered demon, you eliminate it completely, both moving it off the board, and giving you a bonus by drawing a glory kill card. These cards can replenish health, grant free movement, and other things. As the game goes, initiating a glory kill is a gory task, so in my house, I require the players to describe the way they dominate the weak enemy. Whether it’s ripping off its horns and feeding them with it, or sitting on a demon until it stops struggling, I’ve found this little addition adds a lot to the theme, or silliness, of the game.
The invader player cannot initiate staggers, and instead, when an invader card is drawn from the initiative deck, chooses one of his available demon cards, and activates each demon of that type on the board. If chosen smartly, the invader could be activating over seven imps at once, or charging 3-4 pinkys at the same time. It’s these moments that replicate the cause & effect of ripping out the heart of a gore nest in the video game. Suddenly, the human players find themselves knee deep in the dead, surrounded by blood-thirsty creatures. Like the digital counterpart, players on the tabletop will be running frantically, blasting hot weapons, and diving for cover, all the while hoping for glory kills to keep the action flowing and their health pool high.

A set of Invader cards.

Invaders can discard their event cards to receive special argent energy tokens, which grant extra powerful attacks to their hordes. Usually, these event cards act as a catalyst for mixing up the volatile landscape on the board. Sometimes the invader player will be able to remove cards from the Marine’s decks, other times the invader receives stun attacks, blocks damage, or deals extra or splash damage to his demon’s attacks.
Once a Marine or demon is killed, its miniature is removed from the board. If a Marine dies, they lose their hand of cards, but once they appear in the initiative deck, will respawn on any teleporter of their choice. This can even telefrag a demon, adding more classic arena-style theme to the game.
After each card is drawn from the initiative deck, the round starts anew, refilling the demon player’s hand, and sometimes checking for end-game conditions. Play continues until one side of players reaches their win condition.
As mentioned before with miniature quality, DOOM is no slouch as far as other components go. Sure, the map tiles are dark, and it’s hard to tell where walls are located. Sure, the card art is all screen captures from the game. These things are give and take, but one can’t argue the high quality thickness of cards. All tokens look and feel great on the board. Theme bleeds through as you recognize each icon and token from the video game series.

Big, beautiful rulebooks. Presentation in this game is off the charts.

Even rulebook presentation is outstanding. Three tall, thick, vibrant rulebooks express the ease of learning DOOM. A quick learn-to-play guide explains the basics, getting players right into the action. For additional questions, players can consult an exhaustive reference guide. The blue book contains setup for each scenario. Incredible presentation all around, doing justice to the flavor and atmosphere of the classic franchise.
Combat, as mentioned, can play so randomly to one side or the other. Yes, this is the reality of amerithrashy games. It’s not my usual preference in game, but I think it works well here. An invader player who foolishly stacks weak demons next to each other can find his force to be nil if a player can utilize enough movement cards. Like dominoes they fall, beefing up their killer, and stacking the game more against them.
I don’t mind drawing cards for defense. It encourages using cover, which is completely ignored in the video game series. There are other things and cards a player can use to help further mitigate damage taken, but many times, the loss of your forces feels beyond your control.
I had played two games as invader before stepping in the boots of a Marine. My first game was somewhat discouraging. I threw everything I had at the Marines. My army of imps was decimated by a chainsaw. My damage done was remedied by an easy medkit pickup. I needed six kills to win, but ended with only a pathetic two frags.

Demonic squad goals.

In my second game as invader, I was able to select portals to charge and spawn throughout the game. This gave me lots of room for tactics, as I would stack groups of demons around corners, waiting for the Marines to fall into traps. This game was extremely close, the Marines needing only one more round to pass in order to complete their objective. I was able to spawn enough creatures to slow their progress, even though I had spent a few turns spawning demons that died before I was able to activate them. I eventually won, but the last turns were critical, and needed huge attack rolls for me to win.
In my third game, I played as a Marine. This was exhilarating. I was able to make a mad dash for a nearby chaingun, spin back around a corner, and blast a Cacodemon to bits, all in one turn. Rolling a barrage of red dice, and splattering enemies into crimson mist was so thematic and exciting. Again, however, we needed huge die rolls to do enough damage to give ourselves a chance. Those rolls came through as I shredded a Baron of Hell and finished him with a glory kill.
DOOM: The Board Game is excellent in thematics and excitement, but also excels at making players feel totally demoralized at points. Perhaps it’s the euro-gamer in me that needs less luck and more raw skill for victory. While a bit of luck is a hallmark of dungeon crawlers, sometimes it’s the game-decided spawns and map layouts that feed the crushing blow of defeat. Teleporters grant so much movement to Marines, and when you spawn a group of imps, only to have them mowed down by a chainsaw, it’s completely defeating.

Weapons and tokens galore.

Furthermore, I don’t love the squad card given to a Marine group of players when they have less than four Marines. This grants extra main actions, which are extremely powerful. In other cases, it gives a player two full turns instead of one. I know something must be done to balance the two teams, but this feels extravagant, and hurts my end impression of the game. It’s so swung to one side it hurts.
I feel somewhat ill-equipped to compare DOOM to previous Fantasy Flight Games dungeon-crawlers, as I’ve not played Descent, and only one round of Imperial Assault. I will say despite the losses or wins, I’ve had so much fun every time I’ve played. I remember the thrill of my chain gun episode. I remember the frustration of losing 4 imps to one chainsaw. I remember backing my Baron of Hell out of the fight, only to play an argent energy on the next turn, incinerating Charlie, leaving scorch marks in his wake. Part of the memories are from the love of the Doom franchise, I know. Maybe another part is these games drag longer than 2.5 hours. I think we topped at close to 3.5 hours on our second game. It’s excruciating and brilliant at the same time. 
My friends have given mixed reviews, but overall agree the tone and atmosphere DOOM sets is key to its success. The length of the games can be a turn-off also. If you are completely unfamiliar with tabletop games, but love the Doom franchise, I think DOOM is absolutely worth checking out. Clearly the games I’ve played have left an impact on me. They’ve been so thrilling and punish complacent players, instead rewarding consistent action and pushing towards the finish line.
DOOM isn’t for every gamer, but for those ready to embrace even the uglier sides, I hope you find the same level of fascination that I have. Well done, Fantasy Flight Games. Well done.

The Bottom Line

DOOM sticks true to what makes the franchise so popular. If you can get past randomness and live for the thrilling moments of hype and excitement, DOOM provides hours of demon-slaying fun, incredible presentation, and thematic appeal for both tabletop rookies and veterans.

 

8.6