The way the game puts everything together is very well done.
Theme and What is it?
Something bad is happening. Dark forces have risen and the fate of the world hangs in the balance. Monsters are real. Those things that cause the hackles on the back of your neck to raise when you think you’re alone are closer than you know. Fortunately, we are not in this alone. They is an organization in this world that steps in when things are hopeless. The agents of the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense, the BRPD, will answer the call to help. When things go bump in the night; they bump back.
Hellboy is a cooperative adventure game with a narrative mission system. You’ll take on the role of agents of the BRPD where it will be up to your team to discover the threat and then deal with it. However, you’re in a race, if you take too long evil will strike before you’re ready and it’ll be an uphill battle from there. With good teamwork, careful planning, a dash of luck, and a hefty helping of daring you may just be able to save the world. Will you answer the call?
First, this review is just going to cover the base game without any of the Kickstarter bonuses or expansions.
Hellboy uses an action point system to dictate turns. Each agent receives three action points they can spend each turn. Because the game is cooperative, you can spend those points in any order and amount. For example, Hellboy can spend two action points, Liz can spend one, Abe can spend 2, Liz can spend 1, Hellboy can spend his last point, followed by Liz, and then Abe to end the turn. In addition to spending them in whatever order and amount you want, you can also spend points to aid other agents.
Points are spent for a number of effects. You can use them to move, search for clues, attack monsters, and use special abilities that are unique to your character. You can also spend points to improve dice. Each agent has four stats, Fight, Shoot, Explore, and Defend. These are all represented by a color, Yellow, Orange, and Red. Whenever you use one of these stats you’ll roll three dice of that color and an effect die. Dice improve in quality from yellow through red and into black; black dice are the best in the game and no character has a stat that uses them. When you use an ability if there are any modifiers you’ll up or downgrade 1 dice per +/-. Thus if you get a +2 on a roll with an orange stat then you’ll roll 1 orange dice and two red. Similarly if the roll had been -2 then you would get 1 orange and 2 yellow. Black dice are obtained when you get to upgrade red dice. There are several things that can upgrade dice, board effects, equipment, scenario bonuses, and you can spend an action point to upgrade 1 dice. You can also spend a point to upgrade someone else’s dice; Hellboy can spend a point to give Abe a +1 to an explore roll.
Part of what you’re trying to accomplish in this game is to unravel a mystery and discover who the villain is. The game comes with several scenario packs with different story beats that you play through. One of the things the scenario gives you is a time limit. You have a Doom Track and there are several things that advance that track, certain actions taken by agents, some monsters, and at the end of every round you draw a Doom Card which will almost always advance doom.
While you’re racing the doom track you need to explore the map and investigate clues found throughout the story to advance the Information Gathered Track. As you explore the board you’ll draw exploration cards to find out what’s in each room; sometimes this means a clue token. You’ll use an explore check to get the clues and the better you roll the farther up the track you’ll move. The scenario will place markers on the track at specific intervals. The more of these you collect the more powerful a bonus you’ll get in the final confrontation.
The game also features an interesting wound system. Each agent has a health pool track. Every time you take damage you add a wound token face down to the track. If the track is full and you take any more damage then you begin flipping the token face up. Each token has a negative on the face side that will modify one of your dice. If all of your tokens are flipped face up then you’re taken out of action. However, you can be revived by the other agents and returned to play.
Advancing through the scenarios is probably the biggest feature of this game. Every scenario comes with its own deck. You start at card 1 and work your way forward. From this you’ll get backstory explaining why you’re team has been called in, the map layout, any special rules, starting budget to purchase upgrade cards, backup agents, and the map of the adventure. You’ll also get a couple of conditions, if the agents do good thing A then go to card 3 or if bad thing B happens then go to card 2. Using this you’ll move through the mission towards the eventual showdown. If you can complete enough good things before too many bad things happen then you’ll have an advantage in the finale; if not…
I am a fan of Hellboy. I have limited experience with the comic but have enjoyed what little I’ve read, I’ve enjoyed all three of the movies to different degrees, and I really appreciate the concept behind this character and love to see him whenever I can. On top of that opening this box and seeing the minis, tokes, individually wrapped scenario decks, and the production value made me happy. I’m also a fan of Mantic, I own some of their other games and look forward to the work they do. All of that led me to be excited to try this game. I was happy to get it into my hands.
Game Build Quality
I like the build here. The cards are all excellent quality, they have a nice finish with excellent feel. The custom dice are extremely well made, and feel well balanced, we never felt like they were coming up one way more often than not. Room tiles and tokens and all nice and think. They’re excellently designed with clear representation.
The box comes with an amazing organizer with lots of great places to put everything with lids to hold it all in place. You will need to leave a couple of the couple of the punched out token sheets in the bottom of the box to keep the trays closed when the box is shut.
Finally, the rulebook is fantastic. It’s well written and clear. It also makes it easy to reference. Every time a rule is mentioned they have the page number where the rule appears with right after. It makes looking up anything in the book very simple. Every rulebook should have this.
All of the art is styled after the comic. As I said, I’m not very familiar with the comic so I’m not sure if these are original images or panels from the books. How well you’ll like the art comes down to your opinion of the comic’s style. I like it and thus enjoyed it here.
This is a tough cooperative game. You’ll have to work well together as a team to succeed. The game is constantly throwing things in your way and forcing you to overcome them. You will need to organize your group and their abilities in order to win. Even when you’re doing well, one or two off decisions can swing this game wildly away from your ability to win.
Age Range & Weight
The box says 14+ and this feels pretty close. I don’t think the rules are too complicated for someone to understand and younger players could easily handle them. However, the strategy necessary to do well in this game can beat you up pretty good and I can see younger players getting frustrated.
I like this Hellboy. The dice system is fast and easy to intuit, the missions are challenging without being impossible, and the characters all feel different. The way the game puts everything together is very well done.
The rules in the game are easy to use and follow. The game includes a tutorial that walks you through the first few turns of a match before turning you loose on the game. The rule book has notations that make finding everything easy and quick, with the exception of status effects. I really had to dig to find the rules for hurl, stun, and similar abilities. Still, once I found them it was easy enough to drop a book mark in to lead me back to that page.
The missions all feel different. There are fun little twists and turns in each one that push you forward while keeping a constant threat over your head. The inclusion of new mechanics and fun story twists in each mission are nice breaks to prevent the game from feeling stagnant. The challenge of the game along with a random setup for threats make the game replayable. I wish the included mission had a more narrative through line. The game feels perfect for a campaign system, but I suppose that would be awkward with existing characters. There’s a scaling difficulty for the game, though it’s easier to play with more players.
The characters are all fantastic. They use the Del Toro line up of Hellboy, Liz Sherman, Abe Sapien, and Johan Krauss. Every one of them plays different and feels like they should. Liz Sherman is constantly balancing generating enough fire to be a power house an too much to be a danger to the rest of the team. Additionally, no character feels more powerful than any other, Hellboy is great in melee but not so much at range.
The enemy AI is solid and feels dangerous. They have a nice targeting and threat system that prevents the players from setting Hellboy in front to tank. Creatures will target the squishier members of the party. Enemies in the game are primarily frog monsters and I would have preferred something different here. However, this is a Mantic game and a quick glance at the internet shows that there are more expansions and models available.
The game does have a problem with the death spiral. Once your agents start getting wounded it’s easier to get hurt more. Then when agents start going down it can be tough to recover.
In the end, this game is fun, challenging, and makes you think; your action choices matter. It’s easy to get bogged down under the weight of our decisions. Luck can play a bit of a factor on how well you do. But, if you support each other well and plan when you explore new rooms you can keep yourselves on a track to victory. I think the game is worth the time.
As always, try before you buy. Head to a convention or game store and see if it’s sitting in their library. Until next time, be well.
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