Today I’m looking at the massive Hellboy boardgame from the mighty Mantic Games. Now, full disclosure, you can’t win a copy… but there’s a little bonus thing in here too, as well as the winner of our Harry Potter game contest… So read on to the end!
This a big, beautiful beast of a game. It’s covered in all-new art from Mike Mignola himself, and filled with models that even Guillermo del Toro has tweeted his delight over.
The quick start guide is neat, well-written and to the point – exactly what we’ve come to expect from Mantic. The rulebook is likewise clear and well-organised, with a quick reference on the back. Mantic has this absolutely down, and a lot of other gaming companies really need to learn from this.
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The sculpts are good, as are the casts – high density PVC, rather than plasitc, restic, or resin. Crisp and characterful, very true to the comics – you can see the Mignola had a lot of input – and a lot of comic art to keep the feel of it. Likewise, one of my favourite things is the boards; the use of strong, simple comic-style inking makes it very easy to see what’s what. The whole aesthetic is bang-on; even the action mechanic lends itself to feeling like the number of page-panels something would spread across.
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Whilst the gameplay has shades of other Mantic stuff – notably the variable-spot dice – it’s a very different beast, and more reminiscent of a FFG game than anything else (cue many tokens and 3 different sizes of cards). However, it’s impressive how things don’t feel cluttered, even when there’s a lot going on. The coloured rings make it very obvious which player is which character and the upgraded tokens are really lush (£20, well worth it) from dead nazi clues, to surprisingly cute frog swarms and infernal fires.
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It’s a deceptively simple game. 3 actions per agent per turn, using simple cubes as reference. 3 dice on the roll, with different coloured standard dice: red, orange, yellow, in descending order – there are only blanks and 1s on a yellow, but only 1 blank on a red, for example. These represent a scale of skill level (so Abe is Red on Range but Yellow on defence to represent his skill at shooting/throwing, but weak if he gets hit), and modifiers can upgrade or downgrade your dice.
You can spend an extra action to upgrade a dice, with red going up to black (black dice are the best, no blanks and multiple successes). Added into this mix is also a blue dice which has for example a reroll, extra successes and a critical fail result amongst its facings. It’s all very intuitive and ridiculously quick to learn. Add to that the fact that actions don’t need to be taken consecutively allows for some interesting planning decisions:
“Right, you punch the frog monster, and if you kill it, open the door, if not I’ll stab it with my harpoon.”
“Ok. Right hook of Doom or regular punch?”
Eventually, for better or worse, you get to the final Confrontation with the boss. Hopefully you’ve found enough clues to give you the edge, and the Doom track is not so far advanced that you’ve got an über boss to take down!
My first run at the game was for a friend’s 50th. Yes, it’s quite a rock and roll lifestyle that we lead. Naturally, being young bucks, we drank… coffee, ate donuts and played the game. We got a fair look at it, as well as playing through the first scenario with Hellboy, Abe and we also had a look at Roger (who’s from the Kickstarter Conqueror Worm expansion).
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It’s an interesting game. Very much a high-end board game – not really, even, a board-mini hybrid. More Mansions of Madness than, say, Here’s Negan.
The bosses are proper huuuuuge. But I’m happy to report that the giant frog monster went down! The scenery elements, btw, are from the Kickstarter, though also available in Mantic’s Terrain Crate range.
Afterwards, we discussed whether we felt properly in danger. Now it’s a co-op game that strongly emphasises team-based decision making, so that really player to our strengths – we planned and discussed our moves, used resources carefully, and as a result generally did really well in the scenario (side note – love that the scenarios come in sealed packets, so you don’t know what’s coming). We [i]felt[/i] like we were in jeopardy, sure, but actually only Roger ever took damage, and with his ability to heal it wasn’t a huge deal. It’s a very delicate balance to walk, for a game, and an excellent example of a well-written intro scenario.
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Playing through the scenario again with my kids, and using Liz (who, along with Johann Kraus, comes in the base game), it felt a little more fraught even knowing what was coming – mark of a great game that it has such good replay factor – whilst her fire is terrifying, it’s more difficult to power up and she’s generally more fragile. Having a clear idea of how Hellboy (melee) and Abe (range/sneak) work meant they were more readily in about the plague of frogmen, whereas Liz (as specialist/investigator) got perilously close to death, but in the end she managed to make good with barbequed frog to win the day.
The core game gives you 3 big villains – really big, in the case of 2: the frog monster, Rasputin and the tentacles. Sculpts are again generally very good though there’s a bit of cleanup needed on the tentacular spectacular. The Rasputin sculpt is particularly strong, very detailed and captures the iconic Hellboy villain perfectly.
Next, my old chum and I played Perils of the Job, from the basic game, with Hellboy and Abe, plus a backup agent, Sidney.
(1) it’s great
(2) we died horribly.
Turns out, this game gets vicious fast: seriously steep learning curve. I mean, this is essentially the second scenario, my mate had already played it once before and lost very quickly… so we were careful, and still really struggled. That’s not a criticism of the game – far from it. It’s like a really challenging computer game level, where you just about make it to the boss fight but need a couple of goes to figure out your strategy. In fact, we are pretty much determined to try it again next week! Replay value is that good – it’s not frustration, at least not yet.
More below after the spoiler block, as part of the point of the game is the surprise.
Scroll quickly to the next big blank if you don’t want to read …
The boss was Rasputin. He flies about being ghostly and smiting you. It became apparent very quickly that we’d spent far too much time Taking Time – the investigation bonuses are actually not that helpful. You need LOTS of back-up agents to get you through the scenario, as they can give you assist dice and upgrades – Rasputin is constantly lowering them. We had Sidney and he totally gave us his worth – even if eventually that was throwing him to the frog monsters – but more would help.
2 hrs of great fun was had. I’ll definitely play this scenario again – part of the joy is figuring out the best team for the job, the best strategy, the best route through. You could easily replay again in an evening if organised (we started late) and it’s left me keen to play more.
Damn(ed) fine game. This is hands-down the best high-end boardgame I’ve played in a long while. It captures the feel of the comics visually and in the narrative created; tentatively, I’d say it’s Mantic’s best game yet (and I’m obsessed with Dreadball, so that’s saying a lot). Totally accessible, massively replayable, and a decent price for a big box of Doom.
Now, about that bonus. Well, this being the summer and all, there’s more contests a-coming (#spoileralert: Transformers giveaway, Gaslands giveaway…) So each like, comment or share of this Facebook post will give you a bonus entry on ALL remaining summer giveaways! Not bad eh?
Oh, and the winner of our Harry Potter contest is… Lindsay Paterson-Urquhart! Bloody Hufflepuffs.
Get in touch via any of our social media channels to claim your prize!