Doom: The Boardgame
Areala drags you, kicking and screaming, into a Marine
on Saturday 04 August 2007
by Areala author list print the content item create pdf file of the content item
in Reviews > Tabletop Gaming Reviews
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author awarded score: 87/100
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Released in 2004, Doom: The Boardgame was developed to follow (loosely) the storyline of Doom 3 for PC and Xbox. Check out what Areala thought of her time spent in a tabletop version of Hell on Earth. Lock, load, and pray.


All UAC personnel be advised. There has been a code red security breach in the dimensional gateway research facility here at the Union Aerospace Corporation's Mars base. We are under invasion. I repeat, we are under invasion. Our cameras have picked up a number of unusual entities roaming the corridors and rooms of the base.

Attention all marines! Attention all marines! Report immediately to central command. If you are isolated from the main facility, seek out other marines, form squads, and engage the invaders with whatever means possible. The weapons at the Mars base are limited, but should be sufficient for neutralizing the invaders.

(excerpted from the instruction manual for Doom: The Boardgame)

I don't envy Kevin Wilson in the least. He was the man picked by Fantasy Flight Games to design a tabletop game based on one of the most well-known computer gaming franchises of the last fifteen years. Imagine the stress of having to convert a fast-paced first-person shooter where a computer handles all the aspects of damage, ammo counting and monster AI into a slower-paced boardgame for multiple players where one person controls the monsters and the others control the marines trying to get from the starting point to the exit as quickly as possible without getting fragged in the process. I'd be a bundle of nerves from start to finish. So it's a good thing I'm not Kevin Wilson, because chances are, Doom: The Boardgame would have turned out to be completely unplayable if I had been in his shoes.

Thankfully, I wasn't. And somehow, though it almost defies sense, Mr. Wilson managed to take a frantic PC game and convert it into a four-player tabletop title that is not only easy to learn, but lots of fun to play as well.

There are two things you will learn about Doom just by looking at the box. First of all, it's quite expensive (the retail price hovers somewhere between $35 and $50 depending on who you buy it from). And second of all, it's heavy. If there's one thing board gamers love, it's a big heavy box with lots of components. Doom disappoints in neither area.

After you tear off the shrink wrap and delve into the contents of the box, even the most jaded tabletop gamer will have to give Fantasy Flight a mental round of applause. Doom, just like the marines, does nothing half-way. The weight of the game comes from the 66 highly-detailed, hard plastic miniatures that represent the three marines and all of the monsters out to tear them limb-from-limb (including three amazingly massive Cyberdemons), and the enormous assortment of map pieces, prop markers, tokens, doors and counters all made from a very high-quality plastic-coated cardstock that can withstand far more abuse than your traditional cardboard game pieces. Clearly, Fantasy Flight understood that these game pieces were going to take their licks from sweaty-handed players and the occasional spilled soft drink, and they were not about to skimp on the quality. Add to this a deck of 84 cards, six custom dice, the surprisingly thin rule book, the scenario guide, and three equipment bin cards and you have all the trappings of a heavy-duty game that is meant to withstand being scattered all over your table and then stuffed back into the box at the end of the day. If only every game was made like Doom, you wouldn't have to worry about replacing damaged components.

Doom is meant to be played at a slower pace from its video game brother, but still retain a notion of the hectic pace, sense of the unknown, and jump scares that abound in the digital version. The upside to this is that Doom is not a terribly complicated game to learn to play. The instruction manual is a mere 12 pages long, but every single page includes at least one large, full-colour image that showcases what is being discussed in the text, and examples of how rules operate are given for nearly every scenario which helps to eliminate confusion and rules lawyering which bog down play. Perhaps the most important page of the manual is the back cover, which consists of a breakdown of what the various special ability icons for monsters and marine weapons mean, colour examples of them in action, a breakdown of a typical round sequence, the cost in movement points for the actions a Marine player can perform, and a showcase of the four Orders choices that a Marine player can be operating under at any given time. As this is likely to be the most commonly-referenced page in the manual for beginners, it's nice to see it right on the back cover where it can be kept for quick reference.

Rather than using a set board like Monopoly or Life, Doom instead makes use of a simple but sophisticated set of interlocking tiles of various sizes. This allows a nearly infinite array of levels to be built, and never locks the players into a set size or maximum length and width for a given scenario. Indeed, Doom maps seem quite organic in nature, with their twisting corridors, oddly-shaped rooms, dead-ends, storage areas, and parts of the map that may not even be physically connected to other parts. This puts players into a unique state of not being able to anticipate or guess where a given corridor leads until someone actually pokes his head around a corner and sees another bend in the hall, a door blocking the way, or a massive monster ready to come stomping after him. The tiles themselves are all wonderfully decorated and illustrated, with drains, pipes, rust spots, and gigantic pools of blood and gore liberally splashed about in some of the larger rooms. While the Scenario Guide that comes with Doom is almost woefully small (it provides only five scenarios, along with rules for playing them separately or all at once as part of a campaign-style of progression), the ability for would-be designers to map out their own levels is quite impressive given the loose, fluid nature of the tile-based system. Even after a group has played through all five scenarios several times, creating new ones is entirely possible, and there are resources on the Internet one can use to assist in making up new scenarios and campaigns for extended play. Given that the modding community for the Doom computer game is enormous, it seem only right that this aspect of the game is retained in the tabletop version.

One thing that does not become apparent until after the first few games is how truly difficult the game is for the Marine players. Doom pulls no punches, and in fact the game expects the Invader (s/he who controls the monsters) to be just as brutal when it comes to manhandling the other players as the computer AI is at butchering the keyboard-and-mouse crowd who are attempting to stay alive on Mars. This puts the Invader player on a somewhat different footing from other games: unlike in, say, D&D, where the Dungeon Master is expected to be an impartial arbiter of rules and to even take the players' sides if things start to go wrong, exactly the opposite is expected of the Invader. The Marines are playing against the Invader, and vice versa, and with the Marines' limited resources placed against the almost limitless powers and superior numbers of the Invader, death is inevitable. To balance this out somewhat, the Marines are not limited to one life each. For the Invader player to win, (s)he must accumulate six Frags against the Marine players; fragged Marines respawn on their next turn with their starting levels of health and armour and whatever weapons they managed to accumulate during their last life. The Marines do not win by blowing away monsters, however: the Marines win by accomplishing the goals of the map and escaping to the exit intact. This is important for Marine players to remember, because sometimes it is far better to run from a fight than get bogged down in combat. In this way, Doom plays differently from other games of this type since there are no experience points or bonuses to be earned by cutting down the monsters unless one of them is carrying an item such as a key card that is vital to exiting the level.

Speaking of combat, there's quite a bit of it to be done here even though the Marines do not have the need to wipe out every monster in the base. Rather than using a "roll X dice to detemine if you hit, then roll X more dice to determine damage" system like Dungeons & Dragons or other games of that type, Doom uses a slightly simpler but no less fun system for determining hits and damage. Within the game are six special dice of different colours: one red, one yellow, two green, and two blue. Marine weapons and Invader attacks are all measured in different amounts of dice: a Marine attacking with just his fist, for instance, rolls one red die to determine hit and damage. The Cyberdemon, on the other hand, rolls all six to determine how much pain he inflicted on a luckless target. Combat itself is a two-phase process, but both phases are taken care of by one roll of the appropriate set of dice. After counting to see how many squares there are between you and your target (the range), dice are rolled. The first part determines if you hit your target by adding up the numbers shown on all the dice. If that number is equal to or greater than the range of your adversary, then you have hit. If not, you missed. Also, if any of the dice come up with a miss result, the attack is failed no matter what the numbers show. If a hit is shown, the player then counts the number of bullet holes shown on the faces of the dice to determine damage. Total damage is then divided by the target's armour value, rounded down, and that number of wounds are applied to the target. Finally, the dice are checked one more time, and if one or more bullet icons are shown on any of the dice, the Marine must discard one ammo token of the type used by the weapon (though some weapons, such as the Fist and Chainsaw, do not use ammo at all, and the Invaders never run out of ammunition). This makes combat a fairly simple affair as the dice are only thrown once, and the results of combat are very easily and quickly computed.

Setting up and playing your first Doom game, especially with a full four players, is a long affair. The box suggests a play time of 60-90 minutes, which is probably a benchmark to be expected more of experienced Doomers. First-timers should allocate a nice hunk of time for play, with an average of two to three hours for two players and even longer with three or four. Much of this time comes from setting up the board as each Marine moves and uncovers more of it. After your Marine players have gotten familiar with the layouts of each of the pre-printed scenarios, it is recommended that the Invader player set up the entire board ahead of time and simply place the monsters, items and other pieces as they are called for. This cuts down on playtime considerably and keeps the game moving much faster, especially since by that point, the Marine players will generally have their tactics decided in advance and operate like a well-oiled machine to get from the starting square to the exit as fast as possible. Of course, once you hit that point with your gaming group, any Invader worth her salt is going to be coming up with new scenarios and maps with which to harass her beleaguered Marine friends.

When it comes down to it, Doom: The Boardgame is far more successful than it has any right to be, considering from its computer gaming roots. But Kevin Wilson and Fantasy Flight managed something special with this game, and went on to use an expanded version of the rules and modular board layout for their dungeon crawl Descent: Journeys in the Dark. It isn't perfect; the biggest weaknesses for Doom come from a majorly understated playing time on the box (not to mention the time it takes to clean everything up once you're done playing) and the presence of only five scenarios playable out of the box. The level of gore in some of the room artwork and the intermediate complexity of some of the rules also makes Doom inappropriate for younger gamers, and the enormous difficulty faced by the Marines of surviving the map can be a turn-off to players who are used to having a slightly easier time of things (this can be remedied by an official rule from the designer's website that introduces the idea of player-selectable difficulty levels which can place or lift restrictions on what the Invader player is allowed to do and can also increase or decrease the strength of the Marine players to allow for a much more varied level of challenge). And let's not forget the cost to acquire the game itself (serious gamers, though, will no doubt split the cost between their gaming group by having everyone kick in $10 or so). But for everything negative thing one can say about Doom, there are five positives to more than make up for those down sides. The monsters are fantastically detailed and made from a tough sort of plastic that will stand up to abuse (with the exception of the Trites, whose legs are a little too thin and possibly prone to breaking if mishandled). The cardboard pieces are thick and coated, more than able to put up with normal game abuse by the players. It's easy to learn as long as you can read. And the rules keep everything going at a fast pace, even when combat gets hot and heavy.

Does Doom play better on a table than a PC? Personally, I don't think so. But that shouldn't stop any fan with a group of casual or hardcore tabletop gaming buddies from giving it a chance. Fantasy Flight has released an expansion set for the game, which gives you more rooms, extra rules, additional scenarious and new monsters to play around with if you've exhausted the standard set. And there are resources on the 'Net which can be used to assist a player in crafting new maps and writing new scenarios, so there is no real excuse for getting bored with it if you are willing to invest some time in expanding it yourself. The strengths of Doom are many compared to the weaknesses, and it is nice to find a game that so completely requires teamwork of its players in order to make it out alive. For those up to the challenge, Doom is well worth the investment.

Maybe I'll be seeing you in Hell myself, Marine. I'm always looking for fresh meat to run through the grinder. Until then, stay alert, keep your shotgun handy, and check those corners!

As the reviewer makes quite clear, the notion of a board game based on "Doom" has got to be one of the most dangerously counter-intuitive ideas ever. However, through its clear, methodical description and critical discussion of key gameplay elements, this well-written and satisfyingly in-depth review seem to convey the particular gaming experience of "Doom: The Boardgame" quite effectively, without assuming that the reader necessarily has any previous experience of tabletop gaming. Well done!

[ Comment by Demiath :: 06 Aug : 09:55 ]

Thanks for the feedback, Demiath! It means a lot to know people are actually reading stuff I write, and it sure provides a great incentive to write more. :)

I realized that I neglected to place a link to the game's website so those who want to follow-up on it can find all the official information from Fantasy Flight Games themselves. For those of you who were looking for a link, I'll fix it in an update, but for now, you can use this link to access the official Doom: The Boardgame site.
Doom: The Boardgame @ Fantasy Flight Games.

[ Comment by Areala :: 08 Aug : 18:50 ]

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