DOOM: The Boardgame | Designer: Kevin Wilson | Artist: Bob Naismith, Scott Nicely | Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games | Category: Thematic, Exploration | Players: 2-4 | Year: 2004
I can remember first catching a glimpse of the DOOM board game – or “boardgame” as its awkward marketing puts it – sometime in 2005 when the box started appearing on Gamestation store shelves alongside World of Warcraft: The Boardgame.
Seeing a board game in a retail store typically designated for video games was weird at first, but whoever was handling the distribution of Fantasy Flight’s licensed properties was clearly confident about the cross pollination between video games and their tabletop counterparts.
Would gamers be able to put down their joypads long enough to pick up a set of dice and a rulebook? Of course our previous looks at Dark Souls, Uncharted, and Resident Evil give us a pretty clear answer today and thus it’s easier than ever to see DOOM: The Boardgame as one of the movement’s big trailblazers.
Its advertisement in video game stores was no accident because even today DOOM: The Boardgame remains one of the most thematic translations of a video game yet seen in a board game format. If you like video games, and more specifically; if you like shoot ’em ups, then this set is already going to feel very familiar.
In it a group of players form up a squad of cooperating marines and they face off against a lone Invader player who, amongst other tricks and traps, deploys the armies of hell in an attempt to overrun the marines’ interstellar HQ. All the Invader player has to do is ‘frag’ the marines until their lives run out, but the marines on the other hand have much more involved objectives dictated by a scenario book.
Much like the video games, DOOM: The Boardgame sees players explore a preset map collecting power-ups and key cards whilst shooting plenty of demons! The Invader player uses their special deck of cards to activate traps and spawn new invaders to the map, though these new miniatures can only appear in areas that the marines do not have line-of-sight to. Thus creatures have a tendency to leap out of the shadows when you least expect them to; a quality that firmly establishes the game’s tie to id Software’s DOOM 3.
This connection ultimately makes a lot of sense when considering DOOM 3’s modern aesthetic and (then) peak of marketability, though it’s puzzling why Fantasy Flight Games chose not to adopt the ‘3’ as well. DOOM: The Boardgame is aurally and stylistically grounded in everything about DOOM 3 from the art assets and box cover to the character roster and campaign narrative.
Like DOOM 3, the board game is usually a lot slower paced than the classic video games and the focus on horror and jump scares tries to instil players with a sense of despair more than anything else. The steady pace of revealing map tiles, managing ammo tokens, and keeping watch on dark corners does result in some very long sessions at the table and there are times when the combat gets bogged down in dice calculations.
That’s not to say that the board game can’t hold its own with regards to action though. There are a lot of customizable elements that turn DOOM’s basic combat loop into a melting pot of varied moments and the marine players always feel pleasantly overpowered. With a full team of marines all geared up to play, the shoot ’em up qualities are quite sharp and arguably have the board game feel like an actual miniatures game with its strict tile-based movement and blast radius mechanics.
Speaking of miniatures; DOOM: The Boardgame has a lot of them. Talking about impressive board game miniatures isn’t quite the unique selling point that it used to be, but the plastic models featured in DOOM still hold up in terms of quality and the opportunity of seeing a Cyberdemon in sculpt was always going to be an exciting prospect regardless of era!
Elsewhere the component situation proved to be a mixed bag. The sturdy tiles and wealth of content certainly spoke well of the game’s asking price, but the sheer overload of tokens is pretty hard to swallow by modern standards. DOOM is an overproduced mess of “stuff” even when compared to modern big box games like Dark Souls.
There is a stupid number of tiles and connectors, chits, figures, and markers for just about everything. Terrain features are never printed on the tiles themselves and instead of small cards for weapon details there are huge player boards and reference sheets that gobble up even more table space. Only making this worse is the woefully undersized storage box that barely holds the package together. If any game needed an old school coffin-sized box then it was definitely this one!
Things got even crazier with the release of DOOM: The Boardgame: Expansion Set which added even more miniatures, tokens, rules, and sheer awesomeness than before. Yes, thankfully DOOM’s only expansion was all that was needed to round out the experience and looking back I’d actually say it’s one of the best board game expansions you’ll see for a game like this.
Along with the new invaders, a new campaign, and several new toys for the marines to play with, the Expansion Set brought with it the cool-looking airless terrain pieces (complete with suffocation rules!) and several promising new multiplayer modes designed for PvP; a tremendously fun inclusion whose deathmatch and capture the flag gameplay setups brought the board game into even closer contact with its digital roots.
This noticeable thematic connection between board game and video game is so strong here that it prompted someone I once played it with to ask: “Why not just play the video game instead?”. It’s a surprisingly good question when you really think about it. DOOM: The Boardgame is that close an experience to the digital games, even to a point where the advantages of the board game risk becoming less obvious.
This is especially true with regards to the campaign rules that don’t play well to the game’s strengths. If anything can be said to feel “tacked on” then it would be the optional campaign structure that rewards players for kills and allows the purchase of several bonuses between sessions. The actual storyline is well constructed on the whole, but playing through with a squad of marines who have all since armoured up and become half invincible really sells the otherwise sweet concept short.
Compared to what the genre had offered up until that point in 2004 though, DOOM: The Boardgame is arguably one of the first board games to fully realize the potential of a video game/board game crossover. The game and especially its expansion set are becoming rarer by the day, but even when the product went out of print, its legacy would live on. Fantasy Flight Games adapted its core mechanics into a series of excellent dungeon crawlers (Descent: Journeys in the Dark) and other licensed properties (Star Wars: Imperial Assault), each time enhancing the already strong blueprint into something even more streamlined and enjoyable.