Can Steamforged make it a hat-trick as they prepare to return to the Resi that started it all?

_PREVIEW.   it’s about _TABLETOP.   words _KYLE PEDLEY.
publisher _STEAMFORGED GAMES./_CAPCOM.   release _TBC 2023.

October 28, 2021
images © Steamforged Games / CAPCOM 2021.

Board Game and survival horror enthusiasts alike can hold their collective breaths, grab a first aid kit or two, and celebrate/brace themselves/flee in terror (delete as applicable, depending on your nerves) as one of the most iconic locations in gaming (and indeed horror) history prepares to sprawl its way across tabletops next year.

Manchester-based Steamforged Games launched their latest kickstarter on Tuesday, this time for Resident Evil: The Board Game, an adaptation of the OG Resi title – or, more accurately, its glorious 2002 remake – that follows on from their highly successful takes on the 2nd and 3rd instalment in the original Playstation Resident Evil trilogy respectively.

If it seems a curious order to have tackled the titles in, that’s because, well it pretty much is (though their tabletop incarnation of 2 arrived in a storm of excitement for its 2019 remake), but from the myriad refinements and improvements Steamforged worked in between their Resi releases (3 landed earlier this year) – from refined mechanics to a far less cumbersome set up – its pretty exciting that arguably the most iconic instalment in the franchise is going to benefit from further tweaks to the formula.

Resident Evil 3: The Board Game presented an ‘open world’ campaign, where its first half (the full experience split once again across two boxes) could be played in a fairly flexible and player-defined order. It added an element of strategy and choice to the game that the more linear 2 was lacking – would you clear out the entirety of the ‘Downtown’ area, despite the later stages become densely populated with dangerous enemies, or instead chip away at each area of the map bit by bit? – and did a surprisingly good job of replicating Jill Valentine’s exploration and back-and-forth and key item hunting across Raccoon City in the original game.

Add in the inclusion of narrative beats where players were forced to make decisions that could have long-lasting consequences on their campaign as a whole, a City ‘threat’ level that meant the ante was constantly being upped with even base zombies became more threatening the further you progressed (again, much like the original …those darned naked factory zombies), and Resident Evil 3: The Board Game was not only a notable step-up from the already-enjoyable 2, but also showed a keenness in Steamforged to channel as much of the spirit of their source material as possible.

Which begs the question of what unique treats and horrors lie in store as board gamers return to the Spencer Mansion and take on the far-less action oriented first game in the franchise?

Steamforged have again done a great job keeping fans and prospective backers up to speed with their ideas, new inclusions and creative thought process for the title, and from what they’ve teased so far (with further drops and reveals inevitable over the course of the coming campaign and beyond), Resident Evil: The Board Game is shaping up to be its strongest and most thematic Resi outing yet.

Taking on the role of one of the original S.T.A.R.S members of the game from  an initial lineup of series mainstays Jill Valentine, Chris Valentine and their OG supporting cast of Barry Burton and Rebecca Chambers, the most immediate and visible change this time round is in the game’s set up and exploration. Both of the previous Resi tabletop adventures saw players exploring streets, sewers, clock towers and, of course, the police station, of Raccoon City, and each scenario’s map of tiles, doors and passageways would be set up at the outset.

A hidden polaroid of Resident Evil‘s Rebecca Chambers has been a hidden Easter Egg in every version of Resident Evil 2, including its 2019 remake. Steamforged have announced that a miniature of Rebecca in this outfit (pictured above) will be an exclusive reward for returning Kickstarter backers.

It had its distinct advantages – keeping the actual gameplay running at a brisk, smooth pace once everything was in place, and players were able to use their nigh-omniscient overview of the scenario layout to strategise and plan out their journeys, with varying ‘encounter tables’ and arguably Steamforged’s best mechanic, the tension deck, keeping things unpredictable and risky whenever your character stepped into certain unexplored spaces.

It did, however, necessitate slightly unwieldy and elongated set-up times, particularly in the later, larger scenarios. 3 did a solid job of mitigating and streamlining this by having universal item and tension decks (whereas 2 required these to be generated from scratch per scenario), but if you had the extra terrain elements, doors and other pieces to add to the table (why wouldn’t you?), it still meant you could easily be looking at a set up time that regularly crept over the 30-minute mark.

It also inhibited much of the sense of exploration and fear of the unknown (the aforementioned encounter tables and tension deck notwithstanding). It was clear from the outset where pivotal elements of any scenario – items, bosses, those lifesaving typewriters! – were, which in and of itself was a slightly regrettable downside of having every map visible from the off.

One of the most exciting changes for Resident Evil: The Board Game, then, is the inclusion of a more traditional dungeon-crawling mechanic of exploring the Spencer Mansion ‘as you go’. What looks to be an intuitive system of scenario cards (that correspond to numbered doors attached to each room you venture into) will mean that former safety net of knowledge and geographical awareness is gone completely. There’ll be no more planning a three-turn dash to an item box to recover that vital ammo or green herb, or getting all your aces lined up before tackling a particularly strong enemy or densely-populated room.

A hidden polaroid of Resident Evil‘s Rebecca Chambers has been a hidden Easter Egg in every version of Resident Evil 2, including its 2019 remake. Steamforged have announced that a miniature of Rebecca in this outfit (pictured above) will be an exclusive reward for returning Kickstarter backers.

Add in to this an overhaul of the games method of encounter enemies, with Steamforged replacing the physical placement of enemy models with another organic, changing encounter deck. Venture onto a new room or tile, and it will tell you how many of these new encounter cards to draw. Will you get unlucky and draw multiple zombies (…or worse), or luck out and find yourself in an eerily empty room? Of course, given the success and variability of the tension deck mechanic in previous games, those will hardly be the only two options, either.

Explore-as-you-go looks set to work perfectly for the Spencer Mansion setting – see the likes of Betrayal at the House on the Hill or Mansions of Madness for examples of the genuine sense of the unknown and apprehension it can instill – and, buoyed by the fantastic tension and encounter decks, it seems once again Steamforged are doing a terrific job in crafting an experience that will uniquely honour the style and nature of the original game. 2 and 3 were more action-oriented affairs as videogames, 1 was an at-times disorienting and paranoia-inducing descent into a labyrinth of the unknown, and by all accounts Resident Evil: The Board Game looks set to channel this wholeheartedly.

This is far from the only polishing and reworking being done to make the tabletop Spencer Mansion experience more faithful, too. The ubiquity of puzzles in the original and its remake sees the fetch quests of Steamforged’s previous offerings evolved into something more visual and involved, with a series of universal puzzle cards (fashioned after the four elemental crests of the video game) being promised to have multiple uses. In an official Steamforged blog for the game, lead designer Sherwin Matthews gives an example of how the colours on the cards will correspond to coloured switches in the game’s famous art gallery puzzle, but emphasises that they will not bring the flow of the game to a crashing halt:

“For us, the most important thing was not to introduce something that would drag you away from the action, or leave you scratching your heads for hours on end,” Matthews wrote in the recent post, “In the video games, stumping players for a few hours wasn’t a problem. But in our multiplayer board game? Another thing entirely.”

And in addition to puzzles and exploration within its now-iconic house of horrors environ, Resident Evil boasted some truly memorable bosses. Granted, most were along the lines of scaled up versions of horror tentpoles (a giant spider! A giant snake! A giant… triffid?), but it was this original simplicity and archetypal approach to its set pieces and adversaries that made them all the more immediate and threatening. Judging from the recently-released preview images of the different Kickstarter pledges and boxed sets for the game, players can fully expect to encounter the likes of Neptune (shark), Yawn (snake), Plant-42 (triffid-pod-tentacle-burn-it-with-fire thing) and more as they venture deeper into the Umbrella Corporation’s disaster, with some beautifully designed miniatures representing them all to boot.

Add in extra mechanics accounting for events taking place elsewhere in the mansion as you play, wholly new items such as kerosene cans that can be used to incinerate corpses (beware the Crimson Head!), the return from 3 of the ability to rescue supporting characters and now even send them off on missions where they can fetch essential resources, achieve goals or even get killed (this is a Resident Evil game, after all), and the return to the Spencer Mansion is shaping up to be another hit from Steamforged that goes once again to great lengths to channel the spirit, essence and uniqueness of the game it is translating to the table.

Resident Evil: The Board Game has us stoked, and we can’t wait to see what other mechanics, additions, exclusives, miniatures and the like will be rolled out over the course of the game’s Kickstarter campaign. Steamforged have already tweaked, polished and buffed its Resi formula admirably between instalments, and in returning to the title that started it all (and arguably still its most complete and fully realised experience), they look set to thrill, frighten and fulfil fans with the ultimate and definitive Resident Evil tabletop adventure.

Resident Evil: The Board Game is available to back on Kickstarter now and runs until Thursday 11th November, and will release early 2023.

You can also keep up to speed with all of Steamforged’s development updates over on their official blog.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *