The Hellboy board game is working with the comic’s creator, and picking its weirdest moments to recreate.
When Hellboy: The Board Game was announced earlier this year, I was immediately intrigued by how developer Mantic Games might translate the spirit of Big Red and his “Right Hand of Doom” onto the tabletop. After playing a round on the show floor of Gen Con 2018, it’s shaping up to be a lot of fun, and staying very true to its comic inspiration.
I got to play as Hellboy while IGN’s own Tom Marks controlled Abe as we took on the adaptation’s introductory mission. A ‘Case’ card with a story setup was read, explaining we were responding to a pretty routine disturbance — which rarely ever end up being routine. As play began, our characters stepped into a small, stone-walled hallway, immediately coming face to face (or mini to mini) with some terrible frog monsters.
As I looked at Mantic’s Rob Burnham questioningly, he explained that these monsters were chosen for this mission as an homage to Hellboy creator Mike Mignola’s obsession with frogs. He said development of the board game has been going with the hand-in-hand contribution of Hellboy’s creator — from art to beasties to even models and mechanics.
Our scenario’s unique flavor is something Rob explained is carried through each adventure in the game. Mantic chose to focus on the quirkier, more unique stories within Hellboy’s lore, like the evil turkey, Hellboy going to Mexico and fighting luchador wrestlers, and many other bizarre scenarios.
This was done in an effort to entertain and delight fans of Hellboy’s commitment to character and never taking itself to seriously. Rob even explained that Mignola laughed at some of these story choices, but Mantic had a vision to make a game with as much character and cheekiness as possible.
Both Hellboy and Abe had starting items and abilities that felt fitting to their personalities. Hellboy had his hand cannon and an ability called deep pockets that let hit randomly draw from a small stack of items, each with its own unique effect. Abe had a harpoon with an extremely powerful attack (which we were told we should probably save for the end) alongside a small pistol.
Combining high impact abilities with pickups that can upgrade your dice allowed for some impressive swings
Both Abe and Hellboy were built for different roles that didn’t really rely on stat values, but rather a colored ranking that denoted what color dice would be used. The better-colored dice had better faces on them, giving you the opportunity to roll higher or lower results depending on the set you use.
There’s also an effect die you had to add to every roll, with results like doubling your highest roll, the ability to re-roll any number of other dice, or a skull symbol, which had devastating effects dependant on the type of roll you were making. When Tom rolled with Abe to shoot an enemy, rolling a skull resulted in his pistol running out of ammo, which then took an action to reload.
Combat is resolved by rolling against static traits on each monster’s card, and combining high impact abilities like Abe’s Harpoon with pickups that can upgrade your dice allowed for some impressive swings. We were able to take out two-thirds of an impressively large frog boss monster’s health with one harpoon toss like this, followed by a huge punch of my giant red fist (also buffed by an upgrade to my dice), annihilating the boss in one turn.
While it felt awesome, it did keep me from having that comic book hero sense of barely squeaking through the odds and overcoming the seemingly insurmountable. To the game’s credit, Burnham said we had the most success out of anyone who demo’d the game at the convention, and the level was designed to act as a bit of a tutorial.
We breezed through this scenario, but apparently others doing the demo weren’t so lucky.
Each scenario’s board is built out of a specific arrangement of tiles, manifesting themselves in this case as a series of tiny passageways that limited strategic choice. This made the game feel a bit on-rails and kept me from being surprised but apparently later scenarios open up and add a lot more tiles. And while the movement was limited, the actual mechanics of combat were dynamic and afforded some great moments.
I had a blast playing Hellboy, but I feel like I have lingering questions for the rest of the game. How much do the maps open up? How much does story and choice come into play? How much do your different objectives change? I guess I’m stuck waiting until I can take Big Red home to find out.
Hellboy: The Board Game won’t be released until early next year, but you can pre-order it with a late Kickstarter pledge here until August 13th.
For more of our coverage from Gen Con 2018, check out IGN’s tabletop page, where you can see everything from the show and more.
John Borba is an avid tabletop gamer, zombie enthusiast, and enjoys the Mexican dessert, Tres Leches cake. Follow him on Twitter or Instagram as @borbsauce.