One of the hottest new trends in board gaming is Deck-Building games and with companies more than willing to try getting their video game franchise in board game form, it's only natural someone would take this shot. Who would have guessed Resident Evil would be the one to stop moving long enough to pop a couple rounds? The genre has a couple huge successes so far (Dominion, Ascension) but neither are trying what Resident Evil tries. So how does it ultimately stack up and could this be the game to get video gamers into deck-building games?
Unlike Collectable Card Games, Deck-Building Games require only the initial investment although further purchases are usually an option. For those unfamiliar with Deck Building Games, the concept is you acquire cards to add to your personal deck with the ultimate goal of scoring the most points at the end of the game. Most of these games support this notion with several strategicly varying paths. For example, there is no real "right way" to play Dominion. So the real trend for these games is to have a plan but still be flexible. In Resident Evil, in 2 of the 3 modes, your score is acquired by defeating infected. In the third mode, your points are still directly related to your violence, just against other players instead of zombie dogs. Regardless, your goal in RE is simply deal damage and the bulk of your desires in the game relate solely to that.
On a players turn, they can Buy, play an Action, and Explore. Buying cards requires either special Action cards or much more likely, Ammo cards. Ammo Cards in this game serve the duel purpose of fueling weapons and financing expansion. Ammo cards can only be spent on one or the other. Playing an Action card is essentially the "rulesbreakers" of a turn. They run the gamut from granting extra cards, pulling a weapon from your discard pile, to even granting more actions to be played. Finally, there is exploring.
To explore, a player puts out the weapons they're using, the ammo required to fuel said weapons, and draws the top card of the encounter/mansion deck. If the loaded weapons deal damage equal or higher to the enemies health, that creature dies and you claim the card as points. If not, the player loses health = creatures damage and the card goes to the bottom of the mansion deck. In Story Mode, the ultimate goal is to defeat the Uroboros monster and end the game. Then the player with the highest points wins.
he game has three modes, Story, Mercenaries, and Versus. Story Mode is how I described the game above. The mansion deck is shuffled, random items added to the deck, and the game ends when a certain monster dies. Mercenaries is slightly different where it's a team based thing, it requires players to constantly explore as teams to keep a combo/multiplier going. It ends after 15 turns. Finally, there is versus mode where there are no monsters, only other players and this is about as interesting as it sounds.
Beyond this, there is an apsect of progression in that your character gains special abilities the more points they gather. For example, Jill can skip a turn to draw twice as many cards and have twice as many options her next turn, but only after she's killed 8 points worth of creatures.
The gameplay is very touch and go. When it works, it touches on greatness but everytime I played, I spent many turns watching myself and other players turtle. The other thing is a large deck is actually a liability here (for example, I only really started doing well when I started pulling in majority of my deck into my hand, via actions and skills). The problem with the game is that it borrows from everyone without really knowing why it works in those other games.
After all, Resident Evil isn't the first deck building game with enemies, nor is it the first to duel purpose cards with money. Instead, it feels like the designers never bothered to play any of the other deckbuilding games. Lessons learned from those could have shaped this game into a much better product. One of the biggest liabilities to the game is the Mansion Deck itself. With no knowledge of what enemies are coming up, a smart player ends up storming the mansion with enough firepower to level mountains. This is because enemies in this deck, that's shuffled and random, range from 10HP all the way up to 90HP and can deal between 15-70 Damage (Possibly more should Chaingun Majini fail to die). Exploring the mansion woefully undergunned is a huge issue, so I've personally seen people use up a rocket launcher on a Yellow Herb. One character can "peek" at the mansion deck, but everyone else is going in blind.
This issue was solved by both Heroes of Graxia and Thunderstone a long time ago, and designed around by Anima: Beyond Good and Evil. And since two of the three modes require the blind draw, this IS an issue that could have been solved with just paying attention to the genre and learning from it. Theoretically, one can easily adapt Thunderstones approach with house rules but that's a workaround.
Perhaps one of the more insulting aspects of this game is the sheer cheapness. The game resuses a lot of the artwork RE fans had already seen many times before (including the REmake cover on Gamecube). The manual has constant lineup issues and even ends, I shit you not, mid sentence. But beyond that, there are the cards, which are close in quality in the kinds of "collectable" cards which came with action figures. Very cheap, very easily damaged, and the packaging, to offset this issue, doesn't include space for the sleeved cards, only the highly vulnerable naked cards. How vulnerable? In the span of a day, one of my mansion cards bowed irrepairably meaning, should the curly card come up, I know what enemy it is just because the cheap ass cards are susceptable to poltergeist.
This of course negates the other issue that the game, which runs $30, comparable to better made games, (aka, better materials) even lacks functional tokens, putting the onus on the players to provide these things. Just what one wants, a game that requires more parts beyond what you just paid for. Which stands as a double nut punch after the cheapness of the cards.
If you're a hard core RE fan, there is nothing wrong here or rather nothing you'd accept as fact. Likewise, people entering the genre will have no frame of reference on everything this game does wrong. But that's the same as saying Yo Noid is fucking genuis if a player never touched a Super Mario Game. With enough modifications and expansions, there is still potential for RE:DBG to be good, but it's going to take a lot of work. Hopefully Bandai is willing to learn their lessons, PLAY some competitors, and burn the calories needed to save this game. But with knowledge beyond RE, I cannot rightly suggest it. As one of my friends put it while playing the game, "It's like they only let video gamers playtest this and completely ignored board gamers."
If you're dead set on playing a deck building game, try Ascension or Dominion instead. Hell, even give Thunderstone (I'm not a fan but it does this game better) a shot. But for now, give Resident Evil a wide birth and see what they do with the expansions.