Hellboy: The Board Game, is a cooperative, narrative-driven dungeon-crawling game for 1-4 players.
Players take on the roles of iconic characters from the Hellboy comics, including the psychic fish-man Abe Sapien, the pyrokinetic Liz Sherman, and the titular demon-man Hellboy himself.
Together, (or solo!), players will select top secret BPRD case files and take to the seedy occult underbelly of our world, where magical Nazis, monkeys with guns, and twisted, Lovecraftian horrors await.
The first thing that struck me about Hellboy was the evocative art- of course, anyone who has picked up a Hellboy comic will be familiar with Mike Mignola’s signature style that paints the modern world as a warped, Gothic cartoon. The style serves to add to the mood of the game, allowing players who are unfamiliar with the story of Hellboy to slip seamlessly into the world Mignola created- a world the players will now have to save.
Now, when I called this game a ‘dungeon-crawler’, some of the uninitiated among you may have become confused and thought this was a D&D tie-in.
Without getting into the fact that without D&D, modern games wouldn’t exist in the way we know them, a ‘dungeon-crawl’ is any game where a group of characters are exploring a map with rooms, kicking in doors, finding treasure and monsters inside, and seeking out a boss.
There is likely a little more nuance to it than that, but realistically, that’s what Hellboy is- except what you’re exploring is the masterful characters and world of the BPRD that Mignola created over 25 years ago.
While the premise of Hellboy will be somewhat familiar if you’ve played other dungeon-crawlers like Mansions of Madness, Descent, Imperial Assault or Gloomhaven, what Hellboy does differently helps it stand out in the crowd of the ever-growing genre.
Firstly, on the player turn, players can act in any order they wish. This is always a sign of an intensely strategic game. Is there a Clue in a room infested with rampaging Frog-Men? Just have Johann investigate it from a distance, then have Liz wander in and set the whole room on fire- are any of them left? Send Hellyboy in to pummel them to death- afterall, he’s immune to Liz’s flames!
And that’s just one such example that doesn’t factor in individual character’s special equipment, or more common items from the load out that the players select prior to the beginning of the mission.
The really cool thing about the case files in this game is that they’re all in sealed packets. Obviously this stops you from mixing up the cards and potentially spoiling the events, but it also requires you to make a decision based only on the small narrative briefing you’re given on the front of each packet.
Does the mission hint at an old mansion, cultists and the need to rescue a downed agent? Might wanna make sure you pack some flash grenades and a medical kit!
A lot of the decisions in Hellboy are based on mechanical outcomes surrounding the narrative of the game. It’s the perfect blend of clear numbers and dice rolling that also paints a picture of the action in your mind.
For example, if you’re fleeing a room filled with cowering cultists, you know that when you move past an enemy, you take an automatic damage when they strike you- most of the time it’s no biggie, except when Liz the pyromancer has to walk past the same cultist, which gives her the same damage, which might accidentally send her Living Flame gauge off the charts and engulf half the board in flames, destroying scenery, clues- and potentially your allies!
Liz, after all, can have a hard time keeping control of her pyromancy- getting smacked by disgusting frog dudes when all she wants is to get the hell out of there is a sure fire way to prod the sleeping bear!
Devotees of Good Games dot com will know I’m a huge fan of the solo board game experience– and Hellboy doesn’t dissapoint.
While the game scales nicely as you add more players, the solo experience sees you controlling two of the four agents, whichs gives you access to a nice kit of abilities without bombarding you with information to keep track of, and also forcing you to make some tough choices about what to cut from the team.
Hellboy: The Board Game comes with six case files, which will take you on an array of adventures hunting down cultitsts and frogmonsters, squaring off against rampaging tentacles and the ghost of Rasputin himself.
The game treats the various case files very carefully- it really doesn’t want anyone to accidentally spoil the various outcomes! You can play through each case file multiple times, not just for alternate endings, but also with different agents or equipment. The very clever encounter card system- which randomly determines the enemies, scenery, clues and such that you’ll find whenever you explore a new room-, means that no two games will be exactly alike.
Playing the game, I thought Hellboy would make for an excellent Rogue-like simulator for those who are fans of the genre!
I’m personally very excited for upcoming expansions which are (hinted at), adding 1940’s Nazis, and of course the infamous monkey with a gun.
Whether you’re a fan of the comics, the movies, or merely someone who appreicates a well-rounded and narrativly fulfilling cooperative dungeon-crawl, Hellboy will have something for you.
And what’s more? Hellboy is available right now from your local Good Games store!
Excited for more spicy content from Good Games? Join me this time next week when we do a deep dive on the latest and greatest from our friends at Games Workshop- WarCry!