Friday, July 23, 2021

Hellboy The Boardgame Review

 A few months ago I acquired the Hellboy board game by Mantic. I was lucky enough to get my hands on the Kickstarter version which included several expansions and some Kickstarter-limited edition stuff. As usual I fell for the miniatures but heard good things about the game. Once painting had commenced enough I tried my hand at a few games. Here is my view on the game. 

Me enjoying our first game

The hardware

The best word to describe the contents of the boxes is "abundant". There are lots of miniatures and 3D-miniaturized counters (especially in the Kickstarter edition). zillions of cards, large and small (which is actually a benefit as it helps to distinguish between them), loads of cardboard counters and the double-printed map tiles that make up the playing board. All this makes for a very good-looking game that needs an impressive amount of table surface. I will let the pictures speak for themselves. 

What is more, the game fits in the box, even after punching all the counters and tiles. A real quality in my book. 

The Rules 

Players play Agents of the Bureau of Paranormal Defense and Research (BPRD) running missions for that Bureau. In that respect the games are mostly taken from the "Hellboy and the BPRD" line of comics. Readers of those comics will encounter many familiar things. 

Players oppose the game and thus play cooperatively to defeat the game, not each other.  

This game makes a point of the game narrative and has worked this into the rules used to setup the game in quite a novel way. Whether you like it is a matter of taste, but it definitely does keep you in suspense right up until the final Confrontation if you play it by the book. But let me expand on this below. 

Game setup

Players choose between 2 and 4 Agents to play the game with. Agents' stats are on a dashboard card and Agents come with their own starting equipment as well as some miscellaneous stuff that can be "bought" beforehand. This includes all kinds of weapons, magical aids and Backup Agents, additional figures that can aid you on the board as well as can provide distant backup during the game. 

The basis for each game is a scenario, called a Case File, made up of decks of numbered cards.  

Reading the first card is also the start of the game. The cards are read, flipped, read again and resolved in succession one by one, each one giving instructions on how to proceed and when to flip the next Case File card.  

This way, the players gradually discover the mission, the layout of the game board made up from the cardboard tiles, their opponents and finally (really finally, because it is only revealed when reached) the final Confrontation; the End Boss.

This means that the board is laid out during play and the Encounter cards (that determine what you encounter on the board), the Enemy cards, the Doom cards (usually bad things that happen to you during play) and the End Boss and his Behaviour cards are sorted during play. The game has a large number of coded cards that each fit certain Case Files. 

While it is on the one hand interesting to discover the mission and all its challenges during play, players should realize this can take up to 30 minutes before you actually roll any dice. 

Game Play

The game unfolds in phased turns. First, enemies act. These move and attack in combat or at range in a programmed way. Enemy attacks automatically succeed and the Agents defend against it. 

Then the Agents act. Each Agent has 3 Activations that can be spent on Actions. These Actions can be general things, like moving on the board, shooting, or Special Actions tied to the Agent, like Liz's Fireballs and Hellboy's Right Hand of Doom Punch. Actions can be spent in any succession and can even serve to aid another Agent. 

Actions are either automatically successful or must be tested. Each Agent has 4 basic skills (Fight, Shoot, Investigate and Defend) and some Special skills. The colour of the skill on the Agent card indicates the colour of the test dice used. Investing more Activations in a test (either for yourself or for another Agent) will boost the colour of the test. 

You roll tests with three coloured dice and an Effect die. The colours (yellow, orange, red and black) indicate increasing effectiveness and the Effect die adds one of 5 bonuses (Extra successes, roll again etc) and 1 penalty (Discard the highest die).  

Through these Actions and tests the Agents interact with enemies and board elements. They can Explore new rooms, work out Encounters, attack enemies, put out fires or investigate Clues. Investigated Clues gives your team Insight Markers that will provide bonuses in the final Confrontation. 

Agents can then rest (provided there are no enemies on the board) during which they can Heal, Investigate clues, take new positions etc. Resting and the Doom cards that you draw every turn may advance the Doom Track, the time limit on the scenario. As soon as the tracker reaches the point the scenario has indicated, the Final Confrontation begins, whether the Agents are ready or not! And with some wrapping up of the turn, working out some game effects like fires and Frog swarms (literally signs of Doom) the next turn begins. 

When the Doom Tracker hits the End point, the Final Confrontation begins. The game then proceeds just like before, but without the chance to rest and without Doom cards. 

The last Case File cards now tell you what your final challenge will be, which Boss and Behaviour cards you have to sort out, as well as the Victory conditions the Agents have to meet in order to win. This usually includes killing monsters, saving people or blowing up stuff. Or all of those at the same time!  

How it plays

While all of the above sounds pretty complex when you write it out like that, once the dice start rolling game play is actually pretty quick and straightforward. Everyone is constantly involved since Agents can use their Actions in any sequence they like, so alternating actions and helping each other keeps drawing you into the game. 

The Encounter-, Doom and Enemy cards provide you with all the information you need during the game, provided you are acquainted with the rules. To be honest, having one player that is rule-savvy should be enough. The rest of the game play let's you make your tactical decisions and take your Action even if you don't know all the rules. 

Scenarios are tough. Preparation for the Final Confrontation takes some planning and can be done more ways than one. Endgames might catch you by surprise depending on the cards and Confrontations can be hard-fought and still lost. Even the ones labelled Medium can be close affairs and I haven't tried any "Hard" ones yet, so those must be real nail-biters.

What is good? 

The game looks terrific (especially painted), plays quick and tense once the dice start rolling and is an excellent example of a cooperative miniature board game. 

All Case files are based on Hellboy stories, so a fan like me can be content and can find a lot to recognize. It should even support solo play and can harbour up to four players. Regardless of the number of players I should not attempt a game with less than three Agents. 

There is one entire Case File dedicated to be an introductory scenario and with a game as complex as this that is certainly a big help. 

What could be better? 

The most important thing is also a matter of taste and principle. Mantic has put a lot of work into the narrative of the game. Starting with the Case File card nr 1, the game literally unfolds during play while more and more information becomes available and reveals your mission, opponents and challenges. 

However, this takes time. In out first game, having to look up things due to unfamiliarity with the rules, it took us 40 minutes before the first die roll. Even now that we have things sorted out better, it does not get much below half an hour. 

When you need that much time to get into the story of the game, it is essential that everybody likes that. Or some people will be sitting there, waiting to get started while you get the game set up. 

Perhaps it is different when you play with seasoned board gamers only that all love the Hellboy canon and can participate in setting up the game, but in my experience such parties are rare. We found the game setup took way too long to be interesting for everybody. So we took to flipping through the Case Files, sorting everything out in advance and get right into the playing part of the game. 

There are no Case Files for 1 or 2 Agents. That would have been nice for smaller games. On the other hand, nothing stops you from attempting any scenario with just 2 Agents. 


With the caveat mentioned above, this is a great game. Get into it. 

Monday, July 19, 2021

Oathmark Expansions Review

Some time ago I reviewed Oathmark: Battles of the Lost Age in very enthusiastic terms and I must say; this enthusiasm hasn't lessened at all by playing it a number of times. In the meantime three expansion books have been published so it was about time that I took a look at those. 


All three books have been published by Osprey Publishing as full colour 80-page softcovers in the familiar Osprey squarish size. They share the pleasant layout of the rulebook. 

All three books are more-or-less built up around a central theme and offer some extras on the side. One should not mistake them for equivalents of the classic "army books" as only Oathbreakers can be viewed as such really. Their contribution to the game is mostly collateral and has more to do with new units,  mini-campaigns, terrain and RPG-esque additions. 

Battlesworn was the first expansion to be published and anticipation was high on my account. I expected an army book on one of the missing races, like Undead, but instead got something else entirely. 

Battlesworn, as the title suggests, has elite units as its central theme. The book offers rules to enhance units that perform exceptionally well in battle with Battle Honours. While giving an RPG-like taste  by individualizing units like this, Battle Honours can actually be used (sparsely) on the battlefield itself by re-rolling dice. The book offers rule suggestions for gaining Battle Honours which can also be lost and regained. These elite units are tough and might even overcome destruction or Breaking. 

When you think this takes up the best part of the book you are wrong. That role is actually taken by water: as a terrain type to be sailed or crossed, as a reason to introduce the Engineer Unit (who can bridge water but also builds fortifications), Boats, water-related Spells and three water-dwelling monsters.

The book also contains three Military Expeditions. These are actually ready-to-play mini-campaigns of up to 4 scenarios that come with a few unique territories to be won. 

So if you want to dabble in fortifications and amphibious landings and have plans for a Lake Battle, this is a book for you.

So instead of an army list this book offers bits and pieces to enrich your games, play on a different (wetter!) kind of table for a change and play campaigns. 


Do you need this to enjoy Oathmark? Well, no. It expands on the gaming possibilities by adding water as terrain and lets you individualize units. But of course if you don't care to build boats or name units you can certainly do without. The Engineer unit might even be the most generally applicable contents of this book. Nevertheless, it's a fun and well-made addition to the game. 

Oathbreakers' central theme are the Undead. The book offers rules, territories, Special Abilities, Spells and unit lists to found an Undead kingdom and play Undead armies. In that respect it is the only Army list book of the three. 

All the classic Undead types are represented and then some except, oddly enough, the Zombie. Undead rank and file is made up of Skeletons (the grunts that provide soldiers, spearmen and archers) and Revenants (the elite types that provide the linebreakers, warriors and cavalry). There is of course Skeletal artilley as well and the whole reeking bunch is augmented by Revenant Champions and Necromantic Spellcasters. 

Skeletons are brittle in combat but quite resilient against arrows and of course necromancers can replete losses during the battle by reviving new Undead. Most Undead are unfased by Morale checks, but do suffer more losses due to their lack of self-preservation. All in all an interesting new army. 

The Undead can be played as a stand alone army or -like the other races in Oathmark- in combination with other races. There will be some limitations regarding Command as the living do not get full benefit from Undead commanders. 

The Undead kingdom provides characteristic territories (yes, there are tombs) as well as Chariots!!!! The Undead, being of course a bit outdated as they are, well, dead, still use chariots and up until this book came out, they were the only army to do so. 

Besides the Undead the book offers some more RPG-like material for creating Legendary Heroes; exceptional and rare (only 1 per army in principle) characters with a few Heroic Traits, which are also introduced in this book. 

Finally there are three new Military Expeditions; three mini campaigns that also offer new unique territories. 

As the Undead were sorely missed in the range of armies for Oathmark this book was perhaps the most eagerly awaited expansion. At least by me! For me, this book really was a must. 

Time is the Bane of Kings and this supplement mainly addresses Kingdoms. As Oathmark players will know your Kingdom is the source and base for your army and the makeup of your territories determines which races and units your army may field. So it is only logical that Events that have impact on your Kingdom will impact your games as well. 

In that respect the book provides a wide range of Kingdom Events to be rolled for after each battle. Be they harmful or beneficial, these Events influence your kingdom and the armies and abilities with which you can fight your next battle. Think failed coups, horse shortages and plagues. Rolling for these events may sound a bit clinical but they actually offer great opportunities for an ongoing narrative. 

Besides the Kingdom Events the book offers new Formations and Units. 

First, all races get to field chariots! As long as you have the right territory, that is. So chariot lovers that dislike playing undead will be happy with this book for this reason alone. 

Second, when choosing the right territory, this may function as a training ground to teach your units new formations. Phalanxes, Shieldwalls and Javelin storms will now be available on the battlefield to surprise and terrify your opponent! 

Last, the book offers a few new units: living statues, animated idols and Collossi! 

This book as well has a few mini campaigns, new Spells and Special Abilities. 


Like Battlesworn this book is a nice and well-made addition to the game. When you view your Kingdom as an Army generator and don't care for chariots you could certainly skip this one and still have fun playing Oathmark for the foreseeable future. 

For the tabletop wargamer the formations are probably the most interesting feature. These seem, like most additions to Oathmark, interesting but subtle enough to not be game-changers. However, phalanxes and skirmish formations could become really influential. I would not go without this book for that reason alone, and the fleshing out of your Kingdom is a big bonus for me.