Admittedly, that title would work much better if this was a scathing review, which it’s not. In fact, Resident Evil 3 improves in several ways upon Steamforged Games’ mediocre RE2 board game. It’s a very solid, if unspectacular, title that provides a surprisingly relaxed co-operative dungeon crawl experience punctuated by moments of breakout tension.
This game feels very authentic to its setting. Designer Sherwin Matthews understands what Resident Evil is about, and he manages to cram much of it into this tabletop endeavor.
It’s a strikingly better physical product than its predecessor. The previously aggravating tile artwork is brightened, and it feels as though you’re actually navigating an environment as opposed to swimming through perpetual darkness. The door tokens are improved, although still a bit obscured and difficult to discern. Most importantly, the cardboard slivers that served as modular walls in RE2 are gone. I almost threw those away several times mistaking them for punch board detritus. It was honestly awful.
The miniatures are the same quality as the previous title – which is honestly good enough. They have visible detail and function well. They’re a smaller scale than an outsider would be used to, I’d clock them in somewhere around 25mm. This is noticeably shorter than what you’d find in Core Space, Descent, or Warhammer Quest.
I don’t mind the scale, much. The minis are sharp enough and the game’s footprint benefits. It does detract from the experience in one notable aspect, however, and that’s when the bosses arrive. The hulking mutated Nemesis antagonist is responsible for the video game’s title, and when it appears on screen the bastard is scary as hell. Size is part of that. I can’t help but imagine what a huge Nemesis miniature would have felt like if the game was 28 or 32mm and my heart pines.
While I don’t often dwell on components in my reviews, I feel it’s important to discuss this within the context of this specific game. Partially because the Resident Evil 2 board game had such a pitiful physical presence, but also because the combination of smaller miniatures and modest presentation contributes to a pervasive and suffocating slightness. The experience feels diminutive and confining. It feels claustrophobic.
And that actually enhances the atmosphere. Much of Steamforged’s Resident Evil engine is moving and exploring new areas – sections of rooms or alleys – and unearthing new zombies, dogs, or worse. Environmental management is a key tactical element, requiring you open and close doors behind you to isolate enemy groups. This is absolutely the best part of the design as foes activate after the players but only if they’re in a connected series of tiles without a closed door between them. Much time is spent running and slamming shut barriers so you can forget about or postpone a problem.
The claustrophobic physical space feels as though it’s a feature of the engine. This game lives on its mood and undulating tension, and this is a large part of it. When Nemesis does show up at odd intervals, you will freak out and begin looking for an exit. It’s intense.
But that scant physical presence is equally detrimental. While it doesn’t quite harm the gameplay, it does give the product a minimalized feeling in terms of spectacle and value. I found the spartan characteristics of Dune: A game of Conquest and Diplomacy beneficial due to the lowered price point and the reduced space it occupies, however, Resident Evil 3 is still competing with a whole host of well-produced dungeon crawlers. For this reason, along with the very property-focused gameplay, it’s difficult to recommend this game to someone who is not a fan of the franchise.
It does really work though if you’re an RE fan. It’s important to approach it not expecting the innovation or sophistication of something like Descent: Legends of the Dark, but it presents a compelling horror game with a solid overall design approach.
One of the most significant changes from Resident Evil 2 is a new open world campaign format. This is splendid. You lay out an abstract map of Raccoon city and progress through scenarios acquiring new signature items like keys, car batteries, and cranks to unlock new areas. It accomplishes an open world sandbox feel allowing you to choose which scenario you play from those you have unlocked. This personalizes the experience to a degree, providing a sense of autonomy and agency, even if it’s entirely an illusion.
The unfortunate aspect is that you will need to play through all of the scenarios regardless of the order you select. Eventually you make your way to the clocktower finale and confront Nemesis. I did find this illusion of free will to be engaging enough and suspending your disbelief is not a challenge. It does invoke a certain sense of exploration within the city and forms a dichotomy with the quality of smallness that the game otherwise espouses. This campaign format is a very welcome addition and is a much better format than the straight-line progression of its predecessor.
My favorite mechanism, the tension deck, sees a glorious return. This is a central event deck that evolves over the course of play, ratcheting up the difficulty and well, tension, as the campaign progresses. It formalizes the uncertainty of apocalyptic Raccoon city and captures the devolution of the environment as time goes by. You can feel the surrounding lands breaking down as the sinister presence encroaches, and it’s simply a wonderful tool to keep players on edge.
It also ties into the sandbox campaign due to the danger level. This rises with each session, doubly so if you fail a mission. Certain cards provide worse effects when the city’s danger level is elevated. This mirrors the overall arc of the story and provides the necessary scaffolding for the hellish narrative progression.
I am somewhat torn on the boss battles in this game. They operate with a unique behavior deck and succeed in providing the most challenging moments of the campaign, but they’re often a little flat due to the environment. The smaller tile space forms a barrier to the potential dynamism of the system, and it actually contrasts negatively with the more vibrant boss battles of Steamforged’s Dark Souls board game. It’s ironic that Dark Souls suffered from a stale grind leading up to its wild final scene, while Resident Evil 3 suffers from the inverse – an entertaining and tense tactical crawl that culminates in somewhat brief showdowns. The most significant strategic factor here is expressed primarily through a gear check, as you will either possess the rocket launcher or equivalent tool of devastation allowing you to overcome the boss, or you will likely struggle and fail.
Besides the enhanced state of the core game, the Resident Evil 3 product line as a whole is much improved over RE2. Both of these titles are Kickstarter products, and the previous release featured a whole slew of exclusive expansions. Some of the more interesting boss encounters – such as the alligator – were impossible to track down in the retail environment. It feels as though Steamforged learned from this mistake as Resident Evil 3 presents all of its best content for retail consumption.
The City of Ruin expansion in particular will be a necessary buy for those who enjoy the game. It completes the story, adding a mini campaign addendum of several missions where you encounter new bosses and environments. It does stray away from the open world campaign format, instead opting for a linear epilogue to the full base game experience, but this works within the context of the story, and it doesn’t feel as though much is sacrificed. The amount of content in this expansion is perfectly apportioned and it’s a very pleasant second wind of Resident Evil gameplay.
Resident Evil 3: The Board Game is an enjoyable dungeon crawl. It captures the feel of the video game series, focusing your efforts on scarping by as you manage ammo and avoid conflict. From the perspective of a fan of the video game, it hits most every button and leaves a sense of satisfaction. I don’t think this is the type of tabletop game that’s going to earn effusive praise or attain game of the year nods, but it’s a solid experience that rewards time and effort with equal payout.
A review copy was provided by the publisher.