Resident Evil 2’s board game adaptation is being made by super fans, and it shows.
Resident Evil 2 has a die-hard fan base, and the creators of its board game recreation are very clearly part of it. After playing through a scenario of Resident Evil 2: The Board Game at Gen Con 2018 with lead designer Sherwin Matthews, I knew that the classic survival horror game people hold dear was in good hands.
This board game adaptation is designed with more thoughtfulness and attention to detail than I have ever seen in a digital-to-table translation. Its tension, environments, paths to completing each objective, and even gameplay strategy feel nearly one-to-one with the video game.
Take an early look at its awesome looking minis and board here:
And that’s because the people behind it seriously know their stuff. When Matthews first got word that he would be working on the RE2 game, he was so excited that he couldn’t wait for assets to be delivered from Capcom. Instead, he drew the map of the Raccoon City police station on a grid from memory alone.
As a long-time fan of the early games in this series, I was comforted when Matthews explained that “this is a survival horror game, not a ‘kill everything game’. If you try to blast everything, you’ll run out of bullets, get bit, and die.” He wasn’t kidding, as we managed to beat the scenario without actually killing a single enemy, though apparently later scenarios in the campaign don’t always allow that same non-lethality.
The commitment to the theme and the source material here are seriously unmatched. Instead of just shooting at zombie minis like many other tabletop games, you’re meant to manipulate enemies, utilize the environment, and carefully use every resource you are given. At the end of each turn, you draw from a Tension deck (whose card backs look like the famous slowly creaking-open door loading screen of the original games), making it constantly feel like something could be about to jump out at you.
There are deeply hidden easter eggs, secret items, crest keys and locks, and map layouts that actually mimic the specific levels they represent — there are even tank control and knife-only rules variant if you want a real challenge. Matthews kept pausing to share story after story of different elements that were organically built in to recreate the original Resident Evil experience.
The way you have to dodge and weave past zombies in tight hallways felt just like the video game.
I’m not exaggerating when I say that I have never felt a tabletop game do what Resident Evil 2 has done. The constant low-key dread and tension within this game took me back to my childhood, but with a completely new and refreshing experience that I can now share with friends. It was remarkable.
The way you have to dodge and weave past zombies felt just like the video game. When they do grab you, the mechanics allow you to shove them off as they stumble back, providing a much-needed opportunity to escape. Your health is tracked on the classic pulse monitor, which you refill with herbs and first aid kits, and ammo only comes on rare occasions.
Each scenario begins with a specific objective, but you don’t know how exactly to complete it. In ours, we needed to reach the S.T.A.R.S. office inside the RPD station, but had to explore looking for a key to unlock a door that would then let us find another key that would finally get us where we need to go. All the while, creatures like zombies, dogs, prehensile arms extending from the walls, and even a Licker got in our way.
Resident Evil 2: The Board Game can be played solo for that classic feel, or with up to four total players. Leon Kennedy, Ada Wong, Claire Redfield, Robert Kendo, William Birkin, and even HUNK and Tofu will all be playable across the base game and expansions, all with their own special abilities and weapon proficiencies.
The core game comes with eight scenarios, but the expansions will bolster that number to 23, including an encounter with a giant freakin’ alligator. Those scenarios can be played individually, or in the specific order of the video game as a campaign. This option means you keep your ending health, items, and ammo from the last scenario, and certain item pickups can be missed entirely if you don’t stop to grab them.
I was disappointed to hear that RE2’s puzzles wouldn’t be represented in the adaptation. It’s a glaring hole in replicating that authentic early Resident Evil feel, as they could create occasional breaks that would make you play and think in different ways, and often also challenged players to retread zombie-filled hallways. As one of my favorite aspects of the early games, this absence does leave a dent in my otherwise glowing impression of Resident Evil 2: The Board Game.
But the intense mood and well-developed mechanics are something I can’t stop thinking about. The clear dedication in this tabletop recreation provides an amazing example for future video game adaptations, and I can’t wait to see how its other levels have been brought over.
Resident Evil 2: The Board Game is expected to reach Kickstarter backers later this year, followed by a retail release in early 2019. Until then, try not to get the G-Virus.
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.