Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the cult classic TV show in its newest board game incarnation. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, from Jasco Games, pits the players in the roles of the iconic TV white hats, Buffy, Willow, Xander, Giles, Angel and Spike against the Big Bads of the TV series; The Master, The Mayor, Adam, Glory, Caleb and the First across the city of Sunnydale.
Players race across Sunnydale, slaying Demons, dusting Vampires and collecting the much-needed items to face against the monster of the week to uncover a clue to the big bad's plot against Sunnydale and the world. But all is not as it seems; the baddies move around Sunnydale wounding the scoobies and killing vulnerable townies and eventually the big bad will reveal itself.
Throughout the struggle wounds and dead townies fill up the apocalypse track and if it ever gets to 13 that is the end of the game and the good guys loose, but if the scoobies stop three plots of the big bad then they claim victory!
The World of Buffy and Sunnydale
The board is a decent size, with a series of locations spread across Sunnydale such as the university, Sunnydale High, Buffy's house, Angel's mansion and so one, the location areas are a decent size, but at the end of games that are not working out too well they can get a little crowded with various tokens, but not overly so. The artwork on the board is nice, and the locations are distinctive. The general city scape bag ground of the board is a little lack-lustre but most of the board is taken up with the locations so this isn't too much to deal with.
Each player gets to play a character, though there is nothing to stop them playing more than one, the artwork on these boards is original artwork and it is very nice, and it is a shame that the excellent artwork doesn't extend to the item, event or monster cards which have very little generic artwork on them. Each character through the game will use actions, and in each round the characters have four of these marked by tokens, which are flipped when used. This is a really great way of keeping track and is simple as each player does one action successively. All the tokens in the game are well made, solid and can withstand ongoing use and play.
Each Character has a unique special skill which is thematic to the character. Buffy is good at fighting, Willow can do more with magic than anyone else, Xander can help others and so on and each of these special abilities makes choosing the characters that you play interesting and something to consider if not everyone is in the game.
Next is the choice of the Big Bad. Each has new original artwork, with a list of specific events and abilities assigned to each one. They are unique from each other, but the theming is very subtle if it is there at all. Reading a special ability of one of the Big Bads might not lend itself to you knowing who it actually is, which makes each of them seem a little generic, though a few have hints of theme, for example the master has lots of Vampire related abilities and Adam has kill demons and townie abilities.
Once the Big Bad is chosen, the monster of the week is placed. The monster of the week deck consists of a mix of the tougher monsters of the Buffyverse, such as Gnarl, The Judge or Bezoar. Each requires two items for a character to discard and pass a combat check to defeat; each has a unique ability that has some theming to the TV show, but again the original art has run out when it comes to these cards and in fact there is no artwork for these creatures so unless you know your Buffy The Vampire Slayer very well you might not remember who or what these creatures are without it.
Once the monster of the week is dead, it leaves a clue in its location, three monsters of the week equals three clues. When the characters get these clues, the Big Bad's plot cards are revealed. Three plot cards reveal the Big Bad on the board and the end game begins. This adds a clue collecting aspect to the game that is reminiscent of Buffy and is a reliable, effective mechanic.
Finally, the baddies (vampires and demons) are added to the board. Here the game design scales well with the number of players. For each player an event card is drawn which adds at random, vampires, demons and townies. The event cards are, again, very generic and lack a deep sense of theme - one card restricts movement to a certain number of spaces without much of an explanation as to why, others stop the special abilities of locations again without explanation or thematic description.
Sunnydale is now set and the game ready to begin.
If the Apocalypse Comes, Beep Me!
The game is broken down into two main phases; the action phase for the players and the monster phase for the baddies, monster of the week and the Big Bad. Then the next round starts again with the action phase; this makes for a fast-paced game, where it could easily have been bogged down in itself.
Each player takes one action at a time, resulting in very little down time for each, again adding to the great pace of the game where it feels like there is always something happening. The actions that each player can take are;
- Search - This lets you take the top two item cards form the item deck.
- Fight - Stun a vampire or challenge a monster of the week or the Big bad.
- Move - Move your character to any location.
- Use - Some locations have special abilities, such as picking more items or picking certain items from the deck.
Some items and artefacts add some basic actions to this list. Each of these actions are quick and take little time. In addition to these actions that everyone can do, each character has a special ability they can use once per round which are specific to the character. These special actions are a little more complex and take a little longer, for example Xander's special ability lets him and another player both take one action without using one of the action tokens. But each use of a special ability comes with a price, an event card must be resolved.
Event cards are one of the main ways the game progresses. Each one adds baddies and/or townies to the board and an event like moving baddies or townies, or stopping certain locations being used, this adds much needed randomness to a game that is very mechanical in nature.
When the game starts there are baddies to kill, a monster of the week to fight with certain items and townies to rescue. So much to do and so few actions, this leads to one inevitable result - analysis paralysis. With an open-ended game the first player can look at the board and say: "What should I do?" Of course, at times it is very obvious what needs to be done, but there are times when the fast-paced game slows because the players are looking at the board and trying to puzzle out the way forwards with all the options available.
Slaying the generic vampires and demons, again the artwork though nice, ran out and each vampire and demon token is identical to the next. Players can stun vampires (making them inactive until after the monsters have activated) or slay them with steaks or slay demons with stakes, no checks, draws or rolls of anything. This is quick, and the challenge is getting weapons to do it, or using other special items or abilities.
Eventually, someone will fight the monster of the week, tougher than the baddies; having collected the needed items they go and confront it by discarding the items and we come to the first fight check - draw an event card and see if the symbol on it matches to one of two on the monster card. If it does, it is defeated. This too is quick.
Finally, when three monsters of the week have been defeated and their three clues collected the Big Bad will reveal itself, changing the board in some way unique to them, and adding effects to event cards. The Big Bad has three plot cards which also add effects to the game such as more monsters, wounds to the apocalypse track and losing items. Each of these plot cards is similar to monsters of the week in that they require two items and a fight check on the Big Bad's space. So, in other words, the Big Bad is as tough as all three monsters of the week combined and then some. What does this mean for the game? The difficulty ramps up for the end game and an already quick game feels like a sprint to the finish with so much disaster lurking just around the corner.
Although these plot cards add dynamic game changes, they can feel generic. There is some theme to them, but it is not all it could be. For example, you won't find a plot card for Adam that says remove his power core (like in the series.) and this does leave a gap in the game that could have easily been filled and added so much more to it. Given that the plot cards are random it would not even reduce the replay-ability.
The items in the game are generic, and there are only seven types; Weapons, Wooden steaks, Garlic, Crosses, Holy Water, Magic Supplies and Tomes. These are needed in a variety of combinations to defeat the monsters of the week and the Big Bad. Most of them add a basic action, and some have discard effects as well or instead of the basic actions. There is not a lot of connection with the items, but that seems okay as they are used then gone then got back again and this cycling of items instead of hoarding adds a lot of movement and decision making to the game especially as the hand limit is three, (or four with fewer players).
The artefacts add much needed theme to a degree; they are not as difficult to find as some 'artefacts' in other similar games, Angel has the special ability to just draw them and tomes can be discarded to find them. However, the ease of getting powerful items is off set with the danger of drawing an artefact that is unhelpful, such as the box of Gavrok adding further complications that needed to be solved by the players.
Monster activation occurs when all the players have finished their four actions. The Big Bad activates first, then any monsters of the week, then the baddies. Either by moving, killing unprotected townies or wounding characters. The monsters and baddies have a hierarchy of who they kill or wound, how they move, and where, the only reference for this is on the back of the rulebook in a block of text. It would have been helpful to have a space on the board for this or a handy reference card that can be placed near the board.
The rules are easy to learn and teach. The rules themselves are well explained and laid out in a nice glossy rulebook that also includes an example of play that is always helpful as well as the usual appendix of FAQ and clarifications for the cards and location abilities. During the first few games, the rules are going to be referenced a lot, particularly around the monster activation phase.
We Saved the World. I Say We Party!
With all this being said, what is it like to play Buffy the Vampire Slayer? Well, the experience of facing the demons and vampires is quick and almost a little sideline to the game; facing the monsters of the week and then finally the Big Bad on top of that makes this game feel like your own mini-series of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and who doesn't want to feel like that?
Generally the game and its mechanics are quick, but the pacing is a little off as the analysis paralysis can sometime grind the game to a sudden halt. Added to this is that at times the game presents a puzzle to be solved, such as which baddies to fight and which townies to protect and save, as well as who can fight the monster of the week or the Big Bad, where the players bring their heads together to try and solve it, good for player interaction in a co-op game and good for people who like puzzles but the sudden halt can be jarring and can create a stop-start feel to the game.
The fight mechanics are interesting, the drawing of an event card to match one or two of three symbols often means that the odds are in your favour and some players feel that this is not challenging enough, but Buffy is not a game of grinding challenge and deep immersive strategies for combat, this is trying to be a game of quickness that minimises the need for rolling dice or playing endless combat cards. Given the already stop-start nature of the game, adding more complex combat systems would just add to this and leave players sat while one of them fights endlessly - drawing a card is quick and easy and everyone watches for the symbol needed
The Buffy the Vampire Slayer board game looks nice, the original artwork is great but there is not enough of it, all the vampire tokens are the same vampire, all the demon tokens are the same demon. The event cards have minimal artwork; the monster of the week cards have minimal artwork and the Big Bad plot cards are equally bereft of art. This is a real shame as the artwork that is there is fantastic and if it had been spread across the entire game it would have been wonderful, as it is...it isn't.
This brings us to perhaps one of the more significant issues with the game, the theme. The theming is not strong, it is there but it is buried beneath soulless event cards that describe nothing but what happens mechanically to the game with no flavour text or Buffylore that is linked to the effects they have. The Big Bads have somewhat themed plot cards and events but these aren't as strong as they could be and take a little digging to get to. The player characters have special abilities that are thematic to the Buffy universe; Giles is good at finding things, Willow can do more stuff with magic, Xander can help everyone, Spike and Buffy are good fighters and Angel is good at manipulating the artefact deck to the players advantage. This is great and changes how the game is played depending on the characters chosen.
Alongside theme, this game is lacking in some content. There were dozens more monsters of the week that could have been included, there is no evil Angel or Willow Big Bad and some of the loved characters aren't even in it; there is no Oz, Anya, Cordelia, Tara, Dawn or Riley and the game feels like it really could handle them and use them effectively (werewolf mechanics anyone?). Do not get me wrong, the game feels complete in of itself, but it does feel like it can handle more without becoming bloated.
So, Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a fast, fun and exciting game to play especially if you are already a fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It is easy to set-up, teach and dive right into, but remember any more than the basic theme is going to have to be added by your own efforts. It is a must buy for any Buffy fan, and highly recommended to checkout for anyone who likes co-op clue finding horror, fantasy type games.