In the Buffy episode, “End of Days,” Spike says, “We’ll go be heroes,” as they head off to defeat Caleb. That line should have been the tagline for Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Board Game because you (the players) are off to save the town of Sunnydale from the Monsters of the Week and Big Bads. As a member of the Scooby gang, you’ll fight to slay the baddies before they kill all the townies (or you)!
How It Plays
Gameplay in Buffy is very similar to many familiar cooperative titles including Pandemic, Eldritch Horror, Forbidden Desert, or Flashpoint: Fire Rescue. If you’ve played any of these (or most other major co-op games), you’ll instantly recognize many familiar mechanisms and ideas.
For the sake of brevity, I’m going to assume that most readers of this review are familiar with the Buffyverse and understand what Townies, Monsters of the Week, and Big Bads are. I’m also not going to explain every rule and card, as these are easily learned from the rulebook. I’m just going to give a quick and dirty overview of the basics of play.
During each round, each player is given four action tokens to spend as desired to move through the town, fight monsters, conduct research, or use their character’s special ability. Players take turns using one token at a time until all tokens are spent. Players should work together to determine the best use of their actions to stave off the monster invasion and protect the townies.
After all tokens are spent, the monsters and Big Bads activate, dishing out wounds and killing the townies. Once the monsters have all had their fill of destruction, a new round begins and play continues until the game is won or lost.
The game progresses with players first defeating the Monsters of the Week and then moving on to the final battle against the Big Bad. As monsters are defeated, more details of the Big Bad’s plot are revealed via clues and plot cards. As the clues are researched and the plot unravels, the game becomes more difficult thanks to the addition of more bad events and effects. While not pleasant, you have to reveal the plot in order to understand the Bad’s weaknesses and defeat him/her. This adds a fun story element to the game.
Throughout the game, you’ll also be able to collect items and artifacts to boost your skills and help you fight. Events will pop up that direct you to place more vampires and demons on the board, as well as causing detrimental effects to the heroes. Every time you think you’re making headway, you’ll face some new peril that threatens to undermine your heroic efforts.
You win the game when the Big Bad is defeated. The townies rejoice and Sunnydale is safe.
You lose the game in two ways. If the last space of the Apocalypse Track is filled with townie or wound tokens, the game is over. The Hellmouth has opened and you’re all dead. Alternatively, if you are required to place a wound token on the Apocalypse Track and there are not enough wound tokens available, the game ends. This means you’ve succumbed to your wounds and died. Since Buffy is a cooperative game, the death of one player means everyone loses.
Into Every Generation a Game Is Born…
There have been three “hobby approved” Buffy board games so far. (A fourth in the Legendary franchise is coming later this summer.) The first, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Game,” was from Hasbro/Milton Bradley and is widely regarded as a great game, despite it’s mass production origins. (I have it and love it. Best yard sale find ever!) The second was also called “Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Board Game” and was widely panned. Both came out in 2000, at the height of the show’s popularity. Now, to celebrate 20 years since the show’s premiere, we gamers are once again sinking our fangs into the Buffyverse. (20 years? Yikes, I feel old.)
Now another Buffy gaming generation is born, but is this first offering from that generation better than its predecessors?
As cooperative games go, Buffy is fairly simple and light. This is more of a beer and pretzels game, best played for the experience. It’s not a heavy, deep, Robinson Crusoe or Mage Knight type of game. Complexity wise, I’d put it in the same category as Pandemic or Flash Point: Fire Rescue, or some “experience” semi-co-op games like Betrayal at House on the Hill or Transylvania: Curses and Traitors. There are some decisions to be made, but a lot of what happens to you in the game is determined by random card draws and unpredictable events. Skillful play can mitigate these things to an extent, but there are games where you just get hosed by fate.
For those familiar with Eldritch Horror, one look at the board will have you making direct comparisons between the two. The design of the Sunnydale board bears a lot of similarity to Eldritch’s board. Eldritch is by far the heavier (and longer) of the two. Buffy feels a bit like “Eldritch lite,” though. You’re moving from location to location, resolving events, and dealing with baddies. Both are good games but given a choice, I’ll take Buffy due to the theme, lower complexity, and shorter play time. Just be aware that, despite the looks, Buffy and Eldritch are two very different beasts.
As I noted in How It Plays, Buffy isn’t anything groundbreaking in terms of gameplay. If you’ve played any cooperative games in the past, Buffy will feel familiar. Use your actions, work with the other players to determine who should do what, and try to avoid too many bad things spiraling out of control. A built in timer (in this case, the Apocalypse Track) ratchets up the tension and, when the timer runs out, the game ends because everyone is dead.
Familiarity isn’t a bad thing, though, particularly in a game of this weight and style. Familiarity with the concepts means you’ll be up and playing sooner. And it’s not to say that Buffy feels like a rip-off of any other game. Most co-ops play similarly, simply due to the nature of the beast. There are only so many ways to make a co-op game work. Buffy simply works within an established framework to deliver an experience of slaying vampires and defeating the Big Bad, instead of eradicating diseases or putting out a fire.
Unfortunately, Buffy suffers from the same problem that many co-ops share and that’s the problem of quarterbacking or alpha-gamer syndrome. This is where the most experienced/annoying player ends up telling the group what to do and thwarts the natural conversation and planning between players that should go on in a co-op game. If you have one of these people in your group, be aware that Buffy won’t do anything to stop them. You’ll just have to muzzle ’em.
Quarterbacking aside, the fact that Buffy shares a lot of DNA with other co-ops means that if you’re a fan of Buffy and you like co-operative games, this should be a slam dunk for you. If you’re not a fan of the show, well, then, things get a little dicier. Buffy works best among players who know the show and the lore. They’re best able to immerse themselves in the theme and enjoy a lightweight co-op where much randomness ensues.
Despite great artwork (art was used over stills from the show, but it’s slo close to the real thing that there’s not much difference), much of the theme and the immersion in the game comes from players filling in the blanks. A board game can only cover so much ground, so when you’re playing with people who can recite lines from the show and know why certain thematic elements are used, it’s much more fun.
Those who aren’t fans of the show have a harder time. First, since they don’t know the lore, it’s harder to get into the game. There’s a lot of, “Wait, who is this person?” “What does this mean?” and “Why is this important?” questioning that goes on. Also, non-fans seem less tolerant of the game’s breezy play style. They seem to expect something deeper, more challenging, and thinkier and are often (in my experience, anyway) disappointed with Buffy.
What’s odd is that I’ve questioned these people as to whether or not they like other lighter co-op games like Pandemic and the answer is almost always yes. It seems that the Buffy theme is the make or break aspect of the game for them. They don’t “get” Buffy, so they don’t enjoy the game. They do “get” eradicating disease, or fighting fires, or Eldritch lore, so they enjoy those games. All this to say, if you’re not a fan of the show, you’ll probably just want to skip Buffy.
But if you are a fan of the show? And you’re playing with other Buffy nerds? The game is a pure blast to play. The stories and evil plots make sense. The plots, Monsters of the Week, and Big Bads are ripped straight from the show. The Scooby gang heroes have special abilities that make sense for their characters, and the Sunnydale locations offer thematic abilities, as well. It’s like playing through the show.
The components are above average. The cardboard is thick and the cards are durable. You do get cardboard standees for the heroes instead of minis. I wish it’d been the other way around, but then the price wouldn’t have been as reasonable. As it is, the standees are functional and easily recognizable on the board.
The game can be scaled in difficulty from easy to hard, and it can be played solo. My only complaint is that the game can get a little samey after a while, due mostly to the lack of variety in heroes and Big Bads. The heroes are Buffy, Spike, Xander, Angel, Willow, and Giles. The Big Bads are The Master, Glory, Caleb, The Mayor, The First Evil, and Adam.
While this is sufficient for a number of games (I’m not bored, yet, after 20+ plays), true Buffy fans are going to long for more content to keep things interesting over the years. There’s plenty of room for expansion here and I hope the game gets its due. The Buffyverse needs Cordelia, Oz, Anya, Tara, Dawn, Dark Willow, Faith and so many more to feel “complete.”
To me, though, Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Board Game is the best of the Buffy Games. (At least so far.) Those looking for a heavy game with groundbreaking gameplay won’t appreciate Buffy and those who aren’t fans of the show may struggle to find the fun. But I can easily recommend the game for fans of the show. No, your brain won’t be broken by the game, the gameplay is similar to many other co-ops, and there is plenty of randomness, but it delivers an evening of vampire-slaying goodness with some great nods to the show. If that’s what you want from your game night, Buffy delivers.