So, when we were unable to muster the energy to play Misspent Youth, we decided to try out the board game Doom. At first, I had confused it with the game Frag—a frantic, devil-may-care interpretation of death-match style play. But Doom is more of the “first-person mode” interpretation. It’s from the same family lineage as Descent, and while I consider that game to be tedious and boring, Doom does many things differently. (Odd, since Descent came later, but then, that’s progress.) All told, we had a good time, and would have a better time, changing just a few things around.
I want to be clear—I love games with bits. Doom is no exception. From the hilariously silly monsters, to the blood-stained cardboard halls, to the hefty chits used to denote ammo and weapons, this game has a strong physical element that I love. There are just enough bits to keep things interesting but not so many as to distract from game play. I continually played with the counters and dice and other pieces even when it wasn’t my turn. Which is good, because that was most of the time.
Despite not having the energy to wrestle with an RPG that evening, we nevertheless hammed it up, giving each of our ill-fated Marines names and ranks. I think there’s plenty of opportunity for this light-hearted sort of socialization. “Sarge! SARGE! BEHIND YOU!” Good times. It reminds me how very RPG we are, that we can hardly go five minutes without suggesting a narrative to overlay on the activities we’re doing. And knowing that it wasn’t to be taken seriously meant that we almost created the energy to be hams from nothing. Towards the end, we were continually reminding ourselves to try and keep the volume down, as it’d gotten late and barking out orders at 10 PM is not neighborly.
Everyone who plays starts with a number of skill cards that change the game play slightly; mine were Assassin/Sniper, Eric’s were Prepared/Tactician, and Austin’s were Tough/Efficient Killer. These cards add a ton of value and character to the game, which is largely “move forward, shoot monster.” We continued to play with them for at least an hour after the game itself, coming up with fun combinations. Also telling—we named the sets of skills we put together, so that the person who has X/Y/Z becomes The Kung-Fu Master, and these names were equally fun to concoct. This is all the same thing as pre-game play you see in trad games, and it’s something I miss from my time in the gulags. In the future, I think we’ll choose which ones we get instead of picking randomly.
The game has a sharp learning curve. We took the first room pretty easily, but the second room was rough on us. Admittedly, we were playing the fourth mission in a campaign so we were probably underpowered for the situation, but our tactics cost us a few lives. While I’m certain that the second time through we would do better, some things are only learned in play. This is the down-side of games with heavy pre-game play—if you don’t do it, you get punished for it. And there aren’t many sign-posts for making better choices, which makes the game feel at times cryptic.
The theme for the game is uninteresting to me: I would’ve preferred something more Team Fortress 2 than high-school horror. It might be fun to print up TF2 maps and see what happens; however a lot of the fun is in all the bits, so I’m not sure that’s very plausible. (Though, with enough marzipan, anything is possible.) Fortunately, despite the gore all over the dungeon tiles, I think the game system is very hackable. But “cyberdemon” is not something I can say with a straight face.
The gameplay drags a bit. Early choices aren’t that engaging, being limited to deciding whether to move and who to shoot. Towards the end, the choices became more interesting—do I use the rocket launcher knowing that I’ll have a better range, or the grenade, so I can target some monsters around a corner? But it takes at least an hour to get to that point. I think next time we play we might start with a weapon other than the default pistol, or possibly some extra ammo. I can’t stress enough how much lack of meaningful choice makes me check out of a game.
In other words…
Doom was just the thing we needed at just the time we needed it, and I would play it again. But I wouldn’t play it exactly the way that it was presented, favoring a DIY approach. It is surprisingly relevant to what we feel about indie RPGs, including the power of choice, the value of narrative, and the difference between core mechanics and flavorful options; it is a perfect example of how people who write RPGs can be in a dialog with people who create board-games.
But I still can’t get over “cyberdemon”.