This is my third article in a series that examines new deckbuilding games as they appear and investigates what they add to the quickly expanding subgenre. I've previously covered Thunderstone
. This week I'm going to be looking at another new deckbuilding game: Resident Evil Deckbuilding Game
(henceforth Resident Evil
has largely flown under the RADAR. Not only was the game released last year, but it's also already seen one supplement, Resident Evil: Alliance
, which is the version of the game that I played before writing this article. Despite a pair of releases, the game hasn't been getting a lot of attention—I suspect because publisher Ban Dai hasn't released many games for the strategic/euro audience.
So, let me tell you a bit about how Resident Evil
Much of the setup of Resident Evil
is very familiar, clearly marking it as a second-generation deckbuilding game that (like Thunderstone
) stays very close to Dominion
's original design.
Each turn you can do three things: action, buy, or explore. Action means play one action card, some of which allow you to play other actions afterward. Buy means make one purchase using the gold value shown on your ammo cards; some cards allow additional purchases. Explore means fight a monster drawn randomly from the Mansion deck; these give victory points, so it's the equivalent of buying a victory card in Dominion
(or fighting a monster in Thunderstone
Before exploring the Mansion, you lay down all of your weapons, then activate them by laying down sufficient ammo. You then total up the damage of all of your activated weaponry. Afterward, you flip over the next card in the Mansion deck, and hope that you have sufficient firepower to destroy whatever monstrous being crawls forth. If so, you collect victory points; if not, you take wounds and could be "killed".
As with my previous articles, I'm going to first talk about the elements in Resident Evil
which I think expand the deckbuilding genre.
Strong Theming. Dominion
's weakness was always its theming, and most of the follow-up games have one-upped the primordial deckbuilding game by that criteria. Resident Evil
, for example, has guns, ammo, and undead which really feel like what they represent. However, it goes beyond that and creates a mood
of terror. The blind Mansion card draws, the ability to get killed (and return to the game with fewer health), and the brinksmanship all do a great job of integrating mechanics with mood.
(A fan of the original games, however, did say that the deckbuilding game involves more zombie-killin' while the original games involved more zombie-fleein'.)
The aforementioned brinksmanship comes primarily from assessing when you're strong enough to draw from the Mansion deck. When you end up with multiple "explores" the brinksmanship just multiplies, as you can have two or three draws that are altogether all-or-nothing. This all is a pretty big change from early games like Dominion
which were relatively staid once you began a turn.
You get a character in Resident Evil
who is always out and available. Even more notably, if you're playing with Alliance
's new "partner" mode, you get a second character who also remains always-out and
you can place permanent weaponry on him. Deckbuilding games to date have been very transient; with scant exceptions, all your cards go away at the end of the round, and you're dealt a new hand afterward. Having some cards remain around starts to blend together deckbuilding with resource management in a way that could bear interesting fruit down the road.
Your character can "level up", gaining powers as you successfully defeat zombies. I think that Thunderstone
did it better with its replacement cards for leveling, but overall the idea of cards improving (and more importantly: changing) over the course of play could be explored further in the deckbuilding genre.
Every ammo card gives you both ammo to power guns and gold to buy items. On the one hand this is a little simplistic, but on the other hand this balanced purchasing helps make sure your hands are always useful (with the opposite being a constant issue in many deckbuilding games).
Many of the decks of cards in Resident Evil
include a single, unique card randomly mixed into them. For example, there's a Survival Knife amidst the Combat Knife cards which is better than the others (and more expensive). Having decks of cards which don't all have to be the same thing is an interesting extension for deckbuilding games.
There were also elements that I didn't think worked as well.
Too Similar to Dominion.
Much like Thunderstone
, Resident Evil
builds its gameplay upon many of Dominion
's core assumptions, including ideas like 1 action and 1 buy per turn. If you're looking for something that dramatically expands the deckbuilding genre, Resident Evil
Too Many Cards Out. Alliance
came with 24 decks of cards and 15-16 of them are out in most games. That doesn't leave enough variety for me. At a minimum, I feel like you should be able to play two different games of a deckbuilder game with no card overlap (other than "commons"). If you play with 15 decks out, including the 6 basics, Alliance
just barely meets that criteria.
Too Much Luck.
I can accept the luck of drawing blindly from the Mansion deck. That's part of the brinksmanship that puts the horror into Resident Evil
(and there are also 1 or 2 ways to help control it, such as the Telescopic Sight Rifle).
However, I'm less thrilled by the luck that can come about from you getting a hand with only ammo or only weaponry—the first of which only allows you to buy things and the second of which is totally useless. Thunderstone
similarly had a mechanism where you had to match up cards (characters and weapons) and resolved it by increasing hand size to 6. Resident Evil
keeps its hand size at Dominion
As in many deckbuilding games, Resident Evil
's startup felt very slow, as you try and get better ammo (money) while getting rid of your starting ammo (money).
End Can Really Drag. Resident Evil
ends when someone finally kills the super-tough big-baddie at the end. That can be really tough to do, especially if you haven't built a great deck. With no alternate ways to end the game (as in Dominion
where you can either buy out the best VPs or a bunch of other stuff), the end game can really drag, especially for beginners. So, take a look at the alternate rules that allow for easier games on your first game.
Overall Resident Evil Deck Building Game
feels to me like it fits into the same category as Thunderstone
. It moves Dominion
's core ideas to a new, strongly-themed genre. The result doesn't have some of the polish of the original game, and doesn't explore many new mechanics, but will likely appeal more to folks who particularly enjoy the genre. So, if you're a horror fan or a Resident Evil
fan in particular, take a look.