Of all video game franchises in all genres around the world, demise is perhaps one of the strangest choices to turn into a board game. While it didn’t quite invent the first-person shooter, the first mischief—which came out in 1993 and is therefore older than most current pop stars – a total revolution in gaming, with players scrambling through endless gun-metal corridors and blasting the hell out of menacing pixel clusters that vaguely resembled demons. Can that experience be replicated in a top-down board game?
I was 10 then demise appeared, and it made me completely motion-sick – a condition that continues to this day. So the more relaxed turn-based experience of the new board game version is the perfect way for me to enjoy the demise experience without having to constantly barf, even though the board game is mechanically different in every way from its video game predecessor.
Instead of simulating one Marine against the world in real time and in three pseudo-dimensions, the new demise is a dungeon crawler with big weapons and biomechanical monsters instead of big axes and skeletons. Between one and four heroes compete against another player who controls the forces of hell. The setup is similar in many ways to Fantasy Flight Games’ main trad fantasy crawler Descent: traveling in the dark (and also the very similar Star Wars skirmish game imperial attack), but there is enough difference in the two rule sets to let demise comfortably apart.
While this turn-based strategy game for two to five players plays very differently, it definitely gets the feel of the video game experience. No matter how many Marines are roaming around each facility – durable double-sided cardboard tiles that snap together seamlessly to build space-based or hellscape themed cards – there’s always that delightful feeling of increasing chaos as your team tries to collect better weapons to blast ever raging waves of plastic monsters while still completing objectives.
That sense of accomplishment you get in the video game when you find a railgun or a chainsaw and you go on a rampage? The designers have bottled that superbly, even if it now manifests itself in completely different ways. Likewise, the feeling of being overwhelmed and preyed upon by endlessly spawning monsters right out of the video game, as is the relief of grabbing a medpac and the fact that Marines jump back on teleporters after death. The board game even simulates the manic joy of getting a gib on a particularly big nasty one.
This is actually a re-implementation of the first edition of the game, which came out in 2004 and was big and garish and was explicitly influenced by Games Workshop’s groundbreaking game of interstellar alien hunting, Space Hulk. demise was eventually published by Fantasy Flight Games, who used it as the basis for: Originbefore quietly ditching hellish sci-fi in favor of his swords ‘n’ wizardry IP.
This creates a fine line: each new iteration of the demise Rules builds on its predecessor. Where Origin can get sluggish and gritty, demise always feels hectic. It does this by associating the actions of the Marines with small decks of cards that allow you to move, shoot, react, reposition and defend yourself. Even with new weapons, these decks are small and recycle themselves fast enough that you’re rarely stuck for a decent shot or chance to beat it. Each weapon – each Marine starts with two – adds three cards to the deck. The basic weapons feel meaty enough, but the advanced weapons are very satisfying indeed; it’s always worth fighting across the map to get them.
The weapons work and feel the same as digital: the chain gun fires quickly, the chainsaw provides that berserker desolation, and the BFG 9000 is a slow-firing monster.
There’s an elegance to the way the deck cycles. Everyone has a three-card hand and if they are shot, they draw the top card and subtract the number of shields in the top right corner from the damage rolled on the dice, allowing each card to be used multiple times. Crucial, unlike in OriginThere’s no chance of a miss – everything here revolves around damage limitation, which makes it feel much less like being in the vicious quirks of cruel coincidences. However, since both Marines and Beasts are quite vulnerable, it’s still possible to feel like you’re in a maze, watching a healthy growl go from full health to the sweet release of death before it has a chance to save itself. But that too is no different from moments in the video game franchise.
demise is constructed in this way from managed chance. The turn order is handled via a small deck of cards, one for each Marine and one more for each active group of monsters. In this way, it’s possible for a man not to accomplish much before being stripped by marauding demons, but it generally balances out and adds a bit of enjoyable uncertainty to the whole thing.
The Invader, as the rogue player is called, plays a little differently. Each scenario – there are 12 of them – has a card explaining which monsters can be teleported through gaps of different colors and filth that start on the board. If the Marines don’t deal with the weak early waves, they may eventually get sampled as the big boys (of which there are several, including an 8-inch model of a cyber demon that takes up eight spaces and will usually ruin your day) push harder. . The demons are generally softer than the marines, but they are supported by their own deck. Each individual unit has a limited number of actions, but the cards can be used to make them harder, faster and more deadly, or to drop traps on our unsuspecting heroes. The cards also act as damage control, just like the Marines.
The game plays just as well with two players as it does with five, something that must have been hard to balance. However, we do not recommend playing with two players and a full complement of Marines. The hand management can get quite complicated and the game slows down a lot. If you have fewer people to play with, the game is actually pretty well tuned for a lower number of Marines, and there’s a significant increase in power (extra health or a bigger hand) for each Marine you miss. There is even a special fun to play as the solo superhero marine.