Avery Abernethy, 9 July 2019
Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV show ran from the late 1990s to the early 2000s. Set in the 1990s, Buffy and her friends fought generic vampires, monsters of the week, and a “big bad” who from behind the scenes was responsible for the evil that season. Buffy had campy evil nemeses, humor, and good acting for a horror/teen romance/teen angst TV show.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Board Game recreates the Buffyverse milieu in a cooperative tabletop setting. Buffy and her buddies strive to keep the helpless inhabitants of Sunnydale California alive while discovering the big-bad behind the evil and the means to snuff them.
If the Apocalypse Tract fills up with dead townies and accumulated wounds to Buffy and her gang it is game over. Then big bad roars with laughter, the hell mouth opens, and Sunnydale dies. Hapless townies are like chickens, easy to kill and tasty to monsters. Monsters ending their move in a hex with an unguarded townie enjoy a townie banquet.
Winning is a little more complicated. The game starts with generic vampires, demons and tasty townies on the board plus a single “monster of the week.” The good guys gather right tools to force a showdown with the monster of the week. Then a card is selected containing two symbols on the bottom. If one of those two symbols match the monster of the week’s symbol, the monster dies replaced by a clue token. If there is no match the gathered tools are destroyed and the monster continues its rampage. The gang then scurries around the board to collect the tools and try again. An element of suspense is present because players have a 2/3rds chance of winning any showdown.
The Big-Bad is off-board until three monsters of the week are vanquished leaving three associated clues. The Big-Bad appears and really bad things happen. A player in the correct hex must spend a turn investigating each clue to learn how to defeat the Big-Bad. Heroes gather the proper tools to win the three Big-Bad confrontations. The players win if they successfully confront the Big-Bad three times via the 2-in-3 success rate random check before the apocalypse track fills up.
Different board spaces represent Sunnydale locales supplying occult items, weapons and tools. At Buffy’s home two wounds can be healed per turn which removes them from the apocalypse track. Dead townies are forever dead and cannot be removed from the apocalypse countdown.
Each character can perform identical regular actions (move, search, fight, and use the locale if free of monsters) plus a unique special action which vary by character. Buffy can kill with efficiency and flair. Giles effectively searches for items needed to snuff a monster. Spike kills very well and so on and so forth. A player’s special action can be used only once every four actions. But when the special action is taken more monsters and townies are randomly spawned on the game board. Special actions (or a basic action substitute) must be taken once every four player rounds.
This is a well-balanced, suspensive game. Players must decide when to take their special action to both advance towards victory and to avoid spawning more monsters and targets. Buffy and the gang mostly succeed in major confrontations against monsters of the week and the big-bad – but mostly is not always. A random third of the time critical items are destroyed and the monster survives to prey on townies and wound the Scooby Gang.
The game starts out deceptively. Buffy and the gang can almost, just about, come really close to killing all regular monsters on the map. But specials get used and more monsters spawn. Buffy and her buddies begin to realize the longer the big bad is out there, the more monsters appear.
It is a race against time. Can Buffy and her friends gather the right items fast enough to win the show-downs before every townie in Sunnydale becomes monster chow? Sunnydale has an impressive number of cemeteries which attract helpless townies like cheese in a mousetrap. Should Buffy and friends protect and save townies or collect items needed to win confrontations?
And the group will lose some confrontations resulting in the destruction of carefully gathered items.
The game balance is excellent! I’ve played three games, one at Origins with random strangers, once solo at home to familiarize myself with the rules, and once with my wife running three characters (she played Buffy, I played Willow and Giles). Each end game had a veritable swarm of monsters on the board chasing down tasty townies for a delicious snack while our avatars tried to put the final beat-down on the big-bad before the Sunnydale cemeteries filled.
The game with my wife ended in victory when Giles tossed the necessary tools to Buffy who won the third and final confrontation with the big bad just before the monster swarm devoured enough townies to trigger the hell-mouth. That’s quality family entertainment in my house!
Buffy comes with six major big-bad opponents and a stack of monsters of the week. The game contains extensive suggestions on making the game easier or more challenging according to player preference. The game quality and villain assortment provide good replay value.
The biggest downside is the failure to incorporate quips, gags, and lines from the series. Buffy was very well written. Knowledgeable players can fill in this gap, but even Buffy fans could have their memory jogged with reminders of memorable moments from the series. This is an obvious game design flaw compared to other games licensed from movies or TV shows (see Big Trouble in Little China for an example of how to do this right). Because Cordelia and especially Oz and Tara are omitted, the tangled dating web and confused sexuality topics are avoided. The base game helps parents avoid discussing these issues with their younger children.
Because the game is cooperative and relatively simple, I cannot understand why the game has not been ported to the computer. Lords of Waterdeep and the Dresden Files Cooperative Card Game have been ported to the digital world while Buffy languishes dateless in Sunnydale.
In sum, this is a light, well balanced, cooperative board game. Monsters are easy to run in the game system. Good play is rewarded. Enough random chance exists to provide angst and challenge. The setting and game goals fit the Buffyverse. The rules are simple enough that a reasonably bright child can play, but not so simple that the game becomes boring. For adults, the mild complexity makes this an attractive social or drinking game. Game setup is quick. Games can be completed in 90 minutes if players understand the rules. Because the game is cooperative, it is 100% compatible with solo gameplay.
Avery Abernethy is gainfully retired and finally has time to play games. A stack of cooperative games have been recently acquired because his lovely wife prefers cooperative games. You can follow Avery’s work at his blog.