Rambo: The Board Game is, well, a board game based on the Sylvester Stallone movie franchise. Designed by Samuel Bailey and Chris Batarlis, the game comes from Everything Epic Games who previously released a game on the Big Trouble in Little China license. Rambo: The Board Game is currently on Kickstarter with funding open until February 23.
Rambo is a cooperative campaign game, with other gameplay modes included in exclusive Kickstarter expansions. The prototype copy I received to preview included one operation, consisting of three missions. These are objectives like infiltrating a camp in Vietnam to take out the officer leaking information to the Russians, or rescuing lost POWs from a prison camp and bringing them to an extraction area. Each mission has a different map setup, group of enemies, fog of war cards, and battlefield conditions. The complete version of Rambo: The Board Game includes 5 operations, each with a minimum of 3 missions. Backing through Kickstarter will get you 10 more operations from the two expansions and one Kickstarter bonus operation. Even more operations are available through stretch goals.
The fog of war cards I mentioned above are used to reveal enemies in areas and buildings on the map. The spawned enemies are controlled by activation rules on their card, which occur when that enemy type is indicated on threat cards drawn at the start of each player’s turn. Players have gear and tactic cards used to combat enemies or aide in their mission. Gear cards are equipment and weapons placed with the player mat, which cost actions or tokens to use. Tactic cards are played by each player at the beginning of a round for additional benefits during the round such as extra damage or making it easier to enter cover.
A player’s turn is dictated by the stance they choose at the start of a round (see bottom of above player mat). These stances will allow players to move, use actions, refresh used tactic cards, gain tokens, place traps, and increase or decrease their alert level. The alert level is an indication of whether you can be seen by the enemy or not. If you are careless in battle, you will get wounded which reduces the stances available for use and too many wounds will force you to retreat and seek medical help.
The prototype I played used standees for the heroes and enemies. The hero standees were pretty cool, but the enemies were harder for all players to see the type (as they were the same shape) and sometimes were hidden from view by hero standees. The final game will have plastic miniatures for the heroes (all pledge levels) and enemies (with the Green Beret pledge), which I think is justified and will only improve the game experience. See for yourself how epic these minis are going to be.
Everything Epic Games lives up to their name delivering an epic experience in Rambo: The Board Game. The game transports you into a Rambo movie and players feel like they are Rambo creeping through the jungle, building traps, and raining bullets down on enemy soldiers. Players can’t just rush through the game and complete the mission. They must strategize and think like they are in war, cautiously sweeping through areas and clearing out enemies. Everything is extremely thematic. Loud weapons like machine guns draw more attention to a hero, increasing their alert level far more than when attacking with Rambo’s knife. If you double up bullets on an attack with a shotgun, it sends your enemy flying back a space. Exactly the kind of thing you’d see in an action movie. Enemies activation steps mimic how you would expect actual soldiers to behave. Elite Fighters are in and out; they move and attack the closest heroes and then move away. Officers move towards other enemies and order them to attack. One mission I played, we had Sriwarunyu the sniper camped in cover at a distance watching over the buildings. Rambo sneaked inside to draw out the enemies (revealing the fog of war cards) and Sriwarunyu sniped them down. There isn’t much in this game that happens without a thematic reason.
The biggest flaw of Rambo: The Board Game arises from what I feel is a positive attribute. The game is very detailed, but this causes there to be a lot of small things to remember, especially for those playing as the leader. The leader must remember to increment the condition die and do any additional steps on the battlefield condition card on each of their turns. In addition to activating the enemies on the threat card, some enemies may activate in reaction to another enemy type activating or activate immediately when spawned by a revealed fog of war card. Fog of war cards will also have additional details for the areas, such as hazards in that area deal +1 damage or attacks cannot be made into this area from other areas. Fog of war cards are removed from the board when revealed and this is another thing for players to keep track of. All these details make Rambo a well thought out game, but can have an adverse affect on the flow of the game. Several “but wait, this was actually supposed to happen…” and “whoops, I forgot to deploy another enemy because…” scenarios arise. These interruptions detracted from the action movie experience and caused other minor problems such as players forgetting which stance they chose at the start of the round by the time it is their turn. It sucked not being confident in your victory because you forgot to activate the C enemies every time the E enemies activated (or some other little mistake). As this is a prototype, much of this is being worked on by the team at Everything Epic Games. Rules are being clarified and options are being considered to improve the final game.
Rambo: The Board Game is challenging and not for casual game nights. Don’t expect to complete your first mission so easily. If you are a hardcore heavy gamer and want a greater challenge, enemy cards can be flipped to their red brutal difficulty level making them deal more damage, have more health, and more armor. All the rules and small details previously mentioned can be a bit overwhelming for new players. The core game is cooperative, so experienced players can advise new players, but this usually amounts to players taking their turn for them. I would like to see a rules variant for introductory games to familiarize players with the stances, gear, tactics, and basic gameplay. Ignore battlefield conditions and the additional text on fog of war cards. Battlefield conditions just put a clock on the game either by adding more enemies as the game goes on or ending the mission if the die reaches the max count preventing the helicopter from reaching the extraction area. They add to the thematic feel of the game (which I appreciate) but distract new players from learning the basic mechanics and how to best use their gear and tactics to defeat enemies. Instead of being overwhelmed by details and just doing what other players say, they can listen to advice and make their own choices.
Ultimately, Rambo: The Board Game provides an action-packed war experience right out of the movies. Challenging gameplay will force you to replay missions attempting new strategies to defeat the enemy. Interchangeable gear and tactic cards, playing with different heroes, and the map setup with randomized area cards makes even playing the same mission different. With up to 15 operations depending on pledge level, that is at least 45 missions to complete. Tremendous replay value. Whether you are a movie fan who loves Rambo, a war gamer, or heavy gamer who loves campaign based games, definitely check out Rambo: The Board Game while it is still on Kickstarter.
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