It’s the 80’s. The Flock of Seagulls hairdo is in vogue, the NES is making a big splash in the home gaming world and one of the biggest movies of all time, the Ghostbusters, was released. Fast forward to 2015: hundreds of cartoons, comics and toys later and Ghostbusters is still going strong, and to top it all off, Cryptozoic Entertainment have taken us to the next level with a miniatures board game based on the famous four. I was lucky enough to get ahold of a copy, and wanted to share my thoughts with all you ‘Buster-fans out there.
The first thing I noticed is this box is HEAVY! Composed of thick card, I instantly got the feeling of a well produced game. The components within followed this theme, with some incredibly well detailed miniatures (including Slimer, Ecto-1 and a Stay-Pift Marshmallow man you could knock a grown person out with…), thick modular boards, solid cardboard tokens and chunky dice. The artwork on the box, rulebook and player boards just ‘pop’ despite the heavy, deep blacks used in most of the backgrounds. Everything about this game shows a considerable investment in manufacture and graphic design.
So it’s pretty, but is it playable. First, a quick overview of the rules. In the majority of games, a secenario is chosen which shows players how to set up a board using the assorted modular board sections, then place Gates and Ghosts before setting up the Ecto-1 (the starting point of each mission for the Ghostbusters). Every game features all four of the classic characters (Ray, Egon, Peter and Winston), so if you have less than four players someone will have to take on another character to play.
During their turn, players can make two Actions, including:
– Move up to two squares
– Drive the Ecto-1 (basically move 6 squares)
– Deposit captured Ghosts into Ecto-1
– Combat some of the ghoulies running around the board
– Remove slime from another ghost
Movement is pretty clear, so I’ll move on to the combat. Each ghost has an info card that dictates what the player needs to hit them on a d6 and how often they need to be struck. Each hit places a ‘stream’ token on that ghost; if it gets hit with enough streams, it’s trapped and the model goes on that ghostbuster’s stat card.
However, many of the ghosts have special abilities that trigger either when it’s hit, missed or trapped. These mostly involve some kind of random movement (if a ghost moves over a ghostbuster model the buster gets slimed!) or just splurges of slime that hit the players directly (more on the effect of slime later).
As with many miniatures games, the GB board game has a line of sight mechanic based on coloured lines printed directly on the board. Yellow lines block LoS, orange lines only block movement whilst red blocks both. The proton pack streams also only have a range of three squares, and if you ever lose LoS to a ghost you’ve got streams on, all those streams are lost and the ghost ‘escapes’. The blend of the LoS, range and ghost movement mechanics create a degree of tactical thinking as players weigh up the pros and cons of shooting the spooks or moving to a better/safer vantage point. I also love the thematic idea of a ghost just panicking after being hit by a proton stream and just flying through a wall, breaking the lock and making good it’s escape.
Once a ghost is captured, those GBs who helped trap it receive experience points which is tracked on the character boards in a similar way to another miniatures board game called Zombicide. Get enough XP and your buster levels up, gaining new abilities that help grab more XP or assist gameplay wise. This system adds a wonderful feeling of progression, especially if you play several games in a row in a campaign, as you feel your personal favourite get more bad ass as you play. That said, not all the ghostbusters have been created equal, with a couple of them (Ray and Egon) being more useful from the beginning and levelling faster than the other two. I’m a big fan of asymmetrical starting characters in games, but I definitely felt at a disadvantage playing either Peter or Winston. This can throw off the game balance a tad and make the game seem less fun to some players as they watch their partners just sail through the levelling system.
So apart from capturing the ghosts, what else can you do? Well one of the actions is to deposit all your ghosts into Ecto-1, sending them to a tile called the Spirit world. This is important, as at the end of each turn players will roll the fate die. Each face of the fate die matches one of the aforementioned ‘gate’ tokens set up on the board (side note: each gate symbol is based on the psychic test cards Peter uses in the film, adding that little extra thematic congruity!). Depending on the scenario, new ghosts may spawn which are taken from that Spirit world tile. If at any point this is empty and a ghost tries to spawn, the game ends immediately and the ghostbusters lose. This effectively sets up a timer in game that the players need to add back to via their deposits into Ecto-1. Balancing shooting ghosts, closing those pesky gates and keeping the Spirit world topped up lends itself beautifully to the cooperative experience of this game as everyone tries to do their part.
Remember the slime? Everytime a ghost hits you with slime or moves over your miniature, you collect a slime token. Each of these reduces the number of actions a buster can take in a turn, so repeated slimings can leave you unable to move or attack until either you or another players pull some of that slime off.
Overall, the gameplay is pretty straightforward. Once you know your actions, you’ll be ploughing through turns rapidly as it comes down to a ‘move and/or shoot if I can, remove slime if I can’t’ rhythm. It’s a ruleset that’s been designed with the casual gamer and buster fan in mind, people who may love the franchise but don’t want a super complex miniatures game. For more hardcore gamers, the GB board game has just enough variety (via the different scenario set ups and rules) to engage but I wouldn’t predict it’ll be played more than once through the base game scenarios. Despite the variety, each mission tends to boil down to ‘shoot ghosts then shoot gates to close them’. It’s fun, and the random dice element adds that undercurrent of the unknown that always makes games more exciting, but the base game may not have enough meat to keep those used to more complex rulesets engaged.
Thematically I think the game is wonderfully realised. The idea of proton streams needing to be ‘kept on’ a ghost is just brilliant, and the way the busters get around the board in Ecto-1 capturing ghosts and sending them back to the Spirit world is a,cracking nod to the IP by this board game. This immersiveness is helped considerably by the quality of the miniatures, with the ghosts cast in a semi-translucent plastic that gives that extra feel of the ethereal about them. The game just looks incredible on the table.
So Ghostbusters the board game is a relatively simple and quick miniatures game that looks amazing and plays smoothly; just don’t expect a huge amount of depth in the ruleset. The game costs around £69.99, and can be found at you local store here at www.findyourgamestore.co.uk.