12 Sep 2013

First Time Playing: Buffy the Vampire Slayer

This week I brought my own game to my table top group. It's one that I've had for many years, just never had the opportunity to actually play it, for the very simple reason that it's a licensed game for the television show, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. And because I hadn't really discovered the world of table top gaming back then, I didn't really make much of an effort to convince anyone either, as I had pretty much bought it for the merchandise aspect rather than the actual intention to play it. But a few days ago I just thought enough was enough, and if I was going to hang onto a game, it had to be with the intention of actually playing it. So, I finally sat myself down with the rule book and discovered that it actually sounded like a lot of fun.

It's important to note that the game I'm talking about is Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Game and not the similarly titled game; Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Board Game. Apart from the Buffy theme to both games, they really couldn't be any more different. Since I can guarantee you that there won't be any 'first time playing' entry on one of them, let's just give a brief explanation on why that is.

Buffy the Vampire slayer: The Board Game was the table top game released in the UK, and shortly put it's clearly a game made for no other reason than to cash in on the popularity of the show. The game design is insultingly simple, the box is plain, the board is plain, the cards are plain and few, and the playing pieces are just the generic coloured plastic pieces we find in kids games. The gameplay is downright boring. You roll a die, move pieces and try to guess what player has which colour, and what character card is theirs. The most insulting factor? The game claims to be for players aged 14 and up. Anyone still think this game sounds swell, if you cover the packaging and postage yourself, I'll give it to you for free.

Now, Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Game, however, was the game released in the US, and it's real easy to see that the person who made it is clearly a big fan of the show, himself. The board is absolutely gorgeous, a tiled condensed map of known Sunnydale locations, with character life tracks around the edges, and a moon chart in the middle. At first glance the elevated moon chart seems like an unnecessary component (since the moon phases are also printed on the actual board), but when in use it makes room for the four decks of cards to fit perfectly in the middle of the board, so I'm a fan. The player pieces are cardboard tiles with character images on them, and each good character comes with a card holder that outlines the character's abilities and card options (it can be flipped around if a character is sired or alternatively is turned into a werewolf). There's also an elevated card holder for the combined evil characters. Actually the only component in the game I'm not overly fond of are the dice, but only because they are basically plain stickers glued onto some different coloured plastic cubes.

I really love this board design, it's tidy, but at the same time colourful and engaging
The gameplay ties really well into the theme of the show. One player plays as the villain (you can choose between four different scenarios within the main game, but there are also a bunch of fan made scenarios that you can find online if you get tired of them). The rest of the players control the good characters and work together (the game details how the good characters are divided, depending on how many players are playing the game). The evil player has the main villain piece, plus up to three minions in play, but before their turn rolls the black die to find out which character they get to move each turn (it can be the villain plus one or two minions, or just the three minions), then play a turn with each of those characters. Good characters get their turn according to where their life track is found on the board.

Different scenarios mean different villains, and with different villains come different objectives. In the scenario we played (The Master), which was the recommended scenario to start with if you hadn't played the game before, the good objective was to kill The Master, and the evil objective was to kill or sire Buffy. Good characters had to keep a balance between arming themselves with weapons, research (most often spells) and help cards, and attacking (sometimes fleeing) the evil characters. The evil characters had a slightly easier time with keeping a balance between drawing evil cards (as they were shared between them) and attacking good characters.

Now, should you be familiar with the show to enjoy the game? Probably. I'm not saying you have to be a fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer to find it a fun game, but it's so filled to the brink with references to items, characters, events, etc. within the show, that only an actual fan could truly appreciate the game the way it was meant to.

To give some examples of things that occurred in the particular game we played, only a fan would appreciate the fact that not only did Xander manage to retrieve the Military costume from the only four available artefacts in this particular game, which allowed him to draw two help cards instead of one, but the first two help cards he drew after getting this artefact, was Cordelia and Anya. Only a fan would see just how fitting it was for Willow to find the book of spells as one of the other artefacts in the game. And only a fan would appreciate the irony of Oz drawing Tara as his help card.

So, how newcomer friendly is this game? Well, I'd recommend learning it through playing a practice round. I read the rules over a couple of times before trying to explain the game to my fellow players, and even then we all ended up making mistakes during the game (like not realizing a good character needed to be equipped with a pointy wooden weapon in order to be able to dust a vampire, not just get enough stake symbols on the dice - and that they needed to present this weapon before fighting the same way evil needed to present a sire card before trying to sire a good character). However, I'd say one round is enough to learn and understand the mechanics of the game. The play options are simple enough to follow, the moon phase descriptions are easy to follow, locations where good or evil players cannot venture specifically state so, all cards come with satisfactory descriptions, and for players familiar with the show, many things are pretty intuitive.

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