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Rambo: The Board Game Kickstarter Preview


Cover art - Image courtesy of Everything Epic Games

Quick Look:

Designers: Samuel Bailey, and Christopher Batarlis
Artist: Henning Ludvigsen
Publisher: Everything Epic Games
Year Published: 2018
No. of Players: 1-4
Ages: 12+
Playing Time: 60-90 minutes

Find more info on BoardGameGeek.com

WARNING: This is a preview of Rambo: The Board Game. All components and rules are prototype and subject to change.

Review:
When you infiltrate an enemy building, do you go in with all your firepower blasting, or do you sneak through the brush, dodging the enemy and silently taking out the target? In Rambo: The Board Game, the choice is yours!

A tactical cooperative game set in Vietnam, Rambo: The Board Game is a strategic war game that delivers a fun and exhilarating adventure that will set your heart racing with every mission.

Read on to learn how to play, or skip down further to read my thoughts on the game.



Rules and Setup:


Choose your hero!

Hero Setup
To set up, you first must assemble your team. Each player chooses a hero, places 1 Alert token on the bottom of that hero’s Alert Meter, and then takes the starting Gear and Tactics cards for their chosen hero (the cards will say on the bottom which hero they belong to).


Alert token and Alert Meter.

Next, players must choose a leader. The leader will take the Rambo knife (that massive, serrated component), and will usually be responsible for certain game triggers and will make the final call if the group can’t agree on something. As it says in the rulebook, “The leader is there to assist the rest of the team, not control it.”


Now THAT'S a knife!

Mission Setup
Select an operation to play. Usually you’ll start with the first operation (Operation Ground Runner), along with that operation’s first mission (Mission: Alpha). Of course, feel free to follow your heart (although I do highly recommend starting with the first operation). Whichever mission you chose (for our purposes we’ll be going through Operation Ground Runner), follow the instructions on the Set-Up card in that pack and assemble the components needed for that mission.  The Enemy cards and Threat cards you’ll need for that mission are also listed on that card.
This card will show how to set up the map.



Building tile.

A fence is placed in this location, as per the mission set-up.

Each card in the Threat deck has a symbol in its bottom left corner. The mission Set-Up card will list a few symbols, and those Threat cards with the matching symbols will be the ones used during the mission. Separate the necessary Threat cards to build the Threat deck.

When putting out the Enemy cards, you’ll want to make sure the side with the black (although the rulebook says green…) title, symbol, and bar face up. The red side is for “brutal” mode. Which, again, you could do if you so desire. Follow your heart.


Some enemies (and an alarm).

Build the mission map as shown on the Map card from your chosen mission. Each map tile will have a tile designation (i.e. P1) for easy setup. Next, place the required amount of Fog of War cards face down on the map according to the mission’s Map card. Note that there are two different types of Fog of War cards: Area and Building. Make sure the Building cards get put on buildings. That’s important. Next, put down any fences, Deployment Area tiles, and other tiles as necessary.


The first mission is set up as such, with buildings (top two tiles), the deployment area, and two fences. Fog of War cards are laid overtop of each area that's not the deployment area or starting area.

Place the Objective card, Battlefield Condition,  Hazard card, and die (d10) where all players can reach. Then place your hero figures in any empty, non-purple Cover Space in the Start Area of the map.

And boo-yah you’re ready to go!

Rules
The rules are pretty simple for such a tactical game. Each player has a hero, and each hero has four different stances, as shown on their hero sheet. The stance a player chooses to use for their turn will dictate which actions they are allowed to take.


Note the Run, Stand, Crouch, and Prone stances at the bottom of the hero card.

For example, in Rambo’s case, if he used the “Stand” stance, he would acquire a Survival Momentum token, three movement (i.e. he can move up to three spaces), and two actions to use as he will according to his ability, gear, and tactics cards. Certain actions require using previously acquired Momentum tokens (such as Rambo’s Trapper ability), so make sure you stock up before you need them.


Momentum tokens.

Whenever a hero’s Alert goes up, the chance of the enemy seeing you increases as well. There are three levels of Alert: Green (Hidden), Yellow (Obscured), and Red (Spotted). A Hidden hero is never spotted, no matter which space they’re in. An Obscured hero is always revealed, unless in a purple Cover space. A Spotted hero is always revealed, which essentially means the time for stealth has passed (although there are ways to bring your Alert track back down). The Alert Track is an important part of your strategy, especially when trying to sneak about.

Theme and Mechanics:
Rambo is, of course, the obvious theme, and if you know anything about Rambo, you might already have an idea as to what the mechanics might be like. Essentially, Rambo: The Board Game is a cooperative campaign in which players use actions to move their characters, attack, set traps, and the like. There is tactical space-to-space movement, card abilities, and a pretty good artificial intelligence for the baddies. One of my favorite aspects of the game is the fog of war mechanic, which hides unexplored regions from the players until they venture into that region. Not knowing what’s coming adds a great deal to the tension and excitement.


What dangers lie waiting in this area? Nobody knows until someone ventures into it...

Game Play:
Game play happens in rounds, and in each round every player takes one turn. The leader also chooses in which order players take their turns, so be sure to strategize with each other.

First, all players discuss and select a Stance for their hero. If you have Stances covered with a wound token (more on that later), you can’t use that Stance. Then each player selects a Tactic card to play from their hand to either a) use its ability, or b) immediately exhaust the Tactic to gain 1 Momentum token as shown on that card.


Rambo's starting Tactic cards.

Next up is the actual taking of turns. Before a player takes their turn, they must draw the top card from the Threat deck and resolve it, which will give an effect, and determine which enemies move that turn.


This Threat card instructs the player to activate all E, A, and B enemies. Then, the player suffers 3 damage unless he spends a Combat Momentum token.

Then that player resolves the effects on their chosen Stance. Actions and effects may be resolved in any order. Stances will either give Actions (the Arrow icon), Movement (the boot), increase or decrease their Alert Track (the exclamation point in a triangle icon), Refresh (the two recycle arrows), Trap (bear trap), or gain Armor for soaking damage (the body armor icon).



Each effect can be used as many times as there are numbers beside it (in Rambo’s case, he may move 3 spaces and take two actions on his “Stand” Stance). Armor is used to absorb damage from attacks. So, if Rambo uses his “Prone” Stance, which gives him 1 Armor, and an enemy does 2 damage to him, Rambo would instead soak 1 of those damages, and then take the remaining damage to his character.

When moving a hero, note that purple spaces on the board are Cover spaces, and, as you might expect, can be used to give yourself cover. But be warned, they may also hide dangers. Whenever a hero enters a purple Cover space, that player must roll the hazard d10 die, and apply whichever effect corresponds with the Hazard card.

Once a player has used their Stance’s abilities and effects, their turn ends and it’s the next player’s turn, as decided by the leader with the big ol’ knife.

Attacking and Damage
Unlike other war games that use dice, when heroes attack in Rambo: The Board Game, the hit is automatic. Assuming, of course, the enemy is within range and within line of sight. The same is true with enemies, however, so be careful to stay out of their way!

When a hero takes damage exceeding their stamina total (i.e. 8 stamina for Rambo, 6 stamina for Bao, etc.), they put a Wound token on the left-most available Stance. Because running is the most difficult thing to do when wounded, that’s the first to go, and is unavailable the rest of the game (heroes heal up after each mission, though). If a hero ever reaches 4 wounds, they’re medivac’ed out and the mission is a failure.


Rambo is wounded, and therefore may not use his Run stance.

Controlling the AI
Enemies become active (determined by the big bold letters on the Threat card drawn) when it has an activation letter (upper left on the enemy card) matching those on the Threat card. The enemy cards have attributes similar to those of the heroes, and, as you might expect, they work the exact same way. If an enemy moves, they move with all movement points available. Follow the activation instructions on each enemy card, and every enemy of that activation letter that is on the board is activated one at a time. This might mean four or five “D” enemies could activate on a single turn.

The enemy also takes the most direct path to the target, and when attacking, attacks as many eligible targets as possible, which means the target must be in range and in line of sight.


The "D" enemy's damage card. Place damage counters on this card, corresponding to the enemy's letter and number designation.

Artwork and Components:


First area uncovers three bad guys. We got this.

The art is Rambo, straight up. The artist did an amazing job giving the game the Rambo look we all know and love, including Sylvester Stallone’s spitting image on the big man himself. The terrain tiles are quite detailed, and the various cards look like they could have been a screen grab they're so detailed.

The components in this review copy were thick, sturdy PVC, and the cards were also good quality. Everything Epic Games has said that the components for the actual Kickstarter campaign will be traditional, which I assume to be cardboard for the tokens and tiles and thicker cards. Still, if what I got was the final quality, I wouldn't be too disappointed at all. They also said there will be miniatures of the heroes in the game that comes from both Kickstarter and retail, as well as an option for cardboard standees to make it a bit easier on the budget if necessary. All in all, I'm rather impressed with the quality of the art and components for this review copy. If they put the same effort into the final product as the review copy, there should be nothing to complain about.

The Good:


Welp, it's a good thing he's hidden from view...
The gameplay gives players a solid feel of what it might be like to be on one of Rambo's missions. Whether you're sneaking through the Vietnamese underbrush or rushing in with guns a-blazing, there's never a dull moment. The artificial intelligence is also done in such a way that you can expect things to get tough. While there are minor flaws, the AI is still well done, and definitely adds to the feel and theme of the game.

One of the things I really love about Rambo: The Board Game is the storytelling aspect of it. Each mission has a narrative that you're playing out, and as the mission progresses, so does the story. The longer you take to complete the mission, the harder it gets. The missions are literal stories, and each one feels legit, like it would be something you see playing out in the films. They draw you in, and it's awesome. And, at the end of certain missions, you get new upgrades and tactics to use in subsequent mission. It's almost like a legacy game, just without the drawing on the board and ripping up cards. 

The final game will have about 5 operations comprised of approximately 15 missions, so you're going to get a ton of play options. And, once you've played through all the operations, go back and do them again on "Brutal" mode!

The missions give variety to the game. For example, instead of all the missions involving running past/through bad guys to defeat a boss, other missions involve rescuing POWs, and even escorting a convoy of trucks. And with a lot more missions coming out with the full game, there are going to be loads of options to keep this game fresh.

Also, it's Rambo.

The Bad:
There were some confusing parts, mostly about the AI, although the mechanics and rules aren't yet finalized, so a lot could change. As with all games with AI enemies, they can act a little strange at times. But, again, things are still being polished, and even if this was the end result, the AI is still pretty good. 

This game is tough. Now, that's not inherently a bad thing, as I do like a challenge. But at least one other person I played with did mention how tough it was, and that it was kind of a turn off. Personally, I enjoyed the difficulty. Since when is war easy? But it is something to keep in mind.

Final Thoughts:
I enjoyed this game quite a bit. Even though I only got three missions to play through in this review copy, I can tell it’s going to be an explosively awesome game. The storytelling pulls you right in to the game, the artwork is wonderful, and the mechanics fit the theme and game so incredibly well.

I loved being able to work with a team and decide how to conquer a particular mission. Sneaking through the map is always terrifying (what if I get caught?), especially with the fog of war mechanic, but running through it with a war cry and the finger pressed down on the trigger is also a rush of excitement. Which, by the way, is something this game encapsulates very well. It’s exciting every step of the way.

As far as incorporating the Rambo IP into a board game, Everything Epic Games did a great job. Considering they said the mechanics, artwork, graphic design, missions, writing, and the entire experience as a whole is still not fully complete, it felt really good. If they're still making improvements, then this is going to be one killer game.

Were there flaws? Yes. But they were minor, and certainly didn't ruin the game. And, as mentioned, it's still being perfected, so take that with a grain of salt. In the end, I really enjoyed it, and had a great time immersing myself in the story and gameplay. 

Players Who Like:
If you love tactical, campaign-based games customizable characters, and the ability to utilize different tactics to complete a mission, then this is for you. Also, it's a great co-op and solo game, so if those types of game play are your cup of tea, then this will be a wonderful addition to your game library. And, obviously, players who like the Rambo franchise will certainly have a blast playing Rambo: The Board Game.

I am giving Rambo: The Board Game 8 out of 10 super meeples.




Check out Rambo: The Board Game on:

           

On KICKSTARTER between now and February 22, 2018.

About the Author:



Benjamin Kocher hails from Canada but now lives in Utah with his wife and kids. He's a freelance blogger and budding game designer. As an avid writer of science fiction and fantasy, it comes as no surprise that his favorite board games are those with a rich, engaging theme. When he’s not writing or playing games, Benjamin loves to play ultimate Frisbee, watch and play rugby, and read the most epic fantasy books available. Follow him on Twitter @BenjaminKocher and read his board game-inspired fiction at BenjaminKocher.com.

Rambo: The Board Game Kickstarter Preview Rambo: The Board Game Kickstarter Preview Reviewed by Benjamin Kocher on January 23, 2018 Rating: 5

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