Ah, Ghostbusters: The Board Game… Do you remember back in February when an army of board game bloggers, enthusiasts and press were up in arms about a Kickstarter campaign, all whilst it sucked up money at a rate so high it pretty much became a black hole of cash as it hit stretch goal after stretch goal? Heck, even we jumped on the band wagon, with Andy lending his voice to the cause. I myself went from being wooed by the hype on day one to realising just how much it was going to cost to get myself a ton of miniatures I may only play with once and so removing my pledge on the last day of the campaign.
Cryptozoic has something of a bad reputation for taking a license and making a very light or shallow game from it with some good looking components. On a surface level this seems like what they’ve done here: stripping down the game of Zombiecide to it’s bare minimum and then pasting Ghostbusters over the top of what’s left. Is there more to it than that though? Does that even matter? Does ‘busting make you feel good?
So, how does it play? Well, the quick answer to this is: a lot like a simplified Zombiecide. Each Ghostbuster has their own character card and their own skills to unlock as they level up. The first of these unlocked skills is a unique way for that Ghostbuster to gain XP for example Venkman gains 1 XP every time he gets slimed on his turn and Stantz gains 1XP every time he spends an action to removes a slime from another ‘buster.
On a players turn they may perform two actions, they can move, drive the Ecto-1 if they are in it, deposit trapped ghosts form their player card back to the spirit realm, remove a slime from an adjacent Ghostbuster, or engage in combat. Each player can also perform either of the two maneuvers: transferring trapped ghosts to an adjacent Ghostbuster or entering/exiting the Ecto-1, once during their turn.
Combat is incredibly simple, a Ghostbuster can engage in combat with any ghosts or gates that are in line of sight (3 uninterrupted spaces). For combat the ‘buster rolls their proton dice, the number required to hit differs for each ghost and gate, and can be found on the relevant ghost and scenario cards. If the player rolls above this number then the attack hits and a proton stream marker of the players colour is placed on the ghost model. If the attack missed a ghost then it will move according to it’s ghost card, a missed attack on a gate can have a variety of effects according to the scenario. Some ghosts will also move once they are hit, and some scenarios may have a ‘when hit’ effect for gates. Once there are enough stream tokens on a ghost or gate (again this number is found on the ghost and scenario cards), it is trapped and the player puts it on their ghostbusters character card, in the case of a gate it becomes closed and is flipped face down. Each player that has a proton stream on a ghost or gate when it is defeated gains 1XP per stream. Should a ghost ever move across a Ghostbuster then that ‘buster takes a slime token and has one less action available to them, if a level one or level two ghost moves across a ghost of the same type then it will fuse into a ghost of the next level.
Once each player has taken their turn any end of round effects for that scenario happen and then the Event Die is rolled. The exact effect of this varies from scenario to scenario, but generally if you roll any of the five gate symbols you will cause more ghosts to spawn from the spirit realm onto the board. If you need to spawn ghosts and you are unable to due to the spirit world being empty then the Ghost busters lose the scenario. If you roll the Chaos symbol then the ghosts go into a frenzy and each ghost within line of sight of a ghost buster acts as though it had been missed in combat.
There are a total of fifteen different scenario cards in the game, most of which are tied to ‘campaigns’ which sequentially lead you through a number of scenarios. Each scenario card is double sided, with one side showing how you set up the required board tiles along with what ghosts and gates start on the board and in the spirit realm. The other side gives you a bit of exposition, the criteria for winning or losing the scenario, what happens when you roll the event die, and what happens when you shoot at a gate. Most of these scenarios require you to close all the open gates to the spirit world to complete the scenario which gets old pretty fast.
As fans of the original Ghostbusters we jumped straight into the third campaign, which culminates in a showdown with Stay Puft. Despite this being the final campaign it was incredibly simple and felt really repetitive by the third of the four scenarios. Fortunately the forth scenario (where Stay Puft shows up) shook things up a bit, and was the first time we had to actually talk tactically about how best to proceed. Perhaps the strangest thing with the game was the fact that you could pretty much just ignore the ghosts for the first three scenarios, choosing instead to focus on just closing the open gates to complete the mission. We didn’t do that as it’s not really in the spirit of the game or true to the theme but more tactically minded players probably would. This might be negated with the hard mode that was included for backers of the Kickstarter, but as it stands the game is just too easy for my group to get it’s teeth into.
The other place I feel the game is lacking compared to it’s big brother Zombiecide is in the limited character development that happens. Rather than the multitude of upgrades, weapons and items of Zombiecide; Ghostbusters: The Board Game just has five levels of progress for each ‘buster. We had all hit maximum level by the end of the third scenario, which meant we were fully tooled up for our final showdown but still felt too early. I’d have loved to have seen some experimental proton packs, or something that could take off more slime each turn. Ultimately though these would just have made an already easy game easier, but I was left wanting more when the Ghostbuster under my control hit level five.
We usually try to put price to one side when we’re reviewing games here at Rollin’ Dice Towers, but with Ghostbusters: The Board Game I feel that it’s pretty unavoidable. Frankly, for the hefty sum of £69.99 I expect a better quality of component than what is currently in the box. Remember those crappy plastic clip-on sliders in Zombiecide that you’ve no doubt lost most of? Well they’re here, and rapidly scuff up the bottom of the pitifully thin character cards as you fiddle to increase your XP. The level one, two and three ghosts are all cast in the same colour plastic and so, whilst their sculpts are fairly different, they can be pretty difficult to tell apart once they’re on the board. In particular the later, more frantic scenarios become exercises in ‘spot the ghost’ as more and more mini’s spawn. After the fantastic work that companies such as Cool Mini or Not have done producing it’s difficult to not be disappointed. The miniatures are fine, and the larger, more cartoonish miniatures such as the ghosts and the boss look pretty good. The thing is though, the Ghostbusters themselves and the Ecto-1 just look a little sad, the details just look a little lacking. The models look like you’ve blasted a heat gun at them, slightly smoothing out all their features.
I’d have liked to have seen more variety in the place tiles, the simple ‘park’ and ‘street’ tiles don’t give enough variance to make you feel as though you’re actually somewhere different. This is doubly questionable given that so many iconic scenes from the Ghostbusters films take place indoors: we could have had a hotel tile set, or a library one, perhaps even Ghostbusters HQ. These would also have allowed for some increased variation in mission game play: perhaps every time you missed a ghost indoors you were given a damage token and after a given number of damage tokens you lost as you’d caused too much of a mess and were ejected from the premises. Of course these tiles do exist, but that they, along with a ton of iconic ghosts from the films, were stretch goals for the Kickstarter campaign and will no doubt be released as an expansion further down the line. It is worth noting that there are more scenarios that you can download from Cryptozoic, but without an increased variety of tiles it’s still going to feel like you’re trapping ghosts in the same, generic, place.
Round about now is when I should be coming to some sort of a conclusion as to whether or not Ghostbusters: The Board Game is good, and it’s not, but I’m really struggling as to whether or not to recommend it despite that. I had an awful lot of fun playing the game, the four of us quipping about the different characters and quoting the film as the films’ soundtracks blared out in the background. I had fun getting slimed, I had fun catching ghosts, I even had fun fluffing every single one of my dice rolls. We all high-fived and cheered when we finally took down Stay Puft. After that though, I’m kind of done with the game. Sure, I may be willing to go back to it and take a look at the other campaigns or play a few skirmishes in six months or so, but I’m not excited to go back and do that.
Ultimately, if you’re a big fan of Ghostbusters, and you have a group of three friends who are also superfans, then you’ll probably have a good time with Ghostbusters: The Board Game, for a bit. If you’ve played Zombiecide and enjoyed it, or even Mice and Mystics, Decent or Imperial Assault then you’re probably going to find the incredibly simple Ghostbusters a little lacking.