After a massively successful Kickstarter campaign, Cryptozoic’s new Ghostbusters board game has finally hit the shelves in time for Christmas, and despite some people worrying that it might be a cheap tie-in with the upcoming film its roots are clearly far more planted in the 80s films, with no real acknowledgement of any kind that there’s another film on the way. The characters, while done in a cartoony style, are based on the original films, as are the ghosts, Marshmallow Man and infamous Ecto-1 car which all make an appearance. It would’ve also been very easy for the makers of this to sit back and not put much effort into it – after all this is Ghostbusters, and the huge following would almost guarantee success – but what they’ve produced is actually a very enjoyable game with plenty of variety and a very learnable set of rules, giving you more time to enjoy the game instead of constantly looking things up in those typical “what now…” moments.
The well designed rule book starts off with a backstory which sets the scene and explains why you’re even out busting ghosts again. Having read it through and got to grips with the background you can set the board up based on the scenario you’ve picked. The board is modular, with ten double sides tiles being arranged according to that scenario’s card. This gives several possible New York-based layouts to base your games on, with each game having varying combinations of obstacles and road layouts, with a huge number of further possibilities if you chose to create your own scenarios later on. The different layouts really matter too – several elements of the gameplay rely on line-of-sight between the components (for catching ghosts and suchlike) and with various objects and walls printed on the tiles it can dramatically change how your games pan out. Each scenario is a cooperative mission which forces players to work together towards a common end goal, and scenarios can be chained together to form campaigns, leading to boss battles and a need for more long-term planning and consideration from players. The fact you can do individual scenarios or go for a longer game means you can fill anywhere between one and several hours in one sitting, a useful choice which caters for both older and younger audiences. In case the included scenarios aren’t enough (and as there are a fair few already they will last you a while) Cryptozoic have a downloadable PDF on their site which talks you through how to randomly create a new scenario, so you’ll literally never run out of new games to try out.
As each scenario is designed for four players, smaller groups will end up having players controlling two separate characters which can get a bit much at times, but as the game is far more fun when there are four of you playing you want to be aiming for that number anyway if possible. You will, of course, have to fight over who gets which Ghostbuster, and the differences go beyond simply having a difference playing piece on the board. Each character carries an RPG-style ranking system, with certain abilities opening up at various stages of their progression. Play as Venkman for example, and you’ll not only get the red Venkman piece to move round the board, but also his abilities which range from gaining XP when he gets slimed, through to increasing the sight distance for the whole team, while a top-level Zeddemore will allow the whole team to move an extra space. Depending on which character you get will depend on how your role in the whole thing ends up playing out, and trying out different characters can make the games feel quite different by itself.
Once you’ve set up the tiles as outlined on the scenario card, you need to get the components into the relevant places, which includes setting up the spirit world with the relevant number of ghosts, and placing the gates into the right places on the map. It’s far easier than it sounds on paper; the scenario cards tell you where everything needs to go and what you need to set out to start off, as well as what the win and lose conditions are. When you’re ready to start, the busting can commence.
Gameplay itself is well designed and runs smoothly, and some of the scenarios demand teamwork in order to get all of the gates to the Spirit World closed and the ghosts themselves trapped and dealt with. The ghosts themselves can really start to take over the board if you’re slow to close off the gates, which adds an extra layer of tension, even more so when they start getting tougher. There are three main types of ghost, each one tougher than the last in terms of catching them successfully and each with their own cards which outline what they can and can’t do (so for example, the super-tough Class 7 Marshmallow Man is far harder to take down and is far more aggressive in its movements than a lower classed ghost). It’s a nice idea, but brings in the only real gripe I have with the game: they’re all very very similar to look at. When you have a board full of Ghostbusters, the Ecto-1 and numerous ghosts it can be very tough to see what you’re chasing down – they’re all made of blue, soft material and of a similar size. it’s not a problem which graces the Ghostbusters themselves, and the Marshmallow Man is a huge white solid model which can’t possibly be mistaken for anything else. Slimer, too, is unmistakable in his greenness, but Idulnas (who is the ghost dude responsible for kicking off this mess in the first place) is blue too, and can be tricky to differentiate from the other “normal” ghosts. It’s a shame really, everything else in the game is so beautifully designed and some of the artwork is really nice, but the ghosts themselves really could have doe with a bit more individuality.
So all worries I had about this being a cheeky tie-in to take advantage of next year’s Ghostbusters film were totally unfounded. Ghostbusters: The Board Game is a very enjoyable and well made game which is crying out for you to grab three friends and head to the streets of New York with your proton packs and kick some supernatural backside. There’s plenty for you to be doing with all of the scenarios, and with the option to play out several at once your playing time can be anything from under an hour to an entire evening, and the reliance on teamwork and careful planning makes this far more than a simple dice rolling luck-filled experience. If you’re even the slightest fan of Ghostbusters and want to have something fun to do over Christmas, you can do a lot worse than this.