Words by David C. Obenour
Get ready to delve horns first and guns blazing into mythical catastrophe with Mantic Games’s Hellboy: The Board Game. Working alongside creator Mike Mignola and Dark Horse Comics, game designer and fan, Rob Burman created a cooperative dungeon crawl game for heroes of the BPRD to recreate adventures taken straight from the comic pages.
Clever mechanics and finely sculpted miniatures lead to a highly successful Kickstarter that funded a number of initial expansions upon launch. With interest still building for the game and many releases sold out, Mantic has more plans coming in 2020 for Hellboy, Abe, Johann, Liz, and countless more heroes and villains.
Off Shelf: Can you tell me about some of your own history with Hellboy?
Rob Burman: I’ve been a big Hellboy fan for a number of years, after reading the comics and watching the movies, live action and animated. I’m a big fan of myths and legends, so the way Mike Mignola incorporated them into Hellboy storylines really appealed to me.
OS: How did you first become involved with the project?
RB: I’ve been working at Mantic since 2016 and after The Walking Dead we were looking for a new license on which to base a game. Being a big Hellboy fan, I suggested Hellboy as a potential and then reached out to Dark Horse about making the game. We then had some back and forth before eventually signing the contract, which was incredibly exciting.
OS: As such a long running series with such a loyal fanbase, what were some of the things you were most concerned about being able to convey in the game?
RB: When reading the comics it’s clear there are often two phases to the storylines. First Hellboy will arrive at a particular location to investigate unusual activity and then, invariably, he’ll end up fighting a big monster or creature. This was something we wanted to represent in the game with exploration and then fighting.
OS: How much did you consult with the team at Dark Horse and Mike Mignola? Did they have any things they wanted to make certain were conveyed in a Hellboy board game?
RB: So the initial concept needed to be approved by Dark Horse and Mike Mignola. Originally we stuck very close to the storylines with characters and had Hellboy teamed up with Liz, Abe and Kate Corrigan. However, Mike Mignola actually suggested swapping out Kate with Johann Kraus, which gave us the go ahead to mix up the timelines a little. This made it much introduce a range of Hellboy’s greatest allies and villains.
Once we started creating the miniatures, each one had to be approved by Mike Mignola and we would often get feedback about little bits to change or amend.
OS: Can you think of what those were? Did any stick out?
RB: One of the characters he fed back on was Abe. He wanted to make sure we had his gills right on the back of his head. He actually sent over a little drawing of what his head looked like from the back to make sure that we got it right.
OS: Can you talk about what you see as the value of miniatures in gaming?
RB: I think the beauty of miniatures is that it brings your favorite characters to life. With Hellboy we really wanted to make miniatures based on some of the more obscure characters, like Monkey with a Gun or Iron Shoes, that Hellboy fans love but are unlikely to ever be made into an action figure or merchandise.
OS: Do you think of games with pre-assembled miniatures in different dynamics than you would with ones that require modeling work?
RB: Ones that require modelling work tend to be used in wargames where people are assembling hundreds of miniatures. The beauty with those is that having them unassembled means you can create ranks of minis that don’t all look the same.
With a board game, it needs to be playable straight from the box with no assembly. It’s a little like the ‘Christmas Day test’. Can you get the game in the morning and start playing in the afternoon? That means the minis have to be assembled and the gameplay has to be quick to pick up.
OS: Dungeon crawl game play has become fairly popular with games like Gloomhaven, the Dungeon and Dragons boxed games, and Conan. What were the things you looked to emulate and improve on for Hellboy?
RB: We wanted to make sure it was completely co-operative and we wanted to ensure that players had no idea what was about to happen. That’s why we invented the Case File system. That drives the mission but players don’t know what’s around the next corner or when they’ll trigger the boss encounter. This ensures they’re always on the edge of their seat while playing.
OS: One of my favorite elements in the Hellboy game is the Boss Behavior deck. Can you talk about how this developed?
RB: Similar to the Case Files, we wanted to ensure that no mission is ever predictable or plays exactly the same. The boss behavior deck ensures that even if you’ve cleared a case file before, the next time you play it, you might get a very different result.
OS: How did you decide on Seed of Destruction storyline as the missions included for the base game?
RB: Most people start with the first few graphic novels and then work there way from there. Seeing as the majority of fans will start with Seed of Destruction, we thought that would be a good place to start as they would recognise the characters involved.
OS: The Kickstarter for the game was highly successful, raising 1.8 million dollars and ended up including a number of expansions for storylines like Conqueror Worm, BPRD Archives, Hellboy in Mexico, Darkness Calls. Are there plans to reprint these? Are there plans for future expansions?
RB: Some of the expansions will be hitting retail in 2020 and we have a few surprises up our sleeve too!