Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness... Board Game?

Someone who reads Well-Rendered very carefully bestowed upon me the most wondrous birthday gift.

It is this.

Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness Board Game

The history of video game adaptations into other media is troubled. It doesn't tend to work as well as adaptations in the other direction, from other media into video games.

For example, Batman: Arkham Asylum is an action/stealth/puzzle game set inside Gotham's infamous mental "hospital". By restricting its scope to just one environment, the game is never spread too thinly, and it can concentrate on the rich mechanics and gadgets that make it fun. Similarly, the infamous Goldeneye (based on the James Bond film of the same name), was successful because it focused on gun play, rather than attempting to recreate every aspect of the film. Consequently, it's a tightly controlled and expertly polished game that never embarrasses itself by trying and failing to recreate driving sequences.

Conversely, the things that make a videogame special tend to be specific to the videogame medium, and do not translate well into other art forms. That's not to say that it never works, just that it is a lot harder. A game's raison d'etre (or as the French would say, its "reason for being") is in its gameplay. The success of everything else hinges on that. So it is understandable that non-interactive adaptations of videogames tend to fail.

But what about when the adaptation is interactive? We all know how successful Pokémon cards were, but what about games with a plot?

I can't really answer that question properly because I have to date only ever played the one videogame to boardgame adaptation, but I hope it will make an interesting study. I'm far more concerned with whether the game is a good game rather than with how well it recreates the Tomb Raider experience because otherwise I would just play the videogame. So here goes.

Firstly, the Dramatis Personae.

Our heroine, Lara Croft.

Lara is accused of the murder of Werner VonCroy. To clear her name, she must collect evidence from the Louvre.

Her sidekick/love interest, Kurtis Trent.

For secretive reasons concerning his late father, Kurtis is committed to stopping the work of the mysterious Pieter Van Eckhardt. He decides that the best way to do this is to work alongside Lara, collecting evidence to bring Eckhardt to justice.

The baddie, Pieter Van Eckhardt.

Intreguingly, the rules booklet included with the board game always refers to "Pieter Van Eckhardt" in inverted commas. Whether or not this is a subversive suggestion that Eckhardt is not all he seems is anyone's guess. Either way, he's after five Obscura paintings which are hidden in the Louvre. He needs these in order to awaken the Nephilim.

His henchman, Joachim Karel.

He initially appears to be just some muscle in a scarf, but Karel has secret powers beyond the suspicion of even his boss, Eckhardt. For the moment however, he's helping Eckhardt collect the Obscura paintings he needs for his dark purposes.

I should point out that I only played this game with one other person, so only Lara and Eckhardt were used. I look forward to using Kurtis and Karel during team play.

Although the videogame spans a variety of settings scattered throughout the cities of Prague and Paris, the board game takes place only in The Louvre. Players have to explore the museum's corridors, uncovering hidden rooms and finding evidence or paintings.

As in the game, Lara and Kurtis work together, as do Karel and Eckhardt, with one team searching only for evidence and the other searching only for paintings. Although Lara and Kurtis have no use for Eckhardt's paintings, they can still destroy them, thus preventing the baddies from getting their hands on them. Unfortunately, Eckhardt and Karel can do the same with the vital evidence Lara needs to escape conviction.

Initially, players need to explore the museum in order to discover where the evidence and paintings are hidden. Because the game begins with all the "pieces" of the museum's corridors face down, players need to land on tile in order to turn in over and see what's underneath.

They do this by using "energy" cards which state how many actions a player can take in a turn. There's no equivilant in the videogame, if Lara wants to run around, she can do that for as long as she likes. Still, this system makes sense in the context of a board game.

The energy cards are the orange ones of the left. We'll get to the other two in a while...

The players move sneakily around the board until they find a "discovery" room. They draw a "discovery" card which tells them how many items are in that room. The items are then drawn at random from the pile, either evidence (hurray for the good guys) or paintings (hurray for the bad).

Like the videogame, the Louvre is riddled with surveilance. Should a player enter a "discovery" room that's being watched by police, they'll have to make a run for it. However, some police are only after the good guys, and some are only after the bad. If the police are after you, you'll have to drop whatever you're carrying and escape the museum poste haste.

This "discovery" card not only shows that the room contains two items, but also that the police are after Kurtis and Lara.

In the videogame, Lara can kill the Louvre's security guards. I love how she tries to clear her name for a murder she didn't commit by murdering people.

The board game doesn't let you shoot anyone other than your enemies, so all you can do is run away from the police. Thankfully they disperse once the room they're watching has been "discovered", leaving players free to steal whatever they find inside. My opponent (who is half French) made some hilarious quip at this point about the French police being lazy. 

Once the police have left the area, all the players are free to try and steal whatever is in the room and smuggle it out of the museum.

Paintings (left) are desired by the baddies, evidence (right) by the goodies.

In the game, players do this by placing their character on an item and then using their action cards to escape from the museum.

The catch is that the opposing player (or team) can then shoot them and take their stuff. This is what happened to me when I tried to escape from a secret room with some evidence.

You can only shoot someone in your line of sight, and you can't shoot round walls. You may have to rotate a tile in order to accomplish this, but if you can manage it the results are devastating.

The effectiveness of an attack is determined by the "ammo" and "life" cards. If the attacking player has a higher number of total ammo than their opponant has total health, then the person being shot "dies".

This is "death" in the videogame sense, of course, which means that the player falls over and misses a turn. When poor Lara was shot, she dropped her evidence, leaving the dasturdly Eckhardt free to sneak it out of the Louvre and destroy it.

Boo, hiss.

If you've got a good memory, you'll remember that in the original video game, Kurtis steals Lara's loot by frisking her at gunpoint. It's all a bit saucy actually, so it's a blessing that spooky old Eckhardt wasn't really involved.

The game continues in this way until all but the final item has been removed from the museum.

This final item could be either a painting or some evidence, which means that it's in everyone's interests to take it. Unfortunately, it's booby-trapped.

As Lara, I happened to be the first one to get my hands on this final item, but in doing so I managed to set off a bomb.

As soon as you step off the bomb with your loot, it begins to explode. The chain reaction destroys the museum piece by piece...

...and if you're caught in the blast radius, you die permanently. All items that you may have been carrying are destroyed too.

However, all the points you collected through evidence, paintings or discovery still count (you lose a point as a penulty). This means you can die in the blast and still win the game.

Poor Eckhardt. I can't feel too sorry for him though, he did shoot me and take my stuff.

At the game's end, the good team had a higher value of stuff than the bad team, so they won.

Unfortunately, just as they were getting ready to ride Kurtis' chopper into the sunset, they were attacked by C. Viper...

...and Ryu from Street Fighter.

But just when all seemed lost, there appeared behind them a terrifying figure.

It was Voldo from Soul Calibur!

Voldo dispatched C. Viper and Ryu, leaving Lara and Kurtis free to run.

Kurtis' chopper had recieved a puncture (probably from Voldo's knife-hands), but luckily Starbug was there to pick them up.

Lara and Kurtis flew away in Starbug directly to the French police, whereupon they submitted their evidence. Lara's name was cleared, nothing bad involving a mutated spider happened to Kurtis and they lived happily ever after.

*     *     *

It's possible I got carried away at the end.

Still, the board game version of Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness is really good fun. It's just as tense as the Louvre sections of the original videogame, although that tension comes from gambling energy for ammo (or health) rather than worrying whether or not you're going to set off a laser trap.

The "discovery" aspect is good fun too, because you don't know whether a room is going to contain anything useful or be filled with hostile police until you've entered it. This excitement is felt by anyone playing a Tomb Raider game for the first time. Will that button set off a trap, open a trap door or summon a demon? You won't know until you press it.

The best thing about the board game however is not something that's really reflected in the videogame. It really isn't over until it's over. Unlike Monopoly (which I am not allowed to play any more because it makes me a horrible person), there is no turning point after which one person's lead grows exponentially until the other player is crushed. Because points are awarded simply for discovering rooms, players aren't forced to "race" each other to items. It's often just as profitable to explore the museum by yourself than it is to loot everything you can find.

And although much of the game is fairly strategic - rotating walls behind you to block your oppoant's path, destroying their items, stockpiling ammo at the expense of energy - the final escape from the museum is quite frantic. The point weighting system is such that merely losing one point as the museum explodes can mean the difference between success or failure.

Of course it doesn't recreate the videogame. What would be the point? With its peeking around corners and sneaking valuable artifacts past security guards, it retains the spirit of the Louvre levels whilst still being a great board game in its own right. Like all the best board games it has a good mix of strategy and luck, and it makes a nice change from playing a two-player video game.

*     *     *

Thanks as ever to Katie for the screenshots. And if you enjoyed the various figurines in this episode, you may be interested to know that she's running a competition to win some rather larger Lara Croft statues.


  1. This looks like a cleaner, smarter version of the original Tomb Raider board/card game, this time with an actual board, instead of a make-it-as-you-go system, with lots of tiny little pieces and cardboard rulers, etc.

    I had a few go's of that original game with my friends, but without my specific zeal for TR, my compatriots didn't last very long. This Angel of Darkness game looks like it could hold the attention of the lay person,though!

    It looks like this game eschews the collectible style of its predecessor, which I suppose could be good and bad. I do appreciate the idea of expanding your abilities or adding more players by picking up expansion cards. Did I mention I found that old version (four different sets, and stacks of expansion decks a couple of years ago for 99¢ each at a game store in rural California?)

    Your game looks cooler.

  2. The game does indeed hold the attention of the layperson, which is a good thing because I don't have a Tomb Raider fans in the vicinty.

    First and foremost, it's a good board game, which is the most important thing. I love Tomb Raider, but not enough to endure a bad board game...

    I've never played the card game version you mention. Perhaps because I've always been afraid of travelling too far down the collectible road (HONESTLY, the figurines you see came with special edition games/dvds) because I don't trust myself not turn into someone with a Tomb Raider room. Would that be such a bad thing? Maybe not, but collecting can take over your life, especially if you'r a little bit anal, like me. If I don't have the whole set, I will go through anything to get it, so it's best that I just focus on the things that I know will make my life happier.

    It's a fine line. If a collectible thing improves the experience (behind the scenes dvd, as in the Silent Hill 2 special edition, for example), or a soundtrack, then I'll be interested. But I'm wary of owning too mucxh stuff because then your possessions start owning you, you know? When you look for places to live you're like: "oh, but Lara needs her own room..."

    All that said, if I see a full set of the card game you mention in a charity shop/boot sale (I love these), then I'll probably pick it up. I love adding to my abilities too (I love RPGs), so it sounds like fun. THanks for the heads up, and sorry about the delay in replying.