The original Resident Evil took the industry by storm with its incredibly atmospheric environments and creepy critters. Sure it didn’t pioneer the “survival horror” genre (we’ll leave that distinction to games like Alone in the Dark), but it did coin the phrase. It also made the concept super-popular for a while. The series has since had a fair number of spin-offs, from arcade shooters to whatever the hell you’ call Resident Evil: Gaiden, so I suppose it’s not all that surprising to see it turned into a card game as well.
The Resident Evil Deck Building Game is a difficult game to pin down, however. Whether or not it adheres to what you’d expect from such a bizarre combination of theme and gameplay mechanics depends a lot on personal preference – and your willingness to fiddle with the provided components. Some may be disappointed that it lacks the oppressive and almost hopeless feeling instilled in the earlier games, others may enjoy the inclusion of a Mercenaries Mode in which players race to take down as many Infected as they can in order to earn points. Then there’s people like me who will probably spend hours upon hours figuring out the best mixture of cards and rules to recreate a true Resident Evil experience.
The core mechanics of the Resident Evil Deck Building Game are similar to most other deck builders. Players take turns using ammo cards (which provide gold as well) from their personal decks to purchase supplies, action cards, or better ammo cards from the center of the table.They may also use ammo cards to activate weapons that are in their hands, then add up the overall damage of their active weapons and “search the mansion.” This means flipping over the top card of the Mansion deck and dealing with whatever Infected creature appears. More often than not this will result in failure, your character taking damage, and other generally unpleasant stuff happening. Did I mention this is not an easy game?
There are also plenty of recognizable characters (and villains) from the series to play as – each with their own unique abilities that improve as they defeat more Infected. For example, Jill Valentine will receive a damage boost to all explosive weapons at level 1. At level 2, Albert Wesker may force a weakened player to discard a card. The character you choose (or draw randomly, depending on how you decide to play) will definitely affect the way you play the game every time. Unless you keep picking the same character, which is lame.
Problem is, the game tends to devolve into more time being spent building up a better deck than actively fighting monsters, which slows everything down to a crawl. When playing solo or with two players it’s not so bad, but when you have three or more people in your group it really starts to drag. The endgame can also be rather irritating as you have to defeat the Mansion’s boss in order to finish the game, but the boss has a ridiculous amount of health. When you get down to the last dozen or so Mansion cards everything inevitably boils down to players burning through their turns as they attempt to amass enough firepower to deal with it.
There’s also a fairly constant problem (when playing the basic campaign mode, anyway) of players spending turn after turn just amassing equipment and ignoring the mansion for the early portion of the game. There’s no way to sugarcoat it: this makes the game boring. It drags, it’s uneventful, and it’s just plain dull. Playing with a “you must explore the mansion every turn if able” house rule is almost a necessity. Either that or playing Mercenaries mode, which actually uses a round timer. I’d also recommend looking into the Outbreak expansion if you’re interested and in the market, because it adds an “Infection” mechanic that essentially brings players closer to death-by-virus (then also reanimation-by-virus) if they dawdle for too long. As far as I’m concerned it’s the optimal way to play, but at the very least you should consider including some sort of rule that keeps players from avoiding the mansion for too long.
But what’s so interesting about all of this is that you can rearrange the cards and rules as you see fit. The base set comes with some weapons and action cards that won’t be used in the basic setup, along with several special loadouts in the rulebook to mess around with. On top of plenty of alternate rules and extra modes. The problem with this, and it’s mostly me being finicky, is that the core game feels too “Modern Resident Evil” as opposed to “Classic Resident Evil” – both because the included characters, items, and monsters are almost entirely from the later games and because it’s all too easy to load up on gear. Fortunately it’s possible to tweak the game to your liking via expansions and deck customization. It’s just a shame (to me, at least) that most of the classic monsters and characters are only available to those who are willing to spend more money.
That said, I’ve managed to cobble together enough expansions to create what I like to call “Classic Mode,” and it suits my tastes a lot better. The Mansion is full of classic monsters like Neptune, Hunters, Nemesis, Lisa Trevor, and more. There are also fewer cards meant to increase the player’s buying power, thus making it more about careful inventory management. I love it, honestly, and I really want to get my hands on the Alliance expansion so I can finish tweaking my custom game. The other plus side to grabbing the expansions is that they come with labeled card dividers that make organizing everything a whole lot easier. I especially liked that Outbreak comes with a smaller, more travel-friendly box to keep everything in. It’s just a shame that the base game doesn’t come with any of this handy stuff.
As a standalone, the Resident Evil Deck Building Game is decent fun so long as you enjoy deck building in the first place. It’s not going to set the world on fire or convert any non-believers, though. However if you love Resident Evil, or deck building for that matter, it’s definitely worth owning and expanding. Creating your own custom game is its own reward, although playing it and seeing how well it all comes together is also super-cool. So long as you’re willing to spend the extra cash, that is.