To survive a war, you gotta become war.
~ Disclaimer ~ Andrew Jinman is the Marketing and Social Media WizKid at Everything Epic Games, this is neither a paid review nor an advertisement to buy the game. This is purely a writeup based on personal experiences working for Everything Epic to market #Rambo the Board Game, and of course, our enjoyment playing it! And finally being a huge 80’s fanboy of the franchise an analysis of how the source material was used to create this Epic Game!
Let’s start with acknowledgments and thank yous. As many would agree (I’m sure) it has been a long road… Cue Music…
Huge thank you to the game designers; Chris Batarlis, Stephen Cooper, for their blood, sweat, and passion that brought this game into existence. The many artists, modelers, and designers that have all contributed to Rambo the Board Game, without forgetting the manufacturers and fulfillment teams across the globe, who have all seen new, unsuspected challenges through 2020 due to Covid to deliver this game to eager backers. It has, indeed, been a long road. In more ways than one.
Not to mention the most incredible and patient backers who have waited a long time to see this game come to fruition.
The back story. Working for Everything Epic now for over a year; Rambo has traveled across continents with me (in my backpack), across the UK for photo shoots and to the states and back again. It was one of the games that really excited me about working for Everything Epic, the character and story of Rambo, especially First Blood, is and always will be an inspiration to this day, it is an incredible story. Touching on mental health, determination, tolerance, and empathy for people’s own stories, experience, and trauma.
Now roll the clock forward to Monday 5th October. Rambo The Trilogy arrives at the IGUK Gaming Bunker ready for its photoshoot. Big smiles. The next week and some; didn’t entirely involve tearing the cellophane open to “play the game”, instead, while taking photos for Everything Epic, I wanted to refamiliarise myself with the source material, soundtracks were played, the First Blood 1972 American action thriller novel by David Morrell on audiobook was listened to, and all the films were binged! “To survive a war, you gotta become war…” Now I was ready! The game hit the table.
Starting with First Blood, I’ve read someone compare this to a prelude to the main game and this is where I stand, it is definitely that — added during the campaign this was an extra for the fans, opening and reading the Mission Book filled me with glee, its accuracy to the source material, dialogue and situations Rambo found himself in the film were transformed into a tabletop experience! It was incredibly satisfying. The game takes the approach of a sort of “choose your own adventure” style experience, where players get to choose what and how Rambo might react or behave, with many rabbit warrens and fading plot lines, to keep players on track with the core narrative.
First blood also introduces players to the rules, easily and effectively, in a manageable way, at no point did I feel overwhelmed, needing to flick back to the rule book. That was extremely important because it didn’t break the spell of immersion the game created.
There were a few aspects that I would’ve liked to have seen designed differently, for example, you play on the mission book; the maps are printed on each mission, personally, it would’ve been incredible to build the map out using tiles, so you could reflect upon the terrain, distance, and challenges Rambo faced. With a few more miniatures of characters that interact with Rambo in the Film, the national guard, and Trautman especially, after the showdown with Teasle that interaction for me, between those two characters at the end of the movie, was very moving, it would’ve been great to have a miniature to heighten the imagination. But I’m not judging it too harshly as it was an added extra for fans during the Kickstarter Campaign. AND we are going to get a whole loads more miniatures in the main game.
Now on to Rambo the Board Game, The Core Game. Comprising of Rambo: First Blood Part 2 and Rambo III. Now this bit I need to explain, we play games a little differently since Covid-19, we play them remotely using a Game Master by Proxy (often me), other players log in via video chat either to play along at home with their own game or in this instance by only one of us having a copy of the game, which is important to remember because it provides a very big difference to the gaming experience. It isn’t the same and it's important to acknowledge that as that is not how this game was intended to be played. Regardless we wanted to try. Our group was made up of Rambo Fans, for one player, this was the first-ever tabletop game he’d played.
Set up. Again. Easy. The helpful insert tells you clearly how to divide the card packs, each mission describes how you need to set up the game, what cards, miniatures, and tokens you’ll need. From opening the game it took about 45mins to get it all setup and organised for future gaming. We were also fortunate to have Chris Batarlis (The Designer and President of Everything Epic) joined us on the video chat to give players a “convention-style” rules explanation. It was without a doubt. Epic! So far we have only played the first mission, but all players were excited to play again, and that’s how I judge a good game if players want to return and discover more about the narrative. It’s a success.
Same as First Blood, the narrative is beautifully constructed, allowing players to get into the role of both the mission and their character. But let's talk a little about a few of the mechanics, Threat cards, stealth, combat, the fog of war, and most importantly collaboration needed between players. At the start of each round players are dealt a Threat Card, based on the level of each individuals character’s “threat” determines what (bad) things might happen, making the choices made on your previous turn is important, deciding what to do will have an impact on your character. Each player has their own character board with a weighted number of actions they can perform, these might allow the use of cards triggering combat, movement, reducing threat, providing protection, or healing your character, on the left you have threat level, how much noise you’ve created, what attention you've drawn towards yourself. Quickly you notice that between all payers there is a good level of synergy between abilities, making this a fully co-op game that requires team discussion to achieve the mission goal. Stealth, on the tiles there are zones that conceal your character from approaching enemies, is that a tree? No, it’s Rambo armed with his knife ready to stealth attack the approaching Scout. This made it fun, allowing players to work together to draw attention through their threat, acting as diversions while other players make the kill. Again a lot like the movies. Combat dictated by the equipment you use, this was really simple, enemies have health, your cards do damage, you keep utilising your cards until you remove the enemy from play. No random chance dictated by dice rolling, remember these characters are trained at the Art of War. It was satisfying. We are very much looking forward to meeting some more formidable foes. Fog of War; another very simple mechanic, you get within a square of a fog of war card, it becomes revealed, this might push the narrative forward, unveil some baddies or be clear to move through.
Let us end on Collaboration as this was the most important characteristic, after the narrative. Your round tracker is the actual big and “Sharpe”, cardboard Rambo knife. If you don’t complete the mission in the given number of rounds, game over man, game over! This makes the collaboration aspect important, making your actions efficient is fundamental, working together is essential, without Trautman providing support, lowering character threat level, or Rambo making stealth kills from behind trees, you need to work together. That’s what makes this game good.
Due to the nature of the way we chose to play Rambo The Board Game, we were faced with a few challenges, for instance, space it’s a big game to fit on the screen and there is a lot of card text to read to the players, ensuring they remembered and knew what active cards they had. This was the game's biggest challenge for us. But after the game, we put a poll to players, would a “character pack” help? Allowing a more fluid experience to play in this way through the covid pandemic, it was a resounding Yes! After a chat with Chris, he will be allowing us to do just that using the original card Artwork. Which let's face it, is… EPIC!
If you didn’t back the campaign there is a limited number of copies available. So now is the time to get this game and become RAMBO!
Thank you for reading, if you have a copy of the game, I hope you are enjoying it as much as we did.
This article was written by Andrew Jinman, social entrepreneur and founder of InGameUK. Andrew does work in a marketing capacity for Everything Epic. But it doesn’t stop there, he helps promote and widen the reach of many Indie Board Game Publishers across the globe, even unpublished game designers who haven’t taken their creations to crowdfunding platforms. Professionally Andrew has worked on many successful KS Campaigns throughout his career, and for over a decade in the Serious Games and Virtual Worlds Industries, creating unforgettable experiences is important to him! Now InGameUK builds on those experiences to bring a slice of magic to the table!
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