For Tabletop Co-Op today, we are taking a look at a board game based on a beloved movie series. In 1984, Ghostbusters was released to theaters, and became one of the biggest comedies of all time. The titular theme song raced to the top of the charts. Blending comedy with light horror elements and great special effects, the film would become a major success, spawning a sequel, two Saturday morning cartoons, and several video game adaptations. So how does Ghostbusters: The Board Game stack up against the rest of the franchise?
Ghostbusters comes from Cryptozoic Entertainment, a company specializing in adapting movie, TV, and comic book properties into board and card games. The game features dozens of miniatures, map tiles that can be set up in many different combinations, custom dice, and even a tiny plastic Ecto-1 for all your mobile Ghostbusting needs. The minis, cards, and other components use art featuring the iconic foursome from the original movie in a comic-inspired style. There’s lots of plastic and chipboard goodness in the box, and the game has an excellent presence when you set it all up on your tabletop.
Players take on the role of one of the original Ghostbusters, working their way through a campaign full of scenarios. Each character has special abilities that allow him to be a better ‘Buster. Venkman, for example, gains experience when slimed, and can even swap places with other Ghostbusters when they are about to be slimed. Cryptozoic seems to have taken inspiration from Zombicide with the experience system. As players capture ghosts, they earn experience and unlock more actions and new powers and abilities. You even keep your experience from one scenario to the next, which is a nice touch, adding to the sense of an overarching narrative.
So how do you capture ghosts? Each ghost has a to hit score, and if you roll that number or more on your Proton attack die, you can add a Proton Stream token to the miniature of the ghost you hit. These ring shaped tokens hang off the ghosts in a very authentic way. Tougher ghosts require teamwork to take out, often requiring up to three proton streams before they can be trapped. This is one of the most cooperative aspects of the game, and feels quite faithful to the movies. When Ghostbusters miss ghosts, bad things happen. Typically, missed ghosts move around randomly, and might run through a Ghostbuster, covering him with slime. Ghosts might land on another ghost of the same type, causing the two spirits to merge into one, tougher ghost. Either way, dealing with ghost movements is where the challenge of the game lies.
The game is, for the most part, quite simple and accessible. Especially in the first few scenarios, odds are stacked in the Ghostbusters’ favor, and the game eases you into more difficult situations as you progress. Considering that the game only has ten double-sided tiles to work with, the scenarios don’t feel repetitive. This is largely due to the gate tile mechanics. These tiles are placed around the map, and have different effects in each scenario. Sometimes, the gates spawn new ghosts; other times, they can be used to send trapped ghosts back to the Spirit World. If too many ghosts make it onto the board, the Ghostbusters will fail at their mission. Wise players will balance completing scenario objectives with keeping the board relatively clean from unwanted spectral visitors.
While we enjoyed our sessions of Ghostbusters: The Board Game, and particularly appreciated the quick action, allowing for a group to easily play through two or three scenarios in an evening, there were a few issues. The first is more an irritation than a major hindrance: the ghost miniatures can be very difficult to tell apart on the table. With the exception of Slimer and the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man, all the ghost figures are cast from translucent blue plastic. Telling the difference between Galloping Ghouls, Gruesome Twosomes, and Boogaloo Manifestations can be an issue. I am considering painting the ghost bases in different colors to make it easier to distinguish between them.
The most negative aspect of Ghostbusters: The Board Game is that the ghosts, for the most part, just stand around and ignore the Ghostbusters unless fired upon. There is no ghost movement phase (like Zombicide), or any sort of artificial intelligence rules (similar to the D&D Adventure Games, Castle Ravenloft, etc.) that govern ghost behavior. Unless the Chaos Symbol is rolled on the event die each round (a one in six chance of causing movement) ghosts don’t react in any way when players stand, move, or drive right next to them. I think this was a missed opportunity for some increased tension in the game. Running right up to the final objective, surrounded by ghosts, and rolling a die to complete it without any ghostly interference is very anticlimactic.
Are these issues game-breaking? Certainly not. It’s clear that Ghostbusters: The Board Game is aiming for a more casual board gaming audience. Given the large fan base of the property, this simpler focus was probably a good decision. The game is very thematic, cooperative, and an enjoyable way to spend some time with friends. If you are looking for a deep, strategic gaming experience, with crunchy mechanics and a high degree of challenge, this isn’t it. But if you are more interested in a light game to play while socializing and listening to Ray Parker sing “‘busting makes me feel good”, Ghostbusters: The Board Game fits the bill nicely.