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Tomb Raider Legends: The Board Game review

We embark on an unknown journey in search of a hidden Artifact!

Tomb Raider Legends: The Board Game
Credit: Square Enix

Time to ready those pistols Raiders, because we’re back in the thick of things! This time it’s an adventure to see who the TRUE Tomb Raider is! Today I’ll be reviewing Tomb Raider Legends: The Board Game. Developed by Hobby Japan Co. and released by Square Enix, this interesting addition to the Tomb Raider library retails on the online Square Enix Store for £49.99.

Time to crack it open! Unboxing the Tomb Raider Legends: The Board Game is undoubtedly a treat, especially as a Tomb Raider fan. Contained in a gorgeous matte box, adorned with Anniversary concept art at first glance, this beauty already screams a must have to the avid Tomb Raider collector. The game pieces are very sturdy and durable, nothing flimsy here and no question of quality in the build. With a running time of about forty-five minutes on the low end, you won’t find your whole afternoon snared up in crossing the finish line.

The goal of the game is to cross over onto the ‘Goal’ area, but only if you have the Artifact with you. Playing like a cheeky twist of Old Maid, there’s one Artifact hanging around in the deck (with two deceptive Artifact Replicas!) and having it and hiding it are of utmost importance! I’ve always enjoyed a good game of bluffing, and no doubt this one will have you bringing your best poker face to the table at times. A three to four player game, each player will assume the role of a different Lara (Underworld, Angel of Darkness, Classic and Legend).

The board itself sits in a circle, around which each Lara (player) makes their way. Individual tiles make up the circle like a pie, and each pie piece has its own set of instructions and something called a ‘threat level’. In order to move to the next piece of pie–eventually making your way around to the ‘goal’ piece, you, or a Lara on the same tile, must fully reduce the threat. This is what keeps the players from advancing too quickly and determines the pace of the game itself.

As you’re working to reduce the threat level of the tile you’re on, you must face other players with their raiding shenanigans. Each Lara will have an individual set of three action cards for each round. These are cards that will do things like heal you, reduce the threat level, or even advance you to the next tile (threat level permitting!). You will also have a hand of cards from the Raid deck, which act as actions you can take during your turn. If you become injured, this directly affects the number of cards that you can hold in your hand, sometimes forcing an untimely discard and adding some entertaining complications.

Once you get going it’s pretty simple to play. But beware–if you’re playing with other tomb raiders that happen to be quite cunning, it’s a game that can easily turn into a knock-down, drag-out fight–clawing to the finish line. It very much is anyone’s game until the last moment, and I can’t stress that enough. It does have to be played with a minimum of three players, given the nature of hiding the relic in one’s hand of Raid cards.

Alright, so field testing, right? First play was with my partner and as we didn’t have a human around to help, we got a game card ready–played by my whippet Phil. And I’ll tell you right now: he might look cute, my dog, but goodness does he put up a fight when he raids tombs!

Tomb Raider Legends: The Board Game

Credit: Square Enix

This playthrough was for learning the rules and went by fairly quickly coming from scratch. Around the second tile, we had ourselves sorted in the way of things. A gentle run through until we hit the Artifacts in place on the last three tiles–then things got nasty. The earlier game might feel slow, as you spend time accumulating Raid cards and your only objective is to move forward. Once you reach the game tiles with the Artifacts, the real fights begin. Suddenly there’s room to play more of your raid cards, and your action round cards become essential in the way of planning your next move. I’ll let you in on the result here to give you an idea of how last minute the victory can be–my partner stole the Artifact and crossed to the goal RIGHT as I thought I had a win in the bag. I thanked him like the good sport I am for the lovely game and promptly got his tent ready so he could sleep in the back garden that night.

Next up, I rounded up my eight-year old (Sprout) and partner (again) for some Croft-shaped raiding. The game suggests 13+ on the age, but was quickly picked up and throughly enjoyed by my kid. The mechanics, easy enough–it was when Sprout started sniffing out the more diabolical things you could do to further your progress and sabotage the other Laras that really excited them. In conclusion, tested and kid approved!

Third round was with a couple we regularly meet up with to play board games. Seasoned professionals in the genre, the rules were effortlessly picked up and after one round of play, things were already kicking into high gear. What I witnessed the most with this run was the sheer delight in causing chaos from all the players, and how, if you wanted to play it really nasty, you could and have a blast doing it. Previous playthroughs were fairly defensive ones, but this, this was war! Overall, another highly successful run, and enjoyed deeply by the board game veteran couple.

Time to test it on holiday! As my brother-in-law is a pretty serious board gamer, I thought it perfect to get his input on how he felt about the overall package. Pretty pleased with the mechanics, and genuinely found it to be fun–we all sat around a table young and older alike, trying our best to run off with that Artifact. This was a particularly fun playthrough; my eight year old was out for blood and took any opportunity to sabotage, targeting my lovely sister-in-law. What ended up happening was interesting: he continuously sent her back tiles, raised threat levels and really made her time tough, resulting in her Lara being pushed all the way back to the Start tile while everyone else was quite far along. Through a few wily moves and dumb luck, she went from being the desperately left behind underdog to stealing the victory in it’s last moments–proof that no matter where anyone is on the board at any time, it’s anyone’s game until the very last moment.

No doubt the trend here is that Tomb Raider Legends: The Board Game is FUN. It can be played offensively or defensively and the variety of scenarios that can be set up ensures that no two games are alike. No complaints with the mechanics of gameplay at all–some fantastic ideas incorporated that are easily recognisable by veterans, and enjoyed by novices alike. It is a simple game, with complex consequences which is a great recipe for an enduring board game.

I do have some criticisms, and they lie mostly in the art design. Beyond pleased to see concept art on every piece of the game and the raid cards holding plenty of older Tomb Raider images, however, there are some seriously big issues with the overall graphic design. The typography coupled with strange, random stone textures and poor colour design really make me sad. The individual Lara game cards are a good example of some out of place design choices. The back of the card has this stunning render of Lara from Anniversary in black and white–a real treat. On the other side where you play, you have the placeholders for your actions, injuries, experience and exhausted cards. This might be a nitpick, but black on black font is used, the exhausted area isn’t the size of the action cards that you’re meant to put there–this could have been shuffled around to have better space, look neater and more aesthetically pleasing.

This really doesn’t have anything to do with the quality of the gameplay itself, but as an avid Tomb Raider fan, I felt like it could have be executed so much better. Better fonts, better placement, better art design. The undeniable thing about Tomb Raider is that it doesn’t matter what the product is, if it says “Tomb Raider” on it, people will buy it–very much including myself. Chocolate, to Timex watches, and everything in between–we collect it all, and this board game is certainly no different. The quality of each game piece is fantastic–matte finish, nice and thick…I like the dial design of the game board immensely, but having a mish-mash of textures that look like they were from a Windows 95 wallpaper gallery, then Times New Roman just spilled on top of that really lets me down.

I also felt the Lara game pieces could’ve been designed better too, and if done right, perhaps a really solid selling point of the whole package deal. When I was a kid, I used to get Monopoly out JUST to play with the little metal game pieces as if they were toys. Our game pieces in question here are a little bit smaller than I’d like, and they all look the same. If they were made with a bit more detail, perhaps to reflect the individual Laras you play as, they could have been sold as a collector’s item within themselves. The couple we played with before agreed wholeheartedly on this, and brought up the fact that if there was a price point increase due to the quality of the Lara pieces being better, we all would have more than willingly paid it. They didn’t have to be Amiibo-sized, but certainly could have reflected something in the same league of coolness.

As I mentioned before, even though some of the aspects of design really let me down, it wouldn’t ever stop me from wanting it and purchasing it as a fan. I would buy toothpaste with Lara’s face on it, if that puts things into better perspective. I think if it were to be done again, hiring a rabid Tomb Raider fan to be the graphic designer would be the best choice. Aside from my grumbling about all the above, Tomb Raider Legends: The Board Game comes HIGHLY recommended if intended to be played. Played with a child, a dog, board game experts–it was undoubtedly enjoyed by all. Suitable for all skill levels as well and enjoyed in many different ways, this uncomplicated, yet in-depth game will be coming out on many occasions for a play in my household.

Tomb Raider Legends: The Board Game was reviewed using a review sample supplied by Square Enix.

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