/The new Terminator board game is actually worth your time

The new Terminator board game is actually worth your time

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Even Terminator has a board game now. In the “golden age” of tabletop gaming, companies and licensing have brought us a wealth of titles, including those that no one was asking for (I’m looking at you, Ghostbusters and Wacky Races). Is Terminator Genisys: Rise of the Resistance something to get excited about?

Thankfully, yes.

Set in the confusing Genisys timeline, the game provides plenty of apocalyptic destruction for players to wade through, but it also feels like we’re being kept on the fringes of the main Terminator series—removed from the most iconic situations. This created a challenge for the design team to work through, but it’s one they handled well.

As a cooperative dungeon crawler, the game performs. There are various types of enemy “Endos,” drones, and even several bosses such as the invincible T-1000. The result is a miniatures-based adventure injected with a touch of narrative… and plenty of carnage.

Cyberdyne Systems, Model 101

The backbone of the game is solid. Skynet’s forces are appropriately run by a very simple set of AI priorities. The horde of T-800s and “Hunter-Killer Drones” will doggedly approach and seek to overwhelm players with sheer volume. Players will beat back the machines by using resistance forces composed of noteworthy heroes such as John Connor, Kyle Reese, and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “The Guardian” from Terminator 2. The game smartly balances confined corridor fighting with the big personalities of beloved characters.

The core action system is smooth. Players roll six-sided dice and then assign the results to various action spaces on their asymmetric character boards. Dice pips can modify the effectiveness of your actions, allowing you to move further, heal more, or hit harder. Equipment—which is surprising in its diversity—also relies on these action spaces, fueling more outrageous and effective attacks. Plopping down a six on your advanced plasma rifle and throwing a fistful of attack dice is empowering. It’s reminiscent of a similar function in the spectacular dungeon crawler Claustrophobia.

Rise of the Resistance is an amalgamation of great ideas we’ve already seen in gaming. Primarily, it’s a scenario-based crawler with an optional campaign mode, and it’s equally gear and character focused. The dice-based combat is quick and clean. Characters and villains have a touch of asymmetry and a bit of personality.

When the game does veer slightly off the beaten path, some wonderful things happen. Engaging narrative vignettes are triggered when players move characters around the map, but the entry you read from each time is randomized. This adds a touch of surprise while including a quirky personality to each mission.

How this works in play is relatively simple. Tokens are randomized and placed in different sectors of the map. As soon as you gain line of sight to a token, you flip it over and read from the associated entry. So the “E” encounter may contain a couple of sentences explaining that prisoners are being executed by a group of T-800s. This spawns the group, immediately presenting you with an opportunity to halt the slaughter. When replaying the mission, however, you might draw a different token at this exact spot; the “A” encounter could result in a heavy ambush on your position.

The design team also made a clever decision to include enemy reactions to player-initiated attacks. There’s a little skull symbol on the combat dice that can turn up and cause havoc. It can make the 800s move ever closer, like impervious executioners, or it can make the HK drones twist and dodge from your attacks. The flamethrower Endos, the T-1000, and other bosses each have their own formidable set of reactions and counters. This mechanism adds a touch of appreciated risk to the proceedings while also adding enemy diversity.

One of the game’s strongest elements is character growth. As you push through the campaign, you’ll grab gear scavenged along the way—but you will also acquire new skills and abilities. These are spread across cards and are linked to class descriptors that fit specific roles, such as “medic” or “commander.” They allow you to extend your asymmetric suite of powers and mold your play style over time, giving the game some good replayability. Flying back through old scenarios and trying new builds is absolutely worth exploring here.

I need your clothes, your boots, and your motorcycle

Bit of a pickle we've gotten ourselves into.
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/ Bit of a pickle we’ve gotten ourselves into.

Rise of the Resistance’s mechanisms may not be as innovative as those seen in something like Gloomhaven, but its handling of setting is first-rate. When you encounter a T-1000, you have the wind appropriately expelled from your lungs. The liquid Terminator is absolutely terrifying; instead of dealing damage to it, you merely stagger the machine and knock it backward to slow its pursuit. It’s relentless, and it will proceed to hunt you down through the twisted wreckage and sprawling ruins of the dead future. This action blends into the progressive narrative of the game to offer a satisfying plot which functions as the prequel to the iconic second film. Everything feels authentic.

The narrative events peppered throughout the missions are surprisingly well written, particularly for a board game. They provide just enough structure to the proceedings while allowing you the freedom to construct your own story. Like the mechanical framework, everything feels tight and purposeful. This is a lean game on the whole and one you can pull off the shelf and get going with just a touch of setup and a 90-minute commitment. It even scales well as the enemy pool adapts to the participant count and keeps everything chugging along like a semi on the freeway.

For those particularly enamored with the game, it launched with a full-sized expansion titled Fall of Skynet. The add-on includes a new character hauling a minigun, new map tiles and enemies, and an additional campaign of linked scenarios. Most significantly, the designers tossed in a random scenario generator that works quite well, partially alleviating the issue of scripted content. The base game offers many hours of play and a wealth of material to engage, but the expansion is appreciated—and it feels like a natural extension of the original product.

Terminator Genisys: Rise of the Resistance is a quality design that overcomes the shortcomings of its Genisys timeline to absolutely nail the high points of the setting. It’s an action-heavy game that won’t blow your hair back with cool new innovations, but it’s one that will keep your blood pumping as you immerse yourself in costly firefights and glorious last stands.