Hellboy: The Essential Collection is a card game that was published by Upper Deck. The premise of the game is you can play against each other in a versus style game trying to either stop Rasputin or aide him. You can choose to play as either the Bureau of Paranormal Research & Defense (BPRD) or as the Thule Society.
The overall look of the game is awesome. The art for the cards and resource books is reminiscent of the Hellboy comics and capture the feel of the world. The flavor text and character also nicely capture the feeling of the world. The art was my favorite thing about this game.
As far as gameplay goes, it is extremely confusing. Not only was there a guidebook for the game, but there was also a game play foldout that explained each turn. This lead to a lot of time spent trying to clarify rules and order of turns. It was almost impossible for us to play without both references on hand. Even with the foldout that explained game play we still found ourselves having to look through both books.
Game balance wise, it skews heavily to the Thule Society side, with the highest concentration of strong cards leaning that direction. There is also a game mechanic where you can put certain cards in your resource pool and the next turn put them into play for free. During our play testing, high level characters came up frequently into play on the Thule Society side, with several ways to bring them back if they get sent to the graveyard. The BPRD had some characters come up, but none that could match the big bads, like Baba Yaga. While this follows the trend for the comics, the balance should have been equipment for the BPRD side or something, which rarely met the specifications for them to be played.
The other biggest problem was the complicated system that the game used. There were a ton of symbols on the cards, and th information for defining their roles in the game were spread out all over the place within 2 different guides for play. Add to that a 10 page dictionary of terms to the card game and it made for a very long and complex fusing play time.
Overall the game was a dud for us. We were disappointed in how poorly the game favored one side and felt it could have been balanced on several different ways. Add onto that the fact that in 4 hours of play testing we only were able to run the game a grand total of 2 times, and it made for a very uninviting game.
We are hoping there are expansions to the game that we can invest in. We are both fans of Hellboy and love Versus card games, and this one missed a lot of marks for us.
Verdict: know what you are getting into first. Invest in expansions if there are any and download the searchable references from BoardGameGeek.