Reload is a board game that strives to tread rare ground in the board games scene, as a battle royale adaptation that takes cues from Fortnite. It has a clear goal in translating this popular style of gameplay, and mostly pulls it off, with a colourful map and round-limited action that forces you to make hard decisions about where your player character will move, and how they’ll tackle various threats on the main board.
But there are multiple hurdles holding Reload back from being a truly great game – many of which feel like rudimentary missteps. The first will be most obvious to English-speaking players sitting down to learn the game for the first time.
Reload: Setup and How to Play
Precision is key when teaching players about how to play a new board game. There are always countless rules to be detailed, mechanics to be explained, and usually multiple stages to the action. Any misstep in explaining these details, and players will be left feeling confused and unsure how to proceed.
Unfortunately, this is a cardinal sin of Reload. The game was originally written in French, and has since been translated – but the imprecision of the language in the English version renders some of the game’s main mechanics difficult and time-consuming to learn. (You’ll need around 1-2 hours free to read through the game’s relatively short, but explanation-packed manual.)
The combat system (pictured above) is particularly odd, and features three giant pages of text that over-explain complicated player vs. player scenarios in painstaking detail. Even after parsing these instructions, you’ll need to constantly consult the manual to re-remember and understand how the game works.
How to Play Reload
In Reload, you play as a character entering a battle royale fight, in an attempt to win fame and defeat rivals. The backstory is rather Hunger Games; in a dystopian near-future, you are a fighter working to prove your worth to a terrifying government by facing off with other powerful fighters on strange planets. (Notably, only one of the four playable characters is a woman – and she’s hidden behind an alien guise. The rest are ‘action hero’ type men.)
Each fight takes place on an array of hexes – there are multiple planets to fight on, each with a different hex arrangement – and 2-4 players will fight battles on these tiles.
Fame can be earned by initiating battles, and forcing characters to ‘die’ (Reload), by claiming prizes in Events, by picking up certain items, by nabbing loot drops, and by landing on certain tiles.
Every round, players can pick from a range of actions – moving, fighting, picking up items, deploying traps. To commit to these actions, dice are placed on a character board, and turned to face a corresponding number.
At the conclusion of each round, an Event is drawn, leading to changes in the map, new dangers, and other surprise happenings. When all event cards are drawn, or a player reaches the goal for fame, the game ends.
Combat is a major bugbear in Reload
Once you’ve gotten through the Sisyphean task of reading through the Reload rulebook carefully, working to understand and absorb every quirk in the language, you can eventually get a real flow going. With snappy movement and exploration mechanics, and a colourful tile-based map to explore, early rounds are an absolute joy. You can spend your time romping through forests, uncovering special items that add to your fame score, and contending with new events as they pop up.
Each location has a unique quirk or discovery to be found, and claiming item tokens keeps rounds feeling competitive and fast-moving, a lot like digital battle royale games.
But then, eventually, someone will draw a weapon to initiate combat – and it’s here that pace screeches to a standstill.
As mentioned, combat is a very complex system in Reload. To fight another player, you’ll need to be in the same square, or an adjacent square with a ranged weapon. Then – and here’s where it gets confusing – you need to roll a set of shooting dice, and add your spent action dice to a ‘defence pool’ to initiate a comparative head-to-head.
The attacked player also organises their dice in this way, comparing their defence pool (made up of action dice only) with the other player. Whoever has the highest number in each defence line on the character cards ‘wins’ that row. If there are any extra dice on the ‘attacker’ side, the attacked player takes a certain amount of damage (large or small, depending on the number on the dice).
When a player takes multiple counts of damage, they are forced to ‘Reload’ and lose their held items, much like in a video game battle royale. The victorious player can then claim their victim’s items, and build power by defeating more foes.
There are three whole pages to explain this process – and yes, it remains as confusing and slow as it sounds. The entire process is sluggish, in fact, but you need to go through it to earn fame points and succeed. (Avoiding it entirely makes the game more fun, but also lessens the stakes and slows the pace of earning fame.)
Potential buried in hex tiles
Reload‘s opening rounds are breezy and delightful. The game is colourful, gorgeous, and the events system ramps up the tension to make each turn feel meaningful.
Items drops are frequently exciting, and spice up your potential on the battlefield. There’s also plenty of replayability in Reload, with tiles able to be swapped out for new maps every session, and both item and event pulls adding an element of chance to every game.
But the primary element that makes battle royale games so appealing is combat – and by introducing such a complex system, Reload dampens the fun of battling.
After multiple rounds, the quirks of the game’s combat are clearer, but it remains a lengthy and thought-intensive system that feels at odds with the rest of the game’s simpler mechanics. With some trimming, the combat could shine – but in its current form, it dulls an imaginative experience.
There’s certainly potential in this board game (and custom rules can help streamline gameplay), but as it’s intended to be played, Reload is a lukewarm experience. Still, its bold attempt at translating the gameplay of Fortnite into tabletop form is to be commended – and there are certainly bright, creative ideas in the game that shine through in rare moments of flow.
3 Stars: ★★★
Reload (Board Game)
Designers: François Rouzé, Jean-Marc Tribet
Publisher: Kolossal Games
A copy of Reload was provided for the purposes of this review. GamesHub has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content. GamesHub may earn a small percentage of commission for products purchased via affiliate links.