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Contra: Dev Diary 1 - An Introduction

Only the strong survive…

The Red Falcon Army has reemerged, and now it’s time to return to the fray and bring them down all over again. You have been selected from among the most qualified Contra commandos, and now the fate of the world lies in your hands.

Infiltrate. Eliminate. Survive.

PLEASE NOTE: Images/components in this preview are pending licensor approval and subject to change. Soldiers, welcome to Contra: The Board Game!

My name is Scott McFall, and I’m the developer on this exciting game of run-and-gun action designed by Adam and Brady Sadler (Street Masters, Altar Quest, Heroes of Terrinoth)! This series of “developer diary” entries will act as previews for the game and provide insight regarding its design and development!

Today's diary entry will offer a look at what our design goals were, as well as a very "surface level" overview of gameplay.

Our Mission

Contra: The Board Game has been a passion project for the team here at Blacklist Games. We all grew up in the '80s and '90s pumping quarters into arcade machines and rotting our eyes playing on home video game consoles. While Contra was a big arcade hit, my first experience with it was playing the 8-bit version on the Nintendo Entertainment System. From the very first moment I was dropped into a jungle, shirtless and armed only with a rifle, my world was rocked. Bullets were flying in from every direction, enemies were running at me incessantly, bridges were blowing up … it was absolutely breathtaking. It took me a few tries to get past that first stage (hey, I was a kid … cut me some slack), but when I finally blew open that defense wall and the iconic Contra victory theme kicked in, I felt like I’d accomplished something incredible!

That’s the feeling we wanted to recreate with Contra: The Board Game. It had to be a rapid-fire game that simulated the pressure of facing impossible odds, running and gunning through deadly environments, and the stress of attempting to destroy an imposing boss! It had to be a frenetic experience that left you sweaty and exhilarated, and ready for more!

Your Mission

Contra: The Board Game is a cooperative game where you and up to 3 other friends take on the roles of elite 27th century commandos sent behind enemy lines with a single mission: destroy the forces of the Red Falcon Army, an alien-controlled terrorist organization that has constantly been a thorn in the side of the Earth Federation Government and its legendary Contra task force.

True to Konami’s iconic run n’ gun Contra video game series, this isn’t a game about creeping around in the shadows. It’s about covering as much ground as possible, as quickly as possible, while blowing up anything that stands in your way! You’ll face lots of enemies, but luckily you're playing as a highly skilled solider and know how to use advanced weaponry to survive. You’ll need to work together with your fellow commandos and ensure you don’t lose your momentum if you hope to reach and ultimately destroy the boss that lies in wait in each game!


One of the most important concepts in Contra: The Board Game is that of “advantage.” It’s the resource that fuels your offensive and defensive capabilities. In other words, with enough advantage, your attacks will be more effective and you’ll have a better chance at avoiding incoming fire.

The different advantage types in Contra: The Board Game

There are 3 types of advantage (Mobility, Accuracy, Subtlety), and your commando will gain and spend tokens representing each throughout the game when attacking or playing cards. There are also moments where commandos will be able to select to gain or spend any type of advantage they wish, which could save them from untimely ends or power an assault in unexpected ways!

Basic Gameplay Overview

As promised, let's take a quick look at the overall gameplay structure. I won't dive too deeply into the various turns that make up a round or how attacks work today, but future diary entries will definitely examine these in more detail!


Setup is quick and easy. Choose your commando from among four of the most qualified soldiers Contra has to offer and claim their unique fixed deck, which fuels their unique abilities. Then, choose one of four enemy decks to go up against, each one led by a deadly boss that must be destroyed to continue your mission. Finally, choose a stage deck (and matching stage tile), providing one of four hostile environments that you must traverse and survive.

These modular decks allow you to go up against a different enemy in a different stage each time you play, both of which will work off each other in unique and unexpected ways. Have fun creating exciting scenarios to challenge yourself with!

How a Round Works - Commando Turns

A round starts with commandos each taking a turn, in any order of their choosing. Commandos can move and attack (the latter of which is quickly resolved using dice and advantage, which we’ll detail in a future update) once for free. They can also play as many of their cards from their hand as they wish, each granting additional moves and attacks, or special one-shot abilities! This means that if you’re feeling gung ho (hey, you’re Contra… you should be), you can really blaze a trail! This is how we simulate the frenetic pace of the video games and allow you to "run n' gun" on the tabletop! Additionally, to help minimize downtime and to further drive home the importance of teamwork, many of these cards allow a commando to choose any commando to act, which can be crucial when a teammate is in a better position.

A few of the commando cards

Now, you’re probably wondering why you wouldn’t want to play all your cards on your turn. The simple answer is that each card in your hand grants you additional advantage! Therefore, the more cards you play, the less advantage you have for offense/defense. So, just like in the video game, if you throw caution to the wind and try to do too much at once, you might get taken down by a stray bullet you didn’t see coming! That said, playing your last card might be worth it to eliminate an enemy, because each enemy you defeat allows you to draw a new card from your deck, which in turn means another chance to keep decimating foes. In other words, the more you run n' gun successfully, the more you can run n' gun ... but the more you run n' gun, the riskier things get!

How a Round Works - Enemy Turns

After all commandos have taken their turns, enemies--including the boss--will return fire and possibly call out reinforcements.

Just like commando attacks, enemy attacks are quickly resolved using dice to simulate intense firefights and incoming enemy projectiles. Commandos will need enough advantage to avoid these attacks, because suffering even a single hit will result in your commando losing one of their four precious “lives.” If a commando ever runs out of lives, it’s game over for everyone!

Samples of deadly enemy cards

How a Round Works - Stage Turns

You didn’t think it’d be as easy as shooting enemies and avoiding getting shot, did you? The Contra series is known for its incredibly diverse (and deadly) locales, and this is represented in Contra: The Board Game by the stage map and its deck. Not only will you need to contend with obstacles and hazards while navigating the map on your commando turn, you’ll also need to watch out for effects that trigger during the stage turn at the end of the round!

Some of these effects will be known from the get-go, clearly labeled on a special rules card for the stage you’re traversing. Clever and resourceful commandos will be able to prepare themselves to avoid these. However, at the very end of the stage turn, you’ll draw a card from the stage deck and resolve its effects, which can turn a well-executed mission into a total mess if you're caught off-guard! Of course, being Contra, you’ll manage to overcome these inconveniences, right?

Examples of stage cards

Oh, did I mention that if the stage deck runs out of cards, it's game over? Time is of the essence, soldier, so make sure to keep moving!

When the stage turn is done, a new round begins!


Alright, I hope you enjoyed this brief “surface level” look at Contra: The Board Game! That’s it for this developer diary entry, but next time, we’ll meet our team of commandos and see how they attack the enemy!

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