Is this the gritty alternative to Marvel’s Legendary?
Holy shuffled cards, Batman! There have been a great many deck-builders join the party over the years. Why should DC Comics Deck-Building Game find a place in your collection? Pull on your spandex, wake up your sidekick and find your tragic back-story... it’s time to test this game with the Lasso of Truth!
Firstly, its name just rolls off the tongue – let’s call it DC Deck-Building from now on! This is the first game that uses the ‘Cerberus Engine’ that Cryptozoic developed in 2012. Since then, Cerberus has been used to create a wide variety of themed games, including Naruto Shippuden, Street Fighter, Cartoon Network, Attack on Titan, Rick and Morty, Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.
Every player is given an oversized card with a key character on it. The different superheroes in DC Deck-Builder give bonuses that favour certain types of cards and reflect their chosen hero’s powers and character well. For example, Flash draws cards more often because he’s fast, whilst Batman gains even more power for using equipment. Even though they are quite different, the game feels balanced as long as all players play to their strengths.
DC Deck-Building and the other Cerberus games (as far as I’m aware – I’ve not played them all!) run on a simple currency of power. Almost every card you’ll find will give you different amounts of power. DC Deck-Building begins like any classic deck-builder game. Each player starts with an uninspiring deck of 10 starter cards. You begin with seven punch cards (one power) and three vulnerability cards (which do nothing but clog up your hand with moments where get clobbered with kryptonite or remember that they made the Green Lantern movie about you).
In DC Deck-Building, power is used to recruit new heroes, acquire useful equipment, unlock locations, defeat villains and develop various superpowers. These new cards will later be shuffled into your deck and soon enough you’ll be burning through your deck with heat vision, cleaning house with Wonder Woman and throwing off your opponent with sneaky villainous distractions.
That’s right – you’re playing against your team mates! Whilst DC Deck-Building gives the impression that it is a co-operative game, it’s actually a cleverly disguised villain-battering competition. Once the last super-villain has been defeated, points are totalled up and the winning player gets their picture up on the wall as Employee of the Month at Justice League HQ (I presume).
Capturing the Universe
One of the greatest things about this game is the impressive span of DC characters and paraphernalia that fills the main draw deck. I’m a big fan of comics (side note – check out my personal favourites, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns and Superman: Red Son), but there are some niche references in the game that I’d not heard of, like Nth Metal and Zatanna Zatara. Perhaps I just need to do some geeking up!
The wide variety of DC lore included only increases with the many expansions. It’s fantastic just how far it stretches! The super-villains, the main targets of the game, don’t seem to favour one hero’s stories over another. Whilst playing, you never feel like you’re playing a Superman game or a Batman game – it’s a DC game through and through.
Whilst playing DC Deck-Building, the cards that you play feel dynamic and fit right in with the comic book feel. As you would expect, the art plays a strong role in this. The images are consistent in style and are energetic, capturing the characters of heroes and villains well. But it’s not just the art. Playing superpowers and heroes, especially the more powerful cards, gives that great comic book feeling of grand heroism.
When you’ve been building in strength and finally slam down the Man of Steel, the tide suddenly turns and even the ugliest super-villain (I’m looking at you, Parallax) turns to jelly and joins your team.
Building on the Deck-Builder
Since its release, DC Deck-Building has been given multiple expansions. In fact, two new ones are due to be released in 2019! So far, I’ve only been able to play Crisis Expansion 1. This is a very welcome addition to the base game as it adds a truly co-operative way to play. Super-villains are replaced by impossible super-villains and tricky crisis events are added. Both of these things are done to make the game harder.
Alongside this, new cards are added to the main deck and a whole host of new playable heroes join the fray. These include crisis versions of the original eight in the Justice League, who gain helpful co-operative powers. Villains defeated in the game no longer join your hand – they now act much more evilly, blocking your way to defusing the different deadly crises.
All of the impossible super-villains need to be defeated, each one after paying a great cost to sort out a crisis. Time is ticking as the main deck steadily drops cards and the game genuinely throws curveballs that need your team to react to wildly different needs.
DC Deck-Building - Time to Join the Justice League?
My experience with this expansion offers a glimpse into the strength of DC Deck-Building. The base game itself is a good, although simple, solid deck-builder. It doesn’t feel aggressive, is easy to get into and play, and has a satisfying cathartic feel to it for the seasoned gamer.
However, the game is given new depth with the expansions! My experience is that Crisis Mode brings a healthy challenge to the game (I don’t think I’ve ever heard of anyone playing the base game where everyone loses) and it’s nice to sometimes work together. When playing as the rules suggests, with a big stack of impossible super-villains, it can drag on a bit and become a bit of a slog near the end.
There are a few superhero deck-builders available, most notably, Legendary: A Marvel Deck Building Game and Sentinels of the Multiverse. Whilst it may not be darker, DC Comics Deck-Building Game is the simplest of the three and is the easiest to set-up, teach and play. The base game is quick, fun and satisfying, doing a great job of capturing the DC Universe. The art is fantastic and shows the best of DC comic art. There’s a great scope to expand the game and plenty of set challenges in expansion packs for those suckers for punishment amongst us.