The Valiant Card Game: Ninjak vs The Valiant Universe is the card game adaptation of a popular web TV series bearing the same name and the original Valiant Universe comics. For those unfamiliar with the source material - as I was, before playing the game - the Valiant Universe is made up of superheroes and villains, with an art style that will be familiar to any fans of DC or Marvel.
The Valiant Card Game, published by Overworld Games, uses the comics and live-action adaptation as the basis for a game that can be fully or semi co-operative, pitting one to four heroes against Ninjak in a bid to neutralise the varying threats that the villain throws their way.
Over a series of turns the heroes must use their growing skills to combat Ninjak’s threats successfully. They will win if they make it all the way through Ninjak’s cards without dying, but lose if even one hero’s HP falls to zero.
Each turn progresses in four stages: Draw and resolve a new card from the villain deck, take an action, receive damage, receive power tokens back. Let’s break that process down in more detail.
The Villain Deck
The villain deck is split into three levels, getting harder as the game progresses. At the start of every turn, the hero draws a card. This could be:
- A threat, in which case it’s added to the row of available threats.
- A defence, making things harder for the heroes.
- A recharge pack - gaining the heroes some health.
Other than adjusting card numbers for the player count, there is no variability with the villain deck. Players will always know exactly what they’re going to face, which some people might like. For me, the knowledge that I would have to defeat the same threats every game, albeit in a different order, took some of the shine off the game.
As the main part of their turn, the heroes can choose to improve their skills of strength, knowledge and manipulation, in which case they take one of three types of tactics and add it to the corresponding skill to increase that skill by one. Tactics are available to all characters in a constantly refilled row. They have one other attribute, a different symbol corresponding to a heroic value, getting certain sets of these values can unlock artefacts that give you bonuses.
I feel like this was a missed opportunity, as there is very little to differentiate the characters beyond the skill sets you build for them (they start off with a bonus in two skills, but this is very small) and their one power, which we’ll get to shortly.
Players can also choose to attack a threat with their action. They must declare the threat they’ll attack and they beat it if their skill levels match the required skills on the threat card. This is the core combat mechanics of The Valiant Card Game and, honestly, it felt very unheroic. All I was doing was matching symbols and counting stat levels. I just wanted some risk, some daring moves - anything that makes me feel like I’m controlling a superhero!
Finally, players can rest to regain some health. The actions I could take on a turn felt like an interesting puzzle at first but they don’t really scale with the game. If anything, the final rounds felt easier than the first as I played through a two-hero game. As I’ve mentioned, there was nothing heroic about collecting coloured cards and matching them to requirements on the threats.
The main risk to the heroes comes from damage dealt by the threats each turn. The threats deal one, two or three points of damage depending on which villain deck they came from. The damage does put you on a real clock, but I again felt like it lacked any sort of thematic tie in. I also found it a little too easy to keep the threats from snowballing, which meant like the pressure was not as real as it could have been.
The final stage of the turn is receiving back your power token. These are abilities that you can bestow on one other hero at any point, but the power stays with that hero until the end of your next turn. In a two-player game, this basically means that the other hero has permanent access to your power, which makes it feel a lot more like their power than yours.
The powers certainly helped, but they were the only real identity each hero had and it didn’t feel like enough. As someone who doesn’t know the Valiant heroes, the powers didn’t really help me gain a sense of what they can do.
The final mechanic to mention is Hidden Agendas. These reward players at the end of the game for defeating certain types of threats. Player's Hidden Agendas are, well, hidden, and they make the game semi co-operative. The player who defeats the most of their target threats will be the overall winner of the game, even if the team collectively defeats Ninjak.
I’ve only played the full co-op version of The Valiant Card Game so far and I can see how Hidden Agendas might improve things, however I struggle to muster much enthusiasm for them. They don’t change the core gameplay and they suffer from the same lack of thematic connection as the rest of the game. Ultimately, they just make you prioritise certain symbols over others. They also have no impact on solo play.
I actually like the game’s components. Full art player boards help you to stay organised, tracking your health, skills and power. They’re double-sided, with a live-action image on one side and a much better image from the comics on the other. My only criticism here is the health metre, which is really hard to read in-game.
The cards are also nice to look at, all featuring art from the comics. They’re standard sized, bright and clear. I just wish there was more to them than matching colours - they show such cool scenes and powers that I feel the mechanics could have explored further. Still, as a card game, it’s important that the cards are good and The Valiant Card Game certainly delivers on that from.
I should mention that the rules could also be more clearly explained. They're fairly simple but I made repeated mistakes in my first play. For such a straightforward game, that level of confusion shouldn't have been necessary.
Final Thoughts in The Valiant Card Game
I was disappointed by The Valiant Card Game. When I first saw the box and read the background, I was intrigued. It looks like a great superhero universe, with the potential for so much thematic gameplay. Unfortunately, the game’s mechanics just didn’t live up to the theme. They felt dry and abstract, which could be forgiven if they were more innovative or if the game was trickier. As it was, they just felt flat.
I never felt like I was in control of a unique hero and I never felt engaged with the puzzle I was presented. To be honest, I actually got bored. Unfortunately, I feel like fans of the IP have been let down by a game design that does nothing for the story or characters and I couldn’t recommend the game to anyone who doesn’t have familiarity with the theme to fall back on. I had such high hopes, but I can’t recommend this game in good faith.