Published on April 22nd, 2013 | by Luke Turpeinen
Faster Than a Speeding Bullet!
More powerful than a locomotive!
There have been many variations of deckbuilding games since Dominion came onto the board game scene and introduced us to the idea in 2008. There have been fantasy versions, licensed video game tie ins and recently comic book versions. The DC Comics Deckbuilding Game by Cryptozoic (also the makers of the World of Warcraft CCG) is a stand-alone, non-collectible, all-in-one awesome card game that takes the deckbuilding idea and makes a very highly polished addition to the genre.
Before we get further into this review, I need to say something: I really dislike Dominion. Don’t get me wrong, I love deckbuilding games. In fact, two of them are in my personal Top 5 Games. Dominion for some reason though just bores me to death. I won’t go into detail about it here, but just know that if you’ve tried Dominion and swore off deckbuilders afterwards, hear me out: this DC Comics game rocks.
One of the first things that defines this game over others of its type are the characters that you get to portray. As in Puzzle Strike, each character has their own strength and makes a certain strategy slightly more rewarding which can really shape the way in which you buy cards throughout the game. Another major switch up from other deckbuilders is what DC Deckbuilder calls the Line-Up. Whereas other games have you pick from pre-made sets of cards that you “buy” during the course of the game, DC Deckbuilder has an ever-rotating set of five cards that you buy from. This subtle change to the way in which you buy cards really changes the tone of interactions between players in really fun ways. More than anything the different characters and the use of the Line-Up allow for a marked distinction between this and other deckbuilders
As an example, here is Wonder Woman’s player card:
She draws an additional card every time she beats up a villain. Attacks are made on other players by gaining villain cards through the course of play; in this way, Wonder Woman’s deck will tend to play more antagonistically to the other players because her player is rewarded for buying attack cards. On the other hand, Batman gets +1 power (what you use to buy things) for every equipment card he plays during a turn. This leads Batman to be the one who uses all the gadgets, which is thematically appropriate. Where this play moded intersects the Line-Up is where things really get interesting.
During the course of play there are five cards you can buy from the deck at any given time (in addition to Kicks and Super-Villains, but they aren’t important for this). Because every player knows what the other players get rewarded for purchasing or using, there is a meta-mechanic that becomes very clear: buying the thing your opponent wants can really mess up their groove. The problem is that this also messes up your groove as you’re not getting rewarded for your own character… unless you’re Green Lantern in which case you get rewarded for having a grab bag of different things in your deck. The characters are rounded so evenly and the game is built so well that these strategies are not counter-intuitive at all- they actually flow very naturally from the course of play.
The quality of the materials for this game actually pleasantly surprised me. Card games, or cards for games, have a tendency to curl if the printing process isn’t up to snuff. Knowing that this game was made by the awesome guys at Cryptozoic, who picked up the World of Warcraft card game after Upper Deck dropped it, I really shouldn’t have been worried. The card design is very simple and effective, it doesn’t get in the way of the game and lets you see the needed information clearly. The art on all of the cards is perfect and evocative of the source material (the comic art is all from the New 52 reboot of the DC Universe for those of you who might appreciate that info) and the amount of different pictures on the cards is much more than I thought it would have. The only aesthetic complaint I’d make about the game is that the back of the cards have this generic, grey look to them with the Cryptozoic logo on them. While I appreciate that this may be so that Cryptozoic can release other licensed properties with the same rules set, allowing you to mix them together, right now it just looks kind of weird.
It is well known that I really enjoy games where the players all have different avenues of approach to the goals of the game. The DC Comics Deckbuilding Game does this very well, mostly because the game doesn’t limit you to these character based strategies, it just gives you some bonuses if you choose to go that direction. The pace of the game becomes very quick and your available choices as well as the optimal choices of the other players is usually immediately obvious to anyone paying attention. This means that picking cards your opponents want (also known as “hate-drafting” by way of the Magic the Gathering drafting community) is an effective tactic, as is using attack cards, attack-blocking cards and super-villains to level the playing field. Play is dynamic and engaging and doesn’t leave you feeling like four people seeing who can play solitaire the best, as some other deckbuilding games can… *cough* Dominion. *cough*
I have never not had a fun time while playing this game, even when I’m not winning. It’s very satisfying to play as Wonder Woman, beat up more villains than everyone else and then use them to gain an upper-hand over the super-villain, or to play as the Flash, going first every time and buying up all the card-draw abilities in an ever increasing speed deck, watching Batman pull a Robin/Batmobile multi-combo using 6 different equipment cards than all yield bonuses. This is definitely a must-have game.