Game Review:DC Comics Deck Building

Image copyright: Cryptozoic Entertainment

Cryptozoic‘s newest addition to the Gamer landscape came out this past November, called DC Deck-Building Game. It is a Card Game that puts players in the role of Super-heroes battling against one-another in an effort to gain the most Victory Points. The mechanics are built around their Cerberus Engine, a system that is also slated to be a part of their upcoming Lord of the Rings Card Game and that is an in-house set of rules built around a common terminology across products.  The system is meant to provide an interchange of individual cards across games due to similar backings and card design.

The game is based on the DC Comics universe and thus uses Super-heroes, Villains, imagery and concepts familiar to those who read, watch or follow that particular Comic-verse. The personas that players take on therefore include Batman, Green Lantern, Superwoman along with four other Super-heroes and the ultimate goal of the game is for these heroes to acquire the most Victory Points.

To this end, each player starts off with a deck of cards, a small amount of resources available to the heroes, five is standard, each of which represents either a unit of game Power, or is a Vulnerability which provides a player with no power. Conceptually these Power points are in-game ‘Cash’. In addition to this hand of cards, another main deck of cards is steadily revealed in groups of five and placed face-up in front of all the players which acts as a marketplace allowing players to spend their individual Power points on. The cards available for purchase include Abilities, Equipment, other Powers and Villains and grant players in-game benefits or add to their available Power pool which effectively increases their available ‘cash’ per turn.

Along with this face-up marketplace there are other face-up decks that offer player’s purchase options and in-game penalties, one of which is a Super-Villain Deck. This Deck is cycled through once and includes Super-Villains that upon being revealed have a static one-time effect on players, but can afterwards be purchased using Power points exactly like the main marketplace arena. Once all the Super-Villains in this deck have been purchased, the game ends and each player totals the Victory Points in their individual decks with the winner being declared to whomever has the highest tally.

That about sums up the mechanical aspects of the Game which in my opinion offers decent gameplay. Because each player is given a specific Super-hero the design of the system lends itself towards individual strategies. With each card in the game including a Power cost, a Power bonus and a Victory point, choosing which cards to purchase from the marketplace determine the final Victory count at the end. However, because of the thematic feel for the cards, which for example include Superman’s X-ray vision or Batman’s Batmobile, player’s may be inclined to accumulate cards based on their preference for building a deck around either their Superhero or a particular concept that appeals to them. While this certainly has it’s fun, the real strategy lies in manipulating the play of cards into ‘Combo’s which yield the biggest Power point bonus per turn and therefore ‘cash’ but that also yield the biggest Victory point cards at the end of the game.

And here is where the gameplay, which is based on the DC universe falls a bit flat.

Because the card’s have bonuses and benefits that interact better with certain cards, building a ‘themed’ deck is less advantageous than a DC fan may like. For instance, in the first game I played I employed a strategy of purchasing the Villain cards ‘Suicide Squad’. These are Joker henchmen in the DC Universe, the bad-guys of that Comic world. Now, I was playing Superwoman, whose ability granted me extra card draws per turn based on any new Villains I purchased during my turn. So each time I used Power points to buy one of these Villain cards from the market-place I was effectively gaining a benefit due to purchasing, or rather ’employing’ Villains to come to my side. In addition the Victory Points that these ‘Suicide Squad’ Villains granted were based on the total number of ‘Suicide Squad’ Villain’s I had in my deck at the end of the game. So not only was my Super-hero power encouraging me to employ Villains, but the Villain’s themselves were rewarding me for basically employing their ‘friends’.

Image copyright: Cryptozoic Entertainment

To be fair this strategy proved successful because my competing Super-heroes in the game went for Cards that were more thematic and resource oriented, while I went in for pure Victory Point count by acquiring cards like the ‘Suicide Squad’ that had little in game benefits but produced dividends down the road. And it worked, I won that game. But it came at a cost of being a Super-hero who employed Villain’s and who went without the bells and whistles of item’s like Wonder Woman’s Lasso or Aqua-man’s Trident (I also made sure to purchase Super-Villain’s from the Super-Villain deck to increase my Victory Point total).

So mechanically the game rewards an atypical Super-hero ethos, that is ‘buying’ Villain’s and bringing them to your side, including the big-daddy Super-Villain’s of the game. It also places a premium on acquiring cards that have high Victory Points, oddly enough like Villain’s and the Super-Villain’s, but that do not necessarily coincide with the cooler thematic cards in the game. A lot of the cards that have in-game effects that are useful during play also yield little Victory Points at the end which again means player’s may wish to ultimately favor less ‘cool’ card choices. So in terms of ‘in-the-Super-heroes-shoe’s’ feel, the game leaves something to be desired. However putting aside thematic tie-in’s the gameplay itself does indeed lend itself towards careful resource consideration and attention to what tactics your opponents are going for.

In terms of artwork the game is top-notch with the action and polish  worthy of any quality comic book. The card design is incredibly pleasing to the eye in terms of borders, shades and visual layout. The game mechanics are clear-cut and not too verbose in their presentation as well. The one thing they lack is a bit of in-game description similar to Magic’s background text but this is more of a personal preference.

Overall the game is a good throw-down between other more serious Table-top pursuits. It has excellent artwork and an eye towards planning and resource management, the hallmarks of any good strategy game. In terms of repeatability however, it’s easy to see how once player’s are familiar enough with end-game Victory Point counts, they will all pursue a Villain stacked deck which may be a tough pill to swallow for your typical DC-fanboy. However, if you’re just in it to win, there’s no reason that a game or two of DC Deckbuilding can not make a guest appearance here and there at your weekly session.

Game Forth!

Check-out Cryptozoic’s website:

Check-out the DC Building Game itself:

DC Deckbuilding Game


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