I love board games with heavy themes, and thanks to the comic book style cover of the box, this game oozes theme even when it’s just sitting packed away. I’ve always liked games that have lots of miniatures and quality boards for the level of theme they can provide, but having played ‘Last Night on Earth’ and ‘Star Trek: Fleet Captains’ I’ve come to realise it’s the cards that create much of the depth and the intricacies of the game play. If it’s just miniatures and dice, then it can be pretty dull. This game is just cards, and I must admit I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’d watched a couple of videos on YouTube and it seemed to work so I took a chance…
I’m so glad I did. I had the usual big grin on my face as I unboxed it as there are tons of cards, and in the enchanced edition a nice bunch of counters to keep track of the modifiers to characters. But, I didn’t have to worry about making any miniatures, or feeling the internal pressure to paint them to make them look that much better (I think I have PTSD from removing the miniatures from the sprues in Space Hulk, and the constant inner voice that says I really should paint them). I soon realised the joy of a card game is that there’s no set-up time. No more of me sitting down for 20 to 30 minutes prior to gameplay setting everything up hoping my non-gaming man-wife won’t go off the boil or see how complex it all looks and lose interest.
The enhanced box comes with a deck of cards for each of the 4 villains, the 10 heroes, and the 4 locations–that’s well over 500 cards. It also comes with round hit point tokens which you use to keep track of the health or strength of the hero, villain or in some cases, the environment or villain play cards, and comes with rectangular tokens to keep track of any modifiers or special rules, like if a card makes a hero immune to damage. There are divider cards so you can keep your cards organised (anally catagorised by hero, villain and location, alphabetically, like me), and the rule book. The rule book is awesome and has a comic book cover and the bold colours and art and typography is comic book through and through. Oh, even with all these cards the box is still only half full–plenty of room for the expansions, of which there are three or four.
We played two heroes each against one villain. When I shouted to the world on twitter that I’d bought the game, someone kindly tweeted me a suggestion of heroes to play on our first game, which we followed. Haka (like Hulk), Legacy (like Superman), Tachyon (like Flash) and Wraith (like Batman), against the villain, Baron Blade in the location of Insula Primalis (a primeval world). The turns follow the order of villain turn, hero turn, and environment turn, and then back around again.
The villain card often has an effect either at the beginning of his/her turn or the end, and plays a card from the top of the deck. These cards are events that usually strengthen the villain in some way, or divert the heroes from attacking him. Baron Blade starts with a mobile defense platform card that has to be destroyed, and later as the game played out he gained a personal force field, a turret and minions which all impacted on our attempts to bring him down.
The hero character cards have a power on it, and each hero starts with 4 cards from their deck. You can choose to play a card–causing it’s effect to come into play–and play an in-play power. Some cards are played and discarded straight away, others stay in play, others stay in play but you can only one of that type in play. You can then draw a card. You can also skip playing a card and a power and draw two cards.
Play then moves to the environment turn and you deal a card from that deck. The environment can help or hinder heroes as well as villains. It then goes back around again. Length of game play seems to vary, maybe an hour to a couple of hours, depending on the villains you’re up against and the heroes you have–and how well you play.
As much as I love games I will be the first to admit that I can be slow at picking up the rules! Thankfully with this it was pretty straightforward and once we got into it turns can be quite quick. I’m going to address a complaint I’ve read about the game and that is that it can be tricky to keep track of all the modifiers in play. Almost every card that you play has a formula on it for determining the severity of impact or causes a decrease or increase in hit points or the ability to deal or resist damage–among other things–and it can be really easy to forget to apply or remove them. The enhanced edition comes with the tokens to help keep track of this, which I think is a must, there is also an app you can purchase. We managed to keep up with it (mostly), but I tell you, it’s good practice for my bookkeeping studies. It doesn’t spoil anything, you just need to be mindful of it. Thankfully the turn order is easy and the turns themselves are short.
Now I can just say I loved this game after the first play. I really wouldn’t have expected that a card game could be so thematically immersive. It’s a team of heroes battling a villain in a location and as the cards are played out the table becomes like a comic strip in itself. Okay, it doesn’t tell a cohesive story, but the bold artwork and flavour text creates the theme without any need for a board or miniatures–or any dreaded roleplay.
The second game we played was not so successful, we were tired, we tried different heroes and villains, and we didn’t appreciate how differently they played. There is a handy chart in the rule book that rates the difficulty of each hero and villain to play with or against. We abandoned the second game and tried the next night after reading some of the cards we had tried to play and we got the hang of some different characters. So, although there isn’t any set-up time it’s worth picking a hero and flicking through the cards to make sure you understand them so it doesn’t derail the game. After a few plays and finding heroes you like you wouldn’t need to worry about it.
What was an initial issue has come to be something I appreciate about the game–that characters play differently. Some are damage soakers, others are defensive, others have powers that have a loss/gain balance which you have to think about, or powers that work in combination with one another. So a game that could seem quite shallow actually has nice level of depth of gameplay and tactics to it. You won’t sit there agonising over decisions, but the players that don’t like dice games because of the chance element taking away from the skill of play would probably be happy enough. As you play cooperatively we found ourselves discussing what powers and cards we could play and when, so we could help each other out by maximising our attacks or minimising the damage we were going to feel.
Cooperative play is something the casual gamer might not be used to. Most of the conventional family boardgames are competitive–which when you think about it it can be like looking for trouble with a lot of families. My other half was very unsure of this, but really if you play a co-op computer game it’s normally the players versus the AI of the game, and in cooperative board games it’s players versus the mechanics of the board game and it’s still a satisfying play.
I enjoyed this game so much I tracked down the ‘Rook City and Infernal Relics’ expansion and managed to get a pack of the individual promo expansions that have come out over the last couple of years. These are getting difficult to come by and have inflated prices on Amazon and Ebay. I managed to pick mine up for a regular price at Games Lore. So, with my burgeoning enjoyment of the superhero genre I can now play in that world as well as just consuming it. It’s the most superhero fun you can have without spandex. Go check it out.
Have you played it? What did you think? Any other games like this that you could recommend?