Arena Review: DC Deck-Building Game

Deck building games may have finally gone mainstream. In the span of a few months, Marvel and Upperdeck teamed up to produce Legendary while DC Comics and Cryptozoic joined forces for the blandly named DC Deck-Building Game.

I wish I were kidding.

Suggested Ages: 15+
Suggested Players: 2 to 5 players
Playing time: 30-45 minutes
Contents:

  • 214 Game Cards
  • 7 Oversized Hero Cards
  • 1 Rulebook

Retail price: $40.00 available at Amazon.com

Since really getting into card games like Dominion and Ascension, I’ve keep keeping tabs on the card game genre of games. Android Netrunner and Sentinels of the Multiverse look fun, but a lot of my game playing is with friends who aren’t as dedicated so simple is often better. And in this case, simple wins.

In what may be a first, the DC Deck-Building Game rulebook actually says it is easier to just start playing then learning the rules. And if you’ve played Dominion, Ascension or Penny-Arcade: the Game – Gamers vs. Evil, then you won’t need much introduction because here’s DC Deck Building in a nutshell: it’s Ascension with one difference – there is only one resource.

Let that sink in. There is literally only one resource: power. Sure, it’s measured in Punches and Kicks (again, I wish I were kidding) but at its core, this game is Ascension if Ascension didn’t have monster cards. And if Ascension didn’t have monster cards, there would always be a single strategy: ramping.

So you want to buy the Batmobile? That will cost you two punches. Looking to defeat Bane? That’s four punches because in some insane world, this is a unit of measurement that makes sense. Sure, the system is exceptionally streamlined but for the love of god, this game is boring. And slow. Unlike Ascension and Dominion, there is very little banishing or trashing of cards so the game just feels artificially slow – especially since each deck starts with three weakness cards that don’t do anything [No, they do nothing. – ed].

The DC Deck-Building Game was supposed to be the debut of the Cerberus engine. In theory, this single system would allow games of various themes to be reskins of each other. As of right now though, this is the only game with that engine until Lord of the Rings Deck Building Game comes out. The engine is clearly inspired by Penny-Arcade the Game, but with some sweeping changes.

First, almost all cards are worth victory points at the end of the game, not just bosses. Second, there are attack and defense cards. Third, this game brings back bosses.

Once the board is set up properly, the game closely resembles Ascension. With the center row that changes between turns, it is fine to play and the stack of Super Villain cards is a fantastic way to get the feeling of battling bigger than normal heroes. Unlike Legendary, the Boss cards really sell you on the idea of fighting some of the best of the best.

But it comes at a cost, while the bosses are great; the rest of the game just feels lacking. The six hero cards influence how you play, but most of them feel like rehashes of each other where one card type is exchanged for another. Then there’s the whole issue with Cryptozoic being awful to local gaming stores. Did you buy your copy at your LGS? Too bad, you’re not getting the Martian Manhunter promo.

It’s inevitable that Legendary and DC Deck Building Game will need to go head to head. While DC is better on the setup and cleanup side, Legendary’s co-operative experience is much more interesting for me. In Legendary, you feel like a group of heroes working together. In DC, you feel like you’re playing a card game with DC art slapped on it. It doesn’t feel like the theme matches the game play. I mean, in this game Batman can become bulletproof and have heat vision! BATMAN CAN’T DO THOSE THINGS (I learned violently after my first time playing Arkham Asylum: Batman is not bulletproof).

As a game, the DC Deck-Building Game is a solid entry level game. The simplified rules, the single resource to manage and the fact that the rules transfer to other games make me appreciate what this game can do. People new to the hobby will see the New 52 Justice League on the box and be intrigued, but for long time gamers, there isn’t much here. This is the kind of game where after only a handful of plays, I feel like I’m done with it.

Pros
Easy to set up
Beautiful artwork
Simple, easy to learn gameplay
The goddamn Batman
Super Villains are awesome.

Cons
PUNCH! KICK! PUNCH! RAMP!
Impossible promos
Flavor makes zero sense
Ugh, new 52 character art