Critical Review - DC Comic Deck Building Game

The DC Comics Deck Building Game is the second Cerberus Engine Deck Building Game we have had the opportunity to look at from Cryptozoic.  We recently took the Lord of the Rings, the Fellowship of the Rin Deck Building Game for a spin and gave it a Crit!  Does that mean everything on the Cerberus Enginer is a Crit?  Check out our review to see where it stands!


Additionally, Crytpozoic was kind enough to provide us a copy of this game to play and develop an opinion on for this review and we'd like to thank them for that.  For now though, let's rev up the batmobile, put on capes and cowls, and see what the Cerberus Engine does for the DC Universe!

First, the DC deckbuilding game runs on the same engine the Lord of the Rings Deck Building game does, Cryptozoic's Cerberus Engine.  It uses one resource, Power, and sees you facing off against a massive array of, in this game's case, Super Villains, to save the day.


Both games are being slightly ciritcized in that they are not co-operative.  In both cases, the player with the most amount of Victory Points is the winner.  In the Lord of the Rings case, there are applications of the theme to the engine that make it a tremendously fun game.  However, would aligning the DC Comics universe result in the same?


Every player starts the game with 3 x Vulnerability (which do nothing when played, fill up your deck, and only slow you down) and 7 x Punch (which provide +1 Power each).  Unlike LOTR, when you start the game, your Hero has an "on-card" power that persists through the entire game.  Each of these powers line up with what you'd think from the Hero.  Superman gets bonuses with Super Powers, Batman gets bonuses with Equipment, Flash goes first (hey, he is the fastest man alive right!?) and so on and so forth.

Each player draws 5 cards to begin, and plays them, to gian power.  Power is used to acquire more powerful cards form the main area all players have access to, known as the Line Up.  When a card is acquired or gained from the Line Up, it is not replaced until the end of the active player's turn.  This again, like LOTR, limits the options available to a player, and removes the ability for someone with a lot of power, to buy cheaper cards and rack up Victory Points.


The primary goal is to acquire or defeat the Super Villains.  These are set up with Ra's Al Ghul on top and a randomized amount of Super Villains underneath.  The game suggests 8, but you have the option of making it as short or tall of a stack as you like which offers a lot of flexibility.  This is a nice touch to the Cerberus Engine seen in the LOTR game and persist here.


Additionally, the Super Villains are great!  They picked the right one's, the right powers to go with them, and they really bring the DC Universe to light.  When you acquire them (which you use Power for again, just simply make the amount of power equal to or greater than in the lower right of the card), the Super Villains go into your discard pile, to be used later in the game. 


Super Villains have a "First Appearance - Attack" on them that affects everyone when they are first revealed.  This works great, and then later, when they come back, they only offer a bonus from the experience you have gained from defeating them previously.  Unforuntately, the primary Villains in the Main Deck, don't work as well.


Inside the Main Deck are Locations, Equipment, Heroes, Villains, and Super Powers that can all com up to provide major bonuses.  It's the point of a deck builder right?  Progressively get better!  The Villains however are the major miss this game has going for it.  They are good, and excellent choices, but their attacks happen after you acquire them.

This brings us to the first "disconnect" the theme has being applied to the Cerberus Engine.  If I defeat Poison Ivy for example, I can understand that I could get a bonus next time playing her card, having defeated her and "gained experience" while doing so.  The fact that her attack kicks in though when I play her again, seems off.  Had attacks been instituted like "ambushes" in LOTR, this would have made more sense.  The Villains come out, they attack and then you defeat and gain bonuses from them.


The idea Green Lantern wants to use Poison Ivy for both his benefit and to the detriment of Wonder Woman seems, well, very douchebag like.  In fact, that entire application of attacks happening after played, seems to contradict the Super Villain utilization.  It also lends one to believe this could have been much better if it was a fully co-operative game.


In LOTR, I can understand attacks happening after you acquire an enemy from the main deck, as they represent the countless and limitless forces hunting down the Fellowship of the Ring.  It makes sense they would come back.  In this theme, it doesn't, and it misses the mark.  


Another area the game misses the mark is in the application of the Heroes and the cards in the main deck.  If I want to use Batman as my hero, there are some amazing combos that I can do with all my Bat Equipment.  I can obtain the Bat Cave, the Utility Belt, acquire Robin and awesome combos happen that really get you excited and enjoying the gameplay.  However, you soon realize, you don't necessarily realize that you need those "aligned" cards.


For example, Cyborg gets a bonus when he plays his first Super Power and/or Equipment.  I've won games using the Bat Cave, the Lasso of Truth (Wonder Woman's) and the Power Rings from Green Lantern, all while acquiring Heat Vision.  This makes absolutely no sense.  None.  It's probably the biggest thing keeping this game from being a Crit, is that is quickly becomes apparent, that you don't need to connect to the theme to win, you can just load up on power, of any kind, and win.


This overall leaves you wanting MUCH more from the game.  Being either a fan of DC or a fan of Deck Builders, the game is a lot of fun, and moves at a fast pace, but the missing connectivity really can leave you yearning for more.  Perhaps if they had utilized Villains like Super Villains and/or had cards aligned to Super Heroes be more beneficial to their hero and/or less beneficial to others, it could have made for a more enjoyable experience.  In the end though, it is a fun game, with beautiful artwork, that can easily keep your attention, but may, after a while, see you looking for other Deck Builders to scratch the itch.


We have found a fun variant that makes it co-operative.  We use all the Attacks a Villain can make as an Ambush coming out of the Main Deck that affects all players.  Once acquired, the villains don't attack when played.  We eliminated the VPs altogether, other than total scoring purposes for the "team" and we use all the Super Villains in a random set up with Ra's on top.  This has made it MUCH more fun and enjoyable, but still sees the issue of any hero can use the Bat-mobile, which really, is almost blasphemy. Everyone's seen the movies, he locks that thing tighter than Fort Knox!


Is DC fun?  Yes!  Is it fast paces, easy to learn and challenging to master?  Yes, yes, and somewhat.  The simple "shift" in applying the villain's and their attacks feels to have taken away some of the magic that could have been with this game.  Additionally, I think it could have been very bold of Cryptozoic to say, "Yes, it's built on the same engine, but this one is fully co-op."  


The engine itself is very solid, and I'm looking forward to many more games from it like the Capcom and potentially, if every released, World of Warcraft games, however, the application of the DC theme seems to have slightly missed the mark.  DC Fans will absolutely love the game, I know, I am one!  Deck Bulding fans will enjoy it as well, however if they look at both this and the LOTR, I think the LOTR game will provide more enjoyment from a pure deck building standpoint.


In the end, the DC Comics Deck Building Game is a HIT of a game.  It's beautiful art, fun and exciting combos, and simple to learn rules will not only see it as a great "Gateway" game to deck building, but one that could see lengthy play, if supported well enough through expansions.  Cryptozoic could, and I hope will, take more chances in the future with the Cerberus Engine though.  It's a great baseline, but if they don't make each game feel fully connected to the theme applied, I feel many fans will look at them as "pasted" licenses and no real depth.  For a company that says, "Fans first", the Cerberus Engine is a huge opportunity to prove they will continue to stick by that mantra. 


Final Score (Crit, Hir or Miss):

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Comments: 25
  • #1

    NY (Sunday, 16 December 2012 13:14)

    An issue I have with your review is that DC was done being developed before LotR DBG was even a concept, so Ambush was thought of way after the fact.

    I have to disagree with your comment about the odd interactions between cards. There is no way to make a game as simple and streamlined as DC DBG is without having some overlap between cards that individual heroes want. If every card had only one hero that wanted them, they would end up clogging the line-up.

    I’m also confused how you’re ok with more Orcs showing up, but now Scarecrow escaping from Arkham Asylum. As a DC Comics fan, I’d imagine you’ve heard the “revolving doors of Arkham” term. Comic books are all about villains escaping and being reused for stories. A villain is never ever really “defeated” in comics. They’re just slowed down and given time to come up with another plot.

    Your house rule of turning all Villain attacks into Group Ambushes is a little awkward, since the cost of cards is balanced with the fact that they have an attack. For example, removing Scarecrow’s attack turns him into a card no one should ever want to buy (5-cost for +2 power).

    I find DC DBG game to be leaps and bounds above LotR, but that’s for another discussion.

  • #2

    RBrady (Sunday, 16 December 2012 16:07)

    I have to agree with NY, it would make no sense if a card couldn't be used by other heroes in this type of game. Say I chose Batman and then all 5 cards are Superman only cards, should I be stuck to buying Kicks?

    Have some imagination too, maybe Green Lantern is making a construct of the Batmobile. Maybe Cyborg hacked into it to get in. Martian Manhunter can phase into it. Maybe Superman is throwing the Batmobile? I think part of the fun of card games is imagining what's going on, this game is great for that.

    This is also a way more accessible deck building game and much better looking than most others. I know people who love this game and would never give most others the time of day.

  • #3

    critshappen (Sunday, 16 December 2012 18:04)

    My suggestion was not that, for example, the Batmobile could only be used by Batman, but that it would give Batman a great bonus, but other heroes who acquired and used it, a good bonus. For example, the Batcave could have had a keyword of "Batman" and then given Batman "Draw 2 cards" while all other heroes could have had "Draw a card".

    Also, yes, the doors on Arkham are revolving at times, I just feel this should have been more cooperative and that Crypto had an opportunity they missed with the way the villains were implemented.

    Additionally, I did say this was something that was a gateway and easily accessible. Please understand, just because I don't give something a Crit, doesn't mean I think it's a bad game. I do enjoy this, I just personally feel there were some opportunities to improve it.

    That said, this is a good discussion and one of the reasons I love doing reviews. My opinion is just that, an opinion. It's not meant to be the masses opinion, just one man's. Counter opinions are massively welcome and I enjoy hearing from other gamers like you guys and what your experiences are.

    Thanks for watching, reading, and commenting! I hope more people weigh in.

  • #4

    NY (Sunday, 16 December 2012 19:00)

    That where some of the subtly and learning comes in the game. Rather than having the Batmobile say +1 power if you're Batman, Batman says +1 Power for each equipment. You have to actually look at your hero and say, "oh, this card is good for me" rather than the card out right saying, "hey, you want to buy me." Your exact example could be applied to Super Speed which essentially reads "Draw a card or 2 cards if you're The Flash."

  • #5

    critshappen (Sunday, 16 December 2012 19:05)

    How can you explain Cyborg benefiting from it the same way then? And mind you, I know we are kind of talking symantecs at that point, but I hear you and understand.

  • #6

    NY (Monday, 17 December 2012 09:30)

    Again, there has to be some overlap with what heroes benefit from each card in order to keep the pace up. Also, Cyborg and The Flash don't benefit in the same way. The Flash shows you how much faster he is by drawing another card, while Cyborg powers up one of his tech upgrades with it.

  • #7

    Will (Monday, 17 December 2012 14:25)

    This was my main problem way back when this game was announced. My brain just can't get past other heroes using the Batmobile or the lasso or any of the other specific equipment. I'm sure this is just a limitation on my part, but it is there for me nonetheless.

  • #8

    critshappen (Monday, 17 December 2012 15:37)

    Hi Will, thanks for watching and commenting! Yeah, I think that it may come down to personal preference. I'm with you, I have a hard time getting past it. That said, we have still enjoyed this a lot. I hope that the additional items like "Impossible Mode" in LOTR make it into the DC universe as well.

  • #9

    Tim (Monday, 17 December 2012 23:22)

    It's hard to speculate without actually playing either game(DC DBG or LotR DBG), but it does seem odd for Batman to use (Superman's) Heat Vision, or Aquaman to use the Batmobile. Thematically I wondered if one could envision Wonder Woman coming in and using her Lasso of Truth to aid Aquaman (if you're playing as Aquaman and acquired the lasso)? Maybe that's a bit reaching?

    Tox, I have been wondering why you have a problem with the Villain/Enemy cards coming back around and being played from players' hands in DC as opposed to LotR? I understand the point that you explain that it makes thematic sense for more orcs to always be coming back around, but that Poison Ivy should stay defeated. While I want to jump on the "revolving door of arkham" side of things, I do get that point. Another side to this issue that you seem to dislike though is that another player, Flash for instance, plays the Poison Ivy card and that harms another player, say Wonder Woman. Regardless of it being Poison Ivy (or when Poison Ivy's card comes back around again it's one of her minions running around causing havoc because she's locked up), the fact is a player (Flash/Aragorn) played a card that will harm the other players (Wonder Woman/Gandalf). Why do you find it more acceptable that Aragorn messes with Gandalf rather than Flash messing with Wonder Woman?

    Just curious! Thanks for your AWESOME videos and playthroughs! Love 'em!

  • #10

    critshappen (Tuesday, 18 December 2012 08:03)

    Good discussion Tim, thanks! I think the part that makes me feel ok with it happening in the LOTR game, is that throughout the story, the Fellowship splits up, comes back together, and has challenges to face. Gandalf playing a Moiria Orcs for example, to me at least, is the player playing the card and using the experience they got from acquiring it before, but the other members then having a challenge to face. In DC, I see Super Heroes sticking together, so while it's probably splitting hairs, it's just something that thematically, differentiates the games to me. Just my opinion, and I see all sides to this discussion and don't necessarily disagree with any of them, they all bring valid points, as you mentioned above.

    Also, the "Superman flies by and splashes his heat vision" seems to be the most popular comment around using other heroes equipment or power... makes sense.

    I can say this, both are very fun games! The DC one has a tendency to see "run away" victories, like last night, I played the Flash in a two player game and I defeated every single Super Villain, and Ra's on turn 3. It was a brutal defeat for my opponent, but it can happen if you get good draws. I haven't seen that in LOTR yet, and we've gotten a LOT of plays (like 35+) of LOTR, so we'll see.

  • #11

    Kevin (Friday, 21 December 2012 06:48)

    Great review Tox. Thank you!
    I wanted to ask you, have you ever played the Penny Arcade Deck builder, also by Cryptozoic? While sleeving and reading the cards for the DC deck builder, I felt like I was having a severe case of deja vu. A lot (if not most) of the benefits on cards are exactly the same. Even the benefits for the super heroes are the same as the characters for Penny Arcade - Gamers vs. Evil. Same wording, same effect - just different art. It feels a little lazy and is a huge disappointment for me. Thoughts?

  • #12

    RyeAbc (Friday, 21 December 2012 16:55)

    Now that you've had time to play all 3, where do you rate the three superhero based card games, Marvel Legendary, DC DBG and Sentinels of the Sentinels of the Multiverse?

    I am with you on the Batmobile should give a bonus to Batman. He gets his bonus for using ANY equipment, he should get extra bonuses for using HIS equipment. Having all of the heroes getting similar buffs would have been better in my mind.

    Love your reviews by the way.

  • #13

    critshappen (Saturday, 22 December 2012 16:03)

    Hi Kevin, thanks! I have played the PA DBG and enjoyed it a lot. It's a light DBG that's fun and I think (just personal opinion, no clue if this is right or not but I can presume) that it was the "breeding ground" for the cerberus engine. I think personally all the DBGs us the same type of cards. Everyone uses "draw X" "banish or destroy X" etc. It's more how they use them in conjunction with their own mechanics. Like Legendary for example uses the "colors" well as a unique thing in their game. I own both PA DBGs, and now the DC and the LOTR from Crypto and enjoy each at different times. LOTR is their best I feel, but all are fun. Thanks for commenting and watching/reading!

  • #14

    critshappen (Saturday, 22 December 2012 16:05)

    Hi RyeAbc, I actually have a hard time answering that. If all you are looking at is "Super Hero games" then I'd give the nod to Sentinels. But DC and Marvel are two totally different games being DBGs than being the pre-con decks SoTM uses. Between the two, Marvel and DC, I think it's a matter of "fan boy" license love. If you like DC, you'll enjoy that game more than Marvel, and vice versa. SoTM still is a unique, engaging, and painfully fun experience though.

    Thanks for the kind words, I'm glad you like the reviews! Thanks for being a fan!

  • #15

    Teachermook (Wednesday, 26 December 2012 18:08)

    This was.... interesting. I'm trying to find a deckbuilding game kids would like. Tell me... would this be a crit, hit, miss, or epicfail when working with older elementary? I really want to know before I buy it.

  • #16

    critshappen (Thursday, 27 December 2012 10:03)

    I can speak from direct experience, my 7 year old loves it! He doesn't care if Batman uses the Green Lantern Power Rings or Cyborg uses the Batcave... he just loves being everyone and everything. I would say for younger kids, into comics, they'd consider it a Crit. I know mine does.

  • #17

    Faunissa (Sunday, 06 January 2013 00:29)

    Thank you for reviewing such a great game!

    I have been playing this game as much as possible since it was released. I absolutely love this game and love the engine that it uses.

    As to some of the complaints raised, I can see and understand why some people might not agree with the idea of "attacks" that come from the villains after they are defeated. I guess it never really bothered me and I just saw it as another way of using the cards to win the game. I don't view it as anything other than friendly competition between memebers of the justice league.

    "Hey Wonder Woman, I beat Cheetah before you could! ha ha!" - Superman

    The more I have played it the more I have realized that, while you need to build strategy around the hero you have, you more so need to build strategy around the line-up that is presented on each of your turns. As an example I was playing as Batman in my most recent game. Early on a lot of super-powers were popping up but not a lot of equipment. So I soon switched over to have a super-power heavy deck and later tacked on the equipment. I ended up winning the game, not because I abused Batman's power with equipment, but because I abused the cards that the line-up presented.

    All in all I think it is a wonderful game and I plan on playing it as often as I can with as many different people as I can!

  • #18

    critshappen (Sunday, 06 January 2013 14:43)

    Excellent comments Faunissa, thanks! I do agree, it can be quite a fun game. I think this one comes down to personal preference. Someone who can go into the game like you mentioned would have a tremendous time. Someone who picks it apart for all the "connectivity" items may have less of a good time. I agree with the comment on "playing to the line-up", which is a lot of what happens in Ascension too. I think the jury's final ruling on this one will be much more clear when an expansion or two comes out. I personally would love to see Alfred make an appearance, maybe some Black Adam, Deadman, or even another "Heroes" system with DarkHorse or Image involved. Thanks for watching, reading, and engaging!

  • #19

    iAmtheG (Thursday, 21 February 2013 01:49)

    I love the review about this and I love the game, but I disagree on both the equipment and the villains attack. I believe that it is perfectly okay that a hero can use another hero's equipment. I remember when I was a kid, I saw the tv cartoon "The Batman" and Batman was, for a small time, able to use Green Lantern's ring.

    Also, about the villain attack: you could have the villain's attack activate when they come out by playing patrol mode(In the middle of your turn, if there are any empty slots in the line up, you can fill them in immediately, but if a villain pops up, their attack activates immediately, but only effects you).

  • #20

    critshappen (Thursday, 21 February 2013 07:11)

    Thanks iAmtheG. This is a game that I've found is quite a divider among fans. People either love it or dislike it and not many have a middle of the road view on it. I for sure see your points, and don't disagree, there's been many cases in the comics when someone used someone else's equipment. While I can suspend my personal belief's on that, it still doesn't solve for Batman using Heat Vision :)

    That said, I must say this, this game hits our table a LOT more than I thought it would. I think in our case, it is because it is such an easy set up and easy to play, that we play it as a family game with our little gamers quite a bit. For them, not being hardcore comic nerds (yet), they don't care at all if Wonder Woman uses a Power Ring and Heat Vision, they just enjoy the artwork and the fun of playing.

    Thanks for watching, reading, and commenting and I hope you are enjoying the game! Again, I think it's much more of a personal play style that defines if this is a Crit, Hit, or Miss for someone or their playgroup, but it has for sure been interesting to discuss it at length with several people!

  • #21

    Brian Wilcox (Friday, 22 March 2013 15:46)

    Ermehgerd erts Wurndurwurmon. Ermehgerd a turnursberl.

  • #22

    Steven (Wednesday, 17 April 2013 02:48)

    You can explain almost everything with a little imagination. Batman could have some sort of heat vision built into his cowl or something. The same goes for Xray-vision and so on. The same for Cyborg. That would make it a piece of equipment if you want to split hairs, but if you want an explanation, you can come up with one.
    I would love to see a German version of the game. Our kids don't speak English, yet and there are just too many cards to memorize their effects. They would be able to remember stuff like "Batman gets a bonus for equipment" and so on but they can't remember every effect of a villain's attack or a location. I would have to translate all the cards every turn and that would take most of the joy out of the game :-/

  • #23

    critshappen (Wednesday, 17 April 2013 16:38)

    Hi Steven! While I don't diagree with your comments neccissarily, I just don't see myself wanting to delve that deep, that Batman uses a heat vision cowl, and the such. It seems stretching it for me personally. I agree, I think some other languages could benefit from a release with this and other crypto games. Here's to hoping! Thanks for watching/reading and commenting!

  • #24

    Laurent (Wednesday, 22 May 2013 18:01)

    Hi, i'm going to pick up this one in few days. I'm still wondering if i really should, mainly because i already have Legendary. But i fine DC artworks so big and beautiful and the setup so quick comparing it to Legendary that i want to give it a try. After reading reviews what i can see, is that Marvel has a long setup to reach a great variety of defeat condition where Dc Deckbuilding has a really quick setup but only one same goal every time.
    About theme, i'm afraid that in both, by the end, you're only looking at points and nothing else...for me even Legendary is a miss on that point as you're more focused on point than on Vilains and heroes...Finally about homerules, i think it should be easy to have a kinf of bonus on victory point scaled on the number of cards thematicaly linked to your hero what do you think ? Like a +1 +2 +3 +4 so about +10 points if you have 4 cards associated with your hero . In that way you keep the deck mechanic and balance but still give players a way to stick to their hero. And it could be for equipment, location or vilains. So at the end you will have to choose between more power, or more of your power and you will still have an eye on you opponents hero and cards linked to him.

  • #25

    critshappen (Thursday, 23 May 2013 17:43)

    Hi Laurent, thanks for watching and commenting. In essence, yes, Legendary and DC both are about points. I think how they get there though, with Legendary being about full co-op vs DC being a bit of combat between players, as well as how they implement it, makes each game deliver a different experience. Both are fun, and if you are a fan of DC artwork, you'll enjoy this one, it's beautiful. Hope you enjoy it if you get it.

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