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):