Friday, 20 September 2019

Tabletop Review - DC Deck Building Game: Rebirth

DC Deck Building Game: Rebirth
Cryptozoic

The DC Deck Building Game has seen numerous incarnations over the years, bringing in a variety of mainline DC Comics heroes and villains as well as some more offbeat characters (even seeing a small Watchmen expansion during its lifetime). The Rebirth edition, named for the similarly titled comic book event in 2016, sees a number of new additions to the gameplay in a way that makes it rather a departure from the original core (more on how I know that later)!

If you've never played a deck building game before, here's a quick summary. Players work together (or compete) to solve an objective, usually involving giving enemies a good kicking! Starting with a basic deck, players build up power in the game to purchase stronger cards, which shuffle into the player deck and allow them to put together more powerful attacks as the game goes on.

It's worth stating upfront that the game is optimised rather heavily for co-operative play, although there are competitive rules available in the box as well as solo rules! It's always nice to see games offering different mechanics along a similar theme, and as someone with limited social opportunities recently (read: no friends), it's good to see games offering a solo variant even if it is an adapted form of the co-op mechanics and not much else. It really gives a sense of value for money, particularly as this variant of the game carries a much larger recommended retail price than the original core set.

In the Rebirth edition, the players choose from a selection of 8 heroes (Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Simon Baz, Jessica Cruz, Cyborg, Aquaman and The Flash - to the best of my recollection, these heroes make up the Justice League in the Rebirth line). The game comes boxed with little cardboard standees for reasons that I'll come to, and all the heroes have some Signature moves/items that they can obtain during the course of the game to replace their more standard attacks.

The first, and perhaps most important, new feature is the movement system, which is where the cardboard standees come in. The players set up a series of 10 "locations" around the board (made up of 5 static locations and a series of 5 cards that represent the spaces between), and move through the spaces using cards with the Move ability. Players start with 10 cards, comprising 6 Punch cards as well as 3 of the aforementioned movement cards in the form of Run cards, and one Helping Hand card which ties into the co-operative mechanics.

Villains also use this mechanic, in what makes for a really clever mechanic in my estimation. Each villain has a number on their card, corresponding to a static location on the map (this might be Arkham Asylum, Central City PD or one of a number of others). The villains make their way to this location on their turn and the heroes try to stop them, because if they make it to their location they can attack to their heart's content!

You generate Power and Move points using the cards in your hand, and can as suggested by the name ask for a Helping Hand. This card possesses a value that can be used by either yourself or another player on your team, so this emphasises the cooperative element of the game as players can negotiate tactics using assist cards and really put together a devastating move! The starting card has a Range of 0, which means you can only play it on a player in your space, but the cards get better over time as you buy more from the Line-Up (either the stuff drawn from the deck or a stack at each static location, all of the same type).

The Rebirth edition of the game also boasts a Campaign option. Although all the scenarios can be played standalone, the game comes with 8 scenarios in 8 separate envelopes designed to maximise the suspense (and indeed, during our playthrough, my esteemed teammate Robbie and I didn't see a card from the initial scenario, so there's even some surprise that could find its way to us should we give that particular scenario another go).

Here's the funny thing. I had Robbie specifically in mind when organising this game for two reasons. Firstly, he's lovely company and the kind of guy any gaming night should strive to include. Secondly, he's well versed in the DC Deck Building Game of old. I figured that this would be a boon to get a sense of how this version compared to the original game. Funnily enough, the game is apparently *so* different that it was very difficult to compare it in the traditional sense.

Here, then, is an excerpt from the thoughts Robbie kindly sent me over to summarise his findings on the game:

The first thing that struck me was the lack of playmat. Their other games do not need a mat, but because of the new structure I think a playmat would have really helped. The second thing was how different the tactics are. There's no being selfish with the powers you buy here. If you don't work together and get a bunch of Assist cards you're not going to get very far. For new players this may be obvious, but for players of other Cryptozoic games this will require some reassessment. On the plus side I was really excited by the possibilities in the new play style and it actually represents being a hero much more than the other games. Working together and sacrificing your hand to make sure the bad guys go down feels much more heroic than competing with each other. As a first playthrough we didn't really get to experience the campaign elements, but I am 'super' keen to see what it offers!

The playmat thing resonated with me as well. That's not just because I love a well-made playmat, either! A decent chunk of our setup time was getting our heads around how the map laid out and the ramifications of the mechanics with regards to movement, and a playmat (even a paper one) would've helped a lot in that regard. I did find, as well, that Robbie's comments regarding the cooperative aspects of the game were bang on, too! I definitely felt really strongly during the game that we were working together towards a shared goal, and the assist cards meant that we were constantly computing how we might take down some of the tougher baddies (especially as Bane was giving Batman a look we've not seen since Knightfall).

As a standalone experience, I did initially find the setup mechanics a little confusing but once we got going I think it's fair to say that the game opened up quite a bit. Overall, I'm really positive on this game. The mechanics of the game also allow for the enemies to be used in the main core game, and the rules go through this in some depth. For the price (around a 50% difference from the previous big box releases, if my research is correct), I think the amount of extra stuff you get in terms of longevity is well worth the extra cash, as this game has the potential to keep you busy for a while. One thing worth knowing is that this game is not easy! Enemies can pitch up with a decent amount of regularity, and the Threat Track effects (increased when Super Villains enter the game) make the already annoying and tough enemies tougher still! Those who fancy a good challenge will no doubt find stuff to like here!

In terms of possibility, the campaign mechanic is where I think the game is strongest personally. The campaign scenarios allow players to take legacy damage and effects into the ensuing scenarios, with locations becoming damaged by enemy attacks. Thankfully, none of the legacy effects involve destroying cards! It also feels like the scenario-based gameplay lends itself really well to expansion, and while I don't think they should be gratuitous with such releases (I think, for example, that their release schedule with the previous iteration of the game was pretty good), I can certainly see how the release of small packs of characters and/or villains with accompanying scenarios would be a good release model to work with moving forwards. Maybe I'm wishfully thinking of that Metal scenario...


Rob Wade blogs about stuff he likes. Whether it's video games, tabletop games, movies, TV or simply a bit of podcasting fun, the focus is always on the stuff that brings the most pleasure to his life within media.

Rob is the host of the E14 podcasts "The Crazy Train" and "The E14 Gamecast", as well as a frequent guest on E14's Youtube channel. He is also the editor of the Talk Star Wars podcasts.

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