DC Comics Deck Building Game: Heroes Unite
Publisher: Cryptozoic Games
Release Date: 02/26/2014
Get it Here: Cryptozoic Games
Back in late 2012, Cryptozoic Games released a deck-building game based on the New 52 Universe at Dc Comics. It was well received although I myself didn’t pick it up until my birthday in August of 2013, when Amazon had it on sale for $22.99. I thought it was well made and pretty fun, but there was only one problem. It focused too much on the core “iconic” characters from DC. Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Hal Jordan, Aquaman and the like. Although I’ve always preferred DC to Marvel, those aren’t the character I’ve cared about. My favorites have always been Blue Beetle (Ted Kord), Mr. Miracle, Nightwing, Booster Gold, Captain Marvel (NOT Shazam, that’s the wizard dammit!), Andrew Bennett, Animal Man, Jonah Hex, and so on. I would have preferred to play as any or all of those characters to the core characters in the first DC deck building game.
Apparently, I’m not alone because last month Cryptozoic Games released Heroes Unite, a deck building game that can be used with the original DC Comics game or as a stand alone. Best of all? It featured seven new playable characters. They are Nightwing, Booster Gold, Batgirl, Hawkman, Captain Marvel, Black Canary and Red Tornado. Talk about a great eclectic mix of DC characters. Unless you only pay attention to the super heroes they make movies about, there should be some character here you already love. Nightwing and Booster Gold alone sold me on the game. Starfire is a playable character but you had to have received the promo card of her (ala Martian Manhunter in the first game) directly from Cryptozoic. She’s not in the actual set. This great set of characters gives me hope that the first expansion Crisis, which is released in Q3, 2014 will feature characters like Swamp Thing, Zatanna, Ray Palmer and maybe even Frankenstein or the Phantom Stranger! Regardless, I absolutely love this character set and I think most DC fans will too.
Although Heroes Unite is a deck building game, that genre of game is so varied that it doesn’t really help as a descriptor. Afterall, Heroes Unite is not Legendary which is not Thunderstone which is not Miskatonic School For Girls. Really all the games mentioned above have in common is you start with a set of cards and lobby in various ways to get more cards to add to your deck. Each one plays very different from the next, although in the case of Heroes Unite, it plays exactly like the original DC deck building game, just with better everything. Better playable characters (in terms of abilities), better card ideas, a wider variation of characters and powers showcased on the cards. In other words, if you already own the original DC Comics Deck Building Game, you can stop reading the review here by knowing Heroes Unite is very similar to that game but with better everything. It also means if you liked the game but haven’t purchased it, you might as well just get Heroes Unitefor the more interesting card selection. For those that haven’t experienced the DC Comics Deck Building Game, read on for a synopsis of how it is played and the rules.
The game can be played by two to five players. Each player gets a starting deck comprised of ten cards: three Vulnerability and seven Punch cards. Vulnerability cards do nothing. They are just there in your deck to take up space, so you want to discard or destroy (remove from the game) these cards as soon as you can. Punch cards are each worth 1 Power. Power is the currency in the game and you will use it to buy all the other cards that come up in play (with some exceptions due to flavor text). Your starting hand is five, so you draw those five cards and when it is your turn, you can use as much of the Power in your hands to buy cards. These can either be from the Kick Pile (cards which give you +2 Power), the line-up (the current five cards from the core deck currently available for purchase) or the Super-Villain currently at large. The game continues until you have exhausted the core deck (which has never come close to happening in any of our games) or you have captured all eight (or more if you wish to play a longer game) Super-Villains from the Super-Villain deck. As you buy cards, they go into your discard pile. Once you are out of cards in your personal deck and need to draw, you shuffle in your discard pile and make a new deck. This repeats itself until the end of the game, with your deck growing as the game goes on.
Let’s actually talk about the Super-Villain deck for a second. There are twelve different ones in Heroes Unite, but the game tends to use only eight of them. The first Super-Villain in any game will always be Vandal Savage, per the rules. This is a good thing as whoever gets the 8 Power to take him down gets a permanent +1 power the first time they draw them. He goes from your hand into the playing field in front of you and stays there for the rest of the game. This can be a big help in the early game as it is Power you can use without needing an extra card in your hand. After someone beats Vandal Savage, you wait until the next turn and draw the next Super-Villain. It will then get a “First Appearance” attack, which will range from each player having to destroy a Hero card in their deck to all Equipment cards in the line-up being destroyed. This attack is a one-time thing and it always hurts, but thankfully it’s not a recurring action. Once the new big bad is revealed, you want to again amass enough Power to take them out (9-12) as each one is worth a lot of Victory Points and can be quite helpful once they are part of your deck. The other Super-Villains in the game are: Mongul, Arkillo, Graves, Trigon, Hector Hammond, Nekron, Mr. Freeze, Helspont, Black Adam, H’el and Amazo. I love the collection although I have no idea who Arkillo or Graves are. If it were up to me I’d have replaced them with Despero and Anton Arcane, but the selection is pretty good as is.
There are five types of cards that will come up in the Line-Up. You have Villain, Locations, Hero, Super Power and Equipment. Most give you Power and Victory Points, while some have special unique abilities that you can use. Daughter of Gotham City for example gives you +1 Power and lets you put one or two Punch cards from your discard pile and put them back into your hand. So in a way, she’s worth 3 Power if you play her after your deck has been whittled down a bit. Some Villain cards have the Attack ability. An Attack lets you directly annoy the other players in the game, even if you don’t want to. Attack effects automatically occur and can do anything from make a player discard or destroy a card down to giving them the dreaded Weakness cards (like Vulnerability but are worth NEGATIVE Victory Points). The only way to stop an Attack is to play a Defense card. Defense abilities can be found on Hero, Super Power and Equipment cards. It’s not universal and there aren’t a lot of them, so try and hold on to one if you are playing defensive (ala Booster Gold).
So let’s take a look at the start of a game. Player 1 is playing as Hawkman and Player 2 is playing as Black Canary. Hawkman’s special ability is +1 Power each time he plays a Hero card while Black Canary gets +1 Power each time she plays a Villain card. They each have their starting deck of 7 Punch and 3 Vulnerability cards. Vandal Savage is the first bad guy and the first five Line-Up cards are: Superboy (Hero Card), Granny Goodness (Villain Card), Legion Flight Ring (Equipment Card), Sciencell (Equipment Card) and Dr. Sivana (Villain Card). Black Canary is going first and there are three cards she really wants. Granny Goodness and Dr. Sivana are both Villain cards so they work well with her special ability. The Sciencell may be an equipment card but it is worth +1 Victory Point for EACH Villain card in your deck. So since Black Canary is trying to get all the Villain cards, Sciencell can really help her win the game. Unfortunately, Granny costs 5 Victory points, Dr. Sivana costs 4 and Sciencell costs a whopping 6. This is a lot of power for the beginning of the game when the max you can have in a hand is five. Unfortunately Black Canary’s first hand consists of three Punch and two Vulnerability. So she only has three Power and thus can’t buy any of the cards she wants. Superboy is 5 Power and so she can’t buy him either. This leaves her with the Legion Flight Ring, which only costs 2 Power. The Legion Flight Ring isn’t especially good all it does it let you draw a card when played. It’s not very helpful in the early game. So instead of taking a card from the line-up, Black Canary discards her two Vulnerability cards and then plays her 3 Punch cards to take a Kick card from the Kick pile. A Kick Card is worth 2 Power (instead of a Punch’s 1) and it costs 3 Power to buy one. The Kick pile is always available until all sixteeen Kick cards have been purchased. Now that Black Canary has used purchased a card and discarded her Vulnerabilities, she is down to zero cards in her hand. She draws five more cards, the last bit of her deck (starting decks are ten cards) and now she has four Punch cards and 1 Vulnerability. That means next turn she should be able to buy Dr. Sivana (who is +2 Power and lets you put a Super Power card from your discard pile onto the top of your deck). Play now goes to Hawkman who has five Power cards in his hand. He spends all five to grab Superboy (who is +1 Power and lets you put a Super Power card from your discard pile into your hand). Hawkman knows that this means next turn he will have only two power cards so all he can do is purchase the Flight Ring at best. Unless a new cheap card enters the line-up. He draws his cards, ends his turn and the next Line-Up card is drawn. It is OA, a Location costing 5 Power. When OA is first played, it becomes a permanent instead of being reshuffled into your deck. Once out, anytime the active Super-Villain costs 10 or more Power, OA’s owner gets to draw a card at the beginning of his or her turn. Another new option for Black Canary to choose from. So the game continues on. It’s still anyone’s game!
Once the core deck is exhausted or all the Super-Villains have been captured, each player adds up their Victory Points. Each card has an assigned Victory Point amount which you can see in the lower left hand corner. Add them all up and whoever has the most wins. It’s a pretty simply concept, but the game plays out differently depending on what Super Hero you take, how many people are playing at what cards come up. It’s a surprisingly fun game and once you get into it you’ll want to play it over and over again. Take my wife for example. She was a bit apprehensive and even a bit intimidated by Heroes Unite as she had never played a deck building game before. She’s never even played a CCG, so card games other than those played with a regular Bicycle deck were totally alien to her. After the first game of Heroes Unite she wanted to play again. We ended up playing five games of it and she regularly suggests it as something to do. She loves the game. I do too and it’s become one of the most popular board games in the household.
I personally feel Heroes Unite is the easiest deck building game to learn out of all those I have played. It’s definitely superior to other super hero based deck building games including Legendary which uses Marvel characters. It’s on the low end of cost for board games, although currently twice what you would pay for the original DC Comics Deck Building Game. I honestly can’t recommend this game highly enough. It’s fun, fast-paced and it’s one of the better tabletop games I’ve played this year. Definitely pick it up if this review has even slightly piqued your interest.