Tuesday, September 16, 2014

DC Comics Deckbuilding: Heroes Unite!

The original DC Comics Deckbuilding game (referred to as ODG by me to avoid the stupid name) is awesome for a few reasons.

1) Fast to setup: you put a couple stacks of cards on the table, deal out each player's starting hand, and draw the first 5 cards from the main deck to form the opening tableau. Begin!

2) Easy to play: you will know to how to play this game 2 turns in. Play your cards, buy cards, pass the turn.

3) Non-gamers will play it with you: The process of adding up a single value (power) is easy enough to attract those who scoff at heavier games

4) Plays fast: you can knock a game out within the traditional hour lunch break many employers allow for.

Heroes Unite? Does this expansion ruin the experience or create an even better playing environment? How about neither!

Let me instead provide an unexpected alternative…what if it creates an experience EQUALLY as enjoyable as the original game that enriches the DC Deck-Building Universe as a whole?

I have to applaud Cryptozoic for taking the less-traveled path.

A plentitude of deck builders follow up with expansions meant to expand the overall card selection and create a single mega-game. Heroes Unite is is entirely separate, including all the base game cards (Punches, Kicks, Weaknesses, Vulnerabilities) to play on its own.

Combining the Sets

Sure, after you've played out both sets, theoretically you could mix both sets together and have a giant battle royal. But it as a sign of quality I have felt no interest in doing so. And there are some issues with the way the two games are put together. These make the sets slightly different while showing just how much extra freedom starting a separate game gave the game's designers.

For example: locations in Heroes Unite take a completely different direction. Every location in the ODG had a common effect. When you play a card of a certain type (super power, equipment, etc) you get to draw a card. Heroes Unite takes the same card type synergy and implements it in a different way. Instead, you reveal the top card of your deck and see if its of a certain type (again in this case super power) and you get to draw it.

Instead of making more locations that look at more qualities of cards, we have cards that look at the same qualities and carry out the activity slightly differently.

Another big difference is the set collection aspects.

The ODG offered up 3 different collections to increase your victory points. Equipment (thanks to the Utility Belt), Heroes (thanks to Green Arrow) and Suicide Squad (which cared about copies of itself)

Heroes Unite provides slightly different, and more complex collection options. Saint Walker collects heroes while the  Sciencell collects Villains (this card is bonkers, since you are collecting villains anyway). Yarfleeze gives you extra points for just having lots of cards in your deck (another "collection" not that hard to pull off).

But then you can also collect all the Power Rings:

The ODG had a single Power Ring with a modest power, while each of these Power Rings gives you a cool ability, plus encourages you to collect even more.

So you really can't shuffle up random cards from these two different sets and hope to have a pleasant playing experience. Combining the two requires sitting down with a pen and paper. It requires at least some of the design theory that went into constructing each game in the first place.

The rulebook suggests combining entire sections of each set. For instance, using the equipment from the first game, and the heroes from the second game.

If you are anything like me, you will probably prefer to simply play each set and enjoy.

A Different Style of Play

Heroes Unite is a more complicated game. The effects are more complicated, the chains and combos are more complicated. Many, many more cards deal specifically with the discard pile. Particularly pulling cards back out of the discard pile and back into your hand. There is even a Whirlwind card (featuring the amiable android Red Tornado) that dumps your deck into your discard pile for all kinds of next-level "graveyard" shenanigans.

The scoring is just every so slightly more complicated as well. I find myself grabbing a pencil to count of points, while the DBG was barely simple enough I could do it all in my head.

After playing twenty games of both, I feel like Heroes Unite adds 15-20 minutes on to the normal play time.

And while Heroes Unite lacks the supremely overpowered Parallax in its lineup, the supervillians are still very powerful and the person who captures the first few will easily control the rest of the game.

New Superheroes

Do I come off as a hipster if I say I am weary of every single DC tie-in revolving around the founding members of the Justice League? In Heroes Unite, Superman and Aquaman and Batman and all the rest take a back seat to exploring some of the deeper super hero cuts. You get boring choices like Hawkman, Nightwing and Batgirl. But you also get interesting choices like Black Canary, Red Tornado, Shazam! and Booster Gold.

Good Job Crytozoic

So while 90% of deck builders have expansions you just toss into the original game box, Heroes Unite is a separate game allowing me to chose which experience I want to have. Both boxes can sit on the shelf with equal weight, and I look forward to the next set and seeing the DC Universe from yet another dimensional perspective.

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