By Trent Pitts
Call down the lightning, grab your Nth metal mace or let loose a flurry of Batarangs because a new group of super-villains has invaded the DC Deck Building Game. To defeat them Cryptozoic Entertainment has released a box full of all new heroes, villains, equipment and locations to play with in DC Deck Building Game: Heroes Unite. This is the second DC based game on the Cerebus Engine the company has released. The set contains everything you need to start playing. Although it is a standalone set it can be combined easily with the cards from the first set released.
The basics are that each player starts with an oversized hero card that each has a unique ability and their own 10 card deck made up of the same “starter” cards. The cards generate “power” which is the currency players use to buy more powerful cards and defeat supervillians. Each card is assigned a victory point value and when all the supervillians are defeated, players total the amount of victory points they’ve accumulated to determine the winner of the game. The game is designed in such a way that is very simple to learn for novice gamers but with enough card interaction that more experienced gamers will find rewarding combinations.
Immediately upon opening the box, you can see an improvement from the first DC set to this one. Cryptozoic has expanded the storage area in the insert so that all the cards fit comfortably as well as having some extra room to fit the main deck from the previous set. The well sized to hold the oversized cards also now has finger slots deep enough to reach the cards in the bottom. It may seem a small thing until you’ve had to flip the box over to get the oversized hero cards out because you couldn’t put a finger on them.
The oversized heroes in the set aren’t the marquee names of the last set but should please the DC faithful and comic fans in general. Nightwing, Batgirl, Booster Gold, Hawkman, Shazam, Black Canary and Red Tornado are all represented by oversized cards and Starfire can be obtained if you buy the game at a brick and mortar game store that uses Alliance as a distributor. Each of the heroes has an ability that keys toward a particular aspect of the game, Nightwing gives bonuses based on equipment cards, Hawkman based on hero cards, etc. Our play group has found that randomly distributing the oversized heroes is the way to go. Black Canary’s ability keys off the villain cards and in my opinion is maybe the best of the oversized heroes.
You’ll buy and improve your personal deck by buying cards from the main deck and kick stack. The kick stack is a stack made up of only “kick” cards. They’re always available if there’s nothing else in you can purchase. The main deck is made up of 32 villains, 31 hero cards, 27 equipment, 16 superpowers and 5 locations. Once you’ve purchased a few of these cards and are able to generate higher power levels you’ll be able to defeat super-villains.
There are some great super-villains in the set like Black Adam, Amazo, Vandal Savage, Trigon and Nekron; but there’s also some disappointments like H’el, Graves, and Helspont. Graves in particular puzzled me for a second even though I read the Justice League story line featuring him. Flipping a guy like Graves or H’el might make your group say “who” but it’s a small nit to pick and he’s a villain you’ll be glad to see early in the game after you’ve played a time or two. Once you defeat a villain he goes into your deck for you to use as the game progresses and these guys all have some nice effects.
Take note that the super-villains also count as “villain” cards for effects like Black Canary’s and Sciencells’. That’s important because the 32 villains in the main deck plus the super-villains mean the villain cards outnumber the heroes. Any cards that key off of “villain” cards should be more consistent and powerful because of this. The villains will also often have an “attack” that negatively affects your opponents. These reasons are why I think Black Canary may be the most powerful of the oversized heroes. If you play as Black Canary don’t be afraid to go villain heavy and don’t sleep on the Sciencell card when it’s available to purchase.(More on that in a bit.)
The cards themselves seem to mostly have art from previously published material. The upside of this is you’ll be looking at gorgeous art from the likes of Gary Frank, Ethan Van Sciver and Adam Hughes. The downside is it could be stuff you’ve seen before and wouldn’t we all like to see more of these guys. It’s a cost effective for Crytozoic and you’re assured great art, but original art can be a little more exciting when you’re opening a game and discovering it for the first time.
The cards in this set seemed to have taken a step down in terms of raw power level, but have taken a step up in synergy and interaction. After a few playing through the game a few times it wasn’t unusual to see turns where a combo goes off and a player was able to buy all the cards available, defeat the super-villain and deplete his opponents hands.
The major drawback to the game play is after a few play times playing through the game everything starts to feel stale. This was a major flaw in the original set and is still present here. There are only 12 super-villains in the set and though the order you see them may change, there’s only so many times you can get satisfaction from beating Hector Hammond. All the cards from the previous set combine seamlessly with Heroes Unite to add a little more depth but ultimately you may run into the same staleness.
Here are 10 cards I like in no particular order:
Sciencell: I said earlier not to sleep on this card if it’s out to purchase. Sciencell only generates +2 power but it’s true worth is in the end. It’s worth +1 victory point for every villain in your deck. Remember that will key off of villains and super villains. Even if you’re not buying villains you should still be defeating super-villains and this card’s worth will keep growing. Let one pass and you may regret it when points are totaled.
Worlds’ Mightiest Mortal: As far as raw power level, this card is tops in the set. It’s +5 power is the largest in Heroes United and should be respected. The ability printed on the card can also set up some nice combos. It’s a steep price at 8, but it’s worth it. Plus its got sweet Gary Frank art.
Brother Blood: This card is just raw power. At +4 there are only a couple cards in its league in the set. It’s also the cheapest of cards that generate +4 with no requirements.
Skeets: Booster Gold’s robot buddy will be your buddy when you use his defensive ability to deflect an attack from a super-villain and bounce that World’s Mightiest Mortal back to your hand. At worse he’s a cantrip and will just replace himself.
Deadman: Deadman is another +2 power level guy. What lands him on this list is the ability to destroy 2 cards in your hand or discard pile when you buy him. There will be cards you don’t want in your deck as the game goes on and Deadman will bury them for you.
Red Lantern Corps: Those cards I was just saying above you’d want to get rid of; the wrath of the Red Lanterns will destroy them and give you a power bonus while doing so. It’s a little pricey but great way to weed out the weakness.
Saint Walker: The Blue Lantern is the heroes’ answer for the Sciencell. His value lies in the final tally as he gets +1 victory point for each hero in your deck. During the game he’ll draw you a card so that hope remains you can draw into a combo or bigger power.
Force Field: It replaces itself when you play it and then remains on the field to protect you when you need it. Nothing’s more frustrating than having a great hand and getting attacked by a super-villain or opponent. You’ll be thankful for the seemingly vanilla card when it protects your skillet lick hand.
Batarang: This lowly equipment is just +2 power with no extra abilities. It makes the list because it’s cheaper than a kick but the same power level.
Talon: Upon first glance Talon is underwhelming. He costs 1 to buy and only generates +2 power if you play a starter card in the same turn. Don’t let that fool you though as early in the game power’s hard to come by and starter cards are plentiful. Also he’s 1 victory point for 1 cost. That’s the cheapest point in the game.
The game is great for comic fans who may be casual gamers. It’s simple enough to play with non-gamers, children or anyone you can convince to sit around a table with you. It’s complex enough that gamers who aren’t necessarily comic fans should find it rewarding. As an overly competitive comic fan, I really enjoy this game. It’s a recommended buy if you’re into comics, games or both and you want something to entertain a small group for an evening. Pick it up and pull off the Jervis Tetch/Mind Control Hat combo, you’ll be giddy while your opponents will be steaming.
Trent Pitts really is overly competitive but enjoys most games until he loses. Tweet any game recommendations or any crazy combos you pull off @TheTKP. Follow only at the risk of seeing random snark about comics, wrestling and games.