Dice on Fire Review: DC Comics Deck-Building Game

Well I thought I was bored of deck-building games. I thought they were all pretty much the same games but with different skins. But then I got to play one as Batman! Deck-builders: I'm in love again!

The DC Comics Deck-Building Game wins the official "Dice on Fire Award for Most Boring Title", but despite that, it is the physical, cardboard embodiment of comic-book, nerdy fun. It's simple and quick, unbalanced and doesn't make a whole lot of sense, but it's great for three or four players with thirty minutes so spare.

In the box you get, 214 cards (including bad guys, equipment, attacks, heroes, sidekicks, locations, and a bunch of minor attacks, vulnerability cards and starter decks), 7 character cards, which you assign at the start of the game, and obviously a rulebook. (Image from Cryptozoic website)

The Basics

So, as this game is so proud to state, what we have here is a deck-builder. Deck-building is a more recent invention in the world of boardgames, introduced by Dominion, and it's a mechanic that has taken the whole industry by storm. It seems like we get a whole new slew of samey-samey deck-builders out every month and not a lot of them stand out. The typical format (which The DC Comics Deck-Building Game generally uses) involves each player starting the game with about ten basic cards. These cards allow you to buy more powerful cards, which are in the middle of the table, in a central pool. So each turn, you draw five cards from your draw pile, acquire more cards by using the points these initial five make available to you and place your cards into your personal discard pile. Once your draw pile is exhausted, flip your discard pile over, shuffle it, and you have a new draw-pile. More expensive cards give you more powerful skills and let you pull off card-combos.

Now in this game, we are in the awesome DC Comics universe! We have Superman and Wonderwoman, The Flash, Batman, Aquaman and so on. We have the baddies too: The Joker, Bane, Ra's Al Ghul and more. We take our superhero role (which grants each player a special skill), buff up our decks with some powerful attacks, and then kick the crap out of the baddies. Each card is worth victory points and by the time we kill the final baddie, the player with the most victory points is the winner.

Some really nice artwork on occasion, but I kind of expected more. Notice how clear the info on the cards is: very straightforward with minimal text. The text is often very unambiguous.

The Deeper Stuff

Like most deck-builders, the way to win in The DC Comics Deck-Building Game (man, they really need a shorter title!) is to build a deck which is relatively small and efficient, allowing you to cycle through to your best cards as quickly as possible and setting yourself up for the best card combinations. This is where most of the game's strategy comes in. I'll return to these strategies in the next section.

In the game, we use attack strength to defeat or buy cards. It seems a little odd that you can use punches to buy Superman's "Fortress of Solitude", but whatever: you're all wearing tights anyway, so expect things to be a little silly. 

A lot of deck-builders end up having a kind of Solitaire aspect to them, with each player more or less making their moves independent of other players' actions, and in The DC Comics Deck-Building Game, we often see something similar. Some cards ask you to steal card abilities, force players to weaken their decks by stuffing them with garbage "Vulnerability" cards, and so on, but this kind of interaction is not very common. The most common kind of player interaction comes from denying other players the cards that they want by buying those desirable cards first.

One thing which does make The DC Deck-Building Game different from many other deck-builders out there is the use of the villain deck. This is essentially the timer for the game, because once you beat the final villain, it's game over. However, as each villain makes his appearance, all players must suffer some kind of negative consequence -- discarding cards, losing their special ability until said villain is defeated, or whatever. If you ask me, the villains' attacks aren't quite scary enough -- once they attack, half the players are able to play a dodge card and the rest barely get scratched.

How it Plays Out

The game plays very fast, so even though you don't really have anything to do when it's not your turn, it is your turn again quickly enough anyway. There is a large element of randomness, as with any deck-builder, in terms of how the cards come out in the central pool and how your draw pile rotates into your hand. You will find that quite a lot of cards in the game allow you to mitigate this latter random aspect to a degree, by allowing you to search your discard or draw piles for specific cards, for instance, or drawing additional cards. In fact, there are a lot of these kind of hand management cards, which is what makes the game feel very quick and fun. It allows you to build up some astonishing combo moves, pulling out whole stacks of cards from your deck, applying multipliers to their attack total, and decimating the bad guys. And it's the element of fun which also makes The DC Deck-Building Game one of the most unbalanced deck-builders I have ever played! There is no way you can throw this game into any kind of tournament situation, or even against somebody who is very competitive, because some of the cards are just way, waaaaay overpowered. Let me give you an example:

If you defeat the enemy, Parallax, you can subsequently play this card and double your attack strength. Another character, Clayface, allows you to copy a previously played card. So already, if you apply Clayface to Parallax, you can quadruple your strength. Finally, the "Man of Steel" card allows you to pull out any superpowers in your discard pile and play them again. In a recent game I played, another player used these three cards and scored so many points, they were able to clear the table of all available cards. Obviously, by the end, they won by a huge margin. We ended up banning the "Man of Steel" card, but that doesn't mean it wasn't fun to watch!

A card like "Heat Vision" really boosts the strength of your deck, allowing you to trash useless cards so they don't get drawn in preference to your awesome cards.

Component Quality

The cards are full colour and thick enough: they do the job. It's worth mentioning the artwork on the cards, which is generally great and appears to be taken out of the comic books. However, in a game like this, based on such a rich visual history, I expect the artwork to be outstanding; there was rarely a single instance where I felt the need to lean back and appreciate a card's design. A DC Comics game should beat a game like Android: Netrunner in the art department, but alas, it doesn't.

Colour-Blind Info

Excellent news! Colour does not form any part of this game, so it gets my seal of approval!


I totally adore this game. It's fun and quirky and surprising. It has an awesome theme, albeit, one that is a little long in the tooth by now. It's totally unbalanced but it's heaps of fun and, in particular, provides a really nice intro to the deck-builder mechanic to anybody who wants to start out in that direction, or anybody who loves it already!