Playing With Myself - Justice League Axis of Villains
Okay, seriously, if I play another Justice League board game that DOESN’T have Wonder Woman in it, I’m calling it ‘Justice Dudes’.
Today we’re taking a look at Justice League: Axis of Villains from Wonder Forge games. In the US, this was a Target-exclusive board game back when Target had partnered with DC to make this big Justice League push in the wake of the marketing blitz that was anything Marvel at the height of the MCU’s popularity. Holy shit…this came out waaaaay back in 2013 and as such, between this and our last board game review, the Justice League Dudes Hero Dice, you see how far behind I am on board game reviews! [Seriously, dude, you need friends. – Ed.]
Axis of Villains, as I guess you’d surmise from the title, is a ‘tower defense’ style game. Two to four players pick their favorite Justice Dude: Superman, Batman, Flash or Green Lantern, then you set out to protect the Justice League Watchtower from wave upon wave…upon wave…upon wave…of bad guys. If four villains manage to breakthrough and reach the core, the Watchtower explodes.
The core mechanics of the game are fine. It can get really exciting or tense at times, while other moments can be an experiment in utter tedium…that last bit happening in mainly at the end. What determines this are the dice. On each turn, players will roll a 6-sided die and an 8-sided die. The d6 determines either how much the villains in a sector move (one or two spaces), whether a new villain is introduced or if the hero can finally take action. Now, at the beginning of the game, this mechanic is great at creating the feeling that you’re really being rushed to the point of borderline panic! Since this is my first time playing at ‘tower defense’ game, I’m guessing this is exactly the kind of atmosphere you want to foster. The d8, depending on which face of the d6 is showing tells you either which sector’s villains advance, which sector the new villain will be introduced into or how many spaces your hero can move once activated. Like a lot of games, it’s best to look at these as movement points: you don’t have to use all of them if you don’t want to.
All of that settled, let’s move on to how to get these bastards off your space station. [Dammit…come to think of it, there’s no female villains here either. WTF Wonder Forge? – Ed.] When you move your hero onto a spot with a villain (or villains), you can opt to start combat where you’ve got some options. Each hero has an extra advantage against his own villains – rolling the d8 twice instead of just once. However, if you’re playing as Superman and you happen to cross paths with the Joker or Sinestro, don’t let that stop you from attacking! You have power cards that, depending on what level of the station you’re on (green, yellow or red) can determine what kind of bonus you get. This can mean triggering one of your two superpowers or giving you additional dice rolls. If you manage to roll enough points to exceed their hit points, you win and they are removed from the board. If you’re in a space with not only a villain, but another hero, then you’re able to use a team attack! Let’s go with our previous example: Superman’s in a space with the Joker…but as it happens, Batman’s there too! In a team attack, Superman gets to roll his one d8 while since this is a Batman villain, he gets to roll twice. Now, prior to this attack, if you know that your luck rolling dice is crap, you can play a power card that may even allow more die rolls. Not only does this mechanic give you a taste of how vital teamwork is to the League, but it’s also a great way to take out some of the higher cost villains. If you win on your own, the villain is removed from the board and you get to draw a power card. If you win with a teammate, every participant in the battle gets a power card. If you lose though, your turn ends and you go all the way back to the core of the satellite. Do not pass Go, do not collect $200.
As if that wasn’t threat enough, just like any board game, there’s always one space that makes you wonder why you’re putting yourself through all this mess and in Axis of Villains, these are called Hot Spots. Should a villain land in a Hot Spot (not travel through but actually land on it), you have to draw from the villain deck. These cards can not only revive villains you had previously defeated but also introduce new threats via one of the game’s main villains: Black Adam, Deathstroke, Amazo and Darkseid. Against these threats, all heroes are only able to roll 1d8 and their health values range from 15 to 21, so unless you’ve got some awesome power cards that allow you multiple rolls, these guys are going to need some teamwork to take down.
For the game components themselves, the quality is generally there. The game board is great as are the hero pads. The tiles are a bit small for my liking, as they’re going to be pretty easy to lose, but I understand the need for that given the layout of the board. Speaking of things that are too small, both the power cards and villain cards are just way too tiny. Conversely, the hero markers here are just too damn big! As the action moves closer and closer to the core of the Watchtower, the spaces get so tiny that it’s awfully difficult to have any more than a single hero on a space, much less a hero and a villain tile or even worse, multiple heroes and multiple villains. Taken as a whole, I’d say the designers had some serious size issues here. Some items need to be bigger, others need to be smaller…it just feels like there’s a middle ground that could have been struck here that was completely overlooked for…shrugs…reasons? I dunno…
Lastly on this theme is a similar complaint I had against the Justice League Hero Dice in that the artwork here is EXTREMELY vanilla, produced by the folks at DC Consumer Products and not by any notable artist. As such, if you’re looking for anything dynamic or exciting, you’d best look elsewhere.
The only other negative I have toward the game was alluded to earlier, pertaining to the core mechanics of the game. At the early and middle stages of the game, the d6 and d8 rolling is great for advancing villains, introducing villains and really creating this great sense of tension. However, as you get tot the backside of the adventure (provided you DO get to the backside!) this mechanic gets insanely tedious. You may find yourself rolling for quite a while: no one in that sector to move, nope, no more villains to introduce, ugh…no one in that sector either. And that’ll go on and on until you roll the ‘JL’ symbol finally allowing you to do something! You can almost imaging Batman saying something like “Yeah, we got most of the big guys, let’s call up the Teen Titans to mop up the rest here”. I can certainly see some less patient gamers doing something similar: “There’s like 3 guys left, c’mon, wrap it up, we won.” While there’s nothing in the rule book about it, I’d think that a house rule initiating a ‘final round’…triggering when you have, say, less than 5 villains left…could initiate a different mechanic to speed this process up…a lightning round if you will.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s some good stuff here…and I’ll likely play this game again. It’s certainly staying on my shelf…but that’s mainly because I cling to any board games with any DC IP as a theme. But ultimately, between most of the components almost outright BEGGING to be lost and the tedium that sets in once you and your fellow heroes whittle down the villain ranks, Justice League Axis of Villains becomes a recommendation with A LOT of qualifiers. If you’re looking for something fast paced, you might want to give this one a pass. If you use board games as a vehicle to sit, drink and chat with pals, then honestly this might be for you…so long as you don’t lose anything in your drunken state! It’s this nearly equal mix of positives and negatives that I feel like I have to give this our Plain Cat rating…even though, as I said, I did enjoy the overall experience I had with the game.