Playing With Myself - Justice League Hero Dice
As it turns out, not all board games are available everywhere.
I mean, it makes sense, I guess, and if I’m honest, I really should’ve known that. After all, with my DVD/Blu-Ray collection, I should be more than aware of it. For one reason or another, certain movies are only available on physical media in other territories…why not the same for board games too? Of course, very much unlike movies on physical media [ #PhysicalMediaForever. – Ed.], we certainly don’t have to worry about any kind of region coding when it comes to board games. Instead, licensing agreements with IP owners or distributors can simply prevent a game from being sold in certain territories. In this case, yes, it is indeed the ol’ U.S of A.
Made back in 2016 by German game makers Heidelberger Spieleverlag, Justice League Hero Dice consists of four different solo campaigns featuring a singular hero from the DC Comics lore and their respective rogue’s galleries. Artwork is based on the New 52 designs with much of it consisting of general artwork that typically adorns such licensed products as greeting cards, bedsheets and the like. Nothing breathtaking, too dynamic nor stylistic to be found here. Each of these games can be combined to become multi-player games, with League members teaming up to take down a combined pool of villains. The four heroes available are Superman, Batman, Green Lantern and the Flash.
Being a Superman fanboy, it should come as no surprise as to who I started off with…and I’ll use this initial entry to discuss game mechanics and whatnot. The point of the game is to defend your home city, so in this case, you’ll be helping the Man of Steel protect Metropolis. These cards have two sides, one for use with a solo game and another for use in combination with other sets. The main difference between the two is that with more players present, this will lower the health of the city. Next up we have the Hero sheet that breaks down what each symbol on the dice faces stands for or does while also explaining the unique power for your Hero. In this instance, Superman always has an ‘S’ in his pocket, meaning that even if you don’t roll any ‘S’ symbols in your dice roll, which stand for a success or hit, you will always have at least one. In other words, Superman is always able to get one hit in on any attack.
Now, before we start chucking dice, we do have some other cards to go through. First up are our villains, the foul evil-doers looking to unleash mayhem on our fair city. The villain deck consists of 8 villains and 2 reinforcement cards. In Superman’s case, we’ll be battling the likes of Darkseid, Metallo, Lex Luthor (of course), Doomsday, Brainiac, Bizarro, Parasite and General Zod. No real surprises here. The artwork for these cards are taken from the Villains’ Month DC ran throughout their comic line oh-so-many moons ago. How the villains work is like this: the first villain you draw is flipped over and then set beside the villain deck. He’s the one currently attacking. Then, (in solo mode) you flip the next card in the deck face up but you leave it atop the deck. This character is said to be in the outskirts of the city, meaning that they’re the next one to enter your line-up. As multiple villains enter the line-up, you will inevitably have multiple targets…and whatever you do, DO NOT let them accumulate! At the end of each round, you have to total up the power ratings of all the villains in play and, should they pass a certain number (12 in solo play) they’ll break through your defenses and attack the city directly. How this works is the oldest villain in closest to the deck, the newest further out. From here, start removing villains from left to right (oldest to newest) until the total power is finally below the breakthrough threshold. Sadly, these villains will unleash their power on the city once they’ve passed you, thus causing your city to lose health and bringing you one step closer to failing in your task. Now, should you draw the Reinforcements card, then you need to flip the next card in the deck as well and that’s the villain that they’re backing up. Sadly, I can assure you, this stuff starts to pile up and amplify VERY quickly. On the bright side, you’re not solely at the whim of the dice in your fight against evil. Included are 6 hero cards you can use once per turn to either turn the dice to your favor or to add additional hits, taking a bigger bite out of your foe or foes.
Of course, the core mechanic of this game is chucking dice…so let’s get rolling. The whole point of the dice here is to accumulate enough strikes to inflict the damage needed to take down each of the threats facing Metropolis. Of course, it’s never that straightforward. In Superman’s case, each dice face has either an ‘S’, indicating a hit, Kryptonite, which deducts a hit (or a -1 hit) and Freeze Breath or Heat Vision…each being a way to mitigate any Kryptonite that turns up. Heat Vision nullifies one Kryptonite while you need two Freeze Breaths to do the same. While I appreciate the effort of the game designers to take into account as many of Superman’s powers as possible, I almost feel like this needs a bit of tweaking. If I had my way, I think I’d rather that Heat Vision be a more offensive weapon, as it often is in the comics, inflicting 2 hits instead. Conversely, keep the Freeze Breath, but make that the defense against Kryptonite. But it is what it is. The thing that makes these sets interesting is the core mechanic not just of rolling…but of re-rolling. Each hero ends up being different. In Superman’s case, first, you roll all dice. Now, he has three colors of dice: 3 blue, 2 yellow and 1 red. After your first roll, look at each of the colored dice and choose which group you want to keep and re-roll the other two. For example, on your first roll, if the blue dice showed 2 hits and a Heat Vision while the yellow had two Kryptonite and the red had a Freeze Breath, you’d do well to keep the blue as they are and re-roll the other two colors. You can only keep one group each time you re-roll, so for the purposes of this example, once you re-roll the red and yellow dice, now you have to look and determine which set you want to keep next, set those to the side with the first group you set aside and then re-roll the last set. From this point, you add up the hits, add one from Superman’s base power, then deduct the Kryptonite (either from dice rolled or from the targeted villain’s card). The number that remains is the damage done and tokens are included that will help you keep track of that should you not eliminate the threat immediately. As we move on to the other hero sets, we’ll also see tokens that represent different abilities and we’ll talk about each of those with each separate hero.
Those are the basic rules though. So from here on out, let’s take a look at the specific details for each of our remaining heroes.
While not the second entry I played, the natural follow-up would indeed be Batman, so let’s go there next. Batman has the most dice of any hero with 7, 3 gray and 4 black. The faces consist of a bat-symbol (a hit), a wound (like Kryptonite, a -1) and the Batmobile. Here, the Batmobile becomes our re-roll device. This is how it works, let’s say you roll your dice and let’s say your black dice show a hit, 2 wounds and a Batmobile. At this point, you’d set aside the one hit and then use your Batmobile to re-roll the remaining three dice. On this second roll, you roll a Batmobile, a hit and a wound. Again, you can set aside the hit and re-roll the remaining two dice. So long as you have a Batmobile, you can re-roll…but you don’t have to. You can stop rolling any time you want. This mechanic is color specific though. For example, if you roll a Batmobile on your gray dice, you can’t use it to re-roll any black dice, or vice versa. Also, you have to set aside at least one die before you can use the Batmobile to re-roll…and you can’t set aside a Batmobile. Another example, if you roll your gray dice and they come up 1 Batmobile and 2 wounds, in order to re-roll, you’ve GOT to keep one of those wounds.
Fortunately, there’s also another way to trigger a re-roll. Batman has 3 Batmobile tokens that can be used. Each token can only be used once per game, so while you’re welcome to use them when the situation dictates, be aware to use them strategically, because once all three are spent, that’s it…you’re at the mercy of the dice from here on out!
For those curious, the villains Batman has to face to save Gotham City are The Joker (duh), Scarecrow, Riddler, Poison Ivy, Bane, Penguin, Two-Face and Ra’s Al Ghul. It’s worth pointing out that the game creates a special circumstance for Two-Face. Once damage tokens have been placed on him, at the end of each round, whether he was targeted or not, the player rolls a gray die, if it’s a wound, then heal one damage from Two-Face but if it’s a bat-symbol, add one. I do find it interesting that Catwoman is absent, as it would have been interesting to see what mechanic the designers could have come up with to display her ‘middle-of-the-road’ approach to the goings on of Gotham, sometimes a criminal, sometimes a hero.
Green Lantern returns us to the same number of dice as Superman, 6, with 4 green and 2 black. Here though, the color really doesn’t come into play when determining whether or not to re-roll. Instead, it follows a similar mechanic to Batman’s. Each die face has either a Green Lantern Corps symbol signifying a hit, Parallax signifying a -1 and a recharge symbol which allows the player to re-roll that die along with another one of their choice, including another recharge symbol. Re-rolls can continue as long as recharge symbols continue to emerge. Another feature that makes Green Lantern’s set unique is that you’re not defending a city this time, but an entire planet: Oa. Lastly, GL does have 3 tokens called constructs. These allow GL to nullify one power on a villain’s card for one round. This effect only lasts one round before the token is discarded. However, the game is not clear; are these tokens one use only, like Batman’s Batmobile tokens? Or are they returned each round to the player for use in future rounds? In my playthrough, I opted for the second, mainly because the Batman set was so explicit that his tokens were one use only. If GL’s followed suit, surely they would have said as much.
The villain breakdown here is mainly focused on Geoff Johns’ work with the character although we do get one villain from Robert Venditti’s follow-up in the New 52. So here we’re taking on Parallax, Black Hand, Sinestro (in his Sinestro Corps duds), Relic, Nekron, Atrocitus, Larfleeze and Bleez.
Lastly, we come to The Flash, who has the most unique mechanics of the lot. Coming with only 4 dice, the mechanic here mirrors The Flash’s attack pattern: racking up a bunch of little hits to finally take down larger foes. Our three symbols here are a Flash logo (hit), Reverse Flash (-1) and Running. As long as at least one Running symbol shows up, you can keep re-rolling. The thing is there’s a bit of a gambling mechanic in place: you retain the results of previous rolls and allow them to accumulate. For example, your first roll shows two Flash logos, one Reverse Flash and one Running…so, you rack up 2 hits, a -1 for a total of 1. Now you re-roll and you get one Flash logo, two Reverse Flashes and a Running…so that 2 hits, -2 putting your total at 0. Your next roll is unlucky, landing you three Reverse Flashes and a Running. This brings your total to a -3. This time, even though a Running is present, your turn ends as the rules stipulate that once you reach a total of -2, that’s it, the end. This not only allows the game to not get bogged down in rolling (which, of course, you don’t HAVE to re-roll every running, you can choose to stop at any time) but also nips in the bud any developing gambling problems you might have. If only casinos were so courteous! For tokens, Flash has three tornado tokens, allowing him to spread his hits out between the targeted villain and one adjacent villain. Thus, if you play one of these, not only can you rack up enough damage to take out the targeted villain, but you can also rack up damage on a second!
When it comes to villains, we have Professor Zoom (wearing the Reverse Flash costume), Heat Wave, Reverse Flash (wearing a black and red costume I’m not familiar with), Grodd, Captain Boomerang, Weather Wizard, Captain Cold and Golden Glider & Mirror Master. Some foes here bring something new to the game, villains that need to be beaten twice! How this works is that after you defeat the villain initially, you then flip the card over and use the new power rating to defeat the character again. When tabulating power ratings to determine a break-through however, you do use the original power rating, not this new one.
So, what’s the verdict? I gotta admit, as solo games, I think these are great for when you’re on the go. They don’t take up much table space, the box can be used as a dice tray and game lengths are fairly short, generally 15-30 minutes. The drama of the game relies almost solely on your dice luck and as you’d expect, sometimes that’s good, sometimes that’s bad. The thing with this game is that when things get bad…they get REALLY bad…and FAST! I don’t think that takes away any enjoyment though, or at least it didn’t for me…and I think that’s due to just how short the games are. Sure, one game turns out shitty, well, let’s play again! Plus, the steep difficulty lends itself well to replay value…because, dammit, this time I WILL save Metropolis! On that note, I will say that Superman’s set is probably the hardest with Batman and GL coming in the middle. The set I had the most fun with was The Flash and that’s definitely tied in to the gambling mechanic at its heart. It was so much fun to see how much damage I could rack up…or falling on my face completely! And the tornado tokens add something that I wish was available in other sets, a means to attack more than one enemy at a time.
If I have one negative about these games it’s that there is a lot to keep track of. Damage to villains, do they break through, damage to your city, how many tokens you have left, what cards do you still have to play…these are a lot of strands to keep in the ol’ Duder’s head! The number one thing I will consistently forget within the span of the game are the hero cards. Sure, they’re useful and can definitely help you out of a jam…but you get so wrapped up in the dice rolling and re-rolling that you totally forget about them! I will admit that spreading them all out in front of you, as the directions suggest, helps…but if you’re trying to keep your table or desk space limited, that may not always be an option! Oh, one more gripe: I wish they’d have been able to at least make a Wonder Woman set. Too many Justice League games, items etc. seem to focus on these four guys…it feels wrong to leave out the third member of DC’s Trinity. There was talk that the next set of games to come out were going to be her and Aquaman, but alas, they were cancelled when these four didn’t exactly set the world alight.
Is it worth it to track these down? I mean, they ARE fun and the components are very good quality. The dice are definitely chonky…which kinda sucks when you have small hands like mine…but are very well done where I don’t feel like any of the faces are going to come off or anything. But given their age (released 6 years ago) and having to hunt them down internationally (although I did get mine from a store in Canada), for some, it may not be worth the cost or effort. Still, if you love the DC heroes, if you love dice games and can find them on the cheap, especially if it’s your favorite character, then yeah, I say go for it. They’re a great way to kill a little bit of time, there’s minimal set up and while they’re certainly difficult…you’re likely to lose more times than you win…I found that, put simply, they’re never not fun. That earns these little bundles a Happy Cat rating!