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Playing With Myself - The OP's Rising Series


So in the span of two days, I’ve failed the galaxy, the universe and the multiverse. How’s that for an ego boost?


Today, we’ll be taking a look at The Op’s series of ‘Rising’ games…or at least three of them: the original Thanos Rising, the follow-up Dark Side Rising and lastly The Batman Who Laughs Rising. There is at least one other entry into this series, the Harry Potter themed Deatheaters Rising…but I’m not a Harry Potter fan…so I don’t have it. Still, the games are incredibly similar in their mechanics and as such, this review should prove helpful regardless, should you find yourself hankering the Hogwarts version.


The Rising system between the games has some slight variances, mainly tying in with their respective themes, but, as I just stated above, the core mechanics are present in each entry:


1) Place your team’s marker in the sector you want to go.

a. The game board is divided into 3 sectors. Inside each sector are 3 cards that

can be purchased or defeated via dice rolls. Heroes are drafted onto the

players’ teams this way and villains are defeated. The cards representing all

of these characters remain in a deck off to the side and drawn whenever a

space opens up. For the Avengers and Star Wars versions, villains are mixed

directly into the deck and their appearances are random. This will definitely

be a talking point as we get further into the review. For the DC version, while

there are some villains scattered throughout the deck, the main villains, the

Dark Knights, are in the line-up that we’ll talk about in the next section. This

distinction does end up making the main deck slightly more hero heavy.


2) Roll the villain’s dice.

a. Each villain here, be it Thanos, Darth Vader or The Batman Who Laughs has

two dice. The first die you roll will pertain to your game’s ‘countdown timer’.

For Thanos, this will be the Infinity Gauntlet. Rolling a particular gem color

will result in a yellow counter marker being placed on that particular gem’s

circle. Five counters and Thanos has found that gem and added it to his

gauntlet. If he finds all 6, the game is over and the heroes lose. For Darth

Vader, it’s the Death Star. Six systems need to go operational in order to

complete the battle station and thus, explode the heroes. The difference here

is that half of the systems are activated by 5 counter markers, the others by

only 4. The Batman Who Laughs is a little more complicated. Each counter

goes toward unleashing one of the Dark Knights (from the Dark Knights

Metal miniseries) from the Dark Multiverse into our heroes’ reality. How

many counters it takes is determined by each Knight’s place on the runner

board as well as how many players are present. When enough counters are

present to unleash one of them, their card will sit on top of the deck, waiting

to be dispatched whenever the next spot becomes available. The second die

is for the villain himself. This will serve to turn him left, right or keep him in

the same place but with some repercussions for doing so. Wherever the

main villain is facing, each hero there, both from your team and those that

have not been purchased yet (but have been revealed in this sector) suffer

damage from said villain’s attack. In addition, if there are any other villains

in the sector, then they too have an attack that’s activated which is spelled

out on their card.


3) Roll and assign player dice.

a. Now for the heroes to counterattack! The starting placard for your team

will tell you what your base dice loadout should be. Usually 3 dice of one

type and 1 of another “specialty” type, although 1 team per game will have a

base loadout of 4 of the basic dice, which isn’t such a bad thing as the basic

dice typically focus on attacks. These dice aren’t always the only thing you

have to work with though, as certain characters will allow you to build a

larger dice pool for you to roll, thus increasing the options of what you can

do during a round. These dice, and the values on each face, are what you

will use to attack enemies in your sector or recruit other heroes. Get a dice

pool large enough and you can focus on multiple things per turn, such as

recruiting a hero AND attacking a villain in your sector! In determining who

to target, either hero or villain, pay particular attention to the text on each

card to help inform your decision. You way want to take out a powerful foe

before recruiting your favorite character…or your team may be so damaged

that you might want to recruit a teammate that can heal wounds before

tackling your next adversary. When rolling your dice, you don’t have to keep

everything you get…but at the very minimum, you do have to retain/assign

one die roll before you can reroll any others. Continue to reroll as often as

you need, adhering to this rule, until you run out of dice to roll.


4) Resolve player actions.

a. This is your clean-up phase. Take the cards you’ve recruited from the board

and assign damage to any villains. If you do land a hit on a foe, be sure to

grab a bonus token from the face-down pool. These will help you in future

rounds with a variety of rewards: temporary use of a die, a token with one of

the die faces to be assigned in lieu of an actual dice roll, health bonuses and

so on. Once all cards that need to be removed from the board are cleared,

add additional cards via the main deck and then proceed to the next player’s

turn.


There’s a bit to keep track of in your first couple of playthroughs, but overall, it’s pretty easy to grasp. By your third or fourth play, you should be easily breezing through the steps.


However, you will NOT be breezing through the game! This game system is a tough one to beat…a feat I’ve yet to accomplish! I’ve gotten close…and I’ve even had some fun “Final Standoff” moments where a chuck of the dice was going to serve as the finishing blow to either the villain or the heroes! So go into these games knowing that there is some difficulty to be had here. The games are still fun, at least to me anyway, but yeah…if you’re someone that absolutely HAS to win…these may not be for you.


Although the basic mechanics are the same, as I’ve already mentioned, the games do have differences between them so, for the sake of this review, I’m going to be looking at these three games in two chunks: first up will be Thanos Rising and Dark Side Rising as their mechanics…and flaws…are nearly identical, the second being The Batman Who Laughs Rising…because even though the core mechanics are similar, there’s enough different where this almost feels like a different game than the others.


Thanos Rising & Dark Side Rising



As you should be able to tell, these focus on Disney’s Marvel and Star Wars franchises respectively. Thanos Rising was the first of these games to come out…cashing in on the release of Avengers: Infinity War back in 2018. As I mentioned above, your goal here is to prevent Thanos from acquiring all 6 Infinity Stones. If he completes the Gauntlet, you lose. But wait…there’s more! If 10 or more heroes have fallen (and that’s not just from the teams but from the board as well!), you lose. Lastly, if any one player has his or her team completely wiped out, that’s another lose condition. These are the same for Dark Force Rising. I’ve been lucky that Thanos has never completed the Gauntlet on my plays…all of my failings coming from the sheer number of dead heroes. With Dark Side, I’ve had the Death Star go operational once, otherwise, yup, more deaths.



This brings me to my two biggest beefs about these two entries: healing and what I’ve come to affectionately call villain saturation. It’s not that these two games don’t have ways to heal your characters or the characters that are still on the board. In fact, the cards are open ended enough to allow you to apply them to whoever needs to be healed. But, as this game is a dice chucker, if you’re running on bad luck, you are absolutely fucked. Those bodies are gonna pile up hard and fast…due in large part to the other issue: villain saturation. Here’s the thing, now, sure, some of this is going to reside in the shuffle…and it doesn’t help that all the cards come packaged in their various ‘teams’…but the villains in these two games have such a way of all clumping together that I’ve had instances where there may be two or three villains in a sector at a time! And if you manage to get Thanos’ or Vader’s attention in moments like that, the text effects on these villains are going to stack up fast…and when that happens, there’s PLENTY of damage that you’ve got to find a way to offset or mitigate. As I mentioned above, given the mechanics of these two games, relying on characters to provide that service…it’s just not viable. Early playthroughs had me very dead very fast simply because a combination of a crap shuffle led to a crowded villain field (and every space a villain takes up is a space that a hero can’t…especially a hero that can heal damage)…and as I was having some crap dice throws…well, Hera’s team died VERY quickly. Even though I still enjoy these two games, I gotta say having that happen was definitively NOT FUN.


Needless to say, this led me to the development of a ‘house rule’ that, upon instituting, has made games more fun. I’ve been able to amass actual teams, take out some of the villains and actually had a few close games. Here’s what you do: Limit only ONE villain per sector. Should you draw a villain to fill a vacant space within a sector and there’s already a villain present there, simply shuffle the new villain back into the deck and draw again. Given the way the bastards seem to clump up, yes, you may have to do this more than once. While we’ve yet to talk about it, another potential ‘house rule’ that could help (that I’ve yet to try out) is to very simply borrow from The Batman Who Laughs Rising. In that game, each team placard allows for a way to turn dice rolls into damage reduction. Simply roll the face that represents your team and you can use that die to knock off one damage to any character, whether on your team or on the board.


Stepping away from mechanics and looking just at what’s in the box, the components are fantastic for the most part. Both games come with a small statue that goes in the middle of the playing board that you turn to signify which sector the villain is focusing on. The Thanos one is fine and about what you’d expect from a board game while the Darth Vader one is fantastic and very shelf-worthy should you grow tired of the game itself. The board materials have improved from Thanos to Dark Side but neither is a slouch in this area. I really have only two issues with the Thanos boards: the hole in the center of the main board needed to be just a micron bigger to allow for the statue to turn…as opposed to constantly having to take it out, turn and replace each turn…which is eventually going to cause some issues with the cardboard. The second issue is that the Infinity Guantlet board is a bit warped. I don’t know if it’s from time or if it came that way or what. Conversely, I will say that the Thanos version has these really cool plastic gems to serve as the Infinity Stones while, sadly, Dark Side really doesn’t have anything all that flashy.


A couple of last notes for the Star Wars version: Although released to piggy-back on the release of 2019’s The Rise of Skywalker, the content in Dark Side Rising seems to lean mostly on characters from the movies running from Rogue One through about some point in The Empire Strikes Back…including characters that were also present in the animated series Rebels. Although I think Moff Jerjerrod is present so…I’m not sure how they picked things. Still, the only prequel character to be found is Bail Organa (for obvious reasons) and not a single character from the sequel trilogy is present (also for obvious reasons). I think I’d have liked to have Palpatine in there somewhere, but doing so would highlight one last problem with these games…there’s no way to directly attack the antagonist! In a way, I get it…in the early Star Wars material, the heroes were good to steer clear of Vader, but at the same time, they did ATTACK the Death Star. As for the MCU, the heroes there had no problem butting heads with Thanos, but not so much here. Lastly, as far as I know, Dark Side Rising was only released in non-US territories. Most online reviewers seem to have gotten them from Europe while I think I got mine from a Canadian retailer. Regardless, getting this version of the game isn’t going to be as simple as going down to your FLGS or hopping on Amazon.com. However, there are plenty of ways to get the game after a good Google search. Heck, you could even head over to Amazon.co.uk…


All in all, in their original forms, these games look good but are incredibly ruthless. That may not be to the taste of every gamer…including myself. Not all is lost though, as a couple of simple house rules can lessen what feels like an extremely steep difficulty curve and reintroduce fun back into the proceedings, all the while keeping much of the challenge in place. Without the ‘house rules’ mentioned above, these would only merit a Plain Cat rating, however, a minor fix and they earn a Happy Cat.



The Batman Who Laughs Rising



While Thanos Rising and Dark Side Rising feel very much like the same game with only cosmetic differences, enough tweaking was done to 2020’s The Batman Who Laughs Rising to make it fee like designers actually took a serious look at the flaws of the previous two games and work to correct them. Want a mechanism to heal characters yet have been unable to draft a ‘healer’? TBWLR has you covered. [Yeah, I can see where typing that out all the time was gonna get exhausting. – Ed.] Want to avoid villain saturation? TBWLR has a mechanism that spaces out how some villains are inserted into the deck. Want to be able to fight back against the antagonist? You’re gonna need to in order to win the game! It’s all very much an exercise in using familiar mechanics to create a new, or relatively new, game…and it works. I’ve not needed to develop any ‘house rules’ for this entry in the series. The new introductions to the mechanics basically cover all of my gripes of the previous two games. The weird thing is that I’ve heard from a fair number of board game reviews on YouTube proclaiming this to be the hardest of the three games here! Um…not even close. The healing mechanics do their best to keep you in the game while spacing out the villains allows you time to create at team capable of handling them when they do appear.


But this game isn’t a cakewalk by any stretch of the imagination! When a new Dark Knight is unleashed into our reality, there’s a running effect that comes with it. Whether or not it is active depends on when you roll the Villain dice. If any face of the die is circled, then that effect comes into play. Now, upon my first play, I thought this was cumulative, meaning that if you were three Knights in and rolled a ring, you got hit with each of the three effects. This IS NOT the case. You’re only affected by the most recently revealed one. That said, even in that initial game it felt like I made more progress here than with the other two games. Yes, 10 heroes fell causing me to lose the game, but I was able to actually get through all the Knights and land a couple of hits on The Batman Who Laughs himself. Here’s the rub though, in order to attack him, you have to be in the same sector as him. Now, this might sound like players are forced to predict where he’s going to show up…and of course the prize for that is being attacked, which doesn’t sound like much of a reward! However, all you need to do is spend one die to move your team from their current location to his. Now, just because you’ve gotten to the point where you can attack the Big Bad doesn’t mean the pressure is off…the counter remains in play! Once revealed, you’ve got 8 ticks on the counter to defeat TBWL. Failing to do so means Game Over – The Dark Knights have successfully invaded this reality and brought it crashing down. Lastly, it should be noted that this is the only version to put forth a method to play the Rising games solo…and that is simply put one player in charge of two teams. However, the same loss criteria applies: if one of those teams gets wiped out, it’s Game Over.


As much as I adore the new mechanics introduced, not everything is sunshine and roses with this game. The Op decided to model this game off the Dark Knights: Metal storyline in DC Comics…which was EXTREMELY Batman-centric. Thus, many of the characters will come from his mythos. This doesn’t leave out the Justice League members…but it does shift who’s leading teams and who isn’t and that’s the part that got my goat. Team leaders here are Batman (of course), Hawkgirl (since the story deals with Hawkman and Nth Metal, this makes sense), Wonder Woman (part of DC’s Trinity, so okay) and Green Lantern. As a Superman fan, you may or may not see the steam rising from this review. How the hell do you NOT make Supes a leader? Yes, you can draft him, but come on. Given the 2017 release of the theatrical cut of Justice League, wouldn’t it have been easier to base the game more on that, so much as to perhaps call it Darkseid Rising? Okay, there are two problems that become readily obvious with that way of thinking: first, the theatrical cut bombed hard and second, Darkseid is gonna be too much like Dark Side…triggering some confusion. [Maybe Apokolips Rising then? – Ed.] So, as with anything pertaining to DC anymore, any and every product must be Bat-dominated…and that might affect the enjoyment of the game for…maybe, like, 6 people.


The Batman Who Laughs Rising in many ways feels like the most complete of the three games I’ve played in this series…especially if you play it last of the three. As much as I’d love to give it a Hypno Cat rating…the overwhelming Battiness of it all rubs me the wrong way and thus, it gets demoted to a high-end Happy Cat rating.



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