DC Comics Deck Building Game Review

My group has been playing the relatively new DC Comics Deck Building Game over the last few weeks. I’m a huge fan of Dominion, of course, so I was thrilled when my buddy John bought me a copy of the DC Comics Deck Building Game for Christmas. Even though I TRY to keep my ear to the ground, I’m not always up to date on the latest in card games, and I didn’t even know that a game of this sort existed with a focus on comic books. In fact, I didn’t quite realize that Dominion had spawned a hugely-popular genre of card games.

Players take on the roles of the major heroes of the DC Universe–Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, etc. In fact, the game features the latest line-up of DC’s flagship superhero team, the Justice League. There are 7 superheroes available to play.

You start off with nothing but punches and vulnerabilities, but as the game moves along, you gain new superpowers, equipment, heroes, villains, and locations. You can use these cards to achieve more impressive combos and defeat more powerful villains.

Your goal is to achieve the most victory points. All of the cards (with the exception of the Weakness cards) are worth victory points; there is no distinction between victory cards and the other cards. This is a major difference between this game and Dominion, where victory cards are usually useless until it’s time to count up the scores. Unfortunately, it also seems to result in more of a luck-based game than Dominion, which is largely dependent on your strategy.

Each superhero has a special ability. For example, if you’re playing the Flash, you always get to go first in the game. Also, any time you play a card that allows you to draw an extra card, you get to draw a bonus card. Another example is Cyborg, who gets +1 Power any time he has an equipment card in play, and who gets to draw an additional card any time he has a superpower card in play.

These special abilities are neat, and the game seems balanced. I didn’t notice that any of the characters’ special abilities made them unbeatable. In fact, for the most part, the special abilities of the superheroes just add a little bit of flavor to the game. I think it would be quite possible to win easily without ever using your superhero’s special ability, just because there’s so much luck involved in the game.

Each player starts with a deck of 10 cards, consisting of 7 punch cards and 3 vulnerability cards. You’ll notice that this is very similar to the starting deck you get in Dominion, which consists of 7 coppers and 3 estates.

The game board consists of a main deck, a line-up, and 3 stacks: kicks, weaknesses, and super-villains. The line-up consists of 5 cards that are drawn at random–this is another big difference from Dominion, in which the lineup consists of a limited number of set cards. The cards in the main deck and the line-up each have a power cost, an amount of power they lend the player when they’re used, and a victory point value. Most cards have some kind of special ability, too.

The kick cards in the stack are just like punches, only more powerful. Punches only give you +1 power each, but kicks give you +2 power each. The kicks have no special abilities, though–the other cards in the lineup will almost always have some special gimmick, like the ability to destroy a card, draw a card, or force players to discard cards.

The weakness cards are comparable to curses in Dominion. They subtract one victory point each at the end of the game, but worse, they clog up your hands with useless cards.

The final of the 3 stacks is the super-villains stack. These cards are treated just like the other cards in the line-up, but all of them cost more to defeat. They also (with the exception of Ra’s A Ghul) each have a “first appearance” attack that affects all the players when they become the top card of the deck.

Players can buy as many cards from the line-up as they have power to buy; there are no limits to the number of buy actions a player can take. In fact, the players can also play any cards in their 5 card hand. There are no limits to actions, either

The game ends immediately when all the supervillains are defeated, or when a player is unable to refill the line-up. Everyone counts their scores and compares them to see who won.

The DC Comics Deck Building Game also has some variant rules in the back, and you can control (to an extent) how long or short a game is going to be by deciding in advance how many supervillains to use.

As far as production values goes, it’s hard to complain about this game. The artwork is nice–modern, but nice. I’m not a fan of the New 52 version of the DC Universe, but the market for a retro DC Comics card game probably isn’t very large, so I understand the choice they’ve made here.

I’ve already mentioned that I prefer Dominion to the DC Comics Deck Building Game because strategy plays a greater role in the former. You might be someone who enjoys more of a random card game, and if you are, then this is probably the perfect game for you. I’d describe this as a beer-and-pretzels card game. It’s easy to learn, easy to play, and you’ve got a fair chance of winning even if you’re playing with other, more experienced players. I also thought the price was reasonable. If you like DC Comics and card games, then this one is worth a try, for sure.

Odds and Probability

I’ve taken a little bit of a sabbatical from blogging about card games lately, but I’m back today, and I’d like to write an article about odds and probability in card games and other games where luck is a factor. I know that’s different from our usual format here, but I thought it might be a fun change of pace. I also have a new review that I’ll be posting later today. By the way, if you hate math, you should just skip this post, because probability is ALL about math.

What Is Probability?

Probability is the mathematical study of chance. It’s how we measure the likelihood of certain events occurring. If you want to know how likely it is that you’ll be dealt an ace on the river, then you’ll get your answer using this branch of mathematics. If you want to know the likelihood of rain tomorrow, then this is your field. In fact, probability is used in almost all fields of human endeavor, from business to politics to science to education.

There are two kinds of probabilities. Some of these are uncertain, like when we try to predict how likely it is that the planet Earth will collide with an asteroid. They’re just estimates. The other kind, and the one we’re most interested in, is certain probability, where we know all the potential outcomes and the likelihood of each.

For example, if you ask someone to pick a number between 1 and 10 at random, and you want to know how likely it is that they’ll pick an even number, you know that the chances are 50/50. Half of those numbers are odd, and half of them are even, so in a truly random trial, the odds of getting an even number are the same as the odds of getting an odd number.

The easiest way to start thinking about probabilities is by thinking of them as fractions. The likelihood of something happen is a fraction where the number of ways the desired outcome is the numerator, and the number of total possible outcomes is the denominator. For example, if you want to calculate the chances of rolling a 6 on a single six-side die, you take the number of ways you can roll a 6 and divide it by the total number of potential outcomes. That probability becomes 1/6.

This can be expressed in multiple ways, including as a decimal, a percentage, or as odds. 0.1667 or 16.67% or 5 to 1 would be those expressions, respectively. You should have already learned how to calculate decimals and percentages in school. You might not have learned how to express such a number in odds format, though.

To express a probability in odds format, you take the number of ways something can’t happen and compare it to the number of ways something can happen. In this example, there are 5 ways to NOT roll a 6 and only 1 way to roll a 6. So the odds are 5 to 1.

This starts to matter in card games when you want to estimate how likely it is that the next card you’re dealt will help you or hurt you. For example, in a Texas holdem game, you might have 4 cards to a flush, and you want to know how likely it is that you’ll hit your card on the river.

There are 13 cards of each suit, but you already have 4 of them, so there are 9 of them left in the deck. 6 of the 52 cards in the deck are accounted for already–you have 2 of them in your hand, and there are 4 cards on the board. So there are 46 possibilities, and 9 of them will fill your hand, so your probability of hitting your flush is 9/46. That’s almost 20%, or close to 4 to 1.

How would this information help you? Suppose there’s $1000 in the pot, and you need to put $100 in the pot in order to stay in the hand. That’s a 10 to 1 payout if you win, compared to a 4 to 1 probability of winning. By understanding the odds, you’re able to estimate whether it’s mathematically correct to stay in the hand.

Sometimes you’ll want to estimate the likelihood of multiple things happening at the same time. In that case, you multiply the probabilities by each other. For example, if you’re playing an old-fashioned slot machine game, there are 10 symbols on each reel, and there are 3 reels. The probability of hitting a particular symbol, say a cherry, is 1/10 on the first reel. That chance is the same on the 2nd reel and on the 3rd reel, but if you want to know what the likelihood is for getting a cherry on all 3 of the reels at the same time, you’d multiply 1/10 x 1/10 X 1/10, and you’ll get an answer of 1/1000. That’s 999 to 1 on that particular symbol.

That kind of problem occurs when you’re calculating the odds of this happening AND of that happening. If you want to calculate the odds of this happening OR that happening, you add the probabilities together. Since there are 10 symbols, you theoretically have 10 different winning combinations. How do you figure out your chances of winning some combination? You add up the probabilities for each symbol:

1/1000 + 1/1000 + 1/1000 + 1/1000 + 1/1000 +1/1000 + 1/1000 + 1/1000 + 1/1000 + 1/1000 = 10/1000.

You can reduce that to 1/100, which converts to 99 to 1 odds on any single combination coming up.

The main thing to remember is that if the probability question includes the word “AND”, you multiple the probabilities. If the question includes the word “OR”, you add the probabilities.

I’d like to thank my cousin in Texas (who runs http://www.slotmachinemakers.com/) for that 2nd example regarding slot machines. I came up with the other examples myself.

Of course, this is just a beginner’s introduction to how probability works. You can find additional information about calculating probabilities on these pages:

  • A Basic Probability Textbook Online – This one’s a little bit dry, but it’s detailed and accurate.
  • A Beginner’s Primer on Probability from GnomeStew.com (See also Part 2 of that post.) By the way, if you’re into RPGs, Gnome Stew is one of the coolest blogs out there.
  • Probability for Kids – I’ve found that with math-related topics in general, stuff that’s aimed at a younger audience is often more easily understood, especially by adults who have a little bit of math phobia.
  • MathProblems.info – The author of this site specializes in probability, and he runs another site about casino gambling, too. The math problems on this particular site aren’t all probability-related, but it’s still a great resource.

Lost Cities Card Game Review

Lost Cities, from Rio Grande Games, is a  card game released in the year 2000, aimed at fans of two-player gaming. It’s a simple but addictive title from designer Reiner Knizia.

Reading other reviews online, I’ve found a lot of whining about the price of Lost Cities – at release, it cost $30, though I’ve been able to find used versions online and in comic shops for far less. One look at the deck and the other aspects of the game and you’ll understand the higher cost. The entire set is designed to look high-end, with beautiful illustrations and plenty of details.

The Deck

One weird thing you’ll need to get used to is the larger size of the deck – which is itself split up into five color-coded groups, known as “expeditions.” Each expedition is further broken up into nine numbered stages and requires three investors.

It’s nice that all of the expeditions are fully illustrated, with each of the nine stages in full color. The cards themselves describe the player’s journey to one of the mysterious cities the game is named for. In a game with rules that are otherwise mathematical and abstract, great attention was paid to creating a unique and engaging deck.

The Game Board

The board itself is simple – there are discard spots for each of the five expeditions, and not much else. The board is meant to sit between the two players.

The board’s important because it represents the object of your mission – earn points by going on successful and lengthy expeditions. An expedition doesn’t have to reach its final or ninth stage to earn you points – as long as the expedition itself earns at least twenty points during play (more on that later), it will be valuable at the game’s end.

How to Play

Each player is dealt a hand of eight cards, and plays and draws a card every turn. These cards can always be discarded on the appropriate pile or in some cases added to the top of the player’s expedition that matches the card.

More Card Complexity

Every turn, each player can choose to draw from the deck or from the top of any of the game’s five discard areas. Strategy comes into play here – you don’t want to put a valuable piece in a discard pule that your opponent could use to beat you. To make things more complex, certain tokens (“investors”) can only be played as the beginning of each expedition.

A standard game runs through three phases – the beginning, the mid-game, and the end-game. In the beginning, card management is the name of the game. Players that hold high value cards as long as they can, in an attempt to draw lower cards to support investments in expeditions, tend to win.

The mid-game in Lost Cities means building up your expeditions waiting to hand out discards until your opponent has no use for them. This requires a lot of knowledge about the value of cards in the game, and I’ve noticed this skill will come with time.

The game is over when the deck is empty. If you have played all your high cards in time, you will probably turn out to be the winner.

Game Strategy

Over and over again, Lost Cities presents players with a major gamble – do you take a risk on playing an investor, hoping to draw more cards that will support the expedition, or do you put high value cards in play that pretty much guarantee a successful mission, but may not earn you many long-term points? Discarding is another option, but a player would have to risk handing all his best plays to the opponent.

A major facet of Lost Cities strategy is to chase the expedition bonus. Any expedition that’s racked up eight or more cards earns the player an additional twenty points.

Being sneaky is a big help to your abilities with this empire-building title – players who know how to bait their opponent by letting go of just enough juicy cards to influence their play are basically in control of both decks, but this requires some playing time and experience reading your opponent.

Overall, Lost Cities may not hold a lot of appeal for people who like to replay the same game a lot. I’ve found that a few rounds of this title goes a long way, and since the game is heavily dependent on the luck of the draw, and involves a lot of in-your-head math, it isn’t always the most, well, fun strategy game on the market.

You can think of this title as kind of like rummy with traditional cards – once you learn the regular ebbs and flows of the game’s tokens, you become better at the contest. If you’re looking for a title that is fairly easy to learn, doesn’t take long to establish a winner, and is playable with just two people, Lost Cities is probably one of the better options for you out of all the games released in the past decade or so. I think gamers who like more complex material should look elsewhere.

Citadels Card Game Review

Citadels is a fantasy strategy card game designed by Bruno Faidutti, released by Fantasy Flight Games in 2003. The action features players competing to develop empires of cities. Players use cards to upgrade their abilities by hiring new characters with unique skills – this character-building aspect adds a lot of strategy to a somewhat simple style of gaming that I think would be more about the luck of the draw than strategy otherwise.

Ideal for 2-7 players, according to the rulebook, Citadels is aimed at audiences 10 and up, and an average round takes anywhere from half an hour to an hour to complete. One of the downsides of the game is the steep learning curve; understanding the various roles characters and districts play requires a little in-game experience, so don’t expect to master the game right away.

Citadels is your basic diplomacy title with the addition of a purchasing system using gold coin tokens. The game is a little setup-heavy, with lots of different pieces to set up before you can play. The game includes:

  • 66 district cards
  • 18 character cards
  • 18 character markers
  • 1 crown and plastic base
  • 16 victory point markers
  • 35 gold coins

But if you don’t mind spending a little time setting up a game, this title will appeal to fans of strategy-based gaming, and there’s a slight fantasy element that would probably appeal to your average AD&D or other fantasy gamer.

Cards & Pieces

All the game’s cards are in full color with an identical blue and white pattern on the back. These are broken up into two categories – character and district.

Character cards feature nice artwork in full-color, and each is labeled 1-9. Each character has a name such as Bishop or Thief and gives the player a unique ability. Seven of the game’s characters gain special powers when associated with certain districts, and this is clearly marked by the background color – a character with a green background gets a bonus from a green district, etc.

The markers for the different characters are hexagonal cardboard pieces, each one linked to a specific character. The game’s designer wanted to give players an easy way of indicating what characters are active, but the use of the markers is totally voluntary.

As for the other set of game pieces, district markers are illustrated like the character identities, each showcasing a different part of a major city – cards for bars, churches, manors, colleges, and a ton of other locations exist. The cost of a district card is tied directly to its value, so that a district that only costs one gold to play is only worth one gold in value later in the game.

Proper play also requires Gold Coin tokens, plastic yellow pieces that can withstand a lot of play. Their use in the game follows as part of the description of the rules and objective.

How to Play

The goal of the contest is to construct 8 districts within your city – and since it’s common for more than one player to reach this goal at the same time, the value of the districts is important as well. Rather than building the 8 cheapest districts possible, the players who invest in valuable properties often win more than those who can build the quickest.

Each player starts with four district cards and two gold coins. At the beginning of the game, one player is picked as King for the first round, and he shuffles and stacks eight character cards in front of him.

Character Descriptions

It’s important to know what each character in Citadels does for your abilities as a player. Here’s a quick breakdown of each character class.

  • Assassin – The ability to murder any non-playing character.
  • Thief – The ability to steal all of a non-playing character’s gold.
  • Magician – The ability to exchange cards with other players or taken them from the deck.
  • King – The King earns one piece of gold per yellow district and gets the first character choice next round.
  • Bishop – The Bishop earns one gold per blue district and is totally protected from the Warlord character.
  • Merchant – The Merchant earns one gold per green district, plus one additional gold per round.
  • Architect – The Architect can draw two additional cards and build an additional district.
  • Warlord – The Warlord earns one gold per red district, and can pay to destroy the district of the player’s choice, except for The Bishop.

Each round of the game includes a few sub-rounds, so let’s look at how the game actually plays out.

Choosing Characters

The round starts with that round’s king placing characters face up in front of each player. The king gets first pick from the face-up characters, then all remaining cards are passed clockwise around the table, so that the last player in each round is stuck with no choice.

Once you pick a character, you take a turn per round. A hierarchy of character cards exists, determining the order of play. The assassin is fastest and goes first, followed by the thief, and on down the line. The order of characters determines the order of play

Taking a Turn

Your first choice is between taking two gold coins or two district cards. You can then build a district if you choose (and if you have enough gold), and that’s pretty much it.

Of course, the unique power of each character comes into play during each turn – for example, if you are the Assassin, you may play a district token, shell out some hold, then kill an NPC. The character you choose is extremely important in Citadels strategy.

After the last player has had a turn, all character cards are gathered, shuffled, and a whole new round of play starts over. The new round’s king starts off by picking a character, and the deck goes around until all players have selected one.

The End of the Game

In any round when a player builds their eighth district, all players have to count up the point value of all their districts and add a couple of bonuses if applicable. Refer to the rulebook for specific bonus amounts. The player with the most points out of all players who have built eight districts is the winner.

I am always happy to find this kind of deceptively simple card game (the rules take a little getting used to, especially character abilities) that also includes plenty of strategy and a high level of gaming and roleplaying ability. Bruno Faidutti’s design involves strategy, character-building tactics, and even bluffing, and the variety of characters and districts means lots of replay value.

Blood Bowl: Team Manager – The Card Game Review

Blood Bowl: Team Manager is the kind of standalone card game I like to play, a hybrid of head-to-head sports gaming and a fantasy world complete with orcs, goblins, dwarves, and vampires. The game was released by Fantasy Flight Games in 2011. It’s the card game version of a franchise that’s been around since the 80s and includes board games, computer gaming versions, and other titles.

This particular card game combines a high level of strategy, required to put together a team of creatures that can outplay your opponent’s teams, and the willingness to play dirty. Cheating is a built-in element of the game, which sets teams of fantasy creatures against each other over the course of a single season of brutal football combat.

Your goal is to customize your specific team, your hand, through the process of drafting, hiring trainers, upgrading your training facility, and (yes) working some illegal backdoor deals with refs and other managers to cheat your way to the top. At the end of a season of play, the manager who earns the most fans by putting together the best team and scoring the most is the winner.

Is it a sports card game or a fantasy battle game? The truth is, this title is both, and should appeal to fans of both types of contests as well as fans of card-based standalone gaming as well.

How to Play

Players start by choosing one of six teams, each of which is made up primarily of a single race.

The Reikland Reavers – The most versatile team is the Reikland Reavers, a human squad that can be trained to play just about any position in the game. Beginners often start out playing as the Reavers since they have decent skills in all the important categories like passing, running, and offense. But players with some experience in the game know that the human’s abilities to out-think the other team is even more valuable

The Grudgebearers – This team, made up of Dwarves, is small but tough, and they wear the best armor in the game. This hack-and-slash team is best at wearing down the opposing defense through brute force.

The Athelorn Avengers – The Wood Elf race’s team is the Avengers, the best passing team in the league. With a high-powered offense and tons of dexterity, the Wood Elf Avengers concentrate on the air game but are a bit weak on defense.

The Skavenblight Scramblers – The Skaven race makes up the Scramblers, a team that hangs big numbers with their running game. Skavens are adept at finding gaps in the defensive line, and the mention of the name gives defensive coordinators headaches.

The Gouged Eye – A band of Orcs banded together as The Gouged Eye are the New York Yankees of Blood Bowl, a consistent threat to win it all. Orcs are physical players that don’t excel at offense naturally but can be easily upgraded to adapt their tough defense to offensive game situations.

The Chaos All-Stars – A roster full of members of the Chaos race makes the All-Stars among the most hated teams in all of Blood Bowl. These are violent and dirty players who want to win at any contest. A common move for the Chaos squad is to simply stab and kill the ball carrier when the ref isn’t looking. If you like to deceive your way to victory, play as this team.

More on Blood Bowl: Team Manager Gaming

Each game has room for two to four managers, each of which has five virtual in-game weeks to turn their team into the best they can be, followed by a season of football contests which end with the Blood Bowl itself. How do players improve their teams and hands? Competing to earn highlights, collecting illegal payouts from refs and sports gamblers, buying better players, and participating in an annual draft.

The player starts with a basic team without much skill. The idea behind the game is to improve your team by making the right plays at the right time and building a tougher roster. Hence the emphasis on the managerial aspect of the game.

Throughout the game, your team has to randomly compete head-to-head against another squad for highlight matchups – win more highlights and your team will improve, increasing your number of fans. After all, the winner of the game is determined by who has the most fans, not necessarily who wins the most. These randomly-determined highlight wins will occasionally improve your fan base even more than big wins on the gridiron.

After the final two teams face off in the Blood Bowl tournament, players add up their fans and manager points, and the player with the biggest following is the winner.

I Like Blood Bowl: Team Manager

Fantasy Flight’s take on this classic franchise puts every player in the management hot seat, and in-game decisions have a direct effect on the outcome of the game and the way the teams perform and how fans respond.

I love titles that combine or cross genres, and the mix of sports card play and fantasy elements here is unique. Not only does this title appeal to my friends who like fantasy sports, it’s also based on the popular Warhammer series, so fantasy gamers will also get a lot of joy out of the game.

Even more important, this title has nearly infinite replay value. Each season is different, and the actions of each manager and the outcomes of things like head-to-head competitions and illegal deals with refs mean that the lead changes hands often.

Blood Bowl: Team Manager has already led to the release of one expansion pack, called Sudden Death, and Fantasy Flight claims on their website that they’re looking to continue the series based on fan feedback. We couldn’t be happier that this weird but very engaging sports-fantasy game appears to be catching on.