The Opinionated Gamers

Justice League: Dawn of Heroes

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JUSTICE LEAGUE: DAWN OF HEROES

Design by Buster Lehn & Fran Ruiz
Published by Abba Games
2 – 6 Players, 1 hour
Review by Greg J. Schloesser

I was an avid reader of DC Comics’ Justice League of America series from my youth until well into my 40s.  The League went through so many changes during that period, as did the writing and art style in the books.  Some of this was good, some not so good.  Through it all, I stuck with the series, even though I grumbled when favorite characters were excluded, second-and-third string characters added, and the core line-up all but vanished.  Through it all I maintained a strong preference for the original line-up of Superman, Batman, Aquaman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern and Martian Manhunter.

As a board game aficionado, I have a keen interest in any board game featuring superheroes, particularly those featuring characters from the Justice League.  Unfortunately, no superhero game has been published that was to my liking, certainly none involving my favorite characters from the League.  So, I was intrigued when I learned of this new title from Abba Games, which features six of the original Leaguers.

Justice League: Dawn of Heroes is a major undertaking which leads players through various missions.  Each mission is divided into chapters, allowing players to progress at their leisure through the chapters and ultimately complete the mission.  This can be done in one sitting, which would take about 3 – 4 hours to accomplish, or spread over several game nights, playing a chapter each time.  Each mission tells a story that gradually unfolds, similar to reading the actual comics.

Players will assume characters, either villains or superheroes.  The chapter specifies how many of each are involved, and there are also usually numerous henchman available for the villain players to control.  Usually the villains have a mission or goal they must accomplish, and it is the superheroes’ job to thwart their nefarious efforts.

Each character, be they villain or superhero, has unique special powers that mimic those of the comic book characters.  These special powers are displayed using icons, something that normally makes me grumble and groan.  While the game generally does a good job of making these icons fairly easy to understand, there is an abundance of them, which causes frequent consultations with the rules to decipher their nuances.

Game play is pretty much what one would expect from a game of this type.  Characters move, fight and use their special powers.  Damage is done and recorded, special items can be acquired to enhance abilities, characters can be knocked out (never killed!)…all standard fare for dungeon crawl / battle type games.  What adds a bit of spice is special powers of the characters, which gives the game a decent comic book feel.

Each chapter specifies how the modular boards, characters and special features (vehicles, bystanders, items, etc.) are to be set.  Some boards have special terrain (buildings, rocks, water, etc.), and all have a superimposed square grid to regulate movement.

Each character has an initiative number which determines the order of movement (of course, The Flash is the fastest!), with some having the ability to move further, usually at the cost of attacking.  After moving, characters may attack (close or ranged), with each having a base attack value that can be supplemented.  In a clever mechanism, characters have special methods by which they can enhance their movement, attacks and defense.  Some use dice (Wonder Woman and Superman), other use cards (Batman and Green Lantern), while others use tokens (Aquaman and Flash).  The cards and tokens can be quite powerful, but players must carefully assess when to use or conserve them.

As with most games of this ilk, successful attacks—which are the vast majority in this game—cause damage, which is marked on a character’s card.  If a character accumulates enough damage, he will be knocked out.  Reviving takes two turns unless aided by a compatriot.  Getting knocked out is a big setback as chapters have a limited number of turns.

Play continues with characters taking their turns in initiative order, over and over again, until the villains accomplish their objective or the number of turns designated for the chapter expires.  Depending upon the chapter, determining the victor can be based on the degree to which the objectives were met or thwarted.  According to the box, a  typical game is supposed to take about 30 minutes per chapter, but it has been my experience that a chapter takes an hour or more to play, particularly one’s early games.  This is mainly due to the constant need to consult the rulebook for clarifications and explanations.  There are a lot of rules, especially dealing with special powers, icons, items, board effects and more.  Only repeated plays will help commit these rules to memory.

Justice League: Dawn of Heroes has some interesting ideas and features.  I enjoy how they have encompassed the superheroes and villains’ comic book powers into the game.  Batman has a variety of special tools available to him via his card deck while, Green Lantern can conjure some of his famous creations (Wall of Light, Defense Sphere).  Aquaman has tokens that he can use to jump or throw his trident, Wonder Woman can use her magic lasso, and Superman can use his super breath.  Villains, too, each have special powers.  I also enjoy the variety of heroes, minor heroes and villains.  All of these help create a suitable comic book atmosphere and bring the characters to life.

Another strength of the game is also a possible drawback:  familiarity.  The game mechanisms—move, fight, take damage—has essentially the same feel as most dungeon crawl / battle style games.  This does help players to quickly get a handle on the essential mechanisms, but at the expense of feeling much like dozens upon dozens of other games.  Further, the game has a decidedly “old school” feel, harkening back a decade or more in terms of game design and features.  Other than a few rules twists, the game does not break much new ground and has a “been there, done that” feel to it.

My initial temptation is to declare that folks who enjoy this familiar “dungeon crawl” style game will likely enjoy Justice League: Dawn of Heroes…and indeed they might.  However, one group with whom I played were all fans of the genre, but none of them were impressed with this game, all of them finding it to somewhat antiquated in terms of design and mechanisms.  I have to agree.  In spite of having a certain glee of role-playing my favorite DC characters come to life in a board game, I have to admit the game is a bit too clunky and antiquated.  The rules are not the best, and there are game situations that we encountered that were not fully explained or clarified.  This had the effect of causing the game to drag, with constant consultations of the rules being required.  Thus, while I applaud the effort to bring the Justice League to a board game, I cannot help but be disappointed by the lost promise and potential.

Ratings:

4 (Love it!):
3 (Like it):
2 (Neutral):  Greg S.
1 (Not for me):19

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