Dale Yu: Review of KAPOW! Volume 1 and Volume 2


  • Designers: Doug Hetrick, Larry Bogucki, Carl Van Ostrand, Rob Dougherty
  • Publisher: Wise Wizard Gamers
  • Players: 2 per Volume 
  • Age: 12+
  • Time: 20-30 minutes
  • Played with review copies provided by publisher – both Vol 1 and Vol 2 provided

“In KAPOW!, players go head-to-head in a classic explosive clash of good vs. evil. You choose to be a villain or hero, which determines your starting trait dice and unique abilities. You can gain additional blank “action dice” that have removable faces that that you customize to your liking to best enhance your character. Behind a player screen, you roll dice, then allocate them to attack, defense, and power-up abilities. The combination of choosing how to grow your dice pool, how to customize your action die faces, and how to use each roll leads to a satisfying, strategic showdown.KAPOW! Volume 1 contains six supers: Tough Nut, Elusivity, and Time Out are the heroes, while Victor Kane, Coquette, and Spoiler Alert are the villains. This set can be combined with KAPOW! Volume 2 to mix and match the characters or have up to four players in one game.”

KAPOW! Can be played in a number of different ways – though it appears that the 2p 1v1 duel is the standard method – though if you have 2 sets, you can play a 2v2 team game.  There is also a coop game in the rules as well as a solo game.  As the publisher was kind enough to send the two different volumes to us, we were able to play the game in all the different settings.  I will start with explaining the rules for the 1v1 duel, and then note the differences in the 2v2 game.

To start, each player chooses which side (Hero or Villain) that they want to be.  It’s actually OK if both players choose the same side – maybe you’re just sparring in training?  (Note you’ll need to have 2 sets for this; as each Volume only gives you one Hero and one Villain player board).   The goal in each game is simply to reduce the opponent’s health to zero, causing an immediate victory for the player left standing.

Each player takes a player screen, player board, Character board and health tracker (set at whatever number is found on their character board).  Each player gets colored trait dice as well as black action dice as specified by their Character.  The trait dice have preprinted icons on their sides.  The black action dice have holes where you can attach different faces.  You may or may not start out with faces on your die (all based on your character board).  The Character board will tell you what faces you start with on your dice.  The player with the lowest health gets the First Player token.

The game is played in a series of rounds, with the same four phases in each round.  Remember that the game ends immediately when a player’s health is reduced to zero, and this can happen mid-round!

1] Ability Selection – players put up their screens and then roll their dice.  The result of the dice can then be used to select abilities on their boards.  Some actions require “no dice” and happen automatically each turn, but the majority of actions will require a die/dice to be placed on them to trigger the action.  All of the actions are nicely grouped into areas to make it clear when that action happens (immediately, in the attack, in defense, in the power up phase, etc.)   When both players are satisfied with their choices, this phase ends. 

2] Attack and Defend – all players reveal their screens.  Starting with the First Player, players attack their opponent using the formula (Base Attack + Attack kickers) x attack multipliers.  The Defender calculates his defense score similarly.  If the attack is higher than the defense, the defender takes damage equal to the difference in those scores.  Remember that if someone is reduced to 0 health, the game ends immediately!  You might gain die faces in this phase; set them aside for now.  Once all players have attacked (and everyone has had a chance to defend), the First Player marker goes to the player who had the highest Defense score this turn

3] Power Up – In player order, players resolve their Power Up abilities.  Then, again in player order, players resolve any After Power Up abilities. Power Up abilities are usually the main source of new dice and new dice faces.

4] Clean Up – All dice can be removed from their boards. Players can freely rearrange their die faces at this time; there is no obligation to use all the faces you have.

Keep playing until someone runs out of Health and loses!

Once you’re familiar with this, and you’ve managed to acquire a second set, then you can move into the 2v2 game.  It can get a bit complicated, so I’d definitely recommend that players be familiar with the standard 1v1 game before they move into this.  In the 2v2 game, teammates sit on the same side of the table, next to each other.  Setup is mostly the same, though each player does get an extra arrow (used to show your attack target) and the team shares a single health counter – starting at the sum of the team’s chosen characters.  Each team also gets 4 Team-Up cards, one of each color.  These Team Up cards have two halves, and in order for the card to be powered, each teammate must place dice that meets the requirement on their side of the card.

In The Ability Selection round, players roll their dice and place them – they also point their Targeting arrow at one of their opponents; designating their target opponent for all attacks.  Both teammates can choose the same opponent to attack if they wish.

In the team game, in the phases that go in order; each team completes their phase before the other team gets to go.  And in each particular phase, the team can decide which of the two teammates gets to go first.

In the Attack and Defend phase, if you are attacked multiple times, figure out the result of each one separately.  Also, the new First Player goes to the team whose summed Defensive power is greater.

Otherwise, the game plays the same, and it is still lost by the team whose health is reduced to zero.

My thoughts on the game

I’ve had a chance to play this both 1v1, solo and 2v2, and it’s fun in any format – though I think I have enjoyed the team game over “traditional 1v1” duel.  I like the way that the teammates get to work together with the TeamUp cards, and there can be some interesting discussions had between the teammates as they try figure out the best plan.  I have also really liked the way that the team game can be used as an excellent teaching game for a newbie – I think it’s definitely more fun to try to learn a game when you have a veteran able to help you on your side as opposed to the inevitable crushing loss in your first game as a newbie in a 1v1 duel.

This is a fun game, one where I enjoy the fight almost as much as winning or losing.  There is a little bit of deckbuilding going on; but this is just one of those games where it’s fun to figure out what you get to roll – throw them in the dice tower and see who wins.  I’ll admit that it’s not the most cerebral of games – but surely there are times when all you want to do is roll dice and fight!

But, never fear, there is definitely a game here.  You get to plot behind your screen each round, and strategy/tactics can definitely steer the game in the right direction – though the overall success is still dice dependent.  There can be a bit of psychology going on as well; I want to do X, but my opponent also knows that I want to do X, so instead I’ll do Y… While it surely hasn’t been an issue in my games, I would say that you have to have trustworthy opponents as all the rolling and allocating is done in secret; and it’s super easy to just put a die in whatever slot you want…  

Each round usually doesn’t take too long; you just try to outthink your opponent, but the dice in the correct slots and then roll it out.  The art is great. Everyone that I’ve shown it to has liked the overall graphic design, and the comic themed art does set it apart from a lot of games on the current market.  While there isn’t any particular comic IP used here, it all feels so familiar due to the art….  The components are easy to read, and while some people have had issues with the die faces staying in the action dice, we have not had any such issues.

The rules are decent, and we didn’t have any major issues with them.  I think some of the individual character rules weren’t clear at first, but between the rules, some online answers and just some simple agreement between the players at the table – it’s all good.  The player aid is also a nice feature and helpfully summarizes most of the information you’ll need to play.

Overall, Kapow provides you with a nice light game to roll dice and beat each other up.  There is enough of a game here to keep you on your toes and give you something to think about, but not so much that you’ll lose the quick/fun aspect of it.   The only caveat I have about it is that you need to know that you’ll need both volumes (2 boxes) to play the game in my preferred 4p version.  

Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers

Matt C. I played this thing regularly for a couple of weeks and had a blast most of the time (except when my eldest would trounce me with a friend.) I did play the base game (without special powers) a time or two with new players but I would expect jumping in with hero powers is best for a gamer’s first game. Dale makes a great point that a 2v2 game is a great way to introduce the game to a new player. Since re-rolls are few and far between, it makes each turn a bit of a puzzle trying to squeeze as much as possible out of your dice. In the team game, there are a few more opportunities to help each other out with rerolls. I like how each hero has a distinct style of play to explore, one strategy is not going to work best for all of them. A 2v2 game is more “fun” but 1v1 is still great. I suspect there are a few heroes that shine better in a 1v1 game than in a 2v2 game. I also enjoyed the solo mode (1 vs AI and 2 vs 2 AI)  It isn’t a simple pre-programmed opponent and it does feel a lot like you’re taking on that specific character. With both sets combined you have 12 hero/villains which leaves a lot of matchups to explore.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it!  Matt C
  • I like it. Dale Y
  • Neutral.
  • Not for me…

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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