Updated: Nov 20, 2019
Full disclosure: I love the DC universe. I grew up reading DC comics. I would buy any comic with Superman, Flash or Green Lantern in it, and pretty much every other DC title to fill in the gaps when I couldn't get my favourites. It's why, when the 'Legends of Tomorrow' TV series began, Rip Hunter was no stranger to me. I read a lot of comics featuring Batman, though he was never a favourite because I think I had difficulty adjusting between his changing personae in the comics. When I started reading DC comics, Batman and Robin were drawn in garish primary colours and were routinely travelling in time or thwarting alien invasions from space, so it was initially hard for me to reconcile the character’s switch to a brooding ‘dark night’ figure.
I was excited when Wizkids first released their Heroclix DC figures. Plastic models of superheroes: what’s not to like? Well, though I loved and collected the models and could see there was game potential in clickable dials, I was disappointed in the game itself which seemed to amount to little more than moving your figures round a grid and have them beat each other up. That seemed to be the plot of most Marvel comics. DC titles were mostly more sophisticated: DC superheroes usually had to outwit the schemes being hatched by their nemeses; it was relatively rare that they had to resort to knocking seven shades out of each other.
So where does Justice League: Dawn of Heroes come in? It’s a new game from the Spanish publisher Abba Games. Designed by Buster Lin and Fran Ruiz, it takes some of the best known heroes and villains from the DC universe and pits them against each other. There are missions and objectives to achieve but, as with Heroclix, you are mainly moving around a map trying to thrash each other.
So that disappointment aside, there’s a lot still to like about Justice League: Dawn of Heroes. For starters, much creativity has gone into the mission book and tutorial. These are set out like comic strips. That’s not just a gimmick. It works. It gives new players a good mix of text and visual explanation that makes it quick and easy to learn the game.
Best of all, Justice League: Dawn of Heroes applies asymmetric mechanics to the main heroes. Batman and Green Lantern are controlled using special decks of cards; Flash and Aquaman spend tokens to deploy their powers; Superman, Wonder Woman and all of the villains use die rolls. It sounds and is quirky but, again, it works because the different mechanics makes each of the heroes feel different in play.
The game comes with a mix of plastic minis and cardboard standees. Either would look good and work but mixing the two together looks and feels wrong. Of course, I already have a mountain of Heroclix figures I can press into service :-) For those that don't, and so don't have an easy option for going 100% mini, it would be good if Abba made available a sheet of cardboard standees that could be used in place of the plastic minis, offering an all standee option.
I very much hope this game is a success because I think it has the potential to be even better if future expansions bring in more characters with more new mechanics. And let’s hope new missions will draw more on the superheroes’ ingenuity rather than their mere brute strength. I can remember when the plot of at least 50% of all Superman stories involved the Man of Steel trying to disabuse Lois Lane of the notion that he was secretly Clark Kent. Surely there’s a game in there somewhere?
(Review by Selwyn Ward)