Since there is so little information available about Justice League: Axis of Villains Strategy Game ("JL"), I wanted to write something up. Hopefully it will help you decide if this game is something you want to buy or not.
The box is glossy; the board is glossy; the little character mats are glossy. I don't see that as a pro or con, but it did strike me. The board and mats are thick, as are the hero standies. The hero standies have a plastic "L" to hold the cardboard, and once you get the cardboard inserted, they work well. I don't plan to remove them.
The villains are small chits, with a little picture and the name, along with a colored strength indicator. Each hero has 5 corresponding villains who share that hero's color. Colorblind folks may have trouble seeing which hero a villain is aligned with. I assume the villain-hero alignments make sense if you are familiar with the source material.
The villain and hero cards are both mini-sized, which is fine. The villain cards are never held; they are basically event cards. You are likely to have a hand of up to 5 hero cards, although we just played with them face up in front of us.
The D6 is custom, printed but not engraved. The D8 is generic. You end up rolling 2 to 5 (or more) D8 per combat, so it would have been nice if they could have included more D8. If I play the game regularly, I'll definitely throw at least a couple more D8 in the box.
The insert is better than most, which means it isn't great, but does actually function to separate the components. The villains, cards and dice came in little baggies, which was a very nice touch.
All 4 superheroes are male, which is unfortunate.
The rules are available online, so I won't rehash them completely. The short (and glossy) rulebook seemed clear and straightforward. It should only take a few minutes to teach the game.
Comparisons to Castle Panic are inevitable. We are defending a central base against villains coming at us from all sides. As with Castle Panic, the board is a series of concentric circles (or octagons in JL). Where CP has 3 rings, JL has 3 bands (green/yellow/red), but each band is divided into 2 or 3 individual rings.
When a villain reaches the center, one quarter of the satellite is destroyed. If all 4 parts are destroyed, the heroes lose. If the heroes clear all the villains from the board, they win. It is a pure co-op.
Each turn, you start by rolling both dice. Depending on what you rolled on the "control die" (the D6), you might have to roll again (and again). It reminded me a bit of the tile draws in Lord of the Rings. Each roll might spawn a new villain, or advance all the villains in one sector by 1 or 2 rings. Sometimes this will trigger a draw from the villain deck, which might cause additional moves, or might bring an "ultra villain" into the game.
When you (finally) roll a "JL" symbol on the control die, you get to perform the meat of your turn. That means moving your hero around on the board, and/or playing hero cards from your hand.
Moving is roll-and-move, where you can only move up to the number of spaces shown on the D8 at that point. You can move around within a ring, and/or you can move in or out within a sector.
Each hero card offers a different ability for each of the 3 bands (green/yellow/red). Whichever band your hero is in at the time you play the card determines the effect of the card. Some allow you to move your hero to any space. Some add dice in combat. Many activate special abilities of your hero, which might allow you to move another hero, or gain an advantage in combat. Every hero has 2 special abilities, which appear to be interesting, and will affect your choices.
After you have moved and/or played hero cards, if your hero is in the same space as any villains, you can attempt to capture one of them. If another hero is in the same space, he can choose to participate in the combat as well, adding his dice to yours. If you win the combat, any hero who participated gets a hero card as a reward. If you lose the combat all heroes who participated get moved back to the satellite. There is no other penalty for losing a combat.
Some people might be a bit confused at first between the red/green/yellow colors of the concentric bands (and the hero cards), and the red/green/yellow (and blue) colors of the heroes and their associated villains.
This is a light game, but there are some decisions.
You have to decide where to move, and which villains to go after. Obviously, villains that are closer to the satellite are a more imminent threat. However, you might have hero cards that have more useful effects in the outer rings.
There is hand management. Since each card can be used 3 different ways, you'll have to decide which ring to use them in. And of course, you'll decide when to use cards, and when to save them for later.
In any combat, you are likely to have some options to add dice. Given the strength of the villain (ranging from 7 to 21), you'll have to decide whether to push your luck with fewer dice, or to play conservatively with more dice (but giving up cards to do so). You will also have to decide when to fight together, although once you understand how the game works, that is usually an easy decision.
I have only played a single 2-player game so far, and it was way too easy to win. One villain advanced to the red band, and a couple barely got into the yellow. We never had to draw a single villain card, which means none of the ultra villains showed up.
It is possible that we messed up some rule, but I can't think of what it would be. My guess is that given the audience of the game, they erred on the side of making it easier to win.
Also, I suspect that in a 4p game, the additional 10 villains would cause more villain card events, making the game much more interesting and challenging.
If we play 2p again, I'll probably include some of the villains associated with heroes that are not in the game. An alternative might be to draw a villain event card whenever a villain passes over a trigger space, rather than only when they stop on one.
Our 2p learning game took 30 minutes, which is what the box says. A 4p learning game might go closer to 60 minutes, but I would guess that typical play times after you know the game might range from 15-45 minutes, depending on player count and speed of the players.
Assuming we didn't misplay any rules, the game was far too easy to win. Some of the dice rolling was a bit tedious. Aside from those issues, I like the game. I'm not a huge fan of comic books or superheroes, but the theme works here. I like that there is legitimate cooperation between the heroes, and I like moving heroes around.
JL seems to have a bit of a "rich get richer" aspect. If you win fights, you get to draw more hero cards, which will let you win more fights. As you defeat villains, there are fewer villains moving, meaning you will trigger fewer villain events.
I mentioned Castle Panic earlier, so I guess I should come back to that. I had a lot of fun playing the CP base game, but felt like there weren't enough decisions, so I traded it away. The expansion adds a lot to the game, so I have re-acquired the base game (and will buy the expansion). CP is a very clever, tight design.
JL seems to have more decisions than CP, but JL feels slightly under-developed. Perhaps further plays will change my mind. As I said, I really like moving heroes around, and I appreciate the special abilities that differentiate the heroes, neither of which have any match in CP. The erratic movement of villains in JL creates some interesting uncertainty, but there seems to be a higher amount of randomness with the dice rolls than you get with the chit and card draws of CP.
This doesn't seem to be a "great" game. But especially for kids or casual gamers, it seems like a nice option. If I can figure out how to make the games tense, I'll probably keep it around and enjoy it.
- [+] Dice rolls
I have played twice more, solo. Once with the 2 heroes we didn't use in our first game, and once with all 4 heroes in the game.
It seems that our first game had a combination of heroes who worked well together, along with good card draws and/or dice rolls. The second game was definitely more challenging. It was still a relatively easy win, but at least there was tension at times. A quarter of the satellite was lost, and an ultra villain got into the red zone. If an ultra villain reaches the satellite, you lose immediately, so I was literally one die roll away from a loss at that point.
The 4-hero game had a similar arc, with some tension early, and a quarter of the satellite being destroyed. It was definitely a more interesting game, with villains continuing to show up late in the game. (With 2 heroes, by the second or third round, all the normal villains will already be on the board). But during the last half (or so) of the game, I had little doubt that I would win.
Late in the game, when there are no more villains available to add to the board, and when several sectors are empty, you end up re-rolling a lot at the start of each turn, with nothing happening. Many "advance" rolls have no effect, and all "add villain" rolls have no effect. Perhaps if you roll an advance that has no effect, it should cause the next-higher numbered sector to advance (wrapping around). Perhaps rolling an "add villain" when all the villains are out should act like an "advance". Both would make the game more difficult to win, as well as eliminating a bit of the tedium of rolling.
Early in the game, the roll-and-move can be a bit frustrating. All the villains are out at the edges, so it can take a few turns to get there. After that, it's really not a problem. Often you'll play a card instead of moving your allowed spaces, and occasionally a low roll will force you to make an interesting decision. It's not a mechanism I really like, but at least in this case, I don't hate it either.
Batman seems like the most difficult character to play well, as his abilities require more planning ahead. Each hero's abilities do require at least a little strategic thought to maximize their benefits.
The cards are thin, but glossy (like everything else) and plastic-y, so I think they will hold up reasonably well.
My bottom line remains: It needs to be harder to win, and it would be nice to have fewer do-nothing rerolls. Without some kind of house rules, I don't see playing it much. But it has potential.
- [+] Dice rolls
I tried a couple variants tonight, and both made the game too hard (IMHO).
They did reveal that the "rich get richer" issue can be a problem. Late in the game, if you have defeated most of the easy villains, and then run out of cards, you are screwed. You don't have enough strength to defeat any of the remaining villains, because you don't have cards. The only way to get cards is to defeat villains, but you can't. It's a dead zone, where you just keep playing, hoping for some miracles rolls (e.g. 8+8), but knowing you will eventually lose.
- [+] Dice rolls
- B.C. WendelUnited States
I've only played it once, but like you said, there are too many do nothing turns. I was playing a 2-player game and only one villain was left at the end. If we tried to go after him, he was going to beat us, being one of the non-character specific 15 villains. So instead we just waited until he arrived on the colored spot we had power cards for, but he just would not move. So eventually we just moved him and anti-climatically beat him to end it.
It is an interesting concept but it just didn't work well in actual play. There definitely need to be more villains later in the game.
The Batman Arkham City game has a sort of similar idea, but the villains keep coming and won't run out so the game never becomes empty and dull like this one.
- [+] Dice rolls