Getting into gaming can seem challenging. It can seem expensive, complex, baffling. But if you want a bit of superhero throwdown action, the DC Universe Miniature Game (DCUMG) is a great place to start.
Knight Miniatures’ range of figures for this, the companion game to their Batman game (BMG), run the gamut from everything from Darkseid, Sinestro and the Reverse Flash to Superman, Wonder Woman and Starfire. It covers the big smash-ups of the DCU, along with scenarios for gladiatorial games for alien overlords, shutting down rifts in time and space, or capturing rogue motherboxes.
The models are beautifully rendered versions of the characters, as you may have seen in previous articles, and are relatively straightforward to assemble (enlisted 9 year old managed to do so without sticking himself his brother). The price point on the miniatures themselves is not unreasonable, coming in at (depending on your friendly local or online retailer) around £14 for the regular figs, £30-35 for Huge characters and £30-40 for the sets (e.g. the Trinity set of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman). For a typical game, you’ll need between 4 and 6 characters.
The game is played on a 36″ square board – and that’s the first point of note: inches, not cm. The BMG is cm, so it’s a bit of a brain-flip, but it points to a fundamental difference. BMG can at times seem a fiddly, micro-managing game, a bit like Helldorado or Confrontation – very European, in other words. DCU is big, chunky and more like a conventional British or indeed American wargame.
And, while it really pains me to say this, is possibly more fun as a result.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the tactical depth of BMG, and I love how organised it requires you to be, but you need a good 3-4 hours to get a proper game in, along with all the bits and bobs in the world.
As a complete novice, DCUMG is playable in 2 hrs. I can complete see why they’re starting to push this as a tournament game, as it is very, very quick indeed. And it does, certainly, have tactical depth – it’s just much more streamlined. It helps, also, that this was essentially at 2nd edition before it even hit the table, as it followed on from the late-lamented Marvel game. Oh, and did I mention THAT IT’S FREE? As sales pitches go, they don’t come much better than that, to my mind.
So what do you need to play? Well, as I mentioned you’re looking at 5 or 6 heroes max. We played 35 points – an intro game. The conventional cap has been 50 points, but the new tournament level is 60 (partly to account for the really big hitters like Darkseid and Doomsday). You’ll be running 4 models minimum, realistically, as this is still an objective based game – just blasting your opponent to bits won’t cut it. That being said, my friend Dave and I decided to have a big ol’ throwdown, just to get the hang of it.
Here’s a wee pic of the board we set up to learn with:
The core mechanic of the game is Power – approx 8 tokens (dependent on character) to do “stuff” – 1, 2 or sometimes 3 to move (all characters have a 1 or 2 move, some have a 3 – eg Supergirl’s Power 3 move is the same as Flash’s Power 2) and the rest to use abilities. You can always spend a Power (if you have one) reactively to increase your Defense against attacks, and your have 3 kinds of ability, Green (any number of times per turn), Blue (once per turn), or Red (once per game). It leads to some really interesting tactical decisions, as a result.
Activations alternate: you do everything for one model, including combat. Keeps everything ticking over nicely, and melee and range use the same rules. Card layout is properly intuitive and clear – we checked the rules twice in the game we played, and were right with how we’d interpreted them.
Interestingly, it is (relatively) difficult to kill opponents outright. The more damage you take, the more you weaken. You have 3 sections to your health bar, Grey Zone (where you usually have a bonus also), Pale Zone (maybe some penalties) and Dark Zone (lots of penalties). If you are in the Pale or Dark, you must make a Stamina roll at the end of turn not to be knocked out. There are ways of KO’ing your opponent also, naturally – but, crucially, you have the chance of getting back up again, albeit weaker, until you are removed if Incapacitated completely. Very, very comic feel to it.
I set up Green Arrow and Hawkman on rooftops, Flash and Supergirl down below and out of firing line for Deadshot, who was across the board on a similar vantage point, with Lobo, Reverse Flash and Deathstroke behind buildings also.
Flash and Reverse Flash feel very much like speedsters. This isn’t a redundant statement – Speedsters are still tricky mechanic in BMG. Here, they ran through buildings, up buildings, darted back and forth (they can take 2 move actions, plus can teleport once per game) and were a general nuisance. Lobo was generally a tireless killing machine, and Hawkman was an absolute monster in combat. Deadshot really put the hurt on Supergirl, whilst she managed to keep going as an all-rounder. Everyone felt, well, fluffy.
Because it’s a big old super game, a key part of it is throwing stuff (cost: 3 Power) , so you need plenty of scatter terrain. In Marvel, the game solely became about this mechanic, so the tweaks to the rules/damage in the DC version lead to much better balance and playability.
That being said, it was very satisfying to try to hit Lobo with a Jersey Barrier.
Sadly, I missed, but made up for it by throwing the swat van at Deathstroke and then Arrow filled him with holes.
So, what are the drawbacks? Well, it’s not overly crunchy (complex rules mechanics), which is fine for a fun casual beer’n’pretzels game, or indeed a bit more serious, but it’s not the ultra-depth of some games. I can see me playing it with the kids, as, while the basic mechanics are a bit more advanced than, say, X-wing, it’s easier once you get going. I will do a follow-up later in the summer, as they’re nagging me to play.
I’m very impressed. Ultimately, in time-limited real life (ah, pesky adulthood), when I get to game it’s about a 2hr window now.
Looks like I’ve found my new go-to game!
Oh, and before we go, we’re thrilled to announce that the winner of our latest Knight Models competition, snagging themselves a General Zod Team Pack featuring Zod, Feora and Nam-Ek, is… Simon Quinton!
Congratulations Simon! Get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org for details of how to claim your prize!
(Oh, and as per usual, you have 30 days to claim your prize before we draw another winner, so make sure to get in touch soon!)