Battle for the Universe is a new card game that launched today on Kickstarter. Here is a preview of the game to help you decide whether to back it or not.
About the Game
Battle for the Universe is a two player competitive card game with a comic book theme. The designers list it as ages 13+, average difficulty, and 20-60 minutes of play time. However, I'd put it slightly higher on the difficulty and sometimes (particularly when learning) the play time is longer. You can learn more about the game from the designer himself Jonny Hinkle in our interview.
Battle for the Universe is on Facebook with plenty of demo videos to watch, so follow them and check those own. You can get a copy of the core set for $40 USD on Kickstarter. Other rewards include playmats and creating location or character cards. Full details are on the Kickstarter campaign page.
For this preview, I've broken it down into "What I Liked," "What I Didn't Like," and "Who I'd Recommend This To," so you can see what you might agree with me about!
What I Liked:
If you read my interview, you'll know Jonny Hinkle is an experienced artist and has connections with many great artists in the comic, RPG, and CCG world. Just look at the images in this preview; I particularly like this insect creature from Hector Herrera. To see more art from Jonny, he has Battle for the Universe art and other commissions on DeviantArt.
Comics, superheroes, and tabletop gaming is such an obvious perfect mix I don't know how it isn't an overused theme like zombies. The only ones that come to mind are Legendary and the DC Deck Building Game, which got boring pretty quickly. Even still, Battle for the Universe is different from those. It is set inside a comic book, the turns are "pages" and each phase is a "panel". All the cards, actions, and everything in the game feels like it is out of a comic book. This is not a theme just slapped onto a play mechanism. Not to mention that, if BtfU reaches the $75k stretch goal, a real comic set in Slab City will be made.
The Location Mechanism
It is an element of luck which locations will be draw and placed where, but it increases the replay value and fairness of the game. Slab City is different every single time you play. If Slab City were a generic board, experienced players would always know what moves to make, and you wouldn't be able to swap in new locations. For those of you who hate games influenced by luck, keep in mind that you select the 12 cards for your location deck, and there are abilities and combos that let you swap locations from play.
Different Paths to Victory
I was only using the demo decks which have one objective for each player, but I like the concept of getting to select how you want to win the game. There are multiple paths to victory like 7 Wonders Duel, where they are open to both players, but Battle for the Universe also has different victory paths unique to each player. Either player can make their way to the opponent's base and destroy it to achieve victory, or they can complete their unique objective to win. The two I played with were "defeat 7 characters" and "collect 35 civilian tokens", both completely different strategies. One requires seeking out the opponent for battle, the other favors avoiding battle and farming tokens from locations. It is another great way to add some diversity to the game.
Two Players Only
I like two player only games or games that play well with two players. Often I see on groups and forums requests for more advanced or involved two player games, and Battle for the Universe is definitely more involved.
What I Didn't Like:
Keep in mind that this is a preview, and I've contributed feedback to the designer, so many of these issue may get resolved before the Kickstarter delivers.
The booklet is several pages of pure text and who wants to read all of that before that can enjoy a new game. It is all black text with some minimal bolding, so there is no way to know which sections are absolutely necessary and which are advanced rules or specific clarifications. It lacks images of the game setup or breakdown of card elements like clout or support cost. At least the icons were all listed on a reference page. The Kickstarter page has some nice graphics that explain player setup, sequence of play, and identify some parts of the cards. Why these weren't included in the rulebook is beyond me.
This is, by far, my biggest problem with the game. It always ends up just being a mess of cards on the table and is quite hard to keep things organized. You end up with a hero equipped with -- let's say -- three other object cards on the same location as an opponent's character (possibly another four cards). All this on a card of the same size. Moving these stacks around to other locations that you need to flip and rotate (to track who controls them) causes disarray. Then you battle, and you need to be able to read battle effects on the cards under your character. After a few arduous plays, I started giving each player three tokens to represent their characters in play, while keeping the cards in front of them. This cleared up the clutter and made it easier to check card abilities when needed.
Tracking Card Abilities
Object cards have static power and defense values, but a one-shot card like "Going Solo" adds one power every turn while you only have one hero in play. I really liked this ability; however, there was no way to keep count of how much power was added (you just forget after long turns). This may just be the case of one card, but the clutter and having to remember how much effect cards were having really slowed gameplay and made it not enjoyable for me.
Play Was Not Smooth
Much of this is due to the previous issues mentioned, but, in general, the game required a lot of double checking the rulebook for simple things like "what did that symbol mean again?" (there are 22 card symbols, not including clout, power, defense, recruiting and support costs) or for checking finer points that might not even be fully explained in the rules.
Who I'd Recommend This To:
This game is very much geared towards to the advanced card gaming community. If you play living or collectible card games, you might really enjoy Battle for the Universe. Comic book nerds who also play a lot of tabletop games should really enjoy this theme. However, if you are comic book nerd just looking to get into tabletop gaming, I don't recommend Battle for the Universe as your starting point.
In summary, I really wanted to like Battle for the Universe. It has a great theme and looks super appealing, but the gameplay was rough. I had access to rule clarifications from the designer. Left to my own devices, things would have been way worse. There is potential in the game, though. With minor changes to the game and a solid retooling of the rulebook, Battle for the Universe could be a success.