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Cryptozoic Entertainment
Hotline to Oracle is just one of the utility belt cards that the Batman player may select in Batman: Arkham City Escape from Cryptozoic Entertainment.

Two new games from Cryptozoic Entertainment feature superheroes from the DC Comics universe: DC Comics' Deck-Building game, a card game, and Batman: Arkham City Escape, a board game.

In DC Comics' Deck-Building game, two to five players take on the role of some of DC Comics' mightiest heroes. Playing as either Batman, Superman, The Flash, Green Lantern, Cyborg, Aquaman or Wonder Woman, players are pitted against a variety of super-villains, including Lex Luthor, the Joker and Darkseid.

Each player starts the game with seven punch cards and three vulnerability cards. While the vulnerability cards do nothing but take up space in your five-card hand, punch cards contain power points that allow you to buy more cards that include super powers, equipment and even minor villains like Bane and Harley Quinn. Added to your deck, these new cards can offer more power points and allow you to gain more cards or defeat super-villains.

Once a super-villain is defeated, a new one takes his place, dealing a damaging attack to all the superheroes with his appearance.

Playing your cards for their power can have consequences, however, and often act as an attack upon your fellow superheroes. One of the consequences is the distribution of weakness cards, which, like vulnerability cards, take up space in your hand but also work against victory point totals. After the last super-villain is defeated or there are no more cards left to draw, the game is over. Players tally up the victory points on their cards to determine the winner.

On the surface, DC Comics' Deck-Building game appears to be simply a game of buying better cards and accruing more victory points before your opponents. That description, however, does not do it justice. This is a fast-moving, intense game that ignites real competition as players create better and better decks in the hopes of defeating super-villains and walking away with their treasure trove of victory points.

Despite the fact that there are occasionally some odd thematic combinations (such as Batman with X-ray vision, or Wonder Woman with the Batmobile), this game is an unexpected gem. It's a quick-to-learn, easy-to-play game that offers players a lot of options and presents unique challenges with every play. It's highly recommended.

In Batman: Arkham City Escape, two players take on the role of either a host of evil villains trying to flee Arkham City, or the Caped Crusader himself, trying to prevent their flight. The game board is a map of the city divided into hexes. Batman starts on one end and the villains on the other. With the first turn, the villain rolls dice to determine the number of actions he can take, then can place villain cards face down on the board, move face up or face down villains, or draw more cards from the villain deck.

At the beginning of the game, Batman can customize his utility belt with four different gadgets to aid him, and may keep these secret until he is ready to fight a villain. Batman's movement is limited without the aid of his gadgets, however, or the occasional swinging from gargoyle to gargoyle.

Once Batman has landed in the same space as a villain, combat ensues. Batman decides how many combat cards he wants to play, which allow him to roll a number of dice. If the number of dice that come up with the bat symbol is equal to or greater than the villain's capture rating, the villain is captured and added to Batman's victory pile. Batman then gains valuable experience in the form of an ally, more combat cards or other benefits.

If Batman captures 10 victory points worth of villains, he wins the game. If 10 victory points worth of villains escape the city, the villain player wins.

The Batman theme is amazing here and really draws the players into the grim world of the Dark Knight. The artwork, straight out of the recent Batman video games, is impressive as well. The way Batman can choose and use gadgets also adds to the fun, and random setup cards ensure that each game will be different and present new avenues to victory for both sides. This is an asymmetrical game, and playing Batman or the villains requires very different strategies.

There is, however, a very real balancing issue with the game. Playing defense, Batman is swarmed by enemies trying to get past him, and even when he has a lot of combat cards, there is no guarantee that he will be victorious. It takes a long time for Batman to build up his combat cards (he may only draw one per turn if he captures no villains), and consequently if the villain is lucky in his action rolls he may quickly slip enough villains to the end of the board before Batman has had a chance to respond.

Indeed, while the villains have many options throughout the game, Batman regularly is left with simply no power to challenge the villains, making for a frustrating experience.

Perhaps some house rules could address this issue, such as requiring the villain to gain 15 victory points instead of 10, or letting Batman draw two combat cards instead one per turn. I fully expect Cryptozoic to put out some optional rules in the near future to address this imbalance issue.

Batman fans will have a field day with this game. I expect casual gamers will be more critical, though they may warm to it when the balancing tweaks become available.

Both games are recommended for ages 15 and up and both play in less than an hour.

Cody K. Carlson holds a master's degree in history from the University of Utah and currently teaches at SLCC. He has also appeared on many local stages including Hale Center Theater and Off Broadway Theater. Email: ckcarlson76@gmail.com