Battle for the Universe by Jonny Hinkle and Billy Miller makes superhero comics come alive on the tabletop, as players vie for domination of Slab City. Rather than just being a super-powered slug-fest simulator, Battle for the Universe plays upon the rich comic-book genre of bold heroes and devious villains operating out of secret bases, continuously working to counter one another as they take a stand for liberty or work toward nefarious goals.
Creators Hinkle and Miller are longtime comic artists and writers, now turning their comic creations to the tabletop. The wealth of the storyworld is clear, as heroes such as Commander Canada and his pal Maple Leaf may team up with Goldfinch and the antihero Decibel against the likes of the immortal, treacherous Reich and gluttonous Widemouth, who sports a pocket dimension in his stomach to consume everything in his path. Showdowns take place across familiar cityscapes, as well as in hideouts including Project Canada’s The Rink or the International Crime Syndicate’s Monolith tower.
While many collectible card games have a routine set of hit points or a number of scoring gems that always determine the winner, Battle for the Universe takes a novel direction: Each side draws an Objective card, such as “Control 35 Civilians” or “Defeat 7 Enemies.” Having different goals changes up the mechanics of each game as a player must work toward something new while always keeping an eye on his or her opponent’s progress.
Play within Battle for the Universe is much more than simply powering up a hero. Players must work area control to maximize their resources across locations, building “Clout” that may be used to generate Money and Civilians, which in turn work as sources to recruit heroes or villains and net them bonuses like weapons and vehicles. Continuing the game’s thorough storytelling, a “Law of One” dictates that only one of a named hero or villain may be in play (except, of course, for the “Generic Goon,” in endless supply). In addition to being an effective mechanic for balance, this lends much more narrative to Battle for the Universe and inspires players to follow along as their characters face off.
There is a short learning curve in Battle for the Universe, but players will quickly master it upon noting the terms that enable its depth in the comic book motif, such as calling turns “Pages” and phases “Panels.” Experienced gamers will be familiar with mechanics like refreshing exhausted cards at the beginning of a turn, adding up resources, expending those resources to recruit from one’s hand, and then performing actions described on the cards, and Battle for the Universe adds a whole new level with its locations grid, giving players a chance to move across the cityscape as they perform these actions.
Battle for the Universe is a collectible card game for one-on-one players. Replayability is high not only because of the engaging storyworld, but through the existence of different objectives for each session of the game. Hinkle adds that planned stories will expand on the characters and Slab City, and their origins, while the game itself promises many expansions as new locations are planned. Players may sign up for the Battle for the Universe mailing list to receive updates as the game approaches its launch via Kickstarter.