DC Super Heroes United: Introducing the game

Dear DC enthusiasts,
I am Andrea, Lead designer for DC Super Heroes United, and I am here to provide you with some insight into the design of the Core Box and some of its Heroes and Villains.
A little premise: the original design of this core box comes from a couple of years ago when it was still unsure that the United system could have been applied to DC or any other license, and it had its own seminal impact on other United designs. I was so happy to come back to it once it was confirmed that the release of DC Super Heroes United had become a possibility and not just a theory.
The very first Hero that I wanted to design was, of course, Batman. The reason being that… he’s Batman. The first thing I thought was how hard it would have been to translate the whole range of bat-gadgets that are one of the most identifying skills of the Caped Crusader into special actions. That marked the real birth of the whole Equipment mechanic. He needed to have many gadgets to choose from, and an essential part of his gameplay should have been to analyze the Villain’s plan and come prepared to counter it. Sure, batarangs are always handy against most antagonists, and a grapple gun can serve you well in several situations, but will you need extra protection or a bit more of mobility? Maybe something to counter poisons, or to see through a clever villain’s lies? Players who like to analyze, come prepared for a fight, and find it rewarding to anticipate the villain’s plans will immensely enjoy Batman’s game options.


Bruce Wayne, however, is so much more than his gadgets. He’s a great martial artist, and let’s not forget, the world’s greatest detective. Moreover, what I believe might be his most defining skill is his indomitable will, and you’ll see all of these and more reflected in his special actions. So, while choosing the right Equipment at the start might give Batman a real edge, he has enough skills to emerge victorious against less predictable villains, making him the perfect choice if you want to play the solo Commander mode. He’s Batman, after all.
Next comes his polar (or maybe I should say solar) opposite, Superman. Kal-El doesn’t need Equipment. The Man of Steel is almost Invulnerable, and his Kryptonian Physiology gives him incredible powers (Flight, Breath, Heat Vision, etc…). As unstoppable and tough to take down as he is, the Kent family’s adopted son is not without weak points either. Especially at high player counts, you might not have the time to play both of his Starting Hand cards, providing you with an interesting strategic choice between damage protection and mobility. There is no better Hero to play if you really want to feel like you are the Hero in a United game.

And the DC trinity would not be complete without the Princess of Themyscira, Wonder Woman. By far the world’s most popular female Super Hero, Diana the Amazon Princess is the most versatile Hero in this core set. Her range of Equipment provides her with protection, movement (and an occasional ride for a fellow Hero), and reconnaissance abilities, mirrored or enhanced by her special powers. Adding to that is the fact that when it comes to resolving Threats, there is no better Hero in the core set. You can easily see why Diana is one of the most played heroes in the core set at any player count. She could easily be your best Hero choice when facing a new villain for the first time and you don’t really know what to expect. I even thought about giving her a skateboard as a fourth equipment just as a reminder of my days as a kid watching Lynda Carter on TV, but the idea was quickly dismissed (but you never know, it might come back as a promo equipment card sooner or later).

The last, but in no way less important than the previous three, Hero included in this overview, is none other than The Flash. I personally love the character, but I must admit we struggled a lot to find a correct and balanced way to represent his powers within the United system. He’s not just the fastest man alive, but a true ruler of the Speed Force, able to even travel through time thanks to his immense velocity.

Thus, each incarnation was either so extremely powerful to negate any chance for Villains to overflow or it came out inadequate to fully express the character’s powers and potential. After literally months of trials and errors (I wish I could have Barry’s powers so I could somehow recover all that time), I believe we found a balance we are truly happy with. By tapping into his Speed Force Conduit, The Flash can dominate the board with reach and flexibility, and even access his Speed Force Aura for incredible protection and extend time… however, he’ll need to build up his momentum by drawing and playing the right cards, which might slow down the Heroes’ progress at times. The Flash turned out to be a great “combo” hero, still useful overall to boost group movement, and able to perform incredibly flexible and high action count turns in the second half of the game at the cost of the need to correctly balance out the first part of the game.
Now, let’s have a quick look at the villains, shall we?
Lex Luthor has not always just been the main antagonist for Superman, but a threat to the whole Earth, and sometimes even more. All of this while simply being a mere human, a genius with an astonishing ability to formulate complex schemes and deceive his opponents. Always one step ahead of allies and enemies, Lex is often able to pose himself as a Hero in order to accomplish his long-term goals and schemes.
In his United version, I imagined him summoning his Legion of Doom and trying with their help to appear as a true Hero in the eyes of the public. He will spend part of his gameplay actually helping the heroes to complete their missions (or better, pretending to do so), and if he somehow is able during his villain turn to fill any of the Hero missions, he will appear as a Hero in the eyes of the public, thus fulfilling one of his plans and winning the game. Even if the Heroes manage to stop him from doing so, he has another plan from the beginning and still has a good shot at winning the game, even once his intentions have been discovered and he can’t pretend to be a Hero anymore. This makes Lex an intriguing villain to face, where a mistake can easily cause the Heroes to lose, but victory is still clearly achievable providing Heroes can pull off real teamwork.
In designing DC Super Heroes, this has been one of my priorities. DC Heroes are very powerful, with some of them possessing god-like powers to shape reality itself, so the challenge in most cases was not to simply put in front of them huge challenges to be overcome and villains as powerful as them to defeat. What I needed was villains able to deceive Heroes, trick them into plays that might seem good for them until it’s too late to realize they were working for the villain and not against them, alternate paths to victory for the hero’s antagonist and for heroes to lose. Luckily for me, DC has always produced a gallery of very interesting villains with deep backstories and real motivations, with more elaborate schemes than simply “becoming rich by robbing banks” and that has allowed me to push the boundaries of creativity and provide unique challenges for our beloved heroes. To get there, it was imperative to introduce some twist to the basic United mechanics, so now some of the villains will have different BAM, Overflow, or Special effects depending on whether they are under pressure or not. This allowed more twists and turns in how they operate and the possibility for heroes to be caught off-guard by a sudden change in the Villain’s plans.
This seems like plenty for one diary, we can leave the rest of the other revealed characters like The Joker for the next one. What will suffice for the moment is telling that The Joker has a plan to poison everyone with his Joker Toxin and that Heroes will struggle hard to find him… Have you ever played a shell game?
Get ready for it but be wary: do not waste too much time or you’ll let The Joker have the last laugh!

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