Over the past weekend, I was lucky enough to get a key for the closed beta for DC Dual Force, a new digital card game based on the world of DC Comics. Originally, the beta was supposed to start two weeks ago, but had to be canceled early due to technical issues. The servers went live at 1 PM EST on Friday, July 7th and after some initial hiccups logging in, I am happy to say that the experience is mostly bug free. Other than some art assets not loading in, or sound clips not playing, the experience has been very smooth from a technical standpoint.
So, what is the gameplay like? Well, the obvious comparison that many people have been making is to that of Marvel Snap. However, aside from being a digital card game based on superheroes, the two play nothing alike. Marvel Snap is meant to be played, well, in a snap. With games ending in under five minutes and decks only holding 12 cards. Dual Force is more along the lines of Hearthstone or Legends of Runeterra, with 40 card decks and much more involved gameplay. While a game of Snap can end in 2 minutes, a game of DC Dual Force can easily go up to 10 or more minutes if the game drags out.
The big hook of Dual Force is the “dual” aspect. Each deck has two leader cards that start the game in play. Characters like Batman, Wonder Woman, Superman, and even lesser known heroes like Zatanna are represented. Not to mention villains like Doomsday, Joker, and Lex Luthor. Each leader has a color that represents a faction that determines what cards can go into your deck. Those factions being Energy, Might, Tactics, Tyranny, and Anarchy. Your deck must contain 20 cards from each faction represented on your two leaders. So, if you have a Might and Tactics leader, you must have 20 Might and 20 Tactics cards in your deck.
Cards come in two forms. Recruits, which are characters with attack and health values that get placed on the board, and Action cards. Which act like spell cards in most games, in that they have an effect and are discarded after being used. Damage is done simultaneously like in Magic, but damage does not recover after battle. So if your 2/3 Steve Trevor attacks a 1/1 Alfred, Alfred will be KO’d and Steve will have 2 health left. Pretty straightforward. All Recruits also have summoning sickness and must wait a turn before attacking, unless they have the “Speed” keyword.
Recruits and Leaders can both gain or come with keywords. All of which have a parallel in other card games. Speed is Haste, Shield protects a unit from an attack, Evade is First Strike, etc. Some keywords, like Aura (a unit with aura cannot be targeted with an action, the unit then loses Aura) can be very powerful when combined with effects like Shield and Invincibility (this unit cannot take damage).
Leaders do not have attack values and only start with a health value. Once both of your Leaders are defeated, you lose the game. All Leaders also have a special charge ability. Every turn your leaders charge up by one point. By using your leader’s charge move, you can activate their special ability which usually (but not always) grants them an attack stat that either stays for the turn, or is permanent. This means your leader can now also deal damage. Leaders can attack as soon as they gain an attack stat. How you handle your charges is a key part of your gameplan. As sometimes saving charges for a future turn can be more beneficial, and some cards can even give your Leader a charge point. Essentially ramping your Leaders up to use their abilities faster.
The game is played on a 3×2 grid. Your leaders start in the bottom left and bottom right of the game board, leaving a spot between them and three rows up front. When one of your Leaders gets KO’d, this spot becomes open for another Recruit to be played. Leaders and Recruits must have a line of sight in order to attack a card. Meaning, you can block your Leader with Recruit cards so your opponent has to take them out first before attacking your Leader. Where you place your Recruits is just as important as who they are, and add another strategic element to the game.
Now comes the most unique aspect to the game, as well as my favorite part of it. The resource system in Dual Force is incredibly unique. There are four types of resource symbols used to pay for cards. Free (black), Bronze, Silver, and Gold. You are only able to play two cards from your hand per turn. Free cards can be played whenever, and as many times as cards you have with that cost. On turn one a player starts with 1 bronze resource symbol. Then, on turn two you get 2 bronze symbols. Turn three gets you a silver and a bronze, turn four 2 silvers, and turn 5 a gold and a silver. This is the maximum number of resources you can gain. Being always able to play at least a gold and silver card per turn from turn 5 onwards. Of course, lower cost cards can still be played, but they still count towards the two card per turn limit.
Now, while this may sound limiting at first, what it does is actually create a natural curve for both players to follow, but still allows for unique plays and experimentation. Take, for example, one of the more powerful decks at the moment, Batman/Aquaman. On turn 3, if you don’t use any of your Leader charges, both Batman and Aquaman can use their leader abilities. Batman lets you get a free Gadget card and Aquaman lets you summon a sea creature to the field automatically. So, on turn 3 you can play a silver and a bronze card from your hand, activate a gadget for free, summon a creature for free, and have both Aquaman and Batman attack. That is six actions in one turn. To me, it feels very similar to Panini DBZ in which your actions can seem very limited at first, but clever play and deck building can dramatically increase that number.
Right now, the game is in a 24/7 Closed Beta for key holders until the Open Beta begins. Everyone in the Closed Beta got 30 packs of the base set of cards, with five extra cards each day. While you cannot buy anything from the Shop at the moment, you can see the usual trappings of a free to play digital card game. There is a Season Pass, cosmetics (card backs, avatar profiles, etc.), as well as packs and mini subsets that can be bought with real world currency. As with all of these types of games, how much you spend is entirely up to you. But, at least at this point, the microtransactions don’t appear to be so egregious as to seriously hinder free to play players anymore than any other DCG would.
The final aspect of DC Dual Force (that isn’t gameplay related) to talk about are Comics. A complete PvE mode where players can play through stories from throughout DC Comics 100+ year history. Completing comics grants players in game rewards like alt art cards, in game currency, and cosmetics like new profile pictures. A new comic will be added each week when the game launches, and looks to be a fun addition to separate itself from similar titles in the genre. Comics don’t contain just AI battles, but can also include multiple choice options and even unique puzzles. Personally, I love seeing more PvE content in DCGs. I play Path of Champions in Legends of Runeterra far more than ranked, and I hope more games capitalize on this trend. After all, there is much more to card games than just sweating it out on ranked.
Right now, I only have a few gripes with the game. The tutorial is very bare bones and doesn’t tell you what any of the keywords do. Outside of obvious ones like Speed, I had to go to outside sources to find out exactly how keywords like Evade and Aura worked. This is something that I imagine will be fixed once the full game, or at least the Open Beta, becomes available. Another issue that may not be resolved when the game releases, is the rewards system. Right now you can play against both the AI and real people in unranked matches. Winning against the AI does not net you any rewards, only unranked. It also doesn’t help that playing against the AI is braindead easy. Considering there is no other way to gain card packs outside your daily allowance of five per day, this makes pulling good cards very important.
If you don’t pull some heavy hitters, you are left with the very mediocre starter decks to play against real people, where you can easily get stomped into the ground with no effort for your reward. I am hoping this issue is resolved once the game becomes more available, more players join, and more comics get added. But, it’s a little disheartening at the moment. I would like to see some kind of award available for players who win against the AI, or even a very small reward when losing a match. Considering how long some games can go, it really sucks to blow 10+ minutes for absolutely no reward.
That notwithstanding, DC Dual Force is a very fun and engaging DCG experience that I can’t wait to see more of. We don’t know when the Open Beta will start, but I highly recommend checking it out once it does.