Renegade Game Studios has brought several of your favorite franchises to life in their series of Deck-Building Games, including Power Rangers, Transformers, and G.I. Joe, and today the spotlight is going to the Yo Joe crew. G.I. Joe The Deck-Building Game is a fully cooperative game for 1 to 4 players, and while it does involve the core deck-building mechanics that Renegade has honed over several titles, they've once again embraced the unique theme and delivered an experience that feels unequivocally like G.I. Joe without sacrificing depth and losing the fun. You don't need to be a G.I. Joe fan to love this game, but if you are one, you're going to be over the moon.
The straight-up deck-building mechanics in G.I. Joe The Deck-Building Game are pretty straightforward and similar to the other releases in the line. There's a main lineup of changing cards that you can recruit from, moving those cards into your deck for future use, and you purchase them with the Recruit value in your hand. The game throws a slight twist by having you place newly recruited cards (which can be Joes, Gear, Vehicles, and Utilities) on top of your deck so that they can be drawn the very next turn. That means cards you purchase can be used more expediently, and thus changes your strategy from just picking the absolute best card available to evaluating whether another card can serve you better next turn.
This is directly related to one of the other main tweaks to the formula in Story Missions and Side Missions, which is where G.I. Joe really starts to emulate the franchise. This is predominately due to two elements, but let's tackle the Missions format first. Story Missions are drawn when you complete them, and they are split into three major acts, each with its own finale, and you can choose from one of two main Story Packs. The first is The M.A.S.S. Device, which reimagines a classic G.I. Joe storyline and brings it to your tabletop, calling upon the Joes to stop Cobra from gaining elements needed for their laser device that could destroy cities in minutes.
The second Story Pack is Operation: Total Control, and this is an all-new story featuring Dr. Mindbender and an adventure that sees the Joes framed for an attack and suddenly on the run from the government as they are also trying to stop Cobra's plans. Both of these Story Packs embrace the G.I. Joe themes and feel like they fit within the universe through and through, and the missions themselves offer up enough challenge to keep you nimble in how you assemble your deck and your team overall. They also bring in additional Complications and Cobra Officers like Baroness, Destro, and more to spice up the game with additional challenges to overcome.
When recruiting for your team you need to consider the current mission requirements, as they will all require a different Skill to complete and a different difficulty to overcome. That said, you will also need to factor in Vehicles, the 2nd major element that sets G.I. Joe apart from so many others. You have to enlist a Vehicle from your Hangar to send on a Story Mission or Side Mission, and as you Recruit them from the lineup you will start to assemble an impressive fleet of ground, sea, and air vehicles. You have one vehicle that is always available, but the others offer greater benefits and buffs, so you'll need to be wise about which missions you send them on because once that's done they will need to cycle through your deck before you can use them again.
The Vehicles lend an authenticity to the game that G.I. Joe fans will appreciate, but they also introduce a bevy of options and tactical approaches to gameplay. A Ram for instance only seats 1 person, but it offers up a substantial Recon skill bonus as well as a ground vehicle bonus if the Mission you are undertaking is also on that terrain. That is perfect to take on a side mission, but depending on how your deck is constructed and your given hand, you could very well utilize those bonuses to take on a full Story Mission, and as your Hangar gains more vehicles, your options on any given turn increase 10 fold.
As the game continues things do get more complicated because of the Threat Meter, which moves up at least by one after each round, and as it moves into different colored areas the consequences after the round increase. You can move the Threat Meter back down by completing missions, so there is also extra incentive to go for a mission before you're 100% comfortable. You'll need to weigh that against the risk of failing a Story Mission however, as the consequences for that can be incredibly lethal. This introduces a welcome risk vs reward element into the game that kept me coming back for just one more turn.
Add in the additional Expert Mode cards and the ability of 2 player and Solo play and it's easy to see why the game packs quite a punch right out of the box. Now, there are a few things that perhaps could have used some additional levels of depth or just additional content. You have the ability to promote your G.I. Joe Leader throughout the game, and doing this is extremely beneficial as the skills are greatly increased. Unfortunately, you can only do this one time, and so afterwards you don't really have any other way of upgrading your Joes other than to just recruit more of them. Another way to upgrade your Leaders or up their Skill level would have been welcome because soon your Leaders just feel like everyone else aside from cards that give you some sort of bonus for having one start a Mission. Outside of that, a Story Pack would have also been welcome to increase replayability even further, but then again that's probably just greed talking since I thoroughly enjoyed what was already included.
There is also an expansion coming, but you don't even need that to have several blockbuster game nights with G.I. Joe The Deck-Building Game. Once again Renegade Game Studios delivers an experience that feels like a natural extension of the franchise while finding additional ways to freshen up the still tight and rewarding gameplay. Fans of the genre will have no issue getting up and running, and fans of G.I. Joe will discover a brand new way to enjoy their favorite franchise. If you happen to be a fan of both? Well, you're going to have an absolutely fabulous time.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
G.I. Joe The Deck-Building Game is available in stores and here on Amazon now.
Review copy provided by Renegade Game Studios.