So, hypothetically speaking, who would win in a fight: Goku or Superman? Or Hulk versus The Thing? If you’re like me, I dreamed up these kinds of battles as a kid and so did the folks over at Rooster Teeth, who have built a successful web series around this idea. So how well does this translate into a tabletop experience? Let’s enter the arena and find out who will be the victor!
Death Battle! is designed by Brian Reilly and published by Rooster Teeth. This 2-player dice chucker is for ages 10+ and lasts around 30 minutes.
The goal of Death Battle! is to be the last combatant standing. Games will last anywhere between 3 and 5 rounds, each round consisting of three phases: arming, defense, and combat. Whoever bests their opponent three times by eliminating their armor is the winner.
During the arming phase, players will play an armor card. This determines who will go first (has initiative) for the rest of the round, as well as what dice players will be able to take from opponents during the defense phase. Players will also take turns playing weapons and skills cards. These cards will ultimately determine what players will have in their arsenal for the round.
During the defense phase, players will get the chance to remove some of their opponent’s dice based on their personal armor value. For example, if my armor shows 2 red shields and 1 green shield, I can remove those from my opponent. They might also be able to pump up their armor depending on if they have a certain die in their combo.
Lastly, the combat phase, where players start chucking dice, using any of their special abilities and things they can do to break through their opponent’s defense. Whoever gets the most hits wins that round. The loser discards their armor and a new round starts.
There are a couple of other ways to play the game outlined in the rules, but those require additional copies of the game so we’ll just focus on what you can do with your single purchase.
I have to admit before I agreed to review this game, I had to learn what Death Battle was. I had never seen it before but I was aware of Rooster Teeth from my college days of watching Red Versus Blue. Let me tell you, the web series is so entertaining and fun to watch. That at least had me excited and hopeful about what parts of that experience would be put into this game. And unfortunately, not much of it was.
One of the most entertaining factors of the series is that people get to see characters they are familiar with battling each other. Godzilla, Akira, Batman—yet whoever you’re thinking might be here, isn’t. I don’t fault Rooster Teeth for that; for what this game is, adding familiar IPs would’ve made it a difficult sell. I don’t know about you, but I’m not paying $50 for a dice game.
Instead, you’ll find the designers opted for using different genre tropes—such as anime, games, and comics—to generate aspects of characters you’ll build randomly from the cards drawn. The idea works well enough, but you’re not going to have the same kind of excitement and attachment to seeing characters battling. It feels almost hollow when you see the derivative art of Doomguy or some anime character. What you create ends up being a hodgepodge of “stats” to get the most dice.
If how I explained the game earlier seemed clear and made sense, you’re welcome. Because the rule book will not give you this same courtesy. I reached out to the designer to get some of these clarifications just so I could play the game. There is a lot left up to interpretation, inconsistencies, and contradictions. It reads more like an unedited working document than a proofed and published rulebook. This is my biggest complaint about this game. It’s unplayable because of this barrier. Well, unplayable as it was designed.
But supposing this wasn’t an issue, the game itself leaves something to be desired. What you’re left playing feels random and limiting in what you’re able to accomplish with the cards dealt to you. Sure, there are occasional cards that let you swap out junk ones or exchange cards with your opponent to get yourself more dice. This limitation of the strategy was most apparent for me with the armor cards, the backbone of the game.
If a player had been dealt crappy cards, this reduced in my mind their chances of winning. Having initiative always gives you extra dice and first dibs on playing cards, which means it’s easier for you to hate draft since there’s not an even distribution of dice available. This doesn’t mean you can’t win if you don’t have initiative; I just found it to be an uphill battle at times that depended even more on the other cards on your hand, which you’re limited on cycling out for better ones. I just didn’t find the game capturing the fun of what I enjoy about the web series, which I think others will agree was a lost opportunity.
So what’s to enjoy about the game? The dice are nice and fat, easy to pick up and roll. They have a nice feel to them. The top and bottom of the box are deep enough to be used to throw the dice in, which makes it a little easier to play on a smaller play space. Death Battle also plays in its estimated 30 minute time frame so it at least doesn’t overstay its welcome.
I really wanted to like Death Battle. Truly. I think the web series is great for some mindless, nerdy entertainment. Those types of games definitely have their place in my collection. Unfortunately, for all that you might like about the series, you’ll be disappointed to not find an equally enjoyable and fun experience here. Hampered by an unclear rulebook, I can’t recommend picking this up.
Final Score: 1 Stars – Based on a promising web series, it fails to deliver the same fun in tabletop form.
• The dice quality is nice.
• Plays in its estimated time
• Playing the game as designed is flawed by a rulebook that needs to be completely rewritten.
• No IP = less satisfying character fights
• Getting initiative random and gives an advantage that can be frustrating to overcome
• Game lacks the fun that the web series has