Enter VENOM Assault, a new Kickstarter game that just launched its campaign three days ago. VENOM Assault, for all intents and purposes, is GI Joe. Sure, they can’t say it, but I can, and I will. I have played VENOM Assault, and I’m pleased to say that, if you’ve ever craved a game that recaptures the bombastic fun of our favorite 80s cartoons of old, look no farther.
This article will sum up my impressions of the game, but you can click here to check out the game’s Kickstarter page.
Note: I am not being paid or incentivized to endorse this game in any way. I had the opportunity to play it at a FLGS when the creators were showing it around, and I enjoyed it enough to write this article about it. If you like what you read here, please consider backing the game on Kickstarter.
What is it?
VENOM Assault is an 80’s cartoon-inspired cooperative deck building game for 1-5 players, ages 14 and up. You and your fellow tacticians will aid Freedom Squadron by recruiting the best and brightest soldiers to join your team. Your multinational force has one purpose: Defeat VENOM before they unleash havoc upon the world. You’ll need to assemble the most elite personnel and vehicles before you battle the forces of evil using a unique dice-based combat system. Finally, once your decks have been assembled, you are ready to take the fight to VENOM before their sinister plan is completed!VENOM Assault Kickstarter Description
As the above description notes, VENOM Assault is a co-operative deck-building game, for 1-5 players. It’s a story-based game that’s heavily immersed in its 80s action hero theme. Because of it’s co-operative nature, it does well to rekindle the 80s cartoon feeling of the “good guys” working together to defeat the “bad guys,” in this case, the sinister VENOM.
Here’s how the game works:
Every Game a Different Mission
The “mission” is determined by a card that is chosen by the players, which gives certain conditions on how to win that particular game. I only got to play one of the scenarios, but you might have to bring down various VENOM leaders, secure a special location on the board, or recover special reward cards (by, again, defeating VENOM leaders). Each scenario was vastly different, and they come in several difficulties. This reminded me strongly of Lord of the Rings: The Card Game (check out our review here), which uses “scenarios” in a similar fashion to deliver a story-based, co-operative experience that’s variable with every play. For LOTR:LCG, this has increased its longevity by several orders of magnitude, as expansionary scenarios are cheap and add hours of new, fresh gameplay variety.
The Turn Structure
The point, then, of VENOM Assault is to complete your mission. Once that’s established, you’ll go into the regular game rounds. Each round begins with the drawing of an “event card.” These cards will add some kind of positive or negative effect to the game, either helping the progress of our heroes, or advancing the evil agenda of VENOM. It’s also possible to get a card where “all is quiet,” where no events happen for that round. If a “VENOM Strikes!” card is drawn, then VENOM moves up a notch on its agenda, and if it reaches the end, it’s game over.
After that, players take turns in a clockwise direction, and the turn structure is as follows:
-Recruit Freedom Squadron Members
-Challenge a VENOM Leader
What’s In Your Hand
Your hand is made up of various “Freedom Squadron” members, and is drawn from a deck. If you want a comparison to how this works, think Dominion. Your hand starts off very small (only ten cards if I remember correctly) and is made up of generic units. The top five cards in your draw pile will form your hand on your turn. The cool thing about VENOM Assault is that all of your cards work together as a team on each turn, so you’ll be using your whole hand every time.
Every Freedom Squadron member has their own special bonuses that determine how well they will do in battle. There is a great variety of effects, which means that assembling your deck can be a highly strategic and rewarding experience. For example, certain characters might have special bonuses depending on which geographical area they fight in (each battle takes place in a different type of “terrain”), so building a team of aqua-fighters will do well to obliterate any VENOM leaders operating in the seas.
Other characters might have strong offensive bonuses, or strong support powers to help the rest of the team. The combat (more on that in a moment) is dice based, so there are also various abilities that will help to mitigate the inherent luck factor in your dice rolling. You can add more dice, increase your hit odds, and so on. While your team starts off with basic generic units, the game can get highly exciting when you start building a synergistic team whose abilities stack up in satisfying ways.
Recruit Freedom Squadron Members
Once you’ve drawn your hands, you can recruit new members to your team. Newly recruited members go to your deck, so they can’t be used the turn that they’re recruited. Your hand will determine how many spending points you have, and if you have enough, you can even buy multiple members!
The fun part about recruiting members was seeing the huge variety in different characters. There is a boatload of “unique” character cards that each represent a specific Freedom Squadron hero, and this is where it begins to feel a lot like GI Joe. Do you want General Steel, the hunky, gun-toting general who runs in guns blazing, or do you want Tundra, the deadly woman who operates in the snow? Alternatively, you could beef up your arsenal by choosing vehicles such as “The Warmaker” that can add substantial firepower to your team.
Building up your deck looks to be one of the best parts of VENOM Assault, and after doing just a little bit of it, I was left craving more.
Challenge a VENOM Leader
This is what it all comes down to. You and your team can choose any VENOM leader on the board, and challenge them to battle. The leader that you choose to fight will depend on your mission. For some missions, it might be more strategically viable to target leaders in certain geographic areas of the board, while others might just demand that you wipe out as many as possible.
In any case, once you’ve chosen your opponent, you’ll assign a combat leader to your squad. Almost any card can operate as the “leader” for that turn, and many cards have special “leader abilities” that only work if they’re the head honcho.
Once you’ve picked your enemy, it’s your team vs the enemy’s team, as most VENOM leaders have a few of their own cronies that fight with them, just like you do. To win a battle, you have to roll ___ number of dice that have a result of ___ or more. The blank spaces are determined by the cards. As seen in this example image, this particular battle demands TWO dice to have a result of SEVEN or more. It is, of course, impossible to roll a 7 on a 6 sided die, meaning that, to win this battle, you’ll have to have units on your team that can augment your die results. In this example, the 5 and 7 succeed, due to the Warmaker’s special ability.
Spoils of War
You’ll either win your battle, or you’ll lose it (go figure). Should you win, the VENOM Leader will most likely have a special reward card waiting for you. This reward card might grant you a special bonus, or apply universal bonuses to all players.
Should you lose, you’ll discard all your cards in play (which you’ll do anyway even if you win), and you have the opportunity to trash one of your cards, if you wish to refine your deck. I like this, because it gives you the option to form a “lean” deck, which is fun for people who enjoy deckbuilding.
The game continues, with the next players taking their turns as outlined in these points. Once every player has taken their turns, a new round begins, and the game continues as so until one side or the other has one.
Finally, if the game is won, one player can optionally be declared “winner” if they contributed the most to the victory. Naturally, being a co-operative game, everybody wins if there’s a victory. However, some people still like to have that competitive edge, so the game provides a way to calculate points based on performance. This is fun, because it allows the game to be both competitive and co-operative. This is another element that I enjoyed in The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game. Ironically, the creators of VENOM Assault told me that they had no experience with LOTR. Nevertheless, I think it’s a great mechanic that has a place in any co-operative game.
Why I liked VENOM Assault
VENOM Assault at once felt familiar, and yet entirely new. I don’t think any of VENOM Assault’s ideas are new or original on their own, but I’ve never seen said ideas combined together like they are in this game, and that made the game feel like something new and fresh. In a time where games are becoming ever more popular, it can be hard to find experiences that feel unique or original.
In VENOM Assault, you’ve got the deckbuilding that’s reminiscent of Dominion, but with the co-operative mechanics and storytelling structure of Lord of the Rings: The Card Game, combined with the grandiose world-saving spectacle and physical board space of Pandemic. Maybe there’s a game out there that’s already like VENOM Assault, but if I asked you to name a game that combines Dominion, LOTR:LCG, and Pandemic off the top of your head, I doubt you’d be able to name something.
I really like games that have a sense of meaningful progression. I like games that culminate into “big” moments. It’s so unsatisfying when you end an economic game without having a strong engine, or finishing out a long conflict game without any significant or noteworthy battles. I love games that make you feel more powerful as the game goes on, and VENOM has that in spades.
As you add more and more unique characters to your team, their abilities can start comboing off one another in all kinds of ways, and before you know it, you might be rolling twenty dice in one turn. The progression in this game feels immensely satisfying.
Highly Variable and Replayable
VENOM Assault has absurd potential for replayability. For starters, there are the missions. The game comes with plenty of missions that all have different requirements, and even better, different difficulties. You can play easy ones, or you can go all-in and try the most challenging scenarios. Failing will only inspire you to try again, and success will bring great satisfaction. I honestly believe the game would have pretty good legs if it only had one mission, but with the eleven missions the game includes, it can last a good long while on the virtue of that alone.
However, it’s not just the missions that add variety. The event deck will play out differently every game, meaning that the pacing of each mission will never be the same, and special variables present in one game might not be in the next. This means that, even if you’re playing a mission you’ve already played before, it has the potential to be a completely fresh experience.
Finally, there’s the matter of the VENOM Leaders and your own deck. As far as I recall, most, if not all of the VENOM Leaders are distributed randomly on the board, meaning that you’ll be facing different opponents in different areas every game, regardless of the mission. Then there’s your own draw pile, which will spit out different recruitable heroes every match. So, you formed the perfect Freedom Squadron team in one game? Too bad, because you’ll have to form a new one next time. This ensures that every game will be different, and that players won’t just get comfortable with a “one size fits all” deck.
Top Notch Theming and Artwork
If there’s one thing to be said about the creators of VENOM Assault, it’s that they know how to make a kick-ass thematic experience. If you enjoy thematic games, you will definitely appreciate VENOM Assault. I feel like gameplay mechanics are well represented through the theme. I recall, for example, fighting some evil professor type villain who wasn’t very strong on his own, but had a legion of cohorts to fight for him, which seemed appropriate. Recruiting characters is akin to “persuading” them to join the team, so characters likely to be more charismatic have more recruitment ability. Other characters excel in special geographic environments. I found that I really enjoyed the theming here as represented in the game mechanics.
Let’s forget about mechanics for a second, and talk about that artwork. I love VENOM Assault’s artwork, because it just feels so right. Aren’t we all a little nostalgic about the 80s action hero cartoon style that we used to get? Even modern works that embrace this art style (such as Marvel comics) do it in such a way that feels more contemporary and stylized. VENOM Assault just feels like the GI Joe game we’ve never gotten. While I never got HUGELY into GI Joe, I could see almost every character I drew fitting right into the TV show. In fact, I loved looking at these characters so much that I wanted the creators then and there to give me their detailed backstory. There’s the obligatory ninja whose armor shifts in color, mimicking oil in water. There’s the bulky action hero men, and the headstrong heroic women. I recall one underwater woman character who sported a SCUBA diving suit, and she looked like she could kick my butt in a fight any day of the week.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that VENOM Assault doesn’t feel like a ripoff of GI Joe. It doesn’t feel like some poor man’s version. VENOM Assault feels like it is GI Joe, and seems like the type of spiritual successor you’d see if the brand were to die and be unable to come back from copyright complications. The artwork is fun to look at and adds a LOT of personality to this game. This is due in no small part to the game’s main artist, who has done work for Marvel in the past.
GI Joe, of course, is alive and well, but VENOM Assault does an extraordinary job at mimicking it, and translating it into a fun, modern designer game. I want to say right now that I won’t just recommend any Kickstarter game, but to be honest, I very much enjoyed what little I played of VENOM Assault, I would love to see the game get funded. Once again, check out its Kickstarter page here if you want to read more.