Late last year, IDW Games announced a partnership with Toei Animation that will result in a number of different card and board games being released with the Dragon Ball Z intellectual property as the theme. This March, the first of those games will be hitting the shelves – a cooperative dice game, Dragon Ball Z: Perfect Cell. As a complete newbie to Dragon Ball Z (DBZ), but a lover of co-operative games, I was intrigued to give this IP-themed game a shot. Armed with my best friend Fiona and her husband Dan, massive DBZ fans, I felt like I could give this game a good shake and see what sort of fun it could be from both sides. Curious about how designer Chris Bryan ended up designing this game, I chatted with him and I’ll give you some of those insights in this preview, too. To start with, he had quite a lot of personal love of Dragon Ball to go from, as he grew up watching the show – “I owned 50 or 60 DBZ VHS tapes. DBZ was my first exposure to anime which led me to being president of my high school’s anime club. After graduating from college with a degree in film production, my first industry job was at FUNimation and I wound up working on the digital remaster of DBZ for Blu Ray.”
In the end, Chris’ history with, and love of, the DBZ IP landed him in a perfect spot to be the designer of this game – a developer at IDW was asking around about game designers who were also fans of DBZ, as they’d acquired the license and were “looking for a fan to design a dice game for them. I was like “uhhhh… Well…. Me?”” IDW were familiar with some of Chris’ prototypes, so they were confident in him in that regard, and once he told them told him about his history being a fan of and working on the show, “I pitched them my idea for the game and they drew up the contract.” A pretty happy coincidence for a mega-fan like Chris. It certainly shows through in the game itself, even to a newbie like me. My friends weren’t sure about a couple of the character decisions but were overall pretty impressed with how the game integrated the show’s story and characters.
The premise of the game situates players as Z-Fighters, pitted against Cell – a massively powerful enemy they must band together to take down. Each character has a set of dice and can use those just like other players, in addition to having a particular special power of their own they can activate or that is a start of game bonus, or perhaps just a passive bonus for the whole game. While the game plays up to 4, there’s enough characters to select from that you could have a different mix for your team each game, which is a nice touch – and Fiona and Dan were definitely keen on picking their favourites. Seems like there’s plenty of Z-Fighters out there to choose from in the IP, I guess! Who’s Chris’ favourite to play, though? “Goku. I think it comes from the fact I designed the game, but I really enjoy watching other players have huge turns that feel very satisfying. So since Goku’s power is that he can share any dice with other players, it lets me aide in creating those huge gameplay moments.”
It’s not just a great range of characters to choose from, either. Chris knows his stuff and has all the right moves – so during the game, you can add character upgrades below your player mat that give you passive abilities, fighting moves and other sorts of abilities to use your dice for. None of the names of them made sense to me, but Fiona and Dan were delighted every time a new one was turned up – I definitely saw their helpfulness game-wise, though. These moves and dice help your team to stay upright and pack a punch to Cell when it really counts. On your turn, you can roll and use your dice to charge the Dragon Ball meter (aiming for healing the team), share assist dice for your fellow players to use on their turn, or attack Cell to take him down a notch – not to mention there’s a whole other level of trying to keep on top of Cell’s threats before he has his turn.
My pals explained to me that each arc of the show deals with a particular baddie, Cell being one of them from one or two arcs. I was curious what Chris’ favourite arcs of the show were, because DBZ seems so epic. “That’s a really hard question. If I have to pick, it’s probably the Trunks Saga. The Frieza Saga and Vegeta Saga are probably the BEST sagas, but Trunks was my favorite character growing up, so there was a lot of repeat viewing of that saga in my household. It holds a special nostalgic place in my heart.” IDW are set to make a number of DBZ games, so it seems like this is rich fodder for them to make each one a little different, not to mention the variety of game types they could choose.
How did Chris go about translating the epic fights of Dragon Ball Z into this cooperative game? “Getting to play in that world and figure out ways to attach game mechanisms to the thematic elements was awesome. Going in to this, I had never designed a game theme first, I had never designed a co-operative game, and I had never designed a dice game, so it could have gone very wrong, haha. Luckily it turned out to be a fun sort of challenge instead of a disaster.” And in this game, the major challenge it is to get Cell and his threats out of the way. To start with, players are faced with 4 threats – a variety of things from straight up damage to fighters, to Cell healing, or prohibiting the way players can use or share dice – and all these threats have places for players to put their dice and cancel the threat out, collectively. Sounds simple? Well, Cell is tricky to keep on top of – threats need to be approached strategically to make sure players are taking care of some each round before Cell’s turn comes up, while managing the rest of their abilities. Not to mention the fact that no matter how many threats you manage to quash, there will always be a number of new threats coming out (equal to the number of players, so it balances well, and it is still tough).
I think if you’re not super familiar with the DBZ IP, the game is still solid – plus, the rules were really simple to go over and you can be playing in about 5-10 minutes after busting open the shrink. The way the game manages rounds – each player taking a turn and a variety of actions based on dice and powers, then Cell firing off automatically with his threats – is smooth and straight forward. The game is fairly tough to beat though, so you really need to be communicating with your fellow players on everyone’s round to make sure there’s a plan of attack – and the more games of it you play, the better you’ll understand an approach that will work. The game scales nicely from 2 – 4 players with the board being marked with the differences in the amount of dice you need to fire things off – you could technically play solo, but you’d basically be playing a number of characters on your own to make it work.
It seems like the IP is translated super well to this game’s format, and I asked Chris if he would developing more DBZ games, and what will those cover/what format they’d have – “As long as they want me designing for this IP, I will happily be on board. I’m not sure what any future games would cover” – but considering IDW’s plan to have a number of DBZ games, it sounds like they’re onto something with an ultra fan like Chris. And don’t worry, he’s got plenty of ideas for IP games he’d love to get his teeth into – “there are a lot of other anime I would love to get to play around with, Akira, Cowboy Bebop, Ghost in the Shell, Neon Genesis Evangelion, Naruto, or pretty much anything by Miyazaki. I grew up on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, X-Men, and Transformers, so I would love to get to put my stamp in those worlds. Blade Runner, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Avatar the Last Airbender… the list really does go on forever” – keep him on speed dial, publishers!
Dragon Ball Z: Perfect Cell is published by IDW Games – thanks for sending us a copy to fight, pals! Designed by Chris Bryan, it is a cooperative game that plays 1 – 4 players, in approximately 30 minutes.