I used to love watching Dragon Ball Z on Toonami. I used to love watching the melodrama play out as my favorite Z fighters grew in power after getting their asses kicked, all accompanied by the baritone smoothness of Steve Blum as TOM. Over time my DBZ fandom has waned quite a bit, but when the chance to play and review the new cooperative dice game designed by Chris Bryan called Dragon Ball Z: Perfect Cell I figured the game would probably end up being two great tastes (co-op board games and DBZ) that would taste great together. Power up, grab your dice, and prepare to duke it out with Cell.
First and foremost I need to say that I love what Dragon Ball Z: Perfect Cell does with its dice. Each die only has four different symbols that you can roll (attack, super attack, Dragon Ball, and assist), but very little of the game actually boils down to luck due to the number of options that you have once you've rolled your dice. Every player gets a chunky hand of five (or more) dice to roll on their turn, and there is never a time during the game where you can't spend all of your dice accomplishing something, even if you simply burn one die to re-roll the others. You will certainly have turns where you are hoping to roll certain results, but the game isn't about getting lucky, it's about the decisions that you make after the dice have been rolled, and that make the game a lot of fun.
Every round of the game starts with Cell revealing a number of techniques that he's going to use. Some of those techniques take effect immediately while others, like attacks against the players or cards that heal Cell, only happen at the end of his turn. Each of those technique cards shows which dice, or how many dice, need to be assigned to them in order to cancel that technique or prevent it from happening at the end of the round. If the players don't cancel a technique it stays in play into the next round. If you don't stay on top of things, Cell can quickly become incredibly powerful, so you need to work together as a team in order to keep things from spiraling out of control.
Not only do you have to contend with what Cell is going to do, but you have to manage to defeat him before he runs through his entire technique deck, so you constantly need to deal out damage, and keep the Z fighters healed and in the fight. Splitting your dice between dealing damage and countering techniques aren't your only options though. You can heal players or share assists with them, giving them even more options on their turn, or you can use them to buy power ups of your own that give you even more options with your dice. Dragon Ball results also be used to heal, but they are also used to fill up the Dragon Ball meter for a super-heal, or turned in for random Dragon Ball tokens that can be spent and then discarded later for even more options.
All told, you are never left hurting for things to do in Dragon Ball Z: Perfect Cell, and you are never left without options. Player turns play out very quickly, and the cooperative nature of the game means that every player is engaged even when it's not their turn. Even though you have numerous options on your turn, you are never going to burn your brain as you agonize over which option to take, which means that, for better or for worse, this game lands on the more casual end of the spectrum, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing, especially if you are looking for a lighter game, are newer to board gaming, or want to play with younger players.
Dragon Ball Z: Perfect Cell is quite a bit easier than I initially thought it was going to be based on the theme, but the lack of difficulty is my only real complaint about the mechanics of the game. This isn't a punishing cooperative game that you and your friends will beat your head against game after game until you finally conquer it one day. Instead, the game has a more relaxed feel to it than most other cooperative board games I've played. The difficulty is easy to adjust (there are three difficulty levels mentioned in the rules, and it's quite easy to tweak it even further to fit your tastes) but don't come into this game expecting it to be a major challenge if you are already a veteran cooperative board gamer.
A note on player count: I've played this game multiple times with every player count. The game plays best with 3 to 4 heroes, whether you are playing with that many players or not. It's just more fun to have more dice to roll, more characters to use, more characters to share dice with and more special powers to use. It can be played with a single hero, but it loses something when you only have a solitary hero to play with.
A note on “chrome”: The components in Dragon Ball Z: Perfect Cell are a mixed bag for me. The rules make learning the game easy, but there are a few misprints in the rulebook that confused me initially. The components themselves, especially the dice, are really well made, and everything fits into the Dragon Ball Z theme nicely. On the flip side, the odd shaped upgrade and Cell cards are a pain in the butt to shuffle, yet the Cell card shapes are thematic and the upgrade cards sit snugly at the bottom of the character sheets, so your mileage may vary, although be careful how you handle the upgrade cards. I've had them snag against one another multiple times, so you could easily tear one if you aren't being careful.
The bottom line:
Dragon Ball Z: Perfect Cell is quite a bit of fun even if it's a bit on the easy side. Even though it doesn't provide a brain-wracking challenge it's still engaging due to the fact that it gives its players so many options for their dice every turn. The more casual difficulty curve of the game coupled with the rapid play time (a full 4 player game usually clocks in under 30 minutes) means that this is a good choice for people who like lighter, quicker games, people who are looking for a filler game, younger players and people who are new to board gaming. The mechanics are super easy to learn and teach, and the fact that player choices run the game, not the luck of the dice, means that this is an excellent gateway game, and it would be a great introduction into the hobby for people who like Dragon Ball Z but aren't seasoned board gamers.
Get this game if:
You love Dragon Ball Z.
You like cooperative games, but tend to shy away from the more difficult games in the genre.
You are looking for a great game to use to introduce your friends to boardgaming, or to play with younger players.
Avoid this game if:
You prefer extremely difficult cooperative games.
You prefer competitive games.
You hate rolling dice, and nothing will ever change that.
The copy of Dragon Ball Z: Perfect Cell used for this review was provided by IDW Games.