GI Joe: Mission Critical is a board game that pulls off several impressive feats. It manages to adapt the spy thriller action of the source material to the table while making several franchise appropriate tweaks. In addition, it takes Jonathan Ying's Guardian system and makes some marked quality of life improvements. It does all of this while also being a fun board game in its own right.
How Do You Play GI Joe: Mission Critical?
GI Joe: Mission Critical is a cooperative turn-based area defense experience meant for 2-5 players. Each player picks a Joe, which has their own character card and combat deck. The game is broken up into two phases. Deployment is where enemy forces fill the map. This starts with simple footsoldiers then slowly escalates to lieutenants before ending with a villain being deployed. The second phase is Action where the players travel to different parts the map and fight these enemies. If the entire map is overwhelmed, the players lose. If the players defeat the Villain, they win.
As mentioned before, the very core of GI Joe: Mission Critical is similar to Power Rangers: Heroes of the Grid. In fact, you may get a sense of deja vu when you look through the contents of the box. Just about everything: deployment deck, location tiles, energy tokens, character cards are all present. And in the broadest strokes, the core gameplay is the same. The game even includes quick-start rules if this isn't your first time playing.
What Is New In GI Joe: Mission Critical?
But GI Joe: Mission Critical isn't just a reskin of a different game. There are several notable changes that help make the core gameplay both thematically appropriate and refreshing. First and foremost is the game's progression track and vehicle card deck. Every time you defeat a footsoldier, their miniature goes on to the track. If the track is full, a defeated footsoldier just goes back to the supply. At the start of each battle in the game, you shuffle up a deck full of vehicle cards, then draw three of them. These include certain GI Joe staples like the Vamp, the MOBAT, or the Skystriker XP-14F. If you want to use a vehicle card, you have to “spend” a certain number of footsoldiers on the track.
This adds a more tactical edge to a game of GI Joe: Mission Critical. Every single encounter with Cobra troopers isn't just a rush to leveling up like a game of Grid, but an exercise in resource management. Do you burn five troopers to use the Skystriker against a tough Cobra lieutenant or do you hold on to it? Do you cycle through lower cost vehicles in an attempt to get the best artillery ready for the final showdown with Cobra Commander? Either way, it leads to interesting decisions.
In addition, GI Joe: Mission Critical contains some streamlined set up options. The biggest one has to be the new Universal Deployment System. Rather than pulling out multiple deployment decks and associated location tiles, the Universal Deployment System streamlines it all to a single deck and a few tokens. Simply set aside two types of footsoldier, set up your location tiles, then place the corresponding tokens on those tiles. From there, shuffle up the deployment deck and draw. It makes a world of difference if you are playing multiple games and don't want to deal with too much clean up or set up.
It also helps illustrate another one of GI Joe: Mission Critical's biggest selling points: backwards compatibility. If you are heavily invested in Power Rangers: Heroes of the Grid and want to do a heroic crossover, the game has rules for that to happen. Some of the rules changes are mostly taxanomical: Rangers are now Heroes, Monsters are Lieutenants, etc., while others work out how zords work alongside the Joes' vehicles. Pair that with the Universal Deployment System and the Joes can be fighting anything from time-displaced criminals to dangerous space bounty hunters to someone trying to ruin Christmas.
I do have one minor critique of this mode. GI Joe: Mission Critical and Heroes of the Grid have different artstyles for their various cards. This means that putting monster and villain cards in the deployment deck can lead to a lack of surprise if you're doing it at random. The game's booklet actually suggests investing in card sleeves if you plan on doing crossover games, so keep it in mind before you start mixing and matching.
Finally, the game pieces in GI Joe: Mission Critical are packed with small but helpful changes. All cards in the game have a distinctly colored border, making set up a lot easier. Also, the game includes several small plastic bags for all of the different colored tokens. It's not as luxurious as a dedicated insert for pieces, but it is still a bit of convenience.
How Do The New Heroes and Villains Play In GI Joe: Mission Critical?
As for the premiere of the heroes and villains of GI Joe: Mission Critical, they make the transition really well. Duke is the leader with cards based on bonus dice and rerolls. Scarlett is all about tactical deck manipulation and attacks that ignore guard. Stalker is the defender with multiple star effects that both damage enemies and generate energy. Snake Eyes leans into solo ninja action. Most of his attacks like Mikimoto Blade and Arashikage Mindset have very little damage dice but an hit multiple targets. This can be devastating when paired with his character ability, which adds bonus attack dice to all attacks until someone else attacks. Cover Girl is all about using Vehicles to her advantage. She can deal damage equal to its cost with Explosive Payload, spend them for some last minute defense with Armored Advance, and her character ability gives you a discount on buying vehicles.
As for the villainous Cobra, there is some novelty as well. Major Bludd is a straightforward team bruiser. Dr. Mindbender is all about draining energy and defense. Copperhead is pure artillery with high damage attacks aimed at key targets. Baroness is a Nemesis enemy packed with hand destroying effects and instakill conditions. Finally, Cobra Commander's deck is packed with high damage cards based on all available footsoldiers on the board. Each playstyle perfectly embodies the personality and cruelty of each member of Cobra High Command.
The GI Joe: Mission Critical Heavy Firepower Expansion
As part of the Kickstarter campaign for GI Joe: Mission Critical, an additional small box expansion was released. The Heavy Firepower Expansion includes three new Joes: Roadblock, Bombstrike, and Gung Ho, three new vehicle cards, as well as Cobra lieutenant Scrap Iron and villain Destro.
Overall, the Heavy Firepower Expansion provides exactly what the name implies . Roadblock is an assault powerhouse that can melt bosses in the right circumstances. Bombstrike is pure crowd control with cards that can instantly take down footsoldiers. And Gung Ho is packed with survivability, both thanks to cards with star effects as well as abilities that bring cards back from the discard pile.
Alternatively, the new Cobra villains bring some devastating spice to games. Scrap Iron punches through defenses with cards that either destroy or reduce the shield value of cards. As for Destro, he's a more aggressie final challenge compared to Cobra Commander. His attack cards become stronger the more damaged he is, which combines horrifically with his Illicit Weapons Dealer passive, which deals damage every time you attack. If you're going to survive these challenges, you might want to invest in defense.
Should I Buy GI Joe: Mission Critical?
If you've been waiting for a board game experience that fully embodies the style and personality of the enduring toy line turned spy thriller franchise, I highly recommend GI Joe: Mission Critical. In addition, if you're a fan of Power Rangers: Heroes of the Grid and want some extra convenience and gameplay variety, then GI Joe: Mission Critical has them in spades. Now you know, and knowing's half the battle.
The copy of GI Joe: Mission Critical and the Heavy Firepower Expansion used in this review was provided by the publisher.