In August of 2020 my Facebook targeted ads were chock full of colourful pictures of The Umbrella Academy game. As I’d just finished binging through season 2 of the Netfilx show, I’ll admit, I was interested. Something about the actual Kickstarter page failed to wow me though. As such, I was happy to let this one slide, safe in the conviction that if it turned out to be great, it would undoubtedly end up on the shelf of my local game store.
However, moments before the end of the campaign, my fiancée (a big fan of the comic books) told me she’d backed it. Hurrumble, I had no need to risk it myself, we would have a copy to play together anyway.
Now, as I didn’t back the game, I wasn’t getting the updates. I wasn’t aware that two weeks after the Kickstarter ended – after playtesters politely rinsed the designers on their shoddy cash grab – that the rules were overhauled. For that matter, I wasn’t aware of the update until after we’d played through the game twice and been utterly disappointed by its pedestrian nature.
Hang on, I got ahead of myself.
The Umbrella Academy Game is a co-operative, simple maths card game for 1-6 players, and features art from the comic book series by Gerard Way & Gabriel Bá. Players pick their preferred character from the dysfunctional superhero family, grab a life counter card, place a number of villains depending on player count, and draw a hand of cards from the hero attack deck. Once the board is set, flip the first villain over and lay out the number of villain attack cards shown.
Villain attack cards show an attack value (health), an amount of damage it deals if left unchecked, and some lovely artwork. If you’ve got the deluxe version of the game, you’ll have an entirely unnecessary board to put all these things on, with spaces that are labeled, but smaller than the cards that go on them, and not big enough to fit the number of attack cards for most villains you will encounter (which seems a weird design choice).
The hero attack cards in your hand are basically the same, but they replace the damage score with a heal value. The goal is to take turns placing cards from your hand so that your total attack beats the attack value of the villain attack. You have to fight each opponent left to right and if you get to the end of the round and haven’t beaten all of the villain’s attacks, you’ll have one chance to use your character’s unique powers. If that still doesn’t finish them off, you’ll have to divide up any damage amongst the players as you all see fit (rest assured, the first person to lose all their health and be out of the game is the real winner here).
On your turn you can choose to delay the sweet release of death, if you play a card for it’s heal value instead of it’s attack. However, bear in mind that at the end of this round, that attack is going to have to be dealt with so that heal better be worth it.
With the round over and damage divided, the villain retreats and the next one steps up. Time to draw some cards and see who’s next. Once all the villains have shown themselves and had a chance to chip away at your meager health, flip over villain deck and fight them all in one glorious boss rush round. Did I say glorious, I mean tedious and horribly unbalanced. In this final round, enemies will hit harder and need higher numbers to defeat, but gameplay is pretty much the same.
One thing I didn’t mention was dysfunctional family cards. These are flipped at the beginning of each round and attempt to add a little spice to the game. These may stop players from discussing their cards during the round, make a number bigger, or your health smaller. Many have the same effect, but with different art and card names. Either way not terribly exciting except when they end up killing a player who was just clinging on up until then.
The last thing to mention here is story cards. These are in the hero attack deck and also feature an attack value. However, rather than healing they offer bonuses such as boosting another card’s power at the cost of a life bar, restoring someone’s health to full, or letting you use your hero power twice.
Now it didn’t help that the original rule book is poorly written. It definitely didn’t help that some of the play guides you’ll find on YouTube seem to have completely misunderstood the rules, but worse than any of this: they rewrote the rules before the game was even delivered. Rather than doing the decent thing by their supporters and holding the game back while they printed new manuals and got them added to the box, or even just offering to post them out separately, they made them available as a download, which apparently a lot of people didn’t even realise.
The new rules do help balance the difficulty at different player counts and add a block function to combat (match rather than beat an attack to take half damage, but still clear the attack at the end of the round). Also rather than facing all of the villains you encountered during your game, you only face one at random and they use all the villain attack cards which you failed to overcome previously. Unfortunately this doesn’t save the game, it just makes it a little easier to swallow.
It’s incredible to me that the game was so untested that they didn’t seem to know how bland it was until two weeks after the Kickstarter campaign ended, by which time it was apparently too late to fix and had to fit within the already printed card designs. It’s a real shame as Umbrella Academy is a fascinating universe, it just wasn’t treated at all well by the designer. As it stands the greatest enjoyment I get from this game is asking my fiancée about all the different villains (my favourite is Zombie Robot Gustave Eiffel) though I think we’d both have got more enjoyment out of buying our own copies of the comic books instead of investing in this absolute travesty.
- Nice, clean art style
- Starts conversations about better Umbrella Academy media.
- Didn’t start the apocalypse
- Deluxe edition includes an unnecessary board that isn’t fit for purpose and 8 tokens that aren’t required for any aspect of play