Full disclosure: A review copy of Dragon Ball Z: Perfect Cell was provided by IDW Games.
I’m just going to own it and say I was super excited when I heard this game got announced. I grew up watching Dragon Ball Z, I have friends who are still into it and we watched all of Dragon Ball Super serially and were super sad when it ended.
There. That’s out of my system.
As you might imagine, I was pretty stoked to get to check out an actual licensed game set in this universe, and here we are. IDW has done a bunch of licensed games (several of which I’ve reviewed) and they recently partnered with Toei Animation to release several Dragon Ball Z board games, which I’m enthused about. In Dragon Ball Z: Perfect Cell, you play as one of the Z-Fighters fighting against Cell, an … android from the future (he’s actually an android unlike some of the other cyborgs, but that’s an argument for another time) who came back in time to just beat up some dudes, I guess. As one does. Will you be able to stop Cell before he destroys the world?
Alright, well, the easiest thing to do is to set up the Cell Board:
That goes in the center. There should be a token that looks kinda like Cell; that’s his Health Tracker. Place that on 70. Nearby, you should shuffle up the Threat Cards:
Place those near the board. While you’re shuffling, shuffle up the Power Up cards:
Place three face-up under the board. Also, mix around the Dragon Ball Tokens, Dragon Ball side up:
Set those aside. Now, give each player a character:
Give them Health Tokens (Senzu Beans) equal to their starting health:
And let them choose 5 dice of the same color:
Choose a player to go first, and you’re basically ready to start!
Alright, so your goal, here, is to defeat Cell! This happens immediately if you drop him to 0 Health. He wins if he KO’s all of you or if you waste too much time and run out of Threats in the Threat Deck.
So, each round has three parts, and I’ll go through them in sequence.
At the beginning of every round (including the first one), Cell will reveal some threats. Reveal X threats, where X is the number of players in the game. Add them to the left side of the Cell Board. If there aren’t enough spots, well, hope you’ve got some more room on the table.
Note that revealed threats don’t activate until Cell’s turn. That’s just to show you whatcha gotta deal with this round.
Now, every player gets a turn, in turn order. You can do many things, from attack to assist to try and assemble the Dragon Balls to wish for your health back (as one does). Here’s a quick run down of what everything does:
Attack does 1 damage to Cell, and you symbolize that by placing the die on Cell’s Damage Track and reducing Cell’s Health by 1.
Super Attack does 2 damage to Cell, and you again place the die on Cell’s Damage Track and reduce Cell’s Health by 2.
Assist lets you do one of several different things:
- You may pass this die to another player who can use it as though it were their die on their turn;
- You may collect a few Assists and use them to purchase Power Up Cards by paying the cost in Assist dice. You may only have three Power Up Cards active on your character at a time, but you may discard old ones to gain new ones;
- You may spend an Assist to regain 1 Health Token.
One last thing about Power Up Cards. You may use them as soon as you buy them, and you may use them as many times in a turn as you have dice to pay for them, unless otherwise stated. If they perform an attack, place the used dice on Cell’s Damage Track, as usual.
Dragon Balls, similarly, do a few different things:
- You may trade a Dragon Ball die in for a Dragon Ball Token, which can be used as a regular attack, super attack, or any die face, depending on what’s on the token;
- You may spend a Dragon Ball die to regain 1 Health Token;
- You may add the Dragon Ball die to the Dragon Ball Radar in the bottom right of the board. If you have covered all the spots (including the ones with 2’s on them if you’re at 2 players or the ones with 3’s on them if you’re at 3+ players), you may summon the Dragon after Cell’s turn. That matters.
Once you’ve rolled, you might be filled with regret. Unlike, say, BANG! The Dice Game and other dice games, you cannot reroll for free. Tough luck. Instead, you may remove one of your dice (until the next round) to reroll any of your remaining dice. You may do this as many times as you have dice to burn.
You may also seek to neutralize some of Cell’s Threats before he can mess you up with them. Simply put a die of a matching symbol there. There are three types of threats:
- If it shows a symbol, place a die with that symbol there.
- If it shows outlined boxes with no line connecting them, all the boxes must contain a different symbol.
- If it shows outlined boxes with a line connecting them, once a symbol is added to those boxes, the other boxes must have the same symbol placed in them.
Once you place a die on a Threat card or on the Dragon Ball Radar, it’s stuck there until it gets completed. If you don’t like that, well, you can also burn a die to retrieve any number of dice from those two areas (including dice that aren’t even yours!) and return them to their owners.
If you’ve ever lost all your health (you have no more Senzu Bean tokens), you are KO’d. You cannot be healed normally, but you can still play. You just have a few extra rules:
- Any Dragon Balls you roll are immediately added to the Dragon Ball Radar;
- You can only share Assists, now.
- You cannot spend attacks, reroll dice, or use Power Up Cards.
Bummer. Try to not die.
Speaking of dying, let’s talk about Cell’s Damage Track:
Cell’s Damage Track includes spaces where you can place dice when you deal damage. If you fill out a row on the Damage Track, you deal bonus damage to Cell. Note that filling out a row has different requirements, based on player count:
- 1 player: You only need to fill out the yellow circles.
- 2 players: You only need to fill out the yellow and blue (contains a 2) circles.
- 3+ players: You need to fill out all of the circles. Good luck!
Once all players have taken their turns, it’s Cell’s turn to attack.
So, during Cell’s turn, he does a few things in order:
- Discard all cancelled threats. Any Threat Cards that were completely filled out on the Z-Fighters’ turns are discarded. They will be replaced at the start of next round, not now. Return dice on discarded Threat Cards to their owners.
- Activate threats. Any remaining Threat Cards are now activated. Some will do damage to all Z-Fighters, some will be effects that reduce the damage Cell takes or make passing certain dice types impossible, and others will let Cell heal, because he can regenerate and that’s a hack. Note that he cannot regenerate beyond his starting health, in case you were worried.
- Check the Dragon Ball Radar. If the Dragon Ball Radar is completely full, the Z-Fighters summon Shenron and wish for their allies to be brought back to life, which is about as legal as an enemy who can regenerate, so, it all checks out. Any KO’d player comes back into play, and all players are returned to full health. The dice on the Dragon Ball Radar are returned to their owners. If the Dragon Ball Radar is not full, the dice stay there.
A new round begins! At this point, play continues until one of three things happens:
- Cell’s health is reduced to 0.
- The Z-Fighters are all KO’d.
- The Threat Deck runs out of cards and you need to draw new ones.
In the first case, the players win! In the second and third cases, the players lose!
If you’d like some game-suggested variants, here are a few:
- Easy Mode: Cell starts at 50 Health and cannot gain Health above 50.
- Challenge Mode: Before the game starts, remove one Threat Card from the game for each player in the game. That reduces your time to beat Cell.
- Impossible(?) Mode: Before the game starts, remove two Threat Cards from the game for each player in the game. At high player counts, that’s going to cause you a lot of problems, but at lower player counts it might be doable.
Got any other variants? Let me know in the comments!
Player Count Differences
The main difference at certain player counts is the ability to focus on issues. At higher player counts, you’re drawing more threats, but the number of dice you have available increases, as well, plus your expected number of certain dice faces increases, too, as a function of just … probability. This means it’s easier to get things done at higher player counts, but you have less time to do them. That said, if you can make it work, it usually does. I think the advantage of higher player counts here is that you also can line up some fun combos since you have so many extra dice. It really is pretty handy. I’d say instead of playing solo, just play with three characters and control all of them. The cognitive load isn’t too bad to manage. Two is fine, three is pretty fun, and four is hectic, so pick the level of intensity that you feel like you’ll enjoy most. I’m fine with any of them, personally.
- Piccolo’s ability is really good. He can just … set one die to be a certain face every turn. This means if you’re having trouble getting those pesky Dragon Balls to come up so you can take out a threat, Piccolo’s got your back. If he’s trying to set up a super move, well, he can do that as long as he rolls decently well. Piccolo’s just really good to have in games.
- Weirdly enough, Krillin is also really useful? Krillin is the king of setting up combos. I played one game where I used Krillin to buy a bunch of Power Up Cards for another player, and then had Piccolo set them up, and on their turn I dealt 30+ damage to Cell. Sure, in Dragon Ball Super he doesn’t do much more than yell people’s names and occasionally distribute Senzu Beans, but he’s got a lot to do in this game, especially for players that enjoy an assist role in cooperative games, rather than a direct one.
- Weirdly enough, also, I’d kind of recommend avoiding Goku? His ability is almost specifically nerfed by a few of Cell’s Threat Cards, which kind of makes it not super worth using him. That means you can just ignore the Threats when they come up, unless you really want to neutralize them. We’ve been doing that a few times now and it’s worked out pretty well.
- Go for the Damage Bonuses. They stack up pretty well, honestly. You can do a lot in a few turns, and you’ll need to if you want to eat through all 70 of Cell’s Health, which is a lot.
- Keep an eye on your health. You really don’t want to get KO’d. Rolling Dragon Balls is pretty difficult.
- Sometimes you’re gonna have to just go for the finisher. It may not be worth letting Cell have another round to attack you; you might just need to buckle down and give Cell everything you’ve got if you want to win. Other times Cell will have two health and you’ll deal 40+ damage in a turn to just punch the poor dude into the ground. Whatever works.
- The “Use X as Y” Power Ups are really useful. Remember, the things they let you modify are on 2 of the 6 dice faces (usually Regular Attacks and Assists). If you get even one of those Power Up Cards, you’ve now tripled the probability of rolling a Super Attack on any given die, basically. Get that + Super Kamehameha and you’re effectively golden. If you manage to get both Power Up Cards? You’re unstoppable, on your turn. Every other player should just roll Assists and pass them to you, if they can. Just be careful that you know the difference between “You CAN use X and Y” and “Treat X as Y”.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- The combo potential is a lot of fun. Just getting the right turn set up to absolutely wail on Cell is a really great feeling, and it’s fun for all players, even if you’re not the one landing the big hit.
- It understands the source material well and leans into it in the right way. Dragon Ball Z is all about overpowering bad guys through an overwhelming amount of force, and you can do that, here. It’s got the right spirit and it clearly understands where its source material is coming from, and I respect that a lot. It’s part of why I like IDW’s The Legend of Korra: Pro-Bending Arena so much, too — there’s an effort put into making sure the game fits the license and isn’t slapped on, and I appreciate that.
- Seems pretty easy to expand. I mean, nobody really wants to play as Yamcha and I get that, I do, but I could see an additional difficulty variant being the Cell Jr.s, or you could add in more playable characters like Android 16, Hercule, or Tien. Or, I mean, SS2 Gohan, but that might be a “makes the game easier” character. Dunno, just spitballing ideas. You could even update it and reimplement it to be a Tournament of Power game where you fight Jiren and then you have a whole host of new characters. Additional Power Up Cards could be a nice add, too, I think.
- Pretty easy to set up, too. There aren’t that many moving parts, here, and I appreciate that. The shuffling is a pain (more on that in a second), but beyond that it’s a pretty easy game to get to the table.
- I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t complain about some very specific Dragon Ball Z things. Vegeta having the Kamehameha as a starting ability is amusing, to be honest, but the whole Scouters as Threat Cards confused me. It’s a very very specific thing that nobody should ever care about, but it just threw me off. I wonder if the Threat Cards could have been Cell Jr.’s, instead? Meh, maybe an expansion.
- I keep forgetting that Assist and Dragon Ball dice can heal. It’s not on the Player Board, for some reason, and so it hasn’t quite made it into my memory. I’m mostly putting it here in the hopes I remember.
- Wowee are some of those cards difficult to shuffle. The Threat Cards aren’t too bad once you get used to them but the Power Up Cards are pretty much impossible to shuffle in a meaningful way. I get why they’re shaped like that but, oof. No chance of a riffle shuffle.
- It’s pretty easy, and that might not sit well with everyone? I’m not terribly bothered by it (like, it’s Dragon Ball Z; are the good guys ever really going to lose?), but as far as a cooperative gameplay experience that might fall flat for a few people, and I get that. I think there are ways to make it more difficult, and I think you might see some more difficulty variants emerge beyond just what’s in the rulebook, but who knows? I’m not terribly bothered by the difficulty level, since I kinda just treat the game as a fun puzzle I can play while I decompress. Just something worth noting.
Overall: 7 / 10
Overall, Dragon Ball Z: Perfect Cell is pretty good! I mean, I’m a big fan of the theme, so maybe that biases me a bit in its favor, but if it wasn’t clear by now that I’m mostly a fan of game themes then I’m not 100% sure if I’ve done my job as a reviewer? Either way, from a mechanical perspective it’s not terribly difficult, no, but I also don’t feel like it’s meant to be, at the core — it’s more about the fun of the puzzle and getting to get a feel for the various characters. I’d be interested to see if they end up doing more with this system, because it seems like it has the potential to be something you could extend to various sagas of Dragon Ball Z and add in rules changes or new things to change up the gameplay — maybe Fusion later in the series or something. As a fan of the show, I’m kind of here for it, as it’s a great thing to play with a few of my friends that grew up with it as well and see what kind of ridiculous combos we can pull off. If you’re a fan of super light cooperative dice games (it’s much less complex in pretty much every way than, say, Planet of the Apes) or a Dragon Ball Z fan, I’d recommend at least checking it out! I’ve had a lot of fun with it.