I’m a big fan of classic GI Joe, and have covered a few of the recent GI Joe comics right here on the blog. So when I saw that Renegade Game Studios had picked up the GI Joe license for tabletop games (along with Transformers, Power Rangers and even My Little Pony – each of which is getting a Deck-Building Game and a TTRPG), I couldn’t wait to try it out.

The production values on the GI Joe Deck-Building Game are really impressive; this is a game that’s received a lot of care and attention when it comes to its graphic design and the quality of its components. The custom dice are lovely, the card art – featuring plenty of classic GI Joe characters, vehicles, locations and even story beats and quotes – is brilliant and there’s even a great ‘threat meter’ in the shape of a Cobra. It’s wonderful stuff.

The game itself is really cool too. A fully co-operative game in which players must recruit a team of Joes and purchase equipment and vehicles in order to take on various missions and defeat Cobra grunts and officers, it’s a deeply thematic and satisfying experience that puts up a stiff challenge even on its easiest setting.

The game comes with two ‘stories’ (basically sets of missions), but each of these are replayable, as the missions that the stories comprise of are randomised each time you play. There’s even a robust solitaire mode, so players finding themselves without a friend or family member to help them save the world can take on the challenge alone.

So with all that in mind, this sounds like an unequivocal recommendation, right? Not so fast – there’s a very big caveat on the way, in the form of the game’s rulebook.

Put simply, the GI Joe Deck-Building Game’s rulebook is one of the worst I’ve seen in a very long time. It’s poorly laid out, has some concepts and components explained in ways which could do with a lot of clarification and – perhaps most egregiously of all – there’s an entire card type that is completely omitted from the rules, though it appears in one of the setup pictures. It makes learning the game not just a chore, but pretty much impossible unless you go online and check out the forums on Board Game Geek or watch playthroughs on YouTube.

It’s such a shame and a massive disappointment that this vital part of the game – perhaps the most vital part of any game – is so lacking and seemingly rushed through without being vetted or tested properly; especially as the rest of the game seems so polished and well thought out.

Once you’ve learned the game, it’s truly excellent – especially for fans of GI Joe – but how many players, especially casual gamers not used to searching online for hints, tips and clarifications – will be able to find all of the information they need to play through the game properly?

So this is a cautious recommend; if you’re a fan of GI Joe, it’s an absolute blast to play through and the co-operative nature of the game means it’s fun with up to four players, who will curse the challenge of the game rather than each other. However, that learning curve isn’t just steep, it’s littered with obstacles that shouldn’t be there in the first place.

Renegade really should be offering some sort of updated rulebook on their website, but that doesn’t yet seem to be the case despite them already going ahead with expansions. It’s pretty poor to be honest – and doesn’t fill players with confidence that future products from them won’t suffer the same fate.

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