Deck-building and dice rolling, a match made in heaven. G.I. Joe Deck-Building Game was tailor-made for me, except for the theme - I had no clue what it's about when I bought it. I enjoyed playing the game anyway, but after a while I got curious so I watched G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra on tv. A very silly movie. And the behaviour and background of some of the characters didn't fit the lore that I'd made up myself by now. So I've decided to ignore it and stay in my own fantasy G.I. world. Well, mine and that of the mission cards of course.
Your team of Joes gets sent on several missions during a game, three of them are main act finales, six are randomly added. All together they make a storyline. Every mission will bring complications, some of which are side missions, some just make it harder to succeed. Also, Cobra baddies pop up. You play cards from your hand to take on missions or enemies, then use these same and any unplayed cards to recruit new cards (Joes, vehicles, utility, gear). Recruited cards go on top of your deck. As you can see what you need for both your current mission as for the upcoming one, you can do some smart shopping. It's easy to thin out your deck: after each succesful mission you have the option to retire one of your ordinary Joes, and as you can recruit new ones immediately after, it feels like they're being trained. Plus your own avatar leader card can be levelled up. Good stuff.
To complete a mission or defeat Cobra personnel, you roll dice. The higher the difficulty, the more successes you'll need. Every Joe that you send in will provide at least one die, but some are specialized and if you send the right person to the right job, you get to roll more dice. And that's not all. The Joes will use a vehicle that may provide bonuses, and you can use gear or utility cards for re-rolls and other effects.
That said, it isn't easy to complete missions. You will fail some. But the goal is not to win them all, the goal is to make it to the end of the storyline and defeat the final mission. At the end of every round the threat meter will rise, a failed mission may cause it to rise some more, while a win may give you some room to breath. This makes for a nice balancing act. Sometimes you'll take a gamble, at other times you will wait until you are quite sure you'll win the mission. And then there's the micro-management of those side quests and Cobra messing with all parts of gameplay - even blocking up the card market.
This game scales well for lower player counts. In two-player or solo you get to save a card from your hand for your next turn (as an extra), and if you are brave enough to go in one-handed, you get two turns every round. You can play this your preferred way.
I absolutely love this game. My only problem is that I find it very hard to win. I'm not always able to recruit Joes with the right keywords, and there isn't much dice mitigation. So you definitely need a little luck when playing solo. But if you have fond memories of the franchise I think it's a no-brainer as the stories absolutely come alive. And if you never heard of G.I. Joe, like me, you get to know the world through playing. Because they all have names and their own artwork, you'll get fond of the team leaders, and will greet the Cobra officers as old but respected foes.