This Marvel Monday (what, it’s totally a thing!) we’re looking at the Marvel Champions Card Game from Fantasy Flight Games (£60 RRP) which the fine folk of Asmodee UK have very kindly provided us with to review, along with a smattering of expansions (as you can see below, they also sent us some marvel miniatures to review… next time!)
Unlike Collectable/Trading Card Games (CCG/TCG) such as Magic or Pokémon, this what’s known as a Living Card Game (LCG) – no randomisation in packs, just like Lord of the Rings or Arkham Horror. As a huge fan of co-operative games, I’ve been very keen to try this, but wasn’t sure how well the kids would cope with the level of intricacy that a card game entails. Also, LCGs can be hit or miss – Game of Thrones didn’t weather the switch from CCG to LCG well at all. I needn’t have worried though – the lure of comic action was enough to make them get stuck right in, and it’s already leap-frogged up to the top of our must-play list in the house.
It’s a high-quality product, with excellent art and great physical design: the box has plenty of space for extra expansions and room for dividers to organise accordingly.
First game, we played through the excellent walkthru introduction in the Learn to Play guide. For this, my elder spawn took the Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel deck, and my younger lad and I played the Peter Parker/Spider-Man deck, as recommended in the guide. Everything is clearly labelled, with instruction cards and detailed illustrations in the guide book. There are ample tokens, but not a baffling quantity, along with record dials and reference cards for keeping track.
You start as your alter-ego, and draw a hand of cards from your 40-card deck that are your Allies, Upgrades, Support, Events and the Resources to pay for them. There are 4 deck Aspects – as well as your hero, you also play as Justice, Protection, Leadership or Aggression (for the walkthru, Peter is Justice, Carol Aggression) – though you can customise the Aspect of choice and the mix of cards used from expansion sets.
For example, for the “main” game, Carol uses the Leadership Aspect, whilst both Iron Man and She-Hulk use Aggression. Each card also has a resource type (Mental, Physical, Energy or Wildcard) which are normally to pay costs but can sometimes be used to boost situationally: Carol, for example, tends to use a lot of Energy-type cards, irrespective of aspect. You take a number of actions through your turn (in any order, which is a real bonus when playing with small people) such as changing form, buying cards from your hand, attacking the villain and thwarting their schemes. Then, it’s the villain’s turn.
The first scenario is a fairly straightforward battle against Rhino, but it shows you how the villain AI works clearly with minimal fuss. Depending on whether you’re in your hero form or alter ego, the villain either attacks each player or advances their scheme; here, cards are flipped from the deck to boost the villain’s stats. Then, the villain plays an encounter card per player, representing other twists in the plot, other enemies, real-life obligations (Peter getting evicted, for example) and so on. Villains are scaled: they have a number of Hit Points Per Player, and likewise their scheme scales in the same way, meaning that you can play it just as satisfyingly as a solo or team game.
A key part of the game is figuring out each turn whether to be Hero, and get attacked, or risk being your alter-ego, healing at the expense of the scheme advancing. It’s a neat mechanic and although a little fiddly to start with really adds to the comic-feel of the game. Every character also has a set of nemesis cards that go into the villain’s encounter deck… potentially. Should the Shadow of the Past card appear from the encounter deck, your nemesis appears (Vulture for Spider-Man, Yon-Rog for Captain Marvel, and so on) and a set of extra problems for you to deal with get shuffled into the villain deck – again, really adding the the comic-book feel.
Second time around, we played the more challenging Rhino scenario from the base game (you can also change the difficulty level and vary the enemy’s “side quest”, but we chose not to). This time, we played a team of 3, using the starter set build for Black Panther (Protection) along with the boosters for Hulk (Aggression) and Ms Marvel (Protection). When playing as a team, it’s very much about helping one another – you can ask for resources, ability bonuses etc from team mates – and planning the right mix of aspects.
Black Panther is an interesting mix of card draw, healing and occasional devastating attacks; Ms Marvel is about card synergy and juggling being a teenager (alter-ego) and shape-shifting Hero digging through your deck; and Hulk, well… smash: with no ability to Thwart schemes, Hulk just goes for the all-out attack. My eldest really loved figuring the card synergies, whilst the younger liked helped bring the lynch-pin. It was a good team, but we came very close to losing – a better mix of Aspects probably would’ve helped us win more securely!
For our final “test” game, we played with some of the other mechanics and heroes. Decks can go up to 50 cards, but as with any card game by increasing from minimum deck size you reduce your draw probabilities heavily. Nevertheless, we added in some extra Protection to the Black Panther deck (which was a bit of a mistake – interfered with card draw), tried Captain America (a Leadership deck, very strong, and also ideal for solo play), and Gamora (who can use multiple Aspects, which is really interesting). We played against Klau as the villain with the Masters of Evil as the enemy encounters and it was a tense, exciting and occasionally dangerous experience.
Crucially, the game balances well the mix of fighting and thwarting the villain’s schemes – whilst Rhino wasn’t great at scheming, Klau is weaker in attack but much more of a threat as a schemer. Even with our relative lack of experience, we all had a really exciting, satisfying, comic-like game. And hey, we’ve not even started on Ultron or Modoc yet, though the game’s difficulty curve is challenging without being insurmountable or frustrating (I’m looking at you, Arkham Horror).
If I have one gripe – and it’s not a major one really – is that you don’t get a full deck for every character in the starter box. Specifically, you have to choose whether to build a She-Hulk or Iron Man starter. Whilst obviously you can customise, and you do get 4 sets of main deck cards for the 5 characters, would it have been so hard to include 6 extra cards (well, 3, plus 1 for whichever aspect you choose)? Given that they’re reprinted in the hero expansion sets, you might argue it’s unnecessary, but it would just be that little bit better to be able to sit with everything built and ready – especially for the novice. However, this is mitigated by the fact that FFG provides print-and-play versions of the non-aspect specific cards (with nifty character-specific art) on their site – along with a complete, printable Ronan the Accuser villain pack for added shiny goodness.
Marvel Champions LCG really is a fantastic game, with loads of replay value and masses of potential for customisation, even without the many expansions available. As well as Hero expansions (RRP £15) you can however vary the game further with new Villains such as Green Goblin or Kang (RRP £20) or the big-box expansions for Rise of the Red Skull (which introduces a campaign mode), Guardians of the Galaxy (taking the action, and the difficulty, out of this world) and the forthcoming Mad Titan (all RRP £40, and include new heroes also). We heartily recommend the game, and you can find it at your FLGS or across the interweb, though we particularly recommend local chums Top Hatted Hamster, where you can get 20% off everything in the month August.
Next time, we’ll be continuing the Marvel madness with a look at Crisis Protocol, the marvel miniature game from Atomic Mass Transmission.
In the meantime, tell us which Marvel hero YOU’D like to play in Champions (existing or not yet released) in the comments section below, like and share on social media, and we’ll send one lucky (UK based) entrant a prize!
And finally, the winner of our Gibson’s Games contest is… Mykal Grymm! Get in touch so we can pass on your details to Gibson’s.