For the next couple of weeks on Marvel Monday, we’re going to be looking at Crisis Protocol, the miniature game from Atomic Mass Games. But rather than starting with the mechanics of the game, let’s take a look at the core box contents and figures, shall we?
One of the first things that will strike you is the very neat range rulers that the game comes with, even tucked away as they are in the sides of the box. It’s great that you have something more sturdy than a cardstock ruler or fiddly about with bits of cut-out paper. That’s not to say that the tokens aren’t of good quality: they’re durable, heavy-duty cardstock, and not so many as to be bewildering.
You also get a pleasing amount of scatter terrain of various sizes: cars, dumpsters, news-stands and street furniture, all easy to build and adding real character to any gaming surface without additional expenditure – always a bonus. I would, maybe, have liked a paper playmat (in the style of Heroclix or Batman 2nd edition) for a surface in there for novice players – I don’t think it would’ve been that much of a stretch for such a high-end product – but it’s not the end of the world.
The figures themselves are 40mm, so larger than a lot of standard gaming scales, in hard plastic. This allows for an impressive level of detail, though they are not really poseable and somewhat prone (at least in the core and early waves) to a preposterous number of parts, with some fairly strange duplication also – why do I need two of Red Skull’s hand or Spider-Man’s head (answer – some bits are so tiny you will misplace them)? Especially when on the (very lovely) base sprues you get urban litter such as bottles. But, this notwithstanding, the sculpts are dynamically posed without too much reliance on tactical rocks – Spidey in particular seems to defy gravity – and the fact that all the bases are detailed as city streets are really impressive.
You get a set of 10 highly characterful models here, Captain America, Black Widow, Spider-Man, Captain Marvel and Iron Man on the one side and Ultron, Baron Zemo, Doc Ock, Crossbones and of course Red Skull on the other. Comic sculpts all round, but fairly iconic MCU characters nonetheless. There is a degree of notoriety about how tricky some of the builds are – Ultron is a bit of a faff, and Captain Marvel a bit gappy – but the rest were far easier than I’d expected, with almost no flash to clean and the excellent instructions meaning all figures and scenic elements were done in a couple of hours. As a licensed product, I think they really hit the sweet spot between what gamers expect and the novice or casual fan can reasonably tackle.
As for the game itself, it has a number of unusual, but highly thematic, elements that give it it’s unique flavour. Each Mission is made up of 2 crisis cards (one per player), a Secure and an Extraction. Presented as Daily Bugle front pages (very neat), the combination of these two sets of objectives determines the victory conditions – and whilst this inevitably descends into a slugfest, it doesn’t necessarily mean the path to success is just bludgeoning the opposition. That being said, one of the game’s most integral mechanics is that characters gain power (for abilities, super or otherwise) from taking damage. It turns out you WOULD like them when they’re angry. Not only this, but once a character becomes injured, their card flips to a (typically) more powerful version – Cap can quite literally Do This All Day. It ensures the game feels true to the comic book action throughout whilst still functioning as a tactical skirmish game.
Speaking of comic book feel, one of the most unusual aspects of this game is the team up side of things. You bring a collection of models to the table (typically 10) and assemble – sorry – a group of around 4 there and then, based on the level of Crisis you’re facing (averaging 16). Characters have a cost of typically 3 or 4 (outliers are 2 or 5) so you need build your team accordingly. Not only that, but you will typically want to play a faction (Avengers and Cabal of Evil in the starter) to take advantage of faction specific card effects and Leadership abilities, such as Cap giving his whole team a reduction in the cost of the first superpower they use each turn.
Interestingly, whilst more than half of your team has to belong to a faction, not all of them do, to represent the strange and shifting alliances and team-ups we see playing out in the page. Finally, you bring a set of tactics cards with you to the table (8) from which you choose specific cards (4) for the situation you’re in. It can all feel a bit overwhelming but actually it’s remarkably straightforward: if you’re playing Avengers, for example, you’re probably going to want Cap and Iron Man along with the card that allows you to bounce repulsor blasts off that famous shield.
The game itself has a decent beginner’s guide with an introduction to various aspects of gameplay. Once you get going, it is pretty straightforward. One of my main gripes with DC Multiverse (which the boy and I love) is that you are constantly checking what different special abilities do. Fundamentally, the core rules are very simple, with players alternating turns for their characters taking any 2 actions – move (or climb), attack, use superpower, or shake (remove negative status token) – which means the game goes through 6 turns fairly quickly.
Also, I should mention that part of the reason you get such an abundance of lovely terrain in the box is that throwing (terrain or characters) is a key part of the action, and rightly so. It’s interesting to compare this mechanically, again, to DC Multiverse where throwing is just as integral but is, if anything, overpowered: in Marvel, because you have relatively less power to spend per turn, it becomes less of a default tactic, and hence more balanced. On the other hand, it’s not immediately obvious from the rulebook that characters can only Throw if it’s printed on their cards in some way, which led to a bit of head-scratching.
Card layout is clear and the symbols are all reasonably obvious. I was leaning this alongside the younger of my boys (11) and he grasped the various symbols and mechanics pretty quickly – not AS quick as Champions, perhaps, but still in good time. The custom dice are slightly more complex, though coming from having played X-Wing there’s a degree of familiarity. I would perhaps have liked a handful more dice (you get 10, but you want each player to really have at least half a dozen to hand) but that’s being very picky.
So what are the issues? Well, it does have a lot of different symbols to wrap your head round, and I’m always a bit leary of game-specific dice with extra rules to remember, especially with the kids. It also bugs me that you don’t get a full rulebook, but instead have to go online for that. From a rules perspective, the only one that really annoys me is the lack of falling rules: it wouldn’t be that difficult to integrate and strikes me as odd for a game so dependent on terrain. In some places, they’re a little cursory and need a bit of digging to clear up (like throwing, as mentioned), not just in the intro rules but the full set; not a deal breaker, but a bit irritating. In terms of the physical product, it’s very strong indeed, though I think that, given its target market is more than just “regular” gamers, a paper playmat wouldn’t have gone astray.
Next week, we’ll take a look at some options for expanding your core game, and what else is out there!
And remember, you’ve still got time to enter our Marvel Champions giveaway – let us know which character you want to see in this or Champions, and don’t forget to like, comment and share! Until next time, true believers!