Yes, a rubbish tagline, but never mind. It might be a new year but the jokes don’t get any better :D
I mean, I know you’re just here to find out the winner of our giant Christmas Geeky Giveaway at the end of the article anyway, but still, bear with me.
To start the new year, we’re taking a look at yet more Marvels (we know what you want, we’re not proud) with CMON’s chibi-tastic Marvel United boardgame. With a highly successful Kickstarter in 2021 (I just had to change that from typing LAST YEAR :'( ) and the new Multiverse version of the game hitting KS shortly, the game is now available at retail: seems like a perfect time to get stuck in!
Let’s start with what for me at least is the most divisive element: the aesthetic. I am not a fan of the chibi, BESM, kawaii style generally… but, then again, I really like the anthropomorphic game pieces of My Little Scythe, don’t mind a bit of Teen Titans Go! and I even run Chibi Nova in my favourite Marvel Snap! deck, so I’m not TOTALLY averse. In my miniatures though? Hmm. Suffice to say I have, in the past, given any chibis to my wee one to paint. But, you see, that’s the point in many ways of this game: despite the recommended 14+ on the box, it aims as broad an appeal as possible, from bright-eyed little one to crusty miserable old gamer. Does it succeed? Well, actually, yes – mostly.
The game comes at least in part from the brain of Eric M. Lang, who was responsible for one of my favourite card games back in the day (A Game of Thrones) as well as some really interesting mechanical design in the likes of Cthulhu: Death May Die, Rising Sun and XCOM, so I suppose I was already predisposed to like it (or at least give it a chance). Aside from being a bit of Marvel fan, I also really enjoy co-op games – it’s a very important part of our gaming experience as a family, but there is enough depth here to play with more experienced gamers. It’s at the beer and pretzels end, but if you’re wanting a game that you can play with your mates (gamers or otherwise) whilst still having a blether, it definitely ticks that box. There are two core sets available, one Avengers themed and one X-Men, which are basically identical except the X-Men version includes characters that can be played as Heroes or Villains (Magneto and Mystique), so is marginally more suited to more experienced gamers – however, it’s entirely a matter of personal preference. And I should point out that the core game is incredibly well-priced for a entry product – so why not get both?!
Comparisons often get drawn with Champions – co-op, Marvel, taking down AI villains and countering their Threats – but that’s actually unhelpful, and it’s better simply to think in terms of other IP /co-op boardgames such as Pandemic Clone Wars (reviewed HERE). Whilst it’s not as brutal as that, there’s a surprising amount of tactical variation, with each villain feeling radically different – even more so, in fact, than Clone Wars, where as noted the limited size and repetitiveness of the villain deck can prove frustrating. As an aside, it can be played as a versus game also, where one player takes on the Super-Villain role and opposes the other players, expanding the play variation considerably, though these rules are only in the X-Men starter or available online as a download.
Partly, this is to do with the board itself. You place 6 random iconic location boards (filled with a mix of civilians and thugs as indicated on the location) around a central hub, which contains the Villain dashboard: who you are against, and what their Master Plan is. If they complete their stated objective, or run through their deck, you lose! As each card plays from the deck, this gradually builds the Storyline that you’re “reading”. Then, Heroes take turns playing their cards (Move, Attack, Heroic or Wild) into the Storyline, in order to solve missions such as rescuing civilians or battling foes (you can only attack the Villain after defeating 2 missions – i.e., you figure out what they’re up to). Although you play individually, you are always discussing and working collectively. After every 3 Hero cards are placed, the Master Plan advances; once you’ve solved one mission, it becomes after every 2 Hero cards (as the Villain comes Under Pressure). It’s fairly straightforward, and rather a lot of fun! However, that doesn’t mean that it’s easy, necessarily, and has a simple scalable difficulty mechanic of removing increasing numbers of Wild cards from your deck.
As ever, I lean towards the dad-gamer perspective, and this is probably the most family-friendly Marvel game I’ve come across in a while – although I reiterate it’s just as satisfying for us pretend grown-ups. My youngest is just shy of 7 and will happily join in even without being necessarily able to read every word, and make genuinely good suggestions about what order to do missions in. The older ones may bicker over the best way to take down Ultron, but ultimately come together to do so – in fact they are just like the Avengers in that respect. Going back to the slightly unhelpful comparison with Champions, sometimes that can feel like an asymmetric game of individual players that happen to share the one goal, whereas in United you HAVE to work together to deal with issues at the different locations. A better card-based analogy is, in some ways, a game like Cryptozoic’s DC Deck-Building Rebirth with a similar locational placement mechanic, but because this at the core of United as opposed to feeling tacked-on, it’s much more successful.
It’s worth mentioning the fantastic production values. The plastic overlay holds the layers in place well, whilst the insert for storage comes with ample space for the tokens, cards, slots for the many figures – very impressive. The figures themselves, whatever your thoughts on the style, are evocative and dynamic: I do love the Ant-Man balanced on an over-sized dime especially. The cardstock is high gsm and sturdy in hand, with vibrant use of colour and shape to make tokens especially clear and accessible (big win there – too often tokens are samey). Overall, Marvel United gets a big thumbs-up from us, if anything exceeding expectations.
MARVEL UNITED EXPANSIONS
The game is also… blessed with a plethora (read: bewildering quantity) of expansions, which allow you to tailor the gameplay in many different ways, a legacy of the game’s Kickstarter origins. Tales of Asgard allows one player to turn Traitor, for example and Spider-verse has you struggling with keeping your identity secret. However, real standouts are the X-Men Blue / Gold sets (yes, more X-Men) and Deadpool. The X-Men Blue/Gold sets introduce Team play, so there is both an element of co-operation and competition, which is particularly great for 4-player and/or family games a mix of player ages (and X-Men: Blue has all the girls, so my daughter loves it, plus Gambit for me ;) ). Also, you don’t need an X-Men Core set to use Blue or Gold – the standard Avengers-themed core works fine for either.
Deadpool, on the other hand, is like a mixed taco platter (what?!) of choices for the experienced gamer, as it comes with Hero, Villain and Challenge versions of the Merc with a mouth (and Bob to go with him wherever). This allows you to mix up the base game without a huge additional investment; it’s great that, given how much content there is available, there’s a fairly straightforward “Buy this next!” option. Pass the chimichangas!
So as ever, we have the results of our giveaway (thanks again to the fine folk of Asmodee UK and Hasbro UK) but OF COURSE you want to know what’s up for grabs this month?
Well, for January we have the Marvel Crisis Protocol Web Warriors swinging into town (I mean really, how lucky are you lot?) And to win, just tell us in the comments below what you got in your stocking from the big man.
And remember to Like, Comment and Share across your socials (FB, Insta and/or Twitter) tagging us @bigcomicpage & @games_with_graven to bag yourself a bonus entry! UK only unless you’re willing to fork out the postage, alas.
And finally, the winner of our massive Christmas Geeky Giveaway is… Michael Campbell
Congratulations! Remember to get in touch with email@example.com within 30 days to claim your prize!