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Marvel Champions: The Card Game Review

Designer: Michael Boggs, Nate French, Caleb Grace

Artist: various

Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games

Year Published: 2019

No. of Players: 1-4

Ages: 14+

Playing Time: 45-90 minutes

Main mechanic / Theme: Superhero, Cooperative, Deck Construction, Hand Management

Players…Assemble!

Great hand management using the Marvel Comics Universe as a theme. Tons of replayability from this Core Box, focused on a cooperative gameplay. Could very well be the long, lost younger brother of another game called “Lord of the Rings: the Card Game.”.

Find more info on Board Game Geek: https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/285774/marvel-champions-card-game

Find more info on their official website: https://www.fantasyflightgames.com/en/products/marvel-champions-the-card-game/

 Overview:

Play as one of your favorite Superheroes from the Marvel universe and thwart villains and their minions. Tons of fun on how to manage your hand and resources. The game offers a basic and expert level of difficulty, both of which promise a nail-biting gaming experience.

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Gameplay and mechanics:

Set-Up is an equally entertaining aspect of any card-based game and can be a rewarding experience at par with the gameplay itself. For anyone who has played trading card games (i.e. Magic the Gathering, Pokemon, Yugi-Oh), Marvel Champions can offer a similar mental exercise of creating a deck of 40 to 50 cards from a card pool. The Core Set can offer enough cards for 4 player decks, or 2 optimized decks.

Preparing the Villain you will fight against usually follows a recommended set of cards but you can choose different card sets for your Villain’s Encounter Deck. I’ve done this to add variety to the game and increase the level of difficulty.

 

photo_2020-11-03_15-44-42.jpgThe Core Box gives you five choices of heroes --- Iron Man, Spider-Man, She-Hulk, Captain Marvel and the Black Panther. Each card is double-sided with one showing the Hero while the other side shows their Alter-Ego. During your games, you will flip this card several times and can spell a lot of difference. When your hero is in his/her Alter-Ego side, the Villain and minions don’t attack you but they continue to scheme. If the Superhero side is the showing, your enemies will attack you and your allies.

The goal of the game is to defeat the Villain by reducing their hit points to 0, and doing this twice. The game comes with 3 versions of each Villain. Easy mode requires versions 1 and 2, while Expert mode will make use of versions 2 and 3 which are usually tougher. You must try to do so before the Villain accomplishes their evil plans represented by the “main scheme”.

During your turn, you play new cards by discarding other cards. You activate previously laid-out cards by exhausting them. If you decide to attack, you use your hero or allies’ ability to reduce the villain’s hit points. You can also decide to “thwart” the Villain’s scheme buying you some time to defeat your enemy. You can decide to play or activate cards in any order you want.

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Once all players have completed their turns, it’s the enemies’ turn. Marvel Champions has an “artificial intelligence” built into enemy cards that are easy to follow (and hard to swallow). Villains and their minions will usually try to zero out your Superhero’s hit points or advance their scheme.

You win the game if you defeat the Villain (twice). You lose the game if the Villain is able to accomplish their Main Scheme, or if your Superheroes’ hit points are reduced to zero.

 

Theme, Artwork and Illustration, Graphic Design and Layout (optional)

Marvel Comics artwork at its best. As someone who has seen several comics-based card games (Marvel Overpower, Image Comics “WildStorm”, DC Deckbuilding Game, Marvel Legendary Deckbuilding Game), Marvel Champions. The exact images to crop from the pages of their comics seem to fit well together along with the layout of the cards. Certain card sets also have a different card border color for quick reference.

The token sets that come in the Core Box also gives you that comic book feel. From the first player “dialogue box” to the damage counters.

The game also can be played in a small table footprint. Since you don’t need all the cards in the Core Box for every game, you can even handpick card sets and bring them with you when you travel.

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What worked:

For each of the gaming experiences below, I will rate them using 5-point rating with 5 as “Very Good” and 1 as “Very Bad”.

Set-Up: 4 (Good)

Setting up the Villain deck is easy. You can be ready to play in 5 minutes.

The Hero deck is another matter, however. If you plan to create a deck from scratch, reserve 15-20 minutes. If you don’t want to do this, there is a deck list provided in the rulebook.

Rules: 5 (Very Good)

From the publisher of two older story-driven cooperative card games (a.k.a. Living Card Games), I expect no less than perfection when it comes to how the rulebook is written. If it is your first time with card games, you may have some learning curve but give yourself 4-5 games and you won’t be referring the “How to Play” and “Rules Reference” booklets anymore.

Complexity: 3 (Satisfactory)

The number of sub-phases and card triggers can pile up very easily and if you are not used to tracking multiple keywords and stats then you might find it difficult. However, for veteran TCG (trading card game) players, this will be familiar territory for you.

Lore/Narrative: 4 (Good)

There could have been more narrative texts provided in each card (hero or villain cards). The Main Scheme cards do a satisfactory job setting the stage but whether you win or lose, the game does not offer any epilogue to give story-loving players from closure. It seems like you have to embrace that winning over a complex game alone is the reward.

Gaming Pieces: 5 (Very Good)

Cards are made of good card stock and tokens of sturdy cardboard material. There are plenty of tokens, so losing a few will not be painful. However, the tokens can be replaced by several dice to make table management easier.

Tear-Down: 4 (Good)

The Core Box comes with a plastic organizer for the cards. The size is a little too big for unsleeved cards though. To get most of the box, you should use card sleeves and/or DIY dividers. There is enough room for any expansions you purchase though which I think was sleek.

If you are neat freak, you may end up segregating the card sets from the assembled Villain deck and even sequence them (they have numbers at the bottom of the cards, which is cool). Do this every after game so you can be sure you are not missing any key card from your card sets.

Scale Up/Down: 5 (Very Good)

Whether you play with 1 hero or with 4, expect the game difficulty to adjust well.

Replayability: 5 (Very Good)

The quick set-up and relatively fast tear-down allows for a high level of replayability. While the lack of narrative was noted above, particularly epilogues, it doesn’t spoil any surprises as much because you already know the ending. In the comics, these pesky Villains keep coming back anyway.

Expansions: 5 (Very Good)

The publisher’s concept of a “Living Card Game” (LCG) was a move away from the randomness of trading card games. In short, each box or pack contains the same cards. Instead, Final Fantasy Games would regularly release expansion packs for you to add to your collection.

You can choose to expand your selection of villains through Scenario Packs, or you can recruit other Superheroes to your team via the Hero Packs. The separation of these packs is great though as it helps you manage your budget. In other LCGs, you are almost certainly going to buy all expansions as you will need to (1) follow the story based on the sequence of the scenarios, and (2) each pack contains both their version of hero cards and villain cards.

The two other LCGs are “Lord of the Rings: the Card Game” and “Arkham Horror: the Card Game”. Both games are considered part of the top card games, particularly soloable games.
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Final thoughts:

LCGs in my opinion are good games for collector gamers. It allows the collector persona to amass a pretty good amount of cards while having the chance of playing with them too. Marvel Champions is an amazing game even if you just have the Core Box. The expansion packs are also designed that you don’t have to keep up with the releases and feel your wallet emptying fast.

As a cooperative game, I think it’s high up there. While the win condition doesn’t change, each superhero offers a different strategy to defeat the Villain. Don’t expect a deep story-driven campaign such as its predecessor LCGs though.

Get this game if you just watched some MCU movies with your kids and you want to let them dive into card games.