Updated: Jul 9
Brrrrrrrrrrrring! Rang out the alarm as Rhino crashed through the wall of the Midtown Bank building. The nefarious villain was all set to help himself to fat stacks of cash but our heroes were not about to let that happen.
Who will you use to put an end to the villainous Rhino, the devious Klaw or the despicable Ulton? Will it be She-Hulk, defender of law and order or Spiderman, local hero with plenty of responsibility? In Marvel Champions you choose the hero and take the fight to the villain in one of three scenarios playing as one of five unique heroes.
In the box you will find...
199 Player Cards
137 Encounter Cards
30 State Cards
4 Hero Dials
1 Villain Dial
As always with an FFG product it looks fantastic. There's unique art everywhere and it’s all very evocative and brings the theme to life. The dials in particular I’m happy with because I can see me using them for Sentinels of the Multiverse too!
In terms of content, there’s quite a lot in here. In keeping with Lord of the Rings and Arkham Horror the card game, Marvel Champions ships with 3 base scenarios. Along with that come five small decks of cards that you can shuffle into the main scenario decks to change up how those scenarios play.
To counter these scenarios are 5 heroes, Iron Man, Spiderman, Captain Marvel, Black Panther and She Hulk. Each comes with a prebuilt decklist in the rules, although you will need to look through the cards and build those decks yourself. The game however only ships with enough cards to build 4 of these decks concurrently, which is largely fine as the game only supports 4 players.
So, 3 scenarios, 5 heroes, that's a total of 15 games before you’ve tried every combination. Well, sort of. Each hero can technically be built in four different ways, so you could say it’s actually 60 possible combinations, meaning it’s 1 game for every pound this game costs. That’s right, Marvel Champions has a hefty RRP of £59.99 and I’m not sure why. It has roughly 100 more cards than Lord of the Rings which has an RRP of £36.99 but that isn’t really enough to justify it being nearly twice as expensive.
In terms of learning and playing the game, Marvel Champions ships with two rulebooks, a learn to play guide and a rules reference. The learn to play uses two prebuilt decks and a prebuilt scenario deck that are preset in shrink wrap for you in the box, making it quite beginner friendly. The rules reference however I have found lacking during my plays. The LOTR rules reference reads like a heavy legal document but covers all major mechanics, timing issues and pretty much any questions I have about how cards interact in the game. Marvel Champions Rules Reference does not. For example, many cards reference “You”, such as “When you take damage” but the Rules Reference doesn’t define you. So, is this when your hero takes damage, or when your hero or allies take damage, or does it mean if you stub your toe against the table leg?
In an attempt to be more new player friendly FFG has attempted to simplify the rulebooks but unfortunately any card game like this, with some many moving parts and potential timing conflicts needs a more comprehensive ruleset to stop it becoming guesswork as to how cards are supposed to function.
A Quick Overview
In Marvel Champions players take on the role of a hero. Each player chooses one hero and takes the cards belonging to that hero. They can either use the prebuilt decks or they can build their own. Each deck consists of 15 hero cards and then between 25 and 35 other cards chosen from one of four aspects and/or neutral cards.
The aspect cards come from four spheres, Leadership is a more rounded approach but also with a heavy focus on allies, action advantage and aiding other players. Aggression is about punching stuff. Justice is about countering the machinations of the villain and Protection is about defending yourself or other heroes.
Once each player has a deck they choose a villain to fight. Each villain has a deck, into which the Standard cards are shuffled, this a small set of 7 cards that are always in the game. Along with this one modular encounter set is added, this can be random or you can follow the suggested set on the villain set up card.
Players then take turns playing cards to deal damage to the villain and remove threat from the scheme, until they defeat the villain. Most villains have two cards you must defeat, when you defeat stage one of a villain it reveals a second stage, resets his hitpoint and generally ups his stats or adds new abilities.
On their turn players can play any number of cards from their hand, paying their cost in the top corner by discarding other cards from their hand. They can also activate cards in play for their abilities by exhausting them, for example you can exhaust your hero to deal damage equal to its attack value. Players can also, once during their turn, change between Hero and Alter Ego form. For example Spiderman can become Peter Parker. The Alter Ego forms often have alternate abilities and are unable, in general, to affect the game state, i.e. attack or thwart.
Once each player has activated it is the villain turn. The villain's turn begins by placing threat on the main scheme. This is the timer that runs the game. If the main scheme is completed the players lose the game. Players can thwart to remove threat from the scheme and the better you can control threat the easier the game will be. After this the Villain either attacks each hero in turn or schemes if they are in alter ego form. When a villain schemes he places additional threat on the main scheme. Finally each player reveals an encounter card from the deck, this could be minions, smaller villains that attack you or stop you attacking the main villain, treachery cards that have a detrimental effect on the game state or side schemes which often prevent you dealing with the main scheme.
After this play returns to the players and goes back and forth until the villain completes his scheme, defeats all the heroes or until the heroes defeat the villains final card.
I watched the FFG in-flight report safe in the knowledge that whatever new shiny stuff they announced I wasn’t going to buy anything, I already had everything I needed. Then they announced Marvel Champions. Marvel Legendary is my most played game of all time, I have seen every marvel film and tv series of the last decade, I like marvel, but I don’t need to have every marvel game out there. It’s designed by Nate French… Nate French who designed my second most played game of all time, Lord of the Rings the card game… that Nate French? At that point I knew I was sunk, I really didn’t need a new collectible game in my life, but I was powerless to stop myself.
Comparisons to LOTR
As mentioned, Lord of the Rings the card game is one of my most played games of all time. I own most everything for it and store it in two flight cases. I knew that Marvel Champions was going to use some of the mechanics from that game and I went into it expecting it to be a clone. It’s not, not really.
There are some mechanical differences to be sure. In LOTR you control multiple heroes, in MC you control one. In LOTR you generate resources and spend them over time, in MC you use cards in your hand to pay for other cards. In other ways it is similar, Attack, Thwart, Defence and Hit Points all have analogous stats in LOTR as do the four Aspects.
However the biggest change was in the way the game delivers story. Lord of the Rings tells a story as you advance through stages of a quest. Each stage in the quest presents a new puzzle you need to solve. Marvel Champions does not, in fact I would go as far as to say that Marvel Champions dispenses with story entirely. The game is solely about beating on a boss. The scheme deck, which is analogous to the quest deck in LOTR works in reverse. In LOTR you are pushing through trying to complete those stages and get through to the end. In MC you lose when that happens meaning you are fighting to keep the game state the same, rather than pushing forward to see what happens next.
For me this is where my initial disappointment stems from. The scheme part of the game felt incongruous to me. It felt like I was trying so hard to not have things change, to not have the game evolve and show me new things. It’s not a game of discovery, just one of preventing bad stuff from happening.
In Lord of the Rings at least half of the enjoyment of the game is working out the puzzle. Each scenario requires you to go away and build a deck that can handle the challenges the game will throw at you. Marvel Champions does not. Firstly, as I am proving with my series reviewing the various heroes in the game, you can beat all the currently released scenarios with any given hero, but secondly each scenario is largely the same, stop threat being placed while defeating the big bad.
So then where is the puzzle? Where is the fun? What stops this game getting old and played out? When I f