Updated: Feb 1, 2021
Nick Fury sighed and looked at his roster of heroes, "b-listers at best" and he had a Loki sized problem brewing on the horizon. He needed new blood, bigger heroes, better heroes. He needed the Avengers… and Spiderman… and sure, throw Wolverine in there for good measure.
Marvel Legendary was released in 2012 and is still going strong seven years later with four additional expansions announced for 2020, to add to the sizable cohort already on the shelves (19 at the time of going to print.) Marvel Legendary is also my most played game of all time with around 650 plays under my belt, with no sign of that number slowing down any time soon.
Let’s take a look at what you get in this massive box and then we’ll get to my thoughts on the game.
15 Heroes (14 cards each)
40 S.H.I.E.L.D. Agents
20 S.H.I.E.L.D. Troopers
30 S.H.I.E.L.D. Officers
4 Masterminds (5 cards each)
7 Villain Groups (8 cards each)
4 Henchmen Villain Groups (10 cards each)
8 Schemes (8 cards)
11 Scheme Twists
5 Master Strikes
There is a lot of content in this box, although maybe not as much as there first appears, we’ll get to that later. 500+ cards and not at an unreasonable price point these days. During the first print run the uk stock was imported so I ended up paying £55 for my copy and the game was not easy to get hold of back then.
My cards saw about 50 plays before I realised the basic cards were going to get worn out and I decided to sleeve the basics, plus the heroes. After about 400 plays I decided to also sleeve the villains and the rest of the cards, although this was largely due to expansions that added non-standard cards to player decks, like bystanders. So the cardstock is good but not indestructible.
The board is nice with spots for all the cards, the artwork on it is a little basic but it does the job. The rulebook is a touch meandering, although you can definitely learn to play the game from it, things are not necessarily in a straight forward order. The iconography is nice and clean and easy to see. The art on the hero cards is identical across each of their 14 cards, however subsequent expansions add unique (and more dynamic) art for each hero card.
The box has an insert and comes with dividers for the cards. No subsequent expansion came with dividers so if you plan on adding more content you’ll need to find an alternative solution. The insert in the box is also a might confusing as the various compartments don’t seem to have been sized with any particular card sets in mind so it’s anyone's guess as to where things are supposed to go.
Setup and breakdown can also be a little time consuming as you shuffle and sort out the various decks and of course there is no consideration given to randomisers or any real guide to creating varied set ups, however there are plenty of online randomisers so just find one you like. Once you add in additional content you may discover some setups are incredibly difficult or possibly broken based on card interactions that were not foreseen, although this is rare.
Playing the Game
For set up players shuffle together a set number of heroes and a set number of villains to create two decks. They choose a mastermind to fight and a scheme to thwart. Five heroes are dealt face up to the HQ and each player shuffles their own personal deck of cards that contains 8 one recruit cards and 4 one attack cards. Each scheme may require additional setup.
On their turn players draw six cards from their deck and flip over the top card of the villain deck. They can, in any order, spend recruit points to recruit more heroes to their discard pile and spend fight to attack villains and eventually the mastermind to score victory points. Defeating the last life of the mastermind ends the game in victory for all players. If either deck runs out the game ends in a draw and if the scheme is completed, the game ends in a loss for all players.
As players recruit new heroes they can tailor their decks to specific strategies. Each hero has a class and team. Certain powers combo off having already played cards of certain classes or teams and generate even more powerful effects. For example Wolverine powers up from card draw and many of his cards give you more card draw when you have played other cards in the Instincts class. Meanwhile Black Widow powers up from collecting bystanders and her cards often allow her to rescue a bystander. You get the idea.
The villains each have a specific fight effect, some harmful, some benificial. Some also feature an escape effect that triggers should the heroes be unable to defeat them before the card is pushed out of the city by a new incoming villain. Some villain hand out wounds, a worthless card that takes up space in your deck and takes time to get rid of. Although some heroes grow stronger by destroying wounds, such as Hulk.
As the players grow stronger they will eventually be strong enough to take the lives off the mastermind. These come in the form of tactics card which when drawn have an effect similar to villains but often more powerful and usually negative. Players need to balance the need to take out the mastermind with thwarting the scheme. If they spend too long preventing the scheme they may find they run out of time to defeat the mastermind, but ignoring the scheme can cause the players to lose early.
Marvel Legendary has become the definitive Marvel board game. It has more content than any Marvel game before or since. It pulls from all corners of the marvel universe and gives us diverse heroes and villains to fight against. It is endlessly replayable and while it can be a little wonky at times as different sets interact with one another the overall the gameplay experience is always an enjoyable one.
However, that is written with the hindsight of 19 expansions and 650 plays. Let’s begin by talking about replayability. The original base game of Marvel Legendary offers us a selection of four iconic masterminds, Red Skull, Dr Doom, Magneto and Loki. Red Skull is an easy boss, he’s a tutorial at best, after playing against him once or twice he really wont pose a problem. Not only is he the weakest mastermind in the set, but his Master Strike ability and his tactics cards are both helpful to the heroes.
The other three are still largely viable, but they do not pose anywhere near the level of difficulty that the masterminds from later expansions do. So you can replay these bosses, over and over and you can combine them with the 8 different schemes in the box giving you 48 different play experiences within the base game... sort of.
Some schemes are affected by the masterminds you use, Legacy Virus for example is much harder when using Loki as both the scheme and the mastermind are doling out wounds and the end game trigger is the wound stack running out. Red Skull on the other hand will not drastically affect the outcome of any of the schemes and so the scheme would largely play the same.
And while you do have a theoretical 48 games to play you’ll have seen all the content available in the base game after just 3 plays, assuming you use different heroes and villains in each game. That is not to say that you’ll see all the cards in every game or see all the possible combos between heroes, but you’ll definitely start to repeat content sooner than you might think.
Yes, you can play Legendary time after time and have a different play experience, but if you get into this game in any big way, you’re going to want to add some additional content. Fortunately upper deck has you covered there.
With regards to gameplay itself, the game takes its lead from Thunderstone, although with a few significant differences. Firstly you don’t need to choose between buying and fighting on your turn, you can do both. Secondly cards are played down one at a time because the order in which you play them matters. This is largely where the decisions are made on your turn. What order to play your cards in to take greatest advantage of your combos.
The order of your turn is entirely freeform. You can play some cards, buy something, play some more cards, fight something then buy something else. And because of this it opens up a lot of design space. You can choose to fight first, hitting an enemy that gives you recruit points and allowing you to buy a bigger hero. Or you can buy first, knowing that you have the ability to draw cards and might draw the hero you just bought. It is this careful card play that makes Marvel Legendary so much fun, as your cards combo off one another and you generate enough fight to defeat the Masterminds.
Talking of design space, this is another area where the game shines. As I’ve mentioned there are now 19 expansion to Legendary but each one introduces something new, the designers are still finding ways to tweak this relatively simple formula and find fun new avenues to explore. This has largely been done through the introduction of keywords, a short hand for “if this... do this...” which if you’re playing regularly is great and saves card space, but if not, you might need a cheat sheet on hand to remind you what all those keywords mean.
However, we have to talk a little bit about the luck in the game. The scheme almost always ties directly into the composition of the villain deck, with many schemes ending with “Scheme 8 - Evil Wins”. This puts a ticking clock on the game but one where you don’t know how long is left on the counter. It is entirely possible (admittedly, extremely unlikely) that you get all 8 scheme twists in the first 8 turns.
Secondly, with higher player counts, the game supports up to 5, you will be largely unable to affect the game state for the first two rounds, up to 10 turns in a 5 player game. This can put you at an extreme disadvantage. In addition, each additional player will lengthen the game. With 4 experienced players we get done in around an hour but games could easily go double that with new players.
Finally I’ll mention the scoring system. The game is fully co-op but features a system to determine the winner, through victory points on the cards you defeated. We do always keep score but it doesn’t really represent who did the best job, as often players are forced to make suboptimal moves to save the team, rather than scoring points.
It’s a deck builder and it’s a really good one with tons of content available. If you like building combos and you like the Marvel theme this is a game you’re going to love. If you’re looking for story driven game play then this one is not for you.
Tons of expansion content
Simple game play
The theme comes through strongly, both through art and mechanics
Game length is around 1 - 2 hours with 4 players
Player counts can really skew the difficulty
Some wins come down to luck
Repeated artwork across all the hero cards
Set up and tear down can be long
No storage solution beyond the base set
Wonky scoring system