Cardboard Children – Legendary: Marvel

Hello youse.

When I reviewed Legendary Encounters, the Alien deckbuilding game, I was aware that the game system was already well-established as Legendary: A Marvel Deck Building Game. I liked Legendary Encounters a lot – so much that I called it my game of the year – and promised myself that I would try out the main Legendary line as soon as I could. Well, you know – seasons come and go, and life intrudes, and selfish game designers just won’t stop designing new games, so it’s taken until now for me to get to Marvel Legendary itself. The upside is that I look at the game in a form that is well-expanded, well-supported, with mountains of content.


In Marvel Legendary, as I’ll be calling it from now on (even though it’s not actually the name of the game UGH) players co-operate in an attempt to defeat an evil Mastermind. You can even play solo if you want, and it works very well indeed. But whether there’s one of you, or five of you, you’re all heroes fighting against villains in the streets of Marveltown, USA.

When you set the game up, you choose a Mastermind card, and place that enemy on the board. You then assemble a deck of villains and henchmen to support the Mastermind in battle. These baddies will pour constantly onto the board, filling the streets with menace, kidnapping bystanders and KO-ing cards from your hand. There is also a Scheme that Masterminds are trying to fulfil. This Scheme card is essentially a scenario card that instructs the players on how to construct that enemy deck. Most schemes have you placing a number of “Scheme Twist” cards into the enemy deck that will activate story points of the specific scenario. For example, the Legacy Virus scheme will hurt you with each revealed Twist unless you reveal a Tech-based hero from your hand. That’s your tech brainbox hero fighting the virus back with KNOWLEDGE right there, and that’s how the Schemes help the game tell a story.

You choose any five heroes and take their card sets, shuffle them all together, and that’s your available heroes for the game. You don’t start with them, though. They pop up in the HQ and you can recruit (buy) them, by playing your starting S.H.I.E.L.D. agents from your hand. Every card in your personal deck will be worth recruitment points or attack points. You play cards with recruit values to buy new Hero cards from the HQ, and you play cards with attack values to beat up the enemies on the streets. It’s very simple. Recruit buys you new cool shit and attack keeps you pegging back the flow of enemies.

To win the game you have to beat up the Mastermind four times, while dealing with all his bullshit. Masterminds usually have a high strength value, and so you have to play combined attack cards from your hand that hit that total to make a successful attack. At the start of the game your hand will usually give you a couple of points in attack, and the Mastermind is usually at 10 or above, so you need to recruit stronger, better hero cards to get you up into the major leagues of punching people.

And that’s pretty much it. Cards have special powers, too many to go into here, and they unlock nice combos that can give you turns that make you say “I am cool.” The baddies on the streets will do a variety of horrible things, like cloning your abilities and stealing people and wounding you. (Wounds are useless cards that go into your deck, and eventually come into your hand, taking up space that could have been used to have Captain America WANK someone with his shield.) Depending on the scenario you might want to stop those baddies from escaping, or manipulate them in some other way. There is a lot of variety here.

And that’s really the main strength of Marvel Legendary. It’s a fun, easy to learn game that is rammed full of variety. The base game has 15 heroes and 4 Masterminds, a bunch of different schemes, and so the different combinations will keep you going for ages. The expansions just ramp all of this up. Dark City brings in Daredevil and Punisher and street gangs and The Kingpin. Guardians of the Galaxy brings in the five guardians and a fun new mechanic involving Infinity Gem shards – cool decisions about where and when to place power-enhancing tokens. By the time you have a few of the expansions, you’ve got a box fit to burst with heroes and villains and stories from the comic books. And yet it all remains accessible, quick and easy.

It’s a delight to poke around with different team combinations, seeing how the different powers can click together. Captain America, from the base game, has bonuses that only activate when he is played as part of a team. That’s nice. It really enhances the feel of Cap as a leader of heroes. Spidey is great at pulling off rescues of innocent bystanders, and feels agile because of how he can pull new cards into your hand quickly. The Punisher can kill off weak cards from your deck, such is his disregard for collateral damage. I love how they’ve made all the abilities fit the heroes. And the villains are the same. Mysterio, from the Paint The Town Red expansion, keeps creating illusions of himself – meaning you have to defeat him more than the usual four times. Thanos steals Infinity Gems, obviously. He’s aff his nut.

If you’re someone who enjoys deckbuilders and comic books, you probably have this game already. But if you’re someone on the edge of a purchase, looking for something that is fun and quite light, I have to recommend this one. I’m surprised by how much I’ve enjoyed it. It’s not as dark or as story-rich as Legendary Encounters, but it works brilliantly as a fast-flowing comic-book slugfest. Take a punt on it – it’s really, really good!


  1. anHorse says:

    Did you make this game up as well or can we actually play it?

  2. znomorph says:

    Rab, how does this compare to Sentinels? I know SotM isn’t a deckbuilder, but given the same coop-superhero-beat-up-the-bad-guy theme what are your thoughts?

    • malkav11 says:

      Sentinels is much better at capturing the feel of playing superheroes and I think overall a more robust design. Still, Legendary is pretty fun as a comic-themed mostly-coop deckbuilder.

      • SuddenSight says:

        Funny you should say that, as I was just about to say the opposite. I prefer Legendary over Sentinels.

        I will agree that Sentinels feels more like you are playing one character – in Legendary you end up with a hodge-podge of cards meant to evoke a couple of different superheroes.However, I also think the decks in Sentinels kind of require you to read through them first, to understand what is going on, while Legendary is more or less pick up and play (the way other deckbuilders are).

        I also feel like some heroes in Sentinels can feel rather limited in their play stile – there is often just a couple “best moves,” while the vagaries of the deck building mechanics makes the optimum play in Legendary feel a little more open.

        As a final point of note, the Co-op aspect is less pronounced in Legendary. Everyone is contributing to the same goal, but in general the teamwork is limited to prioritizing enemy targets. In Sentinels it is common for your entire turn to consist of buffing your allies instead of doing anything yourself.

        • Kitsunin says:

          It sounds like you’re talking about why you think Legendary is the better game. I agree with you there, I love SoTM but it’s a finicky game to play with so many modifiers to deal with, and can be no fun at all if you end up in something like a situation where everyone’s hero depends on equipment/ongoing cards, and the villain just KEEPS EFFING REMOVING THEM SO YOU CAN’T DO ANYTHING.

          But its theme is much stronger. In SoTM each player plays a superhero who draws cards that allow them to use awesome superhero powers to biff the bad guys. In Legendary you collect recruitment points which you use to hire the heroes or get their attention or something like that, then each hero kind of cycles through your deck, contributing biff and attention points to your hand.

          I think Legendary is the better game, but its themeing is very weak when compared to SoTM. Personally, if I already had something like Thunderstone, I’d much prefer to add SoTM to my collection, because it’ll still fill a unique niche while Legendary, being a great deckbuilder but not as great hero game, will have less of its own place. Otherwise Legendary is a game you could play over and over if your collection is small.

          • Kitsunin says:

            Oh and “It sounds like you’re talking about why you think Legendary is the better game” looking back on this that statement is just, doy, why wouldn’t you?

        • malkav11 says:

          I can’t agree with the criticism that there’s often an obvious best move, although it’s one I’ve seen before so I guess it must be coming from somewhere. It’s definitely true that some heroes are more varied than others, but it’s been my experience that some people would rather play someone that, e.g., mostly just sprays out fire damage, so it’s probably good that they’re there. There are tons of them, after all, so if you find a hero dull, you can play someone else. Similarly, you’re only going to spend your turn buffing your allies if you’ve chosen to play a support-primary character. I would say that I don’t think there’s any real need to look through decks beforehand in order to play, because you can only play the cards you’re dealt, but I suppose if you’re looking for a specific type of hero to play you might want to do that. That said, if anything, especially once you’ve got expansions, I think Legendary might actually require more advance knowledge of its cardset because you can put together playsets in ways that result in a really large range of difficulties and the results might not be obvious beforehand.

          In general, though, I personally find Sentinels’ model of prebuilt decks is more rewarding from a variety, card interaction and flavor perspective than any deckbuilder I’ve played, and I think Marvel Legendary doesn’t really stray far enough from Dominion’s baseline to be distinct in its own identity. It sounds like Encounters is a step in the right direction for that, though. FWIW, I do think Legendary is a good game from my limited experience with it, and I think it’s certainly about 500 times better than the “DC Deckbuilding Game” (the name alone should give you some idea how unimaginative that thing is), which is its competition in the comic book deckbuilder space.

  3. Kabukiman74 says:

    They had this on Wil Wheaton’s Tabletop last week: link to Looked fun.

  4. thekelvingreen says:

    In case anyone’s wondering what that Captain America reference is about, go here; it is safe for work.

    I haven’t given this game a look because I’d assumed that it was trash like the old Overpower or 87% of Marvel merchandise. It looks like I was being silly.

    • marlowespade says:

      It really is a cracker of a game, and it takes about 15 minutes to learn; we get in 2-3 games in about 90 minutes, and the schemes and powers are just the right degree of fidelity to the comics.

  5. tonallyoff says:

    I got the Villains version of this which I enjoy but has just one terrible expansion and worst of all NO DOOM in it. For shame.

  6. Iain_1986 says:

    Rab! You go through the whole review and never make any comparisons with Aliens!!!

    How on earth am I going to know which one to impulse buy right this very second?!?

  7. horrorgasm says:

    Sounds interesting, but that budget art doesn’t work for me.

    • tonallyoff says:

      There’s nearly 500 cards, how much do you want the thing to cost?

  8. Spacewalk says:

    How can a man with arms that thin fire a pistol that big? Look at it, it’s like he nicked it from Cable.

  9. djim says:

    I’ve bought it and the 2 major expantions and i have to say, though it costs a lot, it is worth every penny! Almost everyone i played it with loved it. It is quick and easy to learn, it also has depth and importantly you can adjust the difficulty, both with your selection of heroes/villains and by using its own rules to adjust it. It is also not necessary to love comic books to enjoy it.

    Above all it is a lot of fun!

  10. Keasar says:

    I personally prefer Encounters over Marvel as it focuses a lot more on co-op play. Marvel, while nice, is a lot more silent game due to that people sit for themselves, trying to build as optimal decks as possible and win for themselves. While the game still requires all players to work together somewhat to beat the enemy, it still has separate win conditions for individual people that encourages more competitive play between people. Encounters on the other hand ramps up the difficulty and introduces specific cards to help other people and make the win condition that either people survive and win the game or everyone dies and loose.

    Encounters when I played it made people talk and panic between each other so much more than Marvel, where people were mostly just mildly suggesting “Maybe someone should beat this guy up?” “Mhm…”

    I recommend Encounters way above Marvel, but some might prefer the competitive element of Marvel so there is that to consider of course.

  11. twentysides says:

    I find that as a game whose draw is its theme, Legendary Marvel utterly fails at being thematic at the start. Who am I? Am I Wolverine and Cap and so are you? Are we all of them? Are we SHIELD? It’s unclear, and no answer is satisfying. Why are we competing? It just doesn’t make sense and any illusion falls apart immediately.