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.
LEGENDARY: A MARVEL DECK BUILDING GAME
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!