Wednesday, March 13, 2013

I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking for: "Legendary: A Marvel Deck Building Game"

In theory, superheroes should be well-suited to the realm of tabletop gaming.  But for some reason this hasn't translated into a lot of happy marriages.

In fact, my favorite superhero-related game is probably TSR's venerable Marvel Super Hero Role-Playing Game which was published way back in 1984.

Everything that's followed has either been too simplistic, overly convoluted or an outright affront to the classic, four-colored tales I read about in my misspent yoof.  And for most of my adult life, in all honesty.  

Here are some more high-flyin' releases that I've personally been witness to over the years:

Overpower (1995) Given the fact that I was collecting every other friggin' CCG in the mid-to-late Nineties it's an absolute miracle that I don't have a pallet of Overpower cards sitting in my room right now.  Thanks to some lukewarm (or at least informational) reviews in Scrye and Inquest, I quickly came to the conclusion that was nothing but a brainless beat-'em-up that did very little to replicate the true comic book experience.  Plus, the game's "XXX-TRM" style of art direction reminded me of why I wasn't reading comics at the time.

Heroclix (2002)  I still look longingly into comic book display cases which feature dozens of these colorful-looking figures.  Even though this is probably just as punch-drunk as Overpower, at least this has the toy factor going for it.  If I knew for sure that there were fairly deep scenarios and/or missions at at the heart of the game I might still be convinced to go for it.  If any of my readers want to pony up some sage advice on this one I'd be eternally grateful.

The Vs. System (2004) Although, at face value, this one blew away the infantile Overpower, I was completely poisoned by the concept of "collectible" gaming by the time of its release.  This is probably a shame since, by all accounts, it's supposed to be a real winner.  And unlike the hideous-looking Overpower, the art here looked absolutely fantastic.

Marvel Heroes (2006)  Okay, lemme get this straight: the same guys who brought us War of the Ring designed a Marvel super-hero game?  And it's being produced by Fantasy Flight?  SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY!!!  Unfortunately the result was an unnecessarily muddled affair for folks who just wanted to get their clobber-on while retaining an appropriately thematic narrative.

Having said that, I've only played this once or twice and I think it's high time we revisit it.  In fact, I'm almost 100% that this will be my next pick for game night.  P.S. What were they thinking RE: that game board?  It looks like a giant foldable ass.  

Heroscape Marvel: The Conflict Begins (2007)  Honestly, this could have been it for me.  Fantastic production values, clear rules, infinitely expandable, mission/scenario based game play and most importantly: acquiring new characters wouldn't have boiled down to blind booster-box crapshoots.  

For any sad souls out there who actually give a poop, I discuss this one in obsessive-compulsive detail right here 'Nuff said.    


And now here comes Legendary: A Marvel Deck Building Game.   Will it be the (Black) Cat's meow or lamer then Paste Pot Pete?  Read on, True Believers and find out!  

First off, here's the splash page story hook for Legendary, straight from the designer's bullpen:

"Legendary is a deck-building game set in the Marvel Comics universe.

"To set up the game, players choose a number of hero decks from the likes of Spider-man, Hulk, Cyclops, or Wolverine, to name a few.  Shuffle them together (since players use only a handful of hero decks out of the fifteen included) allowing the hero deck to vary widely in terms of what's available.

"Players then choose a mastermind villain (Magneto, Loki, Dr. Doom, etc.) and stack that particular villain's attack cards underneath it.  Next, modify the villain deck as needed based on that villain's particular scheme.

"Over the course of the game, players will recruit powerful hero cards to add to their deck in order to build a stronger and more resourceful deck.

"Players need to build both their recruitment powers (to enlist more heroes) and their fighting ability (to combat the villains who keep popping up to cause trouble).

"Players recruit heroes from an array of six cards, with empty slots refilled as needed. At the start of a player's turn, he reveals a villain and adds it to the row of villains.  This row has a limited number of spaces, and if it fills up, the earliest villain to arrive escapes, possibly punishing the heroes in some way.

"Some villains also take an action when showing up for the first time, such as kidnapping an innocent bystander. The villain deck also contains 'master strike' cards, and whenever one of these shows up, the mastermind villain (controlled by the game) takes a bonus action.

"As players fight and defeat villains, they collect those cards, which will be worth points at game's end. Players can also fight the mastermind; if a player has enough fighting power, he claims one of the attack cards beneath the mastermind, which has a particular effect on the game.

"If all of these cards are claimed, the game ends and players tally their points to see who wins. If the mastermind completes his scheme, however – having a certain number of villains escape, for example, or imposing a certain number of wounds on the heroes – then the players all lose.

"Do you have what it takes to defeat the villains? Or, will you let them escape? Play the all new Legendary: A Marvel Deck Building game to find what the cards have in store for you."

Still seeking the omniscience of The Watcher?  Well, you can click on the following link to see the full rules revealed!  


Even though none of us had thoroughly read the rules prior to sitting down with this, we still managed to get up to speed rather quickly.  This really speaks volumes about the game's intuitive nature and the rulebook's clarity.  Indeed, within no time we were able to throw this puppy down, crack open the rules  and get on with the 'ol "punchy-punchy".  

We used the same villain for both games we played: zee Red Skull!!!  Ach du lieber!!!

For Game One we drew the "Replace Earth's Leaders With Killbots" Scheme Card:

Although that particular Scheme was strangely apropos, the Hero Decks that we ended up using in Game One were downright schizophrenic:

Yep, for some bizarre reason we opted to pick the most volatile mix of heroes imaginable: Wolverine, Captain America (!), Deadpool (!?), Nick Fury and Hawkeye.  Cripes, this partnership would implode if you forced these guys to have lunch together, let alone fight as a team in battle!  

I'm not even going to attempt to recap that first disastrous match; just suffice to say that we got trashed. Badly.  Now, for once, this had nothing to do with fucking up some key rule, it was because we didn't shuffle the Villain Deck very well.  And by "very well" I mean "at all".  As a result, about a zillion Bystanders all came out together in a clump, promptly followed by an equal amount of Twists.  Next thing you know we were all sitting there helplessly watching a horde of Attack Power five Killbots casually sauntering unopposed across the board.

Yeah, the less said about that first game, the better.  

For Game Two we randomly changed the Scheme to "Midtown Bank Robbery" which would see us lose if eight Villains escape with bystanders.  Petty theft seem a tad beneath the grandiose plans of the Red Skull, but, hey, whatevs.

This time I shuffled the bejesus out of the Villain Deck.  We also decided to make the Hero Deck a little more cohesive thanks to a few X-cellent selections:

Okay, so this time we had Storm, Wolverine, Gambit and Rogue.  Oh, plus Spider-Man, 'cuz...well, y'know...Spidey rawks.   Plus, technically he is a mutant.

Okay, okay, before I get a slew of nerd-rage-fueled hate posts, I already know that Spidey is actually considered to be an "altered human".  But who else did you want us pick?  Cyclops?  *PFFFTTTTT!* 

As we got into the game, a parade of Villains started trooping out, including the thematically appropriate Baron Zemo and Baron Strucker as well as a pair of Hand Ninjas.  I quickly went to work, capping off one of the silent assassins with the help of some S.H.I.E.L.D. Troopers.  Mac drew a Recruitment- heavy hand of cards so he spent his turn beefing up his resources via Wolverine's "Healing Factor".   Chad and Mike also found themselves in the same boat so they helped themselves to couple of super-handy Rogue Cards.  

When it came around to me again, I was powerless to thwart the red wave of Hand Ninjas surging through the city.  I had to be content with a new card acquisition but since this turned out to be Storm's "Lightning Bolt" I finished my turn with a raging happy.  

Things started to look dire when Baron Zemo marched off the board, heralding the arrival of a multitudinous horde of Hydra Agents.  To make matters worse, that immovable, buffet-destroying, thyroid-victim the Blob waddled into the sewers, probably looking for some half-eaten chicken wings.     

Sensing the deck-manipulating potential of everyone's favorite web-head, I quickly acquired a Spidey card.  Silently I hoped that my allies would be in a better position to strike back against the forces of evil.  

Even though I'd shuffled the Villain Deck into oblivion, an inordinate amount of Twist cards seemed to surface, putting us right back behind the eight ball.  We'd have to act fast in order to avoid a repeat of Game One.     

Although Strucker and a Hand Ninja both managed to exit, stage left, I watched in rapt fascination as the embryonic decks of my team-mates began to come together.  Mac mounted a formidible five-point Rooftop defense thanks to Storm and Mike managed to knead the Blob into unconsciousness.  I did my best to mop up by pummeling two more Hand Ninjas, including one that Storm fricasseed on the Rooftops.  This created a pretty decent little gap in the bad guy's formation, thus preventing the Hydra Agents from pressing on. 

Seeing the effectiveness of the Weather Witch's attack, Chad quickly snatched up his own "Lightning Bolt" card.  

Even at this early stage in the game, the emergence of three quick Twist Cards resulted in an inordinate amount of Bystander abductions.  Once again, we found ourselves only a few disappearances away from certain defeat.    

Just as the unstoppable Juggernaut crashed our party, Mike bagged himself a Doombot.  Mac also rallied a stirring defense thanks to a pair of two-point Wolverine Attack Cards and a healthy dose of Spidey-Sense.  Although perennial Avengers-foe Whirlwind and another ubiquitous Doombot decided to show up seconds later, we were pretty pleased with our effort to keep the Villainous horde at bay.

In fact, the dearth of street-level Villains allowed us to get our first smack in on the Red Skull himself!  

As far as new deck acquisitions, I picked up a pretty decent little Rogue Card called "Copy Powers", which served me very well in the endgame.  

By this time a myriad of foes and card effects had pretty much gutted our initial contingent of  S.H.I.E.L.D. Agents and Troopers, making new acquisitions a real challenge.  Several of us had to adopt a few S.H.I.E.L.D. Officers in order to deal with the rising cost of recruitment.  

Finally the true offensive power of my deck came together, thanks to a one-two punch courtesy of Rogue and Storm.  Together these two lurvely ladies allowed me to win a Rooftop scrap with some Hydra Kidnappers and subdue a marauding Doombot Legion, the latter adding more flunkies to our already-considerable K.O. pile.     

Meanwhile a reconstituted Zemo and yet another swarm of deadly Hydra Agents created a highly volatile "bases loaded" situation.  Combined with the unexpected frequency of all those Twist / Missing Bystander draws, things were looking really grim.  

In an effort to arm ourselves against the coming tide, we acquired a new Gambit Card and kept whaling directly on the Skull.  

Despite our best efforts we couldn't prevent the Hydra Agents from saying ¡Adiós Amigos!.  Undeterred, Mike did a stellar job taking Whirlwind out of the equation.  I also used another Spidey-fueled Rogue / Storm combo to shit-can a new pack of Hydra flunkies.  This, in turn, ushered in two new Villains: the malodorous Melter and Yet Another Friggin' Hand Ninja™.  Fortunately we were able to rescue some of the captive Bystanders and postpone certain defeat.

Meanwhile, a stellar Mac attack saw Wolvie and Storm assail the Red Skull with a flurry of claws and electricity.  Chad quickly followed suit and soon we were only one haymaker away from victory.

In preparation for the final onslaught, we requisitioned a lot of new cards.  Wisely we snapped up Gambit's "Stack the Deck", Rogue's "Copy Powers" as well as another one of Storm's ever-popular "Lightning Bolts".     

Even with the City streets awash with Villainy and The Red Skull retaliating via a Masterstrike, our heroes were unbowed.  Now that my deck was firing on all cylinders, I was able to fell the mighty Juggernaut!  My team-mates also made short work of a Hand Ninja and some Doombots, making room for Melter, Mystique and more scumbag Kidnappers.

During that same round, a forward-thinking member of our team snatched up the five-Strength "Tidal Wave" Storm Card.  This alone was concrete evidence that the momentum was slowly swinging back in the direction of the Heroes!

Our final round was a truly co-operative affair.  After picking up a final piece of ammo in the form of Spidey's "Great Responsibility" Card,  Mike pummeled Zemo and I nailed Rebecca Romijn Mystique (wishful thinking).  This allowed Jennifer Lawrence Mystique and the ever-deadly Ultron to make an appearance.

But the arrival of these new enemies was soon made moot.  Chad invaded the Mastermind's lair and force-fed the Skull a knuckle sandwich,  K.O.'ing him for the win!

Individual Showdown Totals

Mac...25 points
Chad...20 points
Me...19 points
Mike...13 points


So, is Legendary: A Marvel Deck Building Game fun?  The answer, undeniably, is "yes".  In fact, it was so much fun that we immediately set up and partially played a third game which lasted until Dean was forced to kick us out of his home.  Indeed, the game is compulsively playable.    

I like how the Masterminds are fairly distinct from one another and I dig how their Schemes and Masterstrikes tie in together.  I really appreciate the mandatory Henchman Groups since this keeps the game thematically relevant and cuts down on the random Villains that show up.  Notice that I said "cuts down" and not "eliminates".  Not that I'm complaining since a few unexpected curve balls are always welcome.  

Bystanders are also a pretty clever mechanic, since normal, squishy humans always seem to require rescuing in the comics.  I also like how the Wound Cards hobble the effectiveness of your hand by adding a ton of dead wood.  The Hero Decks also do a fine job encapsulating all of the powers, special traits and maneuvers we've come to expect from our favorite characters.  Spidey anticipates what's to come.  Storm manipulates the game environment.  Rogue's abilities stack.  Wolvie deals mondo damage and regenerates.  Cap is a natural born leader.  Cyclops is a gigantic penis holster. 

Even though Legendary works as a series of fun mechanics, it's still not my comic book dream game.  I was kinda hoping that it would be more like Sentinels of the Multiverse, but, with real super heroes instead of generic facsimiles.  I wanted to control individual heroes, pit them against a big bad, and then have them wade through a devious set of environments rife with minions, hazards and complications.  Oh, and unlike Sentinels, I wanted it be good.

Legendary is fun, but thematically it stumbled a bit for me.  Since you aren't playing as an individual hero, you never feel as if you're down there in the trenches scrapping it out with super-villains.  Instead it feels as if you're taking on a director / leader type role: co-ordinating the efforts of a cohesive (or dysfunctionally random) super-team from afar.

Sorry, but in all my days playing that venerable Marvel Super Hero Role-Playing Game not once did I ever want to be Professor X.  

Here's the review breakdown...

  • Great art.
  • Straightforward rules and concise rulebook with plenty of examples.
  • Fun, fast-moving co-operative gameplay.
  • Card variety provides plenty of replay value.
  • You feel less like a participant in the action and more like a tactician.  In other words, you feel about as much like a super-hero while playing Legendary as you do a landowner in Dominion or an adventurer in Thunderstone.  
  • Mostly random Villains marching through a generic, four-location city is kinda blah. 
Legendary: A Marvel Deck Building Game scores four pips out of six, with a tilt skyward.


Wanna kick the Red Skull's ass up around his non-existent ears?  Click on the snap below to order Legendary from and help support this blog!  

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