Marvel Champions - FFG - $60
Game title: Marvel Champions
Game description: A superhero card game where the two strongest heroes in the Marvel Universe and three men team up to battle a villain.
Author: Fantasy Flight Games
FFG re-implements Arkham Horror and Lord of the Rings to bring you Marvel superheroes punching villains.
- A popular IP
- Game play is quick
- Plenty of interesting heroes to play
- No sense of story
- Some faux-comic artwork
- Plenty of lackluster villains to go against
In 2011, Fantasy Flight Games released The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game, a cooperative card game where players construct decks to guide a fellowship of heroes through a storyline created by the game’s encounter decks. Five years later, the company released a card game based on Arkham Horror, which was an evolution of the LotR game. In late 2019, Marvel Champions was released, which seems to be less of an evolution of the Arkham game and more of a simplification.
The earlier two games were somewhat complex ninety-minute-to-several-hours-long games that had players constructing decks representing heroes: heroes who traveled to different locations, encountered various obstacles, and played through an ongoing story. There was a sense that the heroes you were playing were experiencing an adventure. With Arkham Horror: The Card Game (the one I am most familiar with), the scenarios are quite varied with a small act and agenda deck that marks progress through play. This, plus the way each scenario sets up the locations vastly changed the feel of each game. In one setup, the location cards could represent a small house your heroes are going room from room in. Or they could represent wide-ranging locations in a city, a train in the back country, or even possible locations in time! Each new scenario game of Arkham Horror you encounter feels unique with the scope of the layout of locations and with how those locations dole out clues — either by outright investigating generic “clues” or performing certain actions with various results.
Marvel Champions does not include this element of storytelling.
Instead, Marvel Champions tells the story of a fight scene. Narratively, this is all it does.
Your mission in Marvel Champions is a fight with a supervillain. The villain wins (and the players lose) if either the villain knocks out all the heroes or the villain completes a scheme. The only way the hero wins is if they deal enough damage to the villain to take them out.
Your character in Marvel Champions has a hero and alter ego side. As a hero, they can use any of the cards that have “Hero” in the keywords, use their heroic special ability, attack the villain or the villain’s minions, thwart the villain’s plans (removing threat from a scheme), and/or ready to defend against a villain’s attack. If you’ve flipped your hero to the alter ego side, they can use any of the cards with “Alter Ego” in the keywords, recover health, and/or use the alter ego’s special ability. If your spandex-clad super is in hero form, they get attacked each turn; if in their secret identity, the villain makes progress on their scheme.
In the starter box, there are three villains to go against. They each have their own agenda. At the end of each turn, they place threat (AH’s “doom”) on the scheme (agenda deck), adding additional threat if the hero is currently in their secret identity form. Instead of gathering clue tokens as in Arkham Horror (which can be done in variety of ways, representing a host of different in-fiction actions), heroes do damage to the villain. While there can be a bit of story revealed in the villain’s scheme deck, you’re still just punching Ultron, turn after turn.
While this sounds interesting, the story the game tells doesn’t quite work for me. Take the Ultron fight: We start with Ultron building a army of drones, then he’s off to NORAD in Colorado where he’s going to launch nukes. You’re just fighting him the entire time. What this means is you’re Spider-Man and you’re trading punches with Ultron and — Ow! You take damage! — so in the middle of the fight, you ditch your costume and now you, Peter Parker, are hanging out with Aunt May back in Queens having milk and cookies, but then you put your costume back on and web it back to the Mountain Time Zone where Nick Fury has a brief cameo as you kick Ultron in the face. Nick leaves for some reason and Captain America pops back to Steve’s Apartment in Brooklyn while the missile launch countdown goes 6… 5… 4… but now he’s back with Nick Fury who hangs out for one more second before leaving. Meanwhile, Killmonger is leading a coup in Wakanda, which gives She-Hulk the option to throw a car at a guy in Africa from a completely different hemisphere!
Where the heck is this battle taking place?
There isn’t any sense of place in the game. With the switching from hero to alter ego in the middle of a fight, the game immediately stops feeling like a fight scene in a comic book (or one of the Marvel movies).
Marvel Champions simplifies Arkham Horror to a point where it simultaneously doesn’t deliver a good story and doesn’t emulate the source material well. It does play in half the time with a much quicker setup and teardown time than Arkham Horror or The Lord of the Rings. Although I’ve seen it said that deckbuilding is much easier in Marvel Champions, it’s still similar to AH’s — there just isn’t a deep card pool at this point so making your superhero only feels simpler.
The way the game is structured, I have a difficult time thinking there can be as much of a variety in gameplay experiences between scenarios in Marvel Champions as there are in the two other games FFG offers. A campaign pack/story box, Rise of the Red Skull is promised this summer which should have linking fight scenes and potentially expanding the game, but I truly have a hard time envisioning how that would change the simple game Marvel Champions is.
Described as “a being of distilled InDesign coding, smoke, and visual lyricism, with a hint of a velvety ghost of cognac”, Thomas designs the look and feel of some of your favorite roleplaying games and boardgames. He lives in a spooky forest near the edge of civilization.
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