February 7, 2016 by Jake
Wait, we already used the legen- [pause for effect] -dary joke? Well that’s a damn shame. I am writing to declare loudly and unabashedly that every nerve of my geek psyche is channeling Legendary: A Marvel Deck Building Game. For the uninitiated, a deck building game is separate in the genre of card games by which collecting the cards you play that session with is actually as much a part of the game’s technical strategy as using those cards effectively. The idea centers around a communal pool of card options, available to everyone, that players in turn can use some form of in game currency to obtain. When said cards are obtained they go into your discard pile and when you run out of cards in your deck, you re-shuffle all the cards you played with and redraw a new hand. In this manner the purchased cards get cycled into your options and your generic starter deck begins to take on a flavor of its own. By the end of the game it is highly unlikely that your deck will resemble any other player’s or any iteration you have played with previously.
For those uninitiated with Marvel. It is a colossal comic book company that specializes in super heroes and science fiction and has left such a massive imprint on pop culture that even you probably know who Spider Man is in your lovely little home under that rock. Ahem.
Legendary: A Marvel Deck-Builder is a cooperative card game that pits one to five players against the artificial intelligence of iconic Marvel villains in a city. There are two decks, the first is composed of several heroes like Ironman, Wolverine, and the Incredible Hulk. The other deck is filled with villains cards and is led by a Mastermind and his unique scheme, which represent the losing condition for the player. Each turn players reveal a villain card, add it to the city and have the opportunity to buy hero cards that make their deck stronger, and or fight villain cards or even the powerful mastermind. If the players as a team can manage to strike down the Mastermind four times before running out of time or losing control of the city, they are victorious.
The game is not hard to teach and even better can be taught within the first round of play. If players can grasp the concept of in-game currency and building up printed attack strength, then card combos and synergy will quickly be picked up. This is a huge selling point for me as a game with simple core mechanics doesn’t take long to teach or slow down game time.
Where the game stops being simple and gains a very good complexity is not in its rules mechanics, but in its diversity of cards and decisions for each player. The game comes with four different boss enemies and eight different schemes. My favorite part of this game’s randomness comes from the thematic feel of each of these schemes. While every game is a race against time in some way or another, the different losing conditions are what prevent strategy from becoming stale. In one scheme the deck is flooded with puny henchmen that should normally be easy to tackle, but certain timed events throughout the deck cause more of them to come pouring into the city and if too many escape the game is over. Faced with tough decisions between striking our way to victory or keeping the streets clean, we came very close to failure before hefting a stick big enough to contain the criminals.
Another great scenario which really showcases how some heroes tackle challenges differently was one played with my wife and father. The losing condition was based around containing the Legacy Virus and played with how much damage the team could take as a whole. Normally wounds in the game are a minor annoyance, but in this scheme they became the focal point for how to avoid losing. We each tackled the problem in different ways. My father pumped his deck with Incredible Hulk cards which can transfer the damage he took into raw power and kept his deck clean. I recruited as many Iron Man cards as I could to use his special technology abilities to prevent how badly the virus affected my deck. Megan took the more direct approach and built her deck around drawing more cards to keep her deck effective around the wounds, while using synergy between Cyclops and Gambit to pummel our adversary Magneto (who was especially punishing against players without any X-Men cards). While using very abstract concepts and simple cards, this game still managed to craft a vivid narrative of Iron Man desperately trying to buy the X-Men time against more virus outbreaks, while the Hulk, which normally should have been an asset actually proved dangerous for the populace even while smashing villains left and right.
Not to be left out is a small gush over the variety of heroes in the core box, there are fifteen and they each have a distinct flavor. Whether it is the bystander rescuing Black Widow, the quick draw effects of Spiderman, hand-manipulating Gambit, or the heavy chain-lightning effects of Thor. With so many heroes and combinations to discover in the core box alone it doesn’t take the power of precognition to foresee myself and those I game with to enjoy this for quite some time. It is already my most played game two months in to 2016.
I will briefly mention the negative parts I experienced. Firstly is how to handle the quantity of cards; several basic cards will be used in every game, and mine are already experiencing a little side-scuffing. This is not a big deal and I have chosen to forego using card protectors in the interest of avoiding glare, along with the fact that some of the people I play with dislike them. You will have to weigh the used condition of your game with whether you are willing to sleeve your entire collection. Since all the cards essentially have potential to go into your deck you will need to buy identical cases for nearly every card and every expansion you purchase. My other slight unrest is the solo play mode. I think many games can be fulfilling as one player games, but the villain and hero pool used for single player games is very small. I have played Legendary solo a few times and am still undecided, but I think something may be missing when comparing it to the same game with two or more participants.
I will end with repeating my eagerness to play the game and introduce it to many others this year, I hope that what I found in Legendary is not just new game in the collection hype and an honest to goodness gem in my very large collection. With several expansions available, including my beloved Guardians of the Galaxy I am spending as much time trying everything in the main box before I dive into additional content. I highly recommend this game to fans of comic books, cards games, and cooperative play alike.
One Plucky Question: Which game can you remember bringing a theme you loved to strong mechanics that really resonated with you?