- Designers: Michael Boggs, Nate French, and Caleb Grace
- Artists: Various (Uncredited on BGG)
- Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
- Release Date: November 1st, 2019
Phil: Just get it out of the way.
Luke: But I’m gonna come across as pretentious or something.
Phil: Yeah, that’s why you should just say it now so we can all move along with our lives.
Luke: *sigh* So, I’m a big Marvel nerd. No, not the “I watch all the movies” kind, more like “I not only read comics but try to keep up to date with the lore and ideas within the mythos even when I have no interest in reading certain series” kind. You know, occasionally insufferable kind.
Luke: While I found the films exciting at first, a lot of the creativity and life that once fueled them now resides at the bottom of Disney’s immense coffers, too risky to be introduced into the wildly popular film dynasty they’ve built for themselves.
Phil: In other words, they’re people pleasers.
Luke: Am I not people, Phil?
Phil: Not the people who Disney sells to.
Luke: Darn right.
Phil: But what does your weirdly and somewhat specific background in Marvel have anything to do with this?
Luke: Well, from the off-set, I was pretty skeptical of Marvel Champions, mostly because it’s visually sloppy. Various art styles and designs are mashed together for convenience, making even the good art assets stand out awkwardly, and the icons used are poorly conceived and executed. Frankly, it was a hard pill to swallow.
Phil: And yet, you decided to take your medicine.
Luke: That I did. I could barely believe it when I heard that this was a reimplementation of the Arkham Horror LCG, a game that I enjoyed more in concept than execution.
Phil: Isn’t that the #1 beloved solo board game of all time on BGG? Dude, you could get banished from the 1-Player Guild for saying stuff like that.
Luke: Perhaps, but I stand by it. Arkham Horror, being a game of spooky frights, is full of uncertainty and tall tales, which in gamers’ terms translates to some significant random chance and long-winding narrative, which are elements I don’t care for much in my games.
Phil: Random chance needs to exist in just about any board game.
Luke: Absolutely, but the degree of luck at play in a number of the Arkham scenarios I’ve played was significant enough to make me feel out of control, which, to be fair, lends itself well to the theme, but didn’t make for a fun experience. Luckily, the differences are significant enough to make each experience wholly unique, even if they do utilize similar formats and mechanics.
Phil: So… how much did you pay for your copy of Marvel Champions?
Luke: Don’t look at me like that.
Phil: Say it.
Luke: You say it.
Phil: $60!!! For a bunch of cards and tokens.
Luke: I knooooooow.
Phil: And they don’t even include dividers in the box!!!
Luke: I knooooooooooooow.
Phil: It’s like highway robbery.
Luke: I knoooooooooooooooooooow, but at least this time around you don’t need to buy multiple sets of the base game to get enough copies of each card.
Phil: That’s not a defense, that’ an indictment of the garbage policies these LCGs have had up until this point.
Luke: Okay, it’s a bit pricey for what it is, absolutely, but for my money, this is one of the best games I’ve played all year.
Phil: … Alright, I’m listening.
Luke: Each game focuses on defeating a pre-selected villain before they can rub their hands maniacally for long enough to get away with whatever evil plot they’re up to.
Each of the 5 heroes has somewhere between 15 and 20 unique cards that must be included in their deck. Otherwise, you may add cards from 1 of the 4 types (aggression, leadership, justice, and protection) and neutral cards until your deck is composed of between 40 and 50 cards.
Some folks might be bothered by how limited this may seem, but it leaves each character maintaining its own flavor while allowing for interesting combinations when exploring your options. Deckbuilding is thoughtful but much quicker than in games like the Lord of the Rings LCG, letting you get to the game sooner while also feeling accomplished with the thing you cobbled together.
Each game, your hero will start on their civilian side and-
Luke: Yeah, this is easily the coolest mechanic in the game. Each hero has two forms that they can switch between during a game, each providing different abilities, actions, and hand sizes. Additionally, villains will only attack you according to which form you’re in during the villain phase, meaning that how you end your turn will have a huge effect on how the villain reacts to you.
Luke: It gets better. Certain cards can only be used or activated when you are one version of a hero or another, meaning that, since you can only flip your hero once per turn, you’ll have to think of a clever pattern of how to play your cards in order to ensure you get the most bang for your buck.
For instance, Peter Parker gives their hero a free mental resource to use once per turn, but many of his cards can only be used as a hero, so you have to think about what cards to include in your deck or play before becoming Spidey in order to maximize the use of his powers.
Phil: Resource costs? How many are there, and does that mean you need to include the equivalent of mana cards to your deck?
Luke: There are 3 types of resources (mental, physical, and energy) as well as wilds, and here’s the other kind of spicy choice you’ll be making each turn; every card can be discarded for the energy it provides to pay for another card. That means that you’re always pressured to toss powerful cards to get other effects to trigger or to build a hand of cards in hopes of pulling into the right cards to pay for the absurdly expensive Avengers Mansion or Nick Fury and reap the benefits. It’s a smart way of getting around an issue a lot of CCGs and LCGs have faced in the past while also forcing the player to make hard decisions each turn, keeping the game fresh and tense.
Phil: So, walk me through a turn.
Luke: At the start of each turn, you’ll have a fresh hand of 6 cards or less (depending on which side your hero is starting their turn on), and you’ll be able to take as many actions as you’d like in any order. Actions include:
- Playing a card by paying its cost.
- Flipping your hero to their other form (once per turn).
- Using your hero for a basic effect (attacking, thwarting, or recovering).
- Using an ally card to attack or thwart.
- Triggering a card in your play area.
Assuming you are playing with someone else, you can also play cards into their play area or use cards they have out in play with their permission, making for some neat teamwork that is rare to see in these sorts of games.
Once each player has had a full turn to complete all their actions, the villain has their opportunity to wreak havoc. First, they’ll put threat on their main scheme, the ticking time bomb that will end the game if you’re not careful. Then, they’ll attack each hero in their costumed form and scheme against each hero in their civilian form. Finally, each player gets a card off the top of the deck, giving negative effects such as bringing out minions to fight, more plots to foil, or even activate special negative effects specific to your character.
This loop will continue until either all heroes are dead, the villain’s final plot succeeds, or the heroes are able to take down both forms of the villain, winning the game!
Phil: You know, for as much information as there is to take in, that seems fairly straightforward overall.
Luke: Once you’ve played through a turn or two, it’s like second nature, and you’ll find yourself wanting to play again and again, trying out all the different villain and henchman combinations, seeing how they fair at higher difficulties, and experimenting with the hero decks.
Phil: And it plays well?
Luke: Beyond well. 2-player is neat due to the aforementioned ability to give your teammate useful things and borrow their effects so players always have something to do, but 1-player is where I find this title really sings. With multiple heroes, you can kind of buff out each other’s flaws, and while enemies scale to player count, it can feel a bit easier with more folks. 1-player gives you a challenge worth pursuing, and with so many different challenges to try and how cards will trigger in wildly different ways each game, the same villain can feel just as fresh as your first playthrough.
Phil: Luke… don’t tell me this is one of your favorite games?
Luke: Let’s not get too hasty. It’s certainly one of the best 1-player games I’ve played in a very long time, and a fantastic 2-player game as well, but we’ll have to wait and see how good it is until more content is released for it. As much as this is a complete package, the deck-building could use a bigger card pool and more variability of heroes and villains is never a bad thing.
Phil: Anything else that rubs you the wrong way?
Luke: Due to the number of small rules at work, I’m still finding little things here and there that I’ve realized I’ve been screwing up, which speaks to the volume of stuff that can be found on individual cards. Certain enemy symbols are hard to remember and track, it can be easy to forget steps of your upkeep in the process of composing your extravagant, Beautiful Mind– level plan, and tokens can inadvertently cover key text that you needed to recall.
Phil: Okay, well this article already feels like a marathon, so why don’t you sum things up.
Luke: Marvel Champions is expensive for what it is, with FFG making off with a king’s ransom due to the popularity of the product they’re making, but for the thoughtful, intense, nuanced system at play, it’s definitely worth investing your time and cash into this. Come January, 3 new expansions are going to be released to give the game a new breath of life and will allow you to customize your game to your liking. With any luck, we’ll be covering that content down the road, but for now, this is a must-have for me and will be staying in my collection.