Luke: It’s hard not to start playing with a new character and immediately start judging them based on their performance in just a couple of games.
Phil: It’s in our blood, to judge. That’s why we’re reviewers.
Luke: I think that’s something that most people can resonate with, though. You get a new power or ability in any game and you start testing the bounds of what it can do, seeing whether or not it was worth the price of admission.
Phil: And when there’s an actual monetary price attached to it, all the more reason.
Luke: Exactly. So, understandably, there has been a lot of discussion online over how good or bad Thor is when compared to the other playable heroes.
Phil: And the consensus?
Luke: Well, he’s not She-Hulk bad, but he’s certain a middle-of-the-road character, comparable to Ms. Marvel in some ways. Especially in solo, you need to build his deck in particular ways to make him really work, and even then he can be hard to use well.
Phil: Sure, with cards like Defender of the Nine Realms, which we talked about last week, he certainly comes across as a more nuanced and unique hero in what he does.
Luke: But here’s the thing; I think Thor possibly being below the curve of the game is a good thing.
Phil: Ummm… what?
Luke: Hear me out. Lots of people have found that Marvel Champions, as a game, can be rather easy, a problem with any cooperative game. By and large, co-op games are fun because you either overcome the insurmountable odds or you get crushed by a large-and-in-charge villain. Both of these results can be a ton of fun, and the struggle to fight for it can feel like a grand tug-of-war that lasts an hour.
Phil: Sure, that’s pretty standard co-op design philosophies. Look at Pandemic or Ghost Stories; you lose way more often than you win.
Luke: And in that vein, new villain packs haven’t been particularly difficult either. Wrecking Crew is a middle-of-the-road boss fight that can be pretty easy depending on the aspects being used, and Risky Business is perhaps the easiest of the lot. Only Mutagen Formula stands as an extreme test of your skills, ranking alongside Ultron as one of the hardest villain sets yet.
Phil: So yes, villain sets haven’t provided players with the challenge they’re looking for yet.
Luke: So, what else can players do to increase the challenge? Impose limitations on their deck-building options. And outside of designing a campaign mode, which some players have, what’s the best way to go about this?
Phil: Future hero sets that are generally not as strong as those that have come before.
Luke: Exactly. Ms. Marvel is a great example of this; she has a very strange playstyle that encourages a different and difficult approach to deck-building that I have yet to master, encouraging me to revisit her again and again to truly understand how to play her well.
Phil: And similarly, using a specific aspect that typically isn’t suited to a particular character can up the ante as well. Say a Captain Marvel Protection deck?
Luke: Absolutely; while that may be a viable option when you have 3 other players backing you up, you’ll struggle to get a lot of traction with a deck like that on your own. But in many ways, that’s the fun of it; seeing if you can make a janky, awkward deck work against all odds.
In many ways, making a character that is harder to play or not as strong can provide this challenge more naturally, without players having to feel like they need to create these restrictions for themselves.
Phil: But won’t that harm the game experience?
Luke: In a competitive game, sure. I’d hate to play an underpowered character when facing fierce competition against actual opponents. But in a game where everyone’s on the same team? Sure, I might not contribute as much to a multiplayer game as others, but I love the excitement and tension that can be created by making a less-than-optimal character work their magic.
While we will be talking about this in more detail in a few weeks, Thor is perhaps the most thematic and one of the most fun heroes I’ve had the pleasure of playing up to this point. I often find myself losing with him, sure, but that just pushes me to give him another go.
Phil: I think there’s an important factor you’re forgetting though.
Luke: What’s that?
Phil: Especially in a game where you get to create your own decks to play with, your success and failure can feel like a reflection of your own deck-building skills. So, while you might be okay with the losses, many players will struggle to feel like their time and money are being valued playing a character that is harder to build a successful deck for. I for one hate constant deck-building and can find myself staying away from certain heroes because I’m more likely to have to tweak their decks after the fact.
Luke: And that’s fine. Luckily, there are a ton of people online who have composed decks that you can try out that have proven success rates, assuming you understand how to play them. And if that’s not your cup of tea, you can always stick with the Captain America’s and Captain Marvel’s of the game, A-tier heroes that seem to provide fairly consistent positive results in my experience.
Phil: So, what, you hope that Black Widow is a sub-optimal hero to play as?
Luke: Not really, I just hope they do something interesting. Ms. Marvel does weird things with events, Cap is a beast of a hero to play as, and Thor presents an unpredictability that can make games pretty exciting and climactic. Now Black Widow is promising a whole new kind of card to play with? Count me in. Regardless of how good she is, I’ll be excited to see what her playstyle offers to the game. Not to mention I’ve been chomping at the bit for more Justice cards.
All I’m saying is it’s okay if Thor is just an alright hero. Sometimes, playing the underdog is just more fun. The important part is that they offer something new to try, that they aren’t just a boring carbon copy of another hero, and that they push our perceptions of what we can do with deck-building. Marvel Champions, like any other LCG, is an evolving experience, and I’m more than excited to see what comes next.
Phil: Well said, friend.
Luke: Well, let’s see what our friends online have to say; let us know down below your thoughts on hero balance in a co-op game, Thor, or whatever else. We’ll see ya’ll next week!