Luke: Hey folks, and welcome to a new segment for 1-2-Punchboard! In Behind the Board, well be doing interviews with a variety of folks from some of our favorite games. This week, we’re joined by none other than the lead developer of Marvel Champions, Michael Boggs! Pleasure to have you here, Michael.
Michael: Happy to be here, thanks for inviting me.
Luke: So, consider me curious; seeing as you’ve worked on Netrunner, Star Wars: Destiny, and Keyforge prior to this, what element do you think defines and separates Marvel Champions from other FFG card games?
Michael: In many ways, I feel that Marvel Champions hybridizes some of the key concepts that we’ve refined over the years in other games. Like Star Wars: Destiny or Keyforge, the mechanical design is simple enough that anyone can learn the game but deep enough that even the most diehard gamer has something to enjoy. Like Arkham Horror: The Card Game, each moment in the game tells a piece of a greater narrative, one which players can connect with.
Marvel Champions is a culmination of these two ideas, both of which are tied together by the larger-than-life characters and adventures that embody the Marvel universe.
Luke: Speaking to your wide range of design experiences, you’ve been quoted saying that a primary design philosophy of yours is interactive gameplay; where do you feel Marvel Champs best exemplifies this?
Michael: I think there are many interactive moments throughout each game of Marvel Champions—a side scheme comes into play, which creates a shared puzzle for the players to solve; a minion engages one player, but another player spends their own resources and cards to defeat that minion; one player bolsters another by playing one of their cards onto that player (such as Combat Training); etc. A core design philosophy for Marvel Champions has always been to make players feel empowered, like they’re a hero who can do anything. Interaction is a fun and easy way to achieve that.
While we certainly designed the game to be fun between one to four players, we feel that two and three player games are where Marvel Champions shines. At one player, all of my examples above of interactivity no longer apply, and we feel that these specific types of moments are one of the things that make cooperative games so enjoyable. At four players, the game tends to slow down, with each player having to parse what they can do, what each of their teammates can do, and what each encounter card can do. However, there’s just enough back-and-forth between two players that those interactive moments still shine, and not so much information with three players that anyone feels overwhelmed.
Luke: That’s particularly interesting considering the huge solo crowd this game has ushered in. What design challenges do you find working with a game that has such a large solo player base when that player count can dramatically change the game experience?
Michael: Single-player tends to be more “swingy” in that the villain can sometimes draw a sequence of cards from the encounter deck that is game-ending. While we try to mitigate this as much as we can, it’s an element of the single-player experience that we’ve kind of learned to accept as a feature instead of a bug. It gives the single-player experience a unique feel over the other player counts and is something that players can account for when building their deck, making cards like Emergency and Great Responsibility a little more valuable.
All that said, ensuring that this feature isn’t overrepresented in the design is, at times, a challenge, as we want the experience to be as equal across player counts as it can be. On occasion, we have to adjust values on encounter cards—values which may be balanced in high-player counts—to account for this.
Luke: Some cards, such as Get Over Here!, have very little function in solo play. How do you balance releasing cards that can be player-count-specific?
Michael: While every card should be fun, not every card must be great in every player count. Some cards are going to be more multiplayer-centric, like Get Over Here!, while other cards may have a big leg-up in single-player mode. The important thing is that, no matter the count, players always have interesting options when building their decks.
Luke: Supposedly, there was a 5th Aspect cut from the original design of Marvel Champions. What ultimately led to you and the team settling on only 4 Aspects?
Michael: The fifth aspect was called “determination”, and it focused on doing whatever necessary to get ahead. An example of this is the upcoming aggression event in Hulk’s pack, Toe to Toe, which costs 1 resource to play, deals 5 damage to an enemy, but forces that enemy to attack you first. For a long time, Toe to Toe was a determination card, one that truly embodied determination’s philosophy of winning at any cost.
Over time, however, we found that determination stood out much less than the other aspects. At the end of the day, it was a jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none, with the caveat that the determination player would sometimes put themself or their teammates in extra danger. While that sounds fun, we came to the realization that we could simply port that design to other aspects and it would effectively provide the same exciting moments. We also realized that four aspects provided enough design space to make each aspect feel distinct without spreading any one of them too thin.
Luke: Now, I know there’s been a lot of muttering online about the power-levels of various heroes, especially the most recently released character, Thor. What would you say to those players who find Thor “underpowered” or find it thematically jarring that characters like Black Widow are proving to be more consistent characters to play as than the God of Thunder?
Michael: Thor is intended to be a powerhouse who hits very hard and can stand up to big attacks, though his weakness is very much in his thwarting potential. In multiplayer games, this works, as the other players can compensate for Thor’s lack of threat removal. Additionally, Thor’s minion-destroying capabilities allow each player to stay in hero form a little longer than they’d normally be able as they’re not taking damage from minion attacks, which further reduces the number of scheme activations per game.
In single player, however, he’s left to rely only on his damage.
Black Widow, on the other hand, has a tool for almost every problem and is especially good at threat removal. While I can see this making her feel more powerful than Thor, I think she’s really just more versatile. In a game where one of the defining mechanics is drawing random bad cards from a deck and then having to deal with said bad cards, versatility can be crucial.
Over time, I think we’ll see Thor’s power level come up with the release of new aspect cards. Black Widow, on the other hand, is a little more capped in her power—she’s so reliant on Preparation cards that she can only really get stronger as more of those are released.
Luke: Similarly, according to Max Maloney’s statistical data gathered on a BGG, Captain America has a 13.7% solo advantage, a factor that has led vocal fans of forums to view Cap as the strongest character in the game thus far. How do you feel like this perspective reflects on the character design as you see it?
Michael: Again, I think this comes back to versatility. Captain America’s entire mechanical schtick is that he can do a little bit of everything. In solo especially, this is incredibly effective.
While I do think that Captain America will always be a solid hero to play, my prediction is that with the release of more varied cards into the aspect card pool, his versatility will become less important over time as other heroes gain access to a greater diversity of tools.
Luke: I know we’ll have to wait a while until you’ll have the opportunity to do this again, but what do you find to be the most fun or entertaining elements of announcing or revealing new content for the game?
Michael: I love when players start noticing the details of a new product, whether it’s with the theme, the mechanics, or an Easter egg that we may have placed. For me, one of the most enjoyable parts of the job is coming up with those subtler elements, and it’s super rewarding to see people not only find those, but also have fun with them.
I’m looking forward to The Rise of Red Skull expansion, as well as the packs following it. I think players will enjoy those products a lot.
Luke: Now, this might be a slightly selfish question on my part, but how many playtesters do you need to gather for a game this size/scope and what’s the process of becoming a playtester for Marvel Champions?
Michael: Between the alpha and beta process, we usually have somewhere around 60+ people. And that number can fluctuate from product to product.
For anyone interested in playtesting, information for how to do so can be found at: https://www.fantasyflightgames.com/en/more/playtesting/.
Luke: *scribbles on “to-do” list* Goooooooooooood to know.
The last thing I wanted to pick your brain about today is if there’s anything you’d challenge or encourage fans to try for the next few months as they wait for the next expansion release.
Michael: I still haven’t heard of anyone completing the Klaw and Doomsday Chair heroic level 3 challenge. Step up your game, people!
Luke: Hahah, the gauntlet has been thrown down!
Michael, thanks so much again for taking the time out of your busy schedule to talk with us, and we at 1-2-Punchboard are looking forward to seeing what more Marvel Champions has in store.
Michael: Absolutely, glad to take the time to chat.
Luke: If ya’ll at home have any thoughts on our interview process or who else you’d like to see us talk with, let us know in the comments below. Looking forward to seeing you again next week!