Game Review - Legendary: A Marvel Deck Building Game
First off, I guess I have to admit I’m doing this backwards…but not by much.
You see, even though Upper Deck’s Legendary: A Marvel Deck Building Game came out first, I bought it at the same time as Cryptozoic’s DC Comics Deck Building Game. And while I hope I don’t fall into a compare and contrast style of review here…well, just given the long-standing competitive nature of the two largest publishers of superhero comics…I’m sure it’s bound to happen. That being said, even though Legendary was released first, the fact that it was only 2 weeks before DC’s game coupled with how long it takes to develop these games, you could say they came out simultaneously because, for all intents and purposes, they did.
First off, you’ll notice Legendary sure does have a big box! I have to admit, at the time I thought it was so damn cool that there was a board component to it. After some play though, I remembered the fatal flaw of all board games…all that folding, eventually something’s gonna give. (Note to self, spring for the playmat come next pay.) Removing the board, you see the reason for the size of the box…a giant plastic tray that will not only easily contain the cards that come with this initial offering but MANY of the cards to come. And here we come to our first compare/contrast, Upper Deck very obviously planned ahead. They knew expansions were on the way and allowed ample room for them, whereas Cryptozoic seemingly opted to play it by ear and have found themselves one step behind since.
That’s another leg up. DC’s first expansion, while large and impressive (and could also be played as its own game), ended up being released just over a year after the initial offering. Upper Deck opted for smaller expansions offered more frequently. Okay, so the first expansion, Dark City, wasn’t “small”, being comprised of 350 cards, but after that, smaller 100 card sets focusing on groups/families became the norm, being released every 4 to 6 months. (In my beloved DC’s defense, they’ve been playing a hell of a game of catch-up…but that’s another review for another time.)
But all of these expansions won’t do any good if the core mechanics aren’t good…so are they? I mean, that’s what you’re reading this for…right? Sure…I could keep stalling…[GET ON WITH IT!!! – Ed.] Well, as it happens, the stalling here is for a reason. As much as you might want to jump right into the game, there’s some set up time needed. Put all the starting cards in their place (Wounds, Bystanders, SHIELD Officers), then choose what Mastermind (villain) you want to go up against…but he needs henchmen and villain groups for the villain deck so you have to choose those (although Masterminds do come with an “Always Leads”…so that’s ONE choice made for you). Then you need a Scheme and then that tells you how many Scheme Twists go into the villain deck…and don’t forget the Master Strike cards, they go in there too. Whew. Now can we play?
Now you’ve got to assemble your hero deck. The number of heroes in the hero deck is determined by the number of people playing the game (there’s a chart in the instructions…it’s not simply a 1 player to 1 hero ratio…thank goodness). Still, with the expanding number of heroes at your fingertips, this becomes almost an overwhelming decision. Once the number of heroes is determined and you manage to choose some, you shuffle the cards associated with your chosen champions into what will become your hero deck. And for the love of God, SHUFFLE THEM WELL! Nothing sucks like having an HQ full of 4 Hulks and a Thor…with Silver Surfer just chillin’ in a clump in the middle of the deck.
So, provided all this set up hasn’t drained you of your will to live, you’re now ready to play the game. And the reward for your perseverance is a pretty good one. The game is fun and very thematic. Let me explain what I mean here. The biggest gripe many people had with the DC game was that it seemed inconsistent. How can Batman have Heat Vision? Why would Superman recruit Bane or Lex Luthor onto his team? With a little imagination, these questions are easily answered: Bats called in Superman for some cover fire and if the world is under threat from a universal threat like Darkseid or the Anti-Monitor, I’m sure heroes and villains will set aside their differences to combat the larger threat…as has been done in thousands of stories. [Yeah, but who said internet reviews were the voices of imagination? – Ed.] In Legendary, you are the invisible hand of SHIELD…sending out your selected heroes to do battle with a threat to the world’s security. And this works really well.
There are two currencies in the game, Recruit points and Attack points (any guesses as to what each of them do?), with various keywords helping or hindering you with regard to how to spend/use these points. Now, each hero you selected has 14 cards representing 4 different abilities…some give you Attack points, some Recruit, some both. These are separated out into 10 common cards of two abilities (low cost cards) 3 uncommon cards of one ability (medium cost) and one rare card (expensive but powerful!). Or, if you don’t like what you see or can’t afford anything in the HQ, you can pick up a SHIELD Officer that’ll give you 2 Recruit points when played…you know, spending money to make money. Using your heroes, you have to defeat the Mastermind 4 times before you can claim victory. But it’s not as simple as that. Remember those Henchmen and Villain Groups? The Villain deck? Yeah, well, each round starts with the top card coming off the Villain deck and entering the City portion of the board and with each new villain introduced, the remaining ones make their way across the city until, if unbeaten, they escape, which can have negative impacts for you and your heroes back at HQ depending on the Mastermind and his/her scheme. In this mechanic, Legendary is more cooperative than competitive. Like it’s DC analog though, there are victory points here too, so while everyone’s working together to stop the bad guys, you’re also playing for as many points as you can get so that you can make the sole claim to Legendary status. Still, the rush to tackle villains before they escape as well as take on the Mastermind makes for some fun gameplay and, combined with Schemes and Scheme Twists, allows for evil to win too.
Once the action is done and victory is claimed by either good or evil or one player over another…well, remember all that fun you had setting this up? You get to repeat that joy in tearing it all down, separating everything out and returning it to the box. Is ‘buzzkill’ still in the vernacular these days?
Upper Deck and Marvel did a great job with this game. It’s got a good core mechanic and is thematically sound and great support through somewhat frequent updates and expansions. If only it didn’t take so damn much time to set up and put away…ugh.