Marvel Legendary is the new (coming in November) deck building game from Upper Deck Entertainment, based on the Marvel Comics universe. Now, as many people may know, this has been a long road for Upper Deck. From getting the license to make a Marvel Trading card game, to the rumored Marvel Miniatures game, to recently releasing the Super Hero Squad card game, and now, at the precipice of Legendary's release.
It hasn't been easy either. The first version, using pictures from the X-men, Wolverine, and other movies, was online for months, never materializing. Ironically, they have much better and more images from, well honestly, much better movies than Wolverine, to use now.
That all said, Legendary, using custom commissioned artwork, is almost here, and after having the chance to play it at Gen Con, meet Jason Brenner, the lead designer, and having the chance to play a prototype version, I'm happy to say, I've played over 30 times and have the opportunity to bring you a full review!
Marvel Legendary is a 1-5 player game, yes there is solo mode (and it's VERY well done), where you will use S.H.I.E.L.D. agents and troppers to start the game, fighting against an evil Mastermind, recrtuiting major heroes from Marvel's Universe to help you along the way. It is an exciting, tense game, and one that will definately leave you feeling as though you, and your friends, were in control of that super group.
Legendary comes with 15 heroes, 4 Masterminds, 7 Villain groups, and 4 Henchmen groups, all of which can be pre-selected or randomized to provide a MASSIVE amount of replay value. Each game begins with selecting 5 heroes to make up the hero deck. Each "set" of heroes is made up of several cards, with one rare card, a few uncommons, and commons.
The first thing you'll see when selecting them, is that the art is the same throughout the stack, with the differences being the colored borders, and amount of borders on a card. Yes, amount. Commons are denoted with a full border around the card, while uncommons have a half border and art creeping over that border. Rare's meanwhile, like Captain America's pictured right, have no border, and honestly, are quite stunning!
All of the artwork is uniquely commissioned for this game, so search all you want, you won't find it in a panel of a comic anywhere. This is both awesome, and frustrating. Since unique art is expensive, that seems to be the primary "Thunderstone" driver for the decision to make use of the same picture and the unique border/coloring system. So, while it's beautiful artwork, it is a bit "draining" to see the same picture over and over again.
After assembling the Hero deck, you'll choose a Mastermind from the Red Skull, Magneto, Doctor Doom, and Loki to fight, along with their Scheme. Schemes are the "game engine" in Legendary and there are 8 in the base game with a wide array of variations. Each will have a different game set up and each will provide varying degrees of difficulty to defeating evil!
Finally, you will add in several villain groups, which are all either randomized, or, using the "Always leads" ability of your Mastermind, can include factions they are evil masters of. Additionally, there are Henchmen groups which are added in, that are fairly easy to defeat, but still add a good amount of flavor from the universe.
Anyone who is a fan of Marvel will thoroughly enjoy this game. The design is simple enough with only two resources, Fight (Attack) and Recruit Points, that it's easy to pick up. With the high array of heroes and villains and masterminds though, there is just a ton of replay value to setting up totally different games.
While the group plays against the evil Mastermind and the scheme engine, there are also victory points to claim by defeating villains, fighting the Mastermind, and rescuing bystanders. If the game engine wins, everyone loses as a group, but if the team defeats evil, then the person with the highest point total wins and is the strongest hero of them all!
So, while the goal is to work together, you will make some plays throughout the game, that may seem odd or out of place, to ensure your ultimate victory. This took a bit away from the "team" aspect to me, but I understand why they did it.
Legendary is by no means perfect. Several people have already made mention that it may appear to be Thunderstone with Marvel Universe slapped onto it. I can tell you emphatically, it's not. The only similarity I have seen is the use of the same artwork on cards as they increase in importance. Past that, there's not much similarity, which is a good thing.
Marvel's use of Schemes and Masterminds is well designed and put together. It does seem a bit odd though, that you spend the entire game recruiting heroes, only to have the mean nothing in the end for scoring, as the only cards that provide victory points are the villains you'll be defeating, the bystanders you'll rescue, and of course the Mastermind and Henchmen to fight as well.
Finally, the use of the game board is well done too. Each space for the Villains to come out on is a different area of the city that they are trying to escape from, wreak havoc on, and potentially hurt bystanders on. This thematically fits, but as a gameplay mechanic is well done also, as several villains have advantages or disadvantages depending on the area of the city they are in.
Overall, I think Marvel Legendary is a wonderful game. I struggled heavily with the rating to give it. At times, I felt like I was playing a Crit of a game. Other times, I felt like it was only a Hit. I had to crunch so many different things to ensure I wasn’t being emotional about it as well. Let's face it, some of us have been burned by Upper Deck in the past after investing in a game heavily, only to be disappointed.
I knew one thing. I knew while playing, it wasn't a miss. I also knew it wasn't the same game as the upcoming DC deck building game from Cryptozoic or the Sentinels of the Multiverse hit from Grater than Games. DC leaves you feeling as though you were playing A hero. Marvel is much more of a super group game. Many may think that lines up with Sentinels, but no, Sentinels, having pre-built decks, and truthfully being all or nothing, is also a totally different experience.
I have only played one game of DC. It uses only a one resource system, and has heroes fighting major villains, however, those villains go into your deck, can be used later, and in the end, you walk away feeling as though you played as ONE hero. Sentinels, which isn't a deck building game at all, provides a completely different experience altogether. It's much more the "we live or die as a group" mentality. Plus with its "incapacitated" mode, it offers much more dramatic fights in this reviewer's opinion.
Ultimately (pardon the pun), the things that hold Marvel Legendary back from being a Crit, aside from the checkered road to get to where we are today and the multitude of Super Hero games on, or coming to the market, are two things in my opinion. First, some, not all games, based on the schemes and combinations, are tense. Several, depending on the set up, can make you feel as though you got completely "rolled" or you did the "rolling". While the vast amount of customization is great, I think pre-determined set ups provide a more balanced play. It's fun, GREAT FUN, to randomize though, if you walk not it knowing it could be a love it or leave it game.
Additionally, the at work is something that may either make it or break it for you. If you are a fan of Marvel, you'll love it... and you'll want more! If you aren't a fan and are playing the game for the gameplay, then it may bother you a bit. Either way, it's SO good looking, and having the same picture, just leaves you wanting more, different pictures, and more options, which is promising for future expansions, and yet midly frustrating for seeing 4 of the 5 cards in your HQ looking back at you with the same face.
Overall though, Marvel Legendary gets a Hit rating from me. It's a well-designed, very fun game, that I would invest both cash and time into playing. The solo mode alone can take up a full evening with different gameplay throughout. Additionally, the lead designer, Jason, is amazing. He's very passionate about not just seeing this make it to market, but supporting the community, and also, just in general, is passionate about the gaming experience! He's someone that I think will be an important part of Marvel Legendry's success, and after talking with him, it's refreshing to see someone of his caliber calling the shots!
Critical Review Score (Crit, hit or Miss):
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