Review: Marvel Champions: The Card Game

In the footsteps of other LCGs in the Fantasy Flight Games’ catalog notably, The Lord of the Rings and Arkham Horror, a new cooperative card game has emerged, Marvel Champions: The Card Game. For 1-4 players, each person controls a hero and works together to defeat a dastardly supervillain. Pulling from the Marvel comics and using a tried and true formula similar to other FFG Living Card Games, this cooperative deck construction game has a lot going for it.

All players represent a particular hero, each one having hand size limit and cards specific to their comic character. The superhero character cards comprise of about half your typical deck. In addition players can tinker with their deck composition using cards from one aspect (essentially sets of cards that have a particular flavor of game mechanics), along with more generic use neutral cards.

Each hero gets their full turn, starting with the first player that’ll rotate each round, before passing to another player. The hero can play cards from their hand that either does a one time action, has some long term effect, or potentially be an ally remaining in play to help in thwarting the villain. Lastly, the player can use their hero to either attack the supervillain directly or try and address the villain’s scheme. After playing all of their cards along with committing the actions they want, they can discard as many cards as they’d like and draw up to their hand size. This is where the fun part of the game comes in as the player can also do a special once-per-turn action, flip their hero card to an alter ego (or vice versa).

Each hero persona has an alter ego form. In the non-hero form the player commonly has a larger hand size and can heal damage taken by the villain. While in hero form the player can be more proactive taking on the villain or stopping their plans, but can potentially leave themselves open to being attacked. In addition to this, in hero form the player will also have a limited hand size. So usually they need to have a pretty solid board state with cards in play to provide resources or allies to help take the fight to the villain.

After all the players have had their turn, the villain will act. Threat, a means to indicate a timer of sorts, is added to the main villain scheme. If the threat equals or exceeds the threshold for the villain’s scheme, the players lose. Then the villain will attack each player one by one, doing damage equal to their villain’s stat plus a potential variable amount based on cards drawn from an encounter deck that can ‘boost’ the damage. If a player ever takes enough damage to equal or exceed their hero’s health, they are out of the game. If all the players are eliminated, they all lose.

A hero can attempt to defend against an attack, reducing the damage they take. However this will exhaust them, turning their cards 90 degrees. You can only ready your hero and cards in play at the end of your turn. So essentially you’re giving up your next turn defending against a villain attack. If a player is in their alter ego form the villain doesn’t attack them, but instead adds threat to the main villain scheme. This all leads to some really interesting choices aside from playing cards for the player.

Do you settle on being in your alter ego during the villain turn? This will ensure you can get a larger hand size to help out the following one, and even potentially heal up if needed. However main scheme will get even more threat piled onto it, ramping up the end game condition for losing. Or instead do you settle on having less cards to throw down next round, but the flexibility of either attacking the main villain or addressing the villain’s main scheme? Or maybe if in hero form, you block an incoming attack essentially shrugging off the damage (yet that also means giving up your next turn). Fun choices to noodle through while you are playing.

This all gets compounded even more so during the villain turn. After they attack (or add threat to the main scheme of the player is in their alter ego form), every player will draw a card from the encounter deck. Like Arkham Horror, the villain has a special deck to add complications to the scenario. This might mean adding more dire schemes players have to take on, or minion villains that attack the players during the villain phase, or even cards to hinder future attacks against the main villain. This layers on challenges for the players, ratcheting up the difficulty as the game moves on.

All the while the players are in a desperate fight against time. They have to inflict enough combined damage to essentially enrage the villain further, transforming the foe to another form (or stage). If there are no further stages for that villain the players win. This is the only way the players can win the game. While they can try to address the main villain scheme, they can never stop it completely. They have to balance between keeping the main scheme in check and also chip away at the villain’s health, hoping to eventually hit their enemy hard enough over time to vanquish them.

Actually playing cards from your hand is easy. Every card will have a cost to put into play, and in addition they provide resources of certain types indicated with symbols. To play a card, a player discards cards from their hand with enough resource icons to match the cost. Resources spent this way can be of any symbol type, but commonly you’ll get a bonus if a specific resource is used.

Players will eventually have upgrades, resource cards, and allies in play to help out from turn to turn, reducing the need to have a large hand size. But note that while a player can have ally heroes in play, they are temporary. There are limited means to heal damage allies take after stopping a villain’s attack. Also most allies sort of damage themselves when used to stop a villain or reduce the threat on a scheme, so effectively it puts a turn limit on their use.

The Good – There are some immense pros as a cooperative game. Unlike many other LCG games from FFG, this offers a fair amount of deck construction options just using the core set alone. The game is challenging, with options to make each villain more difficult. The game play is flexible enough with resource costs that you can usually do something during your turn, reducing the downtime. But typically the game forces you into some challenging situations and critical decision making. The art is colorful with simple icons and symbols, the components are thick cardstock, and the box roomy enough to hold a few more expansions.

The Bad – There really isn’t much story akin to what you’d get in the Arkham Horror LCG. The game is pretty much about beating down the villain and there isn’t any real progression of the villain master plan as the game progresses. So there isn’t some rich, story telling happening when you play or a longer campaign to look forward to, and instead it’s pretty much a drawn out fight against a villain. The game is deceptively simple and some keywords and card interactions are going to have you grabbing the rules every once in a while to ensure play is moving along as intended. While much of the art is top notch, some of it is a little disappointing, which is odd considering you have such a wealth of Marvel source material to draw from.

The Verdict – Marvel Champions is an immensely enjoyable coop card game. While there is some card jargon and mechanisms to work through, it’s far more approachable than other similar coop LCGs from Fantasy Flight Games. I love Arkham Horror, but it can be so daunting with terminology, task resolution, and restrictive player actions, that Marvel Champions is a downright refreshing take. But don’t think there isn’t a lot of play here. You are going to make some agonizing choices and will have that same roller coaster feeling from turn to turn, with highs getting great draws and a player board that just ‘clicks’ with efficiency, to abysmal lows as you suddenly draw a dire villain encounter card. Fun stuff.

Yes, there isn’t much story to the villains and their minions, but every villain deck can choose from a particular subset to make up the encounter deck. This allows you to tailor the difficulty even more and also offer some change ups to the opposition and challenges you’ll face stretching out that replay value even more. Aside from this are the heroes. You’ve got 5 hero choices for a 1-4 player game, and every hero can dip into different aspects to give their decks some changes to play style. Mind you deck construction is still hobbled some but there is a fair amount to play around with just using the core set (and quite a departure from previous LCG offerings from FFG).

Lastly, as a coop game Marvel Champions is just a solid experience. You really get that feeling of working together to stop a supervillain, and mechanisms of the rules encourage this type of cooperation. With difficult choices, plenty of variable replay, room to tinker with deck construction, and an entire universe of untapped superheroes and villains to draw from, you’ll find a wonderful card game here.

Saturday Gaming Spark: The Ivory Refuge

A remote town deep within the Blood Canyons, the Ivory Refuge is a blessing to the travelling merchants which brave the marauding gnolls. Known for the pale agates and fist-sized moonstones that the local mines yield, trader caravans are willing to make the dangerous trek to this secluded community to gain access to these prized wares. Link.

Mantic Games Ghouls

Now that I had gotten a few warbands together for Frostgrave, I wanted to round out my collection some with extra creatures. Looking for appropriate models for ghouls was a challenge, especially those that would work on a budget. I was able to track down a few loose sprues of Mantic Games figures for their Kings of War line.

The minis are pretty nice and offer an overall feel of the model scrambling forward in a full out run. It’s not some figure making a static pose. These look like they are hauling ass towards someone. While they don’t have a lot of variation, I like the lively action the figures portray.

I gave them a quick coat with a wash and a bit of drybrushing. You’ll notice I steer away from your typical ice and snow covered scheme. I use an alternate world for my Frostgrave games. Mostly to stretch out the figures I already had for other systems.

They assembled well and you could easily swap out heads and torsos from the legs. The minis appear to be impaled with knives and other hand weapons which are jutting out from their arms and legs. The figures also have a fair amount of ripped clothing and cloth which break up the skin. Easily you could put more detail on the clothing to make them stand out more over the model’s flesh. I just went with a simple color scheme though.

Decent detail, easy to assemble, and a good price. Worth picking up for Frostgrave critters.

Saturday Gaming Spark: Lush Vale depot

An idyllic spot for refueling and maintenance of starships, Lush Vale is a pleasant detour. Nestled on a moon, this agro-colony has become a popular layover for tourist liners and Imperial Scouts looking for more relaxing R&R. Unlike many other outer rim ship depots, Lush Vale offers a peaceful environment ensured and enforced by strict local laws and autonomous security drones. Link.

1/72 Armourfast StuG III

Deciding to field a German infantry platoon for my games I liked the idea of having more typical armor that would support them. Hence for my late war platoon I went with a Panzer IV. However I was keen to have some other options so I felt and assault gun would be ideal.
Armourfast Sturmgeschutz III Apr 12 art
Armourfast offers some nice armor for 20mm and their Sturmgeschütz III (StuG III) certainly keeps in line with many of their other kits. It is an easy to assemble model with a fair amount of detail that is a great value for wargaming. The model sports a 75mm StuK 40 L/48 gun so it’s more of apt for mid-late war games. The assault gun also comes with separate schürzen side skirts that can be left off if desired.

stugsprue

stugc

However if leaving off the skirts you should be forewarned that the hull has pretty large gaps even with the tracks mounted. You likely will have to fill them with some squadron putty as they are fairly noticeable. There isn’t much stowage bits but there are a few spare tread wheels.
stugside

stugb
Aside from the hull track sides, the parts of the kit fit well without excessive gaps, and is a snap to put together. All in all it’s a fairly good model. As most Armourfast kits you are not going to get a super detailed model fit for dioramas. Yes there is a decent amount of detail, yet certainly nothing stellar. But you get 2(!) tanks per kit and having the option to field a StuG with and without skirts is pretty nice (or on both if you wanted). They are an exceptional value and great for 20mm gaming that will look good on the table.

stuga

Saturday Gaming Spark: The Edge district

Shanties and dilapidated buildings surround much of the city proper. Referred only as the Edge by the local residents, the city’s poor and gangs call this district their home. Continual wars among thieves guilds are tolerated by the city guard, provided that they keep their violence to the narrow strip of terrain that skirts the walls. Most are keen to simply throw transgressors of local crime over the edge. A simple means of street justice and an even easier way to dispose of bodies. Link.

Saturday Gaming Spark: The bayou beast

No one knows what lies out in the dark swamps. Some claim it’s just a huge gator. Other say a black anaconda that somehow got transplanted north. Toothless Murphy, the town drunk and hermit, claims he’s seen a tentacled monster that crawls up on the land. Most dismiss that as alcohol fueled prattle, since everyone knows Murphy is prone to drinking his own concoction of potent brew.

Regardless in the deep, black waters some fiendish creature lurks. What was once a monthly occurrence of a lone cow or goat disappearing has now become more frequent. Recent rumors of lone travelers disappearing adds to the worries of locals. Link.

Review: BattleLore 2ed

BattleloreBoxFantasy Flight decided to roll out a new edition of their 2 player fantasy wargame, BattleLore. It uses the Command and Colors system where the board is split into 3 sections (center, and a right and left flank). Using a common deck, players alternate playing a single card to issue commands to units based on what is listed on that card. Sometimes you can get lucky issuing several commands to units throughout the board, but commonly you’ll have to stick with moving a few units in one or two sections of the board. It’s a fun little system that uses a simple idea to model the fog of war and limitations on command.

Players take command of either the Daqan (humans) or the demonic Uthuk armies. Each faction army is comprised of 5 units, including a single monstrous creature. Play is pretty simple. You play a command card activating units listed on the card that are in the appropriate board section. All units move. Then the same units can attack by either shooting at targets in LOS and range (if they can use ranged attacks), or adjacent units if only capable of melee attacks. Afterwards there is a special phase where lore cards and resources are obtained.

Each unit has a simple list of basic stats for movement, number of attack dice, and total number of casualties which can be taken before being eliminated. Units can’t be stacked within a hex and movement is limited by terrain and other units (even friendly units). Maneuvering into avenues of attack is critical though for combat which is also an affair.

For combat, you just roll dice equal to the unit’s combat stat. Shooting will inflict a casualty 1 out of 6, while a full strength melee unit has a 1 in 3 chance of inflicting a casualty. Added to this are retreat results. Each retreat result forces the target to move one hex directly away from the attacker. If they cannot move (say they are backed up against impassable terrain or would have to move into enemy units), the retreat results inflict casualties instead. If the unit is flanked by friendly units, they can ignore each retreat result for each adjacent supporting unit.

While casualties are a thing to go after, retreating units is also an important tactic. Especially as the attacking unit can move into the recently unoccupied hex. Players will soon find that you need to position units to attack swiftly, and be supported by friendly units if wanting to hold territory. Additionally, while units can counter attack commonly they are going to suffer a retreat instead. Having a unit to support them means they can take the fight to the enemy instead of just being trounced on and forced to flee. Along with hits for shooting and melee are results to add lore or potentially utilize special abilities for some units. While not every troop type has a die combat effect, they all have special characteristics to give them some interesting tactical uses.

Each army also has a deck of lore cards. These range from massively powerful abilities to useful tactical command orders. They require spending a certain amount of lore tokens and are played only once a turn during specific times (as stated on the cards). Players can gain lore tokens each turn or possibly from the result of combat. This is a fun facet of the game and allows for some flexibility in issuing commands. If a player can’t get the right command in his hand of 4 cards, then usually he can get a lore card to help in activating key units.

The game is won by the first player that gains 16 victory points (or the one that eliminates the enemy, whichever happens first). Board setups will commonly have 2-3 banner markers that indicate key terrain features. When you start your turn with a unit on these markers, you gain victory points. Additionally each army will have victory point conditions for specific scenarios. You’ll find yourself getting about 1-2 victory points a turn if things are going well. Meaning a game usually lasts about nine or ten turns in total.

There are 7 army-specific scenario cards which depict special terrain on their half of the board and victory conditions for that army. These are secretly chosen and revealed simultaneously. Players then go about buying units from a pool of 50 points (or use one of the 3 suggested, preselect armies provided). After setting up terrain on their half of the board, players then deploy cards representing army units face down in their deployment zone. Scattered among these unit cards are also decoys to fill out a total deck of 18. As players alternate placing one unit after another, maybe they are deploying a unit in their army, or possibly they are deploying nothing using a decoy card.

I’m convinced I haven’t gotten into this deployment step too deeply, that potentially using a lot of decoys first and seeing how strong your opponent deploys into a board section is something to consider when doing troop setup. However you end up with some decent variety between games. Between the combinations of each faction’s 7 scenarios and the choices of unit army selections, you can squeeze a lot of repeated game play out of BattleLore.

The Good – This is a fun, light little wargame. For its simplicity it offers some challenging choices in deciding what units to activate. Thrown into this are the lore cards which can be a huge boon, or chuck a monkey wrench into the opponent’s solid battle plan. You never seem to have enough command cards and are constantly trying to do the best you can with limited options. There is also a fair amount to variation with the scenarios and unit choices.

The components are very nice, with pleasant art on the cards, thick (and plenty of) tokens, and sturdy terrain tiles. The figures are great and made of a hard(ish) plastic. They allow for a pleasant tactile feel of pushing around units and indicating casualties by removing figures. Certainly a nice touch over just using tokens or wooden blocks.

The Bad – Combat is simple. Maybe too simple for some and certain tactics repeatedly creep in. The game awards those who strike first. However judicious use of terrain and supporting units in key locations seems a decent counter. Yet combined with the lore cards and limited command cards, some might be frustrated with the few options. Additionally, you aren’t quite rolling 6+ dice in attacks, so you can get that occasionally lucky streak of die rolls in combat (or exceedingly awful luck).

Lastly, there are some legs with the scenarios but the truncated number of available units cuts into the replay some. There are a decent amount of options but I suspect it being a 2 player game, certain well-trodden strategies for army composure and selected scenarios will begin to slip in. There is a fair amount of variation within Battlelore but with some limits in its long term replayability.

The Verdict – BattleLore is an enjoyable game. The rules and systems are not overwhelming. I certainly feel this would make a great introductory wargame for kids, and all the while offer enough to make it challenging for adults too. The command system offers opportunities to make shrewd choices in trying to make the best decision possible with limited choices. Along with this is that specter of lore cards potentially offering a huge boon or wreaking havoc into your plans in the background.

The game looks great on the table and offers an engaging experience that will allow you an evening of 2 to 3 games. It makes no bones about being a light, approachable wargame. Yes, this isn’t going to appease the crowd of ASL and Combat Commander: Europe fans with its simplistic combat and order system. But it will offer a fun evening as an occasional jaunt into playing a strategy game of lighter fare. BattleLore is a fun, light, family wargame and certainly worth picking up if looking for a 2 player, fantasy combat game.