So a couple of weeks ago, the Manglers -1 (plus a friendly sit-in) tried Legendary, the new Marvel deck-building game from Upper Deck. The only game I’ve previously played from Upper Deck was the Marvel Super-Hero Squad CCG (which my son and I found amusing, but the collectible nature of it made it too expensive to pursue for long). I was, frankly, a bit surprised that Upper Deck was entering the non-collectible card game market, but given the expandable nature of deck-building games, I’m sure they can make their money.
Legendary comes in a large box that easily holds the cards from this set, and will presumably hold the cards from at least a couple of expansions. It comes with some dividers to place between the cards, which does a fine job of separating the many stacks of cards, but isn’t nearly as useful as the Dominion boxes with their separate, labelled sections. The cards themselves are of decent quality (although they aren’t exactly playing-card grade, so they’d probably benefit from sleeving). The art looks like it’s straight from a comic, and is properly evocative of the superheroic genre. (The art was all commissioned for this game, so you won’t actually find it in a comic, but it looks like it could be in one.) The game also comes with a board, divided into sections for hero cards, villain cards, draw decks, and a knocked-out pile.
The only downside to the game we all could agree on was setup time. It takes a while initially to unpack the cards into their appropriate stacks, but that’s a one-time investment of time. However, for each game, a number of separate stacks of cards (about 10 or so) must be pulled from the box and shuffled into two separate decks (one for heroes and one for villains). I should note that after the first game, there’s very little guidance for what heroes and villains should be matched–a point I’ll return to in a bit. The pulling and shuffling of cards is a bit time-consuming, but it gets worse after the first game, when all of the cards on the board (including a big mess of cards in the knockout pile) and each player’s hands and decks must be separated into their respective piles–about 10, plus the 4 stacks of basic cards (SHIELD agents, wounds, etc.) Then all of those piles that aren’t being used in the next game have to be replaced in the box, new piles drawn and shuffled, and the whole process starts over. Admittedly, this process is part of any deckbuilder, but it felt particularly slow in this game.
Game-play itself, however, is quick and fun. Each game has a Master Villain and a scheme. (A big part of our fun was in creating the story behind the game–just why was Magneto helping a Skrull invasion? or why was Loki robbing a bank?) The goal of the game for the players is two-fold: 1) Defeat the Master-Villain four times before he completes his evil plan, and 2) Have the most victory points in your deck. The villain and scheme dictate how the bad guys can win–in one of our games, it involved the villains carrying away a certain number of bystanders. If the villain completes his plan before the players can defeat him four times, the villain wins and the players all lose.
In each turn, you play one villain card off the villain deck into the villain row (moving other villains over to new locations, and ultimately to their escape from the city), and play your hand in the order you choose. Some cards gain power from cards played earlier in the round, so there’s a small amount of strategy in determining what cards to play first. Each of your cards gives you Recruiting power, Attack power, both, or sometimes some other ability. The abilities are thematic for the characters. Deadpool, for example, often has abilities based on random choice or random draws; Storm does more damage to people on rooftops, etc. You add up your Recruiting power and use it to “buy” new heroes from the hero deck. You add up your Attack power and use it to fight the Master-Villain or minor villains from the villain deck. Defeated villains (and their kidnapped Bystanders if they had them) go into your victory pile and will count for points at the end of the game. Some cards from the villain deck will be Twist cards that cause something to happen with the Master-Villain–he might knock out some heroes, kidnap some bystanders, beef up his minions, etc. At the end of your turn, you put all of the cards from your hand (played and unplayed) into your discard pile and draw 6 more.
My whole group really enjoyed the game (minus the tedious setup between games), and we played three games. In two of the games, we defeated the Master-Villain, and in one game, we were crushed. In that game, we chose the hero cards for that game based on which characters we liked, and chose the Master-Villain and his scheme randomly. What we wound up with was a Master-Villain who made each other villain in the game tougher paired with a number of heroes who had very little attack power. We really had no chance in that game, and there’s where the problem I mentioned earlier comes in. If you randomly decide on heroes and villains, you have a chance of having a really difficult (possibly unbeatable?) set-up. If you choose which cards are in play for each side, you could never lose. I wish that the designer had offered some more set-up choices that work well or some advice about what combinations to avoid. It would be cool to have some additional cards made to look like comic book covers, with each card giving a scenario title and listing which heroes and villains are involved. You could randomly choose a scenario card for set-up and have a better guarantee that the game would work well.
Overall, though, the two complaints I have about the game (time for set-up and randomness of scenarios) are minor compared to the fun of the game itself. It’s the first deck-builder since Dominion that I’ve really wanted to play again, and I’m looking forward to seeing what’s coming up in the expansions. (Daredevil and Moon Knight? Yes, please!)