Absolutely Marvel-ous: A Marvel Champions Review

by Corey Whelen
11 November 2019

1-4 Players, 45-90 Minutes, High Complexity, Medium Strategy, Ages 14+

Avengers: Endgame was the biggest movie of the summer, and the merry Marvel bunch have been picked up by the biggest board game developer in the world to bring super-heroic scenes to your table! While not the first Marvel-licensed board game, Marvel Champions is the first effort by Fantasy Flight games to bring the Marvel universe to life, this time in a living card game (LCG). It’s a cooperative, card-playing beat ‘em up where your heroes will struggle to balance their personal lives against the machinations of evil-doers, and it’s swinging into stores this month!

The designation of “living card game” refers to the fact that there is going to be a lot of content for Marvel Champions, and not all of it is yet available. The Core Game has already hit shelves though, and it contains five playable heroes, three super villains, and a smorgasbord of customization options, so that you can build your own deck, or tweak the difficulty to just the right level. Fantasy Flight plans on supporting the game for years to come by adding more heroes to play as, villains to foil, and cards to build decks with. The first of these have already been announced, as Ms. Marvel, Captain America, and the Green Goblin packs are going to be released late 2019, but you’ll have to wait a little longer to play as fan favourites like the Hulk and Wolverine.

The 5 playable characters in the Core Set. Avengers Assemble!

As it stands right now, Marvel Champions is a fascinating game. It’s cooperative, which is unusual among card games, but it also has unique and engaging mechanics (perfect for fans of collectible card games like Pokémon, Hearthstone, and Magic: The Gathering), and it’s absolutely dripping with theme (perfect for fans of Marvel comics, movies, and characters). Fantasy Flight hit its demographics with Hawkeye-like precision this time.

You get a deck, the villain gets a deck. Every turn, you play as many cards from your hand as you can or want (paying the cost for each card by discarding other cards) and then you draw cards from the villain deck for each player. These cards can be big hits to your superhero, they can be henchmen to slow you down, and they can even be insidious ploys that the heroes must thwart. On the surface, Marvel Champions is a fairly standard action game: you have a health value, the big bad guy has a health value, and you have to get their health value to zero before they do the same as you. Usually with punches. Luckily the game has a lot built on this frame. You start with a deck of cards, and a double-sided superhero card. Your superhero card carries the statistics of your chosen hero on one side, and the stats of their alter-ego on the other. You can switch between these sides once per turn to suit your needs and balancing your alter-ego becomes an important part of the game’s strategy. Sure, Spider-man can dish out the hits, but sometimes you need to switch back to Peter Parker in order to let a broken rib heal, or to… pay rent so you don’t get evicted.

Thank goodness Aunt May showed up, the day is saved!!

Yes, that is a real thing that happens in this game. Spider-man can get evicted, Iron Man can have business problems, and occasionally She-Hulk will have to appear in court. Marvel Champions goes out of its way to weave a story into the villain punching and number crunching. Each hero has a personal obligation that is shuffled into the villain’s deck and can pop up any time, forcing you to switch to your alter-ego, leaving the villain to run amok for a few turns. Additionally, there are arch enemies that can show up and cause problems for the hero. Kilmonger, for example, will never stop trying to kill Black Panther and seize the crown of Wakanda, and Whiplash will never stop trying to bring down Stark Industries! It also helps that each of the decks feels surprisingly unique in its gameplay, and totally appropriate for the character. Iron Man spends the first half of the game assembling his suit in Stark Tower, while the sensational She-Hulk splits her time bashing heads on the mean streets and putting crooks away in the courthouse.

The villains are pretty super too, and they threaten to steal the show, showing an astonishing amount of versatility and customizability. You can set them up with different schemes and helpers, or tweak their difficulty by adding and removing certain cards from their deck, which is great because the villain IS the game in many cases, presenting you with a target to hit, and a scheme to foil. In addition to their punching powers, superheroes are forced to use their brains (and their “thwart” stat) to combat the villain’s schemes. Villains start with a main scheme card that slowly gains threat throughout the game. If the scheme hits a certain amount of threat, the game is over, the villain is successful, and all players lose! This is compounded by the fact that even more threat gets added if your hero changes into their alter-ego to rest and recover. The villain gets more time for scheming without pesky superheroes getting in the way!

Iron Man and She-Hulk take on the hordes of Ultron. Good thing Hulk showed up to lend a hulking- err, helping hand!

Overall, the heroes are each unique and interesting, the deckbuilding is simple yet rewarding, the gameplay is compelling, the art is great, and the way the game weaves a story is somewhat mesmerizing and really unexpected given that it’s a card game. I’d recommend this game for anyone looking for a nice solo or co-op game, anybody who appreciates a clever collectible card game, and especially for anyone who just plain loves these characters.

Disclaimer: Not distributed by Outset Media