One of the downsides of reviewing games for another company (and it is a pretty small downside when weighed against “free games”), is that it limits what I can write here – it feels both pointless and a bit like cheating to just re-post the review I’ve already written. As a result, some games (like the Civil War Dice Masters set) will miss out on the standard Fistful of Meeples Treatment.
A week or two ago, Upper Deck released the latest expansion for Marvel Legendary. As there hadn’t been any call for a review of the last Legendary expansion, I assumed that this wasn’t something that Games Quest were all that interested in, so I bought myself a copy the weekend it came out, for the FLGS’s 10% new release discount.
Of course, in typical fashion, about 2 days later, it appeared on the “Up for Review” sheet. It didn’t really seem like cricket to ask for that copy just to sell on, so I let it slide (someone else picked it up a few days later). What it did mean though, was a renewed determination to make sure I was getting my money’s worth out of Legendary, as well as a new-found freedom to talk about Legendary on here.
I’m going to do a full review of the Civil War box in a week or two (hopefully by then, I’ll have been able to get my hands on enough sleeves to actually use most of the cards). For today though, I thought I’d just offer a few assorted thoughts on the state of Legendary overall. If you’re already familiar with Legendary, then you can dive straight in to the article below. If not, you’ll probably want to check out the Game Summary or the Full Review of the base game that I wrote.
As regular readers will know, I’ve done a fair bit of solo gaming over the summer, and Legendary was one of the games which racked up the most solo sessions.
Low player-counts change the opening turns of a game of Legendary significantly. For one thing, when you play your third turn (typically the first chance you get to play cards you’ve purchased) there should only have been 3 cards revealed off the Villain Deck. This means that the early-game disintegration where everything overruns to catastrophic effect is much less likely.
That said, there are difficulties that the solo mode adds. For one thing, you’ve only got a single Villain group (8 villains) and only a partial group of Henchmen (3). Given that the number of Scheme twists tends not to change, they come much more often, making some schemes near-impossible to complete, if they punish players for not ‘clearing up’ one twist before the next hits.
In a normal game of Legendary, facing a given Mastermind always guarantees the presence of a specific villain-group in the game, who are tied thematically, and often mechanically to the Mastermind (So Loki always leads the Enemies of Asgard, Magneto brings the Brotherhood, and Red Skull brings HYDRA).
When you play the game Solo, you are told to ignore this “Always leads” text, and simply choose random villains. Being a theme junkie, I brushed over this relaxation of the rules, and swiftly came to regret it. I was facing the comparatively puny Maria Hill (only 7 fight, although you do have to also discard 2 SHIELD-heroes to fight her). Maria “always leads” the SHIELD elite, and cannot be fought whilst there are any SHIELD villains in the city. In a normal 2-player game, where this elite make up 8 of the 26 villains, this isn’t too bad (and the ratios get even better with more players), but in a solo game, where they make up 8 of 11, she becomes nearly invulnerable – you essentially need to muster 7 fight for her, between 1 and 8 fight for the elite, AND have 3 SHIELD heroes left over to discard for “SHIELD clearance”. In the end, it was with more than a little sadness that I started running games where the Mastermind and the Villains were unrelated – but it did allow me to actually win a game or two.
Overall, I like Legendary as a Solo game – it definitely still works, which is not something I felt I could say of all the games I solo-ed this August. Not having to compete with other players for the Heroes you want to recruit allows you to be more precise with deck-building strategy although (as noted above) there are some schemes which just become impossible straightaway.
I had frustrations in the games I played (pesky Maria Hill), last-gasp wins (in one game, I defeated the Mastermind on 3 of the last 4 turns, winning the game at the last possible moment), and crushing defeats. I still think that my overall preference is to play this multi-player, but solo is a perfectly enjoyable alternative.
Critical Card-Pool size
I own all the Marvel Legendary expansions currently available (so everything released so far, minus Fantastic Four, which appears to be terminally out-of-print). This means that Legendary has now fallen in to a category with games like Dominion, some living card games, and to a lesser extent Carcassonne, where it starts to be the victim of its own success.
On a purely logistical level, I now have the Core box holding all the generic cards (SHIELD Agents, Officers, Wounds, Bindings, Sidekicks, Bystanders, Schemes etc), the Dark City box holding the Villains and Henchmen, and both Secret Wars boxes holding heroes. This means it’s no longer a game that leaves the house.
Beyond a little bit of box-lifting, there’s the question of gameplay combinations. I’m already well beyond the point where I’ll ever come close to using all the different possible combinations of Heroes, Villains, Schemes and Masterminds. In fact, it’s probably far more likely that a particular card set misses out on being used at all, than on being used in all combinations.
Eventually, this can cause problems: Carcassonne got (functionally) retired because we’d got so many expansions that the tile-count had more than doubled, and the game-time with it. Beyond a certain point, deck-building in an LCG becomes an activity that leads to analysis paralysis, as there are just too many possibilities to critically evaluate them all.
For the deck-builders, the difficulty is slightly different: once the game has begun, your choices are fairly clear, and no more or less than in any game. However, choosing the right set-up can be problematic.
Personally, I take a varied approach to this. Most of the time, I’ll use a randomiser app to generate a set-up. For Legendary, that increasingly means getting hideously smashed by the Mastermind, as we fail to generate any kind of synergy.
Fortunately though, this provides a good starting point to develop. If we get smashed once or twice by a particular Mastermind/Scheme/Villains combo, then I’ll look at the Heroes, pick the one who seemed to be the least use, and look for someone else to sub in. Sometimes this will be about having a Team affiliation or hero class needed to mitigate an effect coming off of the Villain deck, other times it will be just a case of getting another affiliation or class that a particular hero needs to trigger their ability. Sometimes we’ll get it at the first iteration, other times (I think it was Madeline Pryor, plus a scheme that gave her LOTS of Bystanders), it’ll take many attempts, or even a complete re-building to ensure complete synergy.
Fortunately, I think that Legendary is enough fun when you lose that it’s ok to go through the steps like this. Comparing it with Dominion, it’s easy to get into situations where the set-up is too disparate to be enjoyable, and you need to pre-empt the tweaking.
Any game that has characters and is popular enough will eventually develop custom content, and given the overwhelming volume of source material available for a game with so broad a theme as “Marvel Superheroes and Villains” it is hardly surprising that Legendary has such a wealth of custom content available.
For those who care to look, there is an incredible amount of content available – entire sets which reapply the game’s basic concepts to Middle Earth, Hogwart’s, the Star Wars universe, or the world of DC Comics are all available on Board Game Geek.
Personally, I’ve never wanted to take on a project of the scale of printing something like this, but I have added a few cards to my collection that I saw online, and thought offered a better option than what we had from the official publications.
The base game of Legendary comes with an improbably large number of SHIELD Officers, comparatively few of which ever get bought. In an attempt to make them more interesting (and somewhat foreshadowing the changes to the Sidekick pile in the Civil War expansion), one user created unique SHIELD officers, based on the characters from the Agents of SHIELD TV series.
In terms of full-blown heroes, whilst each new set generally finds space for a new version of Captain America, there are other characters whose absence has been lamented for so long that you have to suspect that Upper Deck are just trolling people at this point.
She Hulk and Psylocke have traditionally been amongst the first names on a lot of lists of characters unfairly denied their place in the sun, but you can find a fan-made version of almost any long-standing character you’d care to name (I may have been pushing my luck when I started trying to dig up versions of the Stepford Cuckoos, Eva Bell, Hijack and Goldballs….)
I’ve added print versions of a few of these characters to my collection. Some because the creators had done such a good job, like the She-Hulk set, others because I simply couldn’t square the Legendary character with my vision of the comic-book character (in my head, Hawkeye will always be the battered, bruised scrapper from Brooklyn that Matt Fraction and David Aya brought us, and I wanted a set that reflected that, even if the image quality was poor).
In some cases, I was baffled by the gap in the existing set: we have classic Jean Grey with the silly headdress who rescues Bystanders, and Time-Travelling young Jean Grey, but no Phoenix Jean Grey (if Sansa Stark can become the Phoenix in less than 2 hours, there’s no reason for Legendary fans to still be waiting 4 years later). In some cases, it’s just Nostalgia, pure and simple (I’m probably showing my age when I admit that I want Jubilee [non-vampire] to be a central character, and remain in denial when she continues to be peripheral or useless.)
The fact that this is a cooperative game makes it a lot easier to bring in the Homebrewed folks, and as I’ve sleeved my entire collection (both an expensive and a space-consuming thing to do, but those cards get A LOT of shuffling) makes it that bit easier to include these cards seamlessly in the set.
Overall, I think Legendary is a great game – I’d definitely rank it as my discovery of the year for 2015 and, whilst it’s not been quite so prominent this year (down from an average of nearly 8 games per month last year to just over 5 per month this year), it still remains popular. I think the fact that it can be played solo or with up to five, following randomly generated scenarios, or carefully selected teams (thematic or hand-picked) all help with this, and keep it active.
Check back next time as I do a full review of the latest Legendary Expansion: Civil War