Oh Captain, my Captain!
With the release of the Age of Ultron set a few weeks ago, we saw the third set of Captain America cards. So far, he is one of only 2 characters to have appeared this prolifically, with no less than 11 different card options for players wanting to field him.
From a thematic perspective, it’s hard to think of the Avengers without Captain America, and it certainly doesn’t seem unreasonable that he’s the character singled out for so much attention, but I feel like it’s quite rare to actually see someone playing him in a team. Today, I wanted to just think a bit about the various options players have with Cap when building a team.
First of all, it’s worth noting that there are two distinct types of dice for Cap (as the AvX and Uncanny dice differ only in the colour ink used, I’m going to lump them together), but the Age of Ultron dice are something completely different.
In the first two sets, Caps dice were shield energy. His defence was 3, 4, 5 across his 3 levels and his attack a 3, 5, 5, making him a fairly solid character above level 1, if nothing to write home about based on stats alone. Perhaps the biggest drawback of the first iteration of the dice was the field cost: 1, 2, 2 is a fairly steep rate to meet, and it meant that 2/3 of the time you rolled him, it was going to cost you multiple energy to get him out.
Moving forward to the Age of Ultron set, Cap is re-imagined as fist-energy character. As before, his defence is 3, 4, 5 across the 3 levels, but his attack is a steady 5, even at level 1. Even better, his field cost is 1, 1, 2 – giving you a far better likelihood of being able to field him cheaply, something which can make a big difference if you need to get multiple characters out in a turn.
It’s also worth noting that the newer version of the Cap dice have a burst at levels 1 and 3, which gives extra potential for interesting abilities, cards permitting.
In terms of energy type, shield vs fist, I don’t think there’s a massive amount of difference. If pressed, I guess I’d say that on balance, I’d say there are more 2-cost fist characters that I’d be likely to run, so getting the ramp up to some of the higher purchase costs is probably fractionally easier with Ultron Cap, but there’s not a lot in it.
Given that Captain America is never likely to appear in a two-cost version, you probably aren’t running him just for his dice, and the real make-or-break is going to be the card that goes with the dice. Inevitably, card powers are more subjective than dice numbers, but I wanted to do a bit of a consideration anyway.
Avengers vs X-Men
American Hero – Cost 4 (Shield) the first card in the AvX starter set, this lets you roll a single side-kick from your used pile when fielded. Given that (as already mentioned) his fielding cost is likely to be at least 2, a single side-kick coming back feels a bit poor.
Natural Leader – Cost 4 (Shield) Whilst active, this Captain America gives all you sidekicks +1A +1D. Probably not worth bothering with in isolation, there’s definitely potential for a massed side-kicks team, using the various characters which boost sidekick stats, and the Falcon who makes them unblockable. This one is worth a look, but only in a very specific build.
Star-Spangled Avenger – Cost 5 (Shield) When fielded, this Cap knocks out all of your opponent’s sidekicks, and gains you a life for each sidekick KO-ed this way. Again, it’s hardly rocket science to figure out that the utility of this will depend on how many sidekicks your opponent is running – if it’s a lot, then this could be a really beneficial play, not only gaining you a few life, but also doing a lot to thin out the line of defenders opposite, potentially allowing you to get through some unblocked attacks to damage your opponent.
By contrast, if your opponent is using the Professor X global to cycle his sidekicks as infinite amounts of energy, it could completely whiff. Realistically, 5-cost (particularly given that high field-cost we mentioned) is probably too much for this to be worthwhile against anything but a really side-kick heavy build (when did you last face a Gobby team?) but under the right conditions it could be worth a try.
Sentinel of Liberty – cost 6, (Shield) Another good one for a sidekick build, this one is more aggressive, giving yours +2A, with no added defence. Whilst this could be powerful in a side-kick deck, I think the greater utility is from the affect this has on your opponent, forcing them to pay 1 energy to field a sidekick – turning sidekicks on character faces into dead dice will certainly slow your opponent down, and could really hamper a build which focuses on having lots of sidekicks active- but at 6-cost, this isn’t an early-game die. When you reach the realms of 6-cost characters, you wanting something that’s going to win you the game, not just slow an opponent down.
Special Ops – Cost 5 (Shield) The common Captain America from the second set allows you to move an opposing villain to the prep area when fielded. Obviously, there are significant limitations with this, not least the fact that it only works when your opponent has a villain active. This can, of course, be circumnavigated with one of the Iron Man globals that allow you to temporarily make someone a villain, but I’m not convinced that this is the best bit of removal out there. For one thing, it’s a when-fielded effect, which means it can be neutralised with Constantine, for another, the dice is only going to the prep area, so it’s coming straight back at you. Whilst her active stats are much lower, I think I’d rather have Storm: Wind-Rider if I need to knock out an individual character.
Follow Me! – Cost 4 (Shield) The Uncommon Captain America in this set is one cheaper to purchase than his common variant, and at least goes some way to balancing out his high field cost by allowing you to field another character for free. His numbers are good for a 4-cost, but this dice isn’t exactly inspiring.
Superhero – Cost 5 (Shield) – The final Captain America from Uncanny X-Men, and the only rare we’ve seen so far, is part of that set’s “Heroic” mechanic. I think that the whole concept of heroic probably needs a discussion elsewhere, but for now, I’m just going to say that I think he’s an important element of any heroic build, and fairly pointless elsewhere.
Age of Ultron
Moving to the newest set, aside from a completely different set of stats and energy costs, we have a new set of abilities. As the character is still titled “Captain America” you can’t field one of these alongside the shield energy versions (but you’re absolutely fine to field Phoenix, Marvel Girl and Phoenix Force in the same team, even if they are all Jean Grey…), so this is definitely an “instead” choice, rather than an “an/or.”
Super Soldier – Cost 4 (Fist) Whilst this new version of Cap is active, he will “prevent all but 1 damage to you from any action or character abilities” – before even getting onto the question of how useful this version is, I think it’s worth flagging this up as the first Captain America likely to provoke rules controversies.
A girl at our local Dice Masters group has recently started using an Action-heavy team that throws Power bolts, recycles them with Baron Zemo, deals extra damage with Dr Strange and even more with a Human Torch Global. I think it’s fairly clear that Strange and the Power-Bolt are 2 separate instances which would each deal you 1, but I think the human torch ability could be read either way, although I’d say that this ruling suggests that Cap would save you from Torch
Moving away from the query to the practical impact of having such a character, I see more and more control-style builds which effectively neutralise each other, to the point where the game is won buy the first person to buy all the power bolts. Having something which reduces the effect of direct damage actions or character abilities is definitely powerful. That said, the fact that this reduces damage to one means that it does nothing against the thousand paper cuts of characters like Cheetah, or Jonny Storm (although it does halve the damage of a Tsarina or a Windrider). I’ve not seen this one tried yet, but I wouldn’t rule it out.
The First Avenger – Cost 4 (Fist) This Captain America is quite cheap once again (given the stats), and has the advantage that he spins up when you take non-combat damage. Obviously he can only spin up twice, and only if you field him at level 1, but if you combine him with other effects that take advantage of spinning (polymorph global) or even just want something to limit the effectiveness of a Tsarina, then he’s got the potential to be pretty useful. It’s also worth noting that he has a burst ability, which means that he gains you a life when executing the other ability. Again, I’d be interested to see how this spin-up+gain a life was ruled- whether he can continue to gain life at level 3, with nowhere left to spin up, or whether losing the chance to do the first prevents him from doing the second (there seem to be a lot of threads out there discussing this question, with a leaning towards the idea that you do gain the life regardless, but no overall consensus and no official ruling).
Man Out of Time – Cost 5 (Fist) For me, this is the pick of the bunch – the five purchase cost is a bit higher than some of the others in this set, but the ability to hurl combat damage right back at your opponent is brilliant – Cap has high enough defence that he’s hard to knock out with damage, so your opponent is forced to use the sorts of removal effects that re-roll or move dice, rather than just damaging them. He’s a solid blocker, so you’re not too worried about having him active, and if you do happen to have a spare in the field (or just an unexpected open goal left by your opponent), his ability to dive in and do 5 damage could sneak you over the line for a win. The fact that he’s while active, rather than when fielded means he isn’t neutralised by Constantine, and the only limit on the number of times you can trigger his ability is the amount of life you (or your opponent) have left.
Symbol of Freedom – Cost 6 (Fist) Whilst symbol of Freedom is active, every time you take non-combat damage, you can draw 2 dice from your bag, add one to your prep area, and return the others. Obviously, against teams that are focusing on doing a lot of direct damage to you, this could be a powerful effect, and could set you up for a real monster of a turn. However, it could also lead you to a horrendous situation where you’ve run out of dice, and are constantly dealing additional damage to yourself (IIRC this is technically “losing life” not being dealt damage, so at least it wouldn’t trigger an infinite loop) – generally I’m not a fan of forced extra draw for just this reason: I remember seeing a guy lose a game because he blocked with a beast that tried to draw a dice he didn’t have, and cost him his final point of life. Also, at 6-cost, this just seems too swingy and uncontrollable to be worth the effort.
It’s worthwhile mentioning, before this review rounds up, that all of the Captain America dice seen so far have the Avengers affiliation which means that they build nicely into the various team-watch abilities we’ve seen so far, and perhaps more importantly, that they can be fielded for free with the right Nick Fury (the common from AvX) active – this is a particularly big deal with the shield-energy dice where you’re paying 2 energy to field at level 2, but is not something to be ignored with any version. If you’re playing lots of Avengers, being able to get them out is key, and suddenly that field cost doesn’t seem so crazy.
Overall, even though he’s not been a big presence, at least in any of the games I’ve seen, I think Captain America certainly has potential, and I hope we’ll see more of him now that Age of Ultron is out, and people look to bring these characters into the game.
I definitely think that the Fist Energy dice are better than the Shield ones, the energy type is (very marginally) better, and the cost/stat ratios are better. Man Out of Time is my favourite, although I’ve only actually used Superhero and Natural Leader in anything beyond an introductory game.