As I mentioned a few weeks back, August saw the latest expansion for Marvel Legendary: Civil War. This is a big-box expansion, on a par size-wise with Dark City or Secret Wars (volume 1 or 2). As you’d expect, it offers a whole load of new content for the game, including new Schemes, Masterminds, Heroes, Villains, keywords, and mechanisms.
A time of turmoil
The Civil War box for Legendary refers to the original comic-book crossover event from 10 years ago, when Nitro accidentally blew up a bus full of schoolchildren, leading to a wave of public concern about powered individuals running around without accountability or oversight. This demand ultimately led to the Superhero registration act. Whilst Tony Stark championed the public identification and state regulation of superheroes, Captain America demanded continued independence and anonymity, leading to a bitter conflict which ended with a public brawl in the middle of New York City. This comic-book arc, rather than the recent Marvel film, or the current “Civil War II” event, seems to be what the guys at Upper Deck have focused their attentions on.
In the Civil War set for Dice Masters that was released a few months ago, the Thunderbolts and the New Warriors both played a significant role, the Thunderbolts in particular were an interesting departure for that game, as they were the first mixed Villain/non-villain team we had seen.
Legendary keeps things rather simpler. The Thunderbolts, along with Registration Enforcers, CSA Marshalls, and even the Great Lakes Enforcers appears as villain groups, but the playable heroes are far less creative. We have Marvel Knights like a new Daredevil, and one half of Cloak and Dagger. We also get the Young Avengers (Hulkling, Patriot, Stature, Wiccan), but they fall under the “Avengers” affiliation rather than being a new team. There are other Avengers: Captain America (Again!) Falcon, Goliath, Hercules, Tigra, Vision, as well as a few miscellaneous others like Speedball (New Warriors) and Peter Parker (Spider Friends).
In terms of team affiliations, this set feels a bit underwhelming. This far into the game’s life, Avengers are such a well-developed theme that you have to feel there would have been potential to take things in a slightly different direction. That said, we would probably all have got annoyed if we were left with “Young Avengers” characters that had no discernible synergy with their elder companions, so this was probably the “safe” option long-term (so long as the upcoming Deadpool expansion is suitably crazy). There is a certain amount of logic in having Speedball as the only New Warrior after the bus explosion, but they could have given us a version of Firestar or Nova with that team.
Division and faction are obviously big themes in Civil War, and it was only natural that the game would want to capture something of this. The principal way in which this has been done, is through “Divided” cards.
A divided card is 2 cards in one – when it’s in your hand it counts as 2 different cards then, when you play it, you choose one side or the other, and are only considered to have “played” that one. Some divided cards simply represent another aspect of the character, whilst others will actually contain a different character entirely – for example, Luke Cage’s divided card features Jessica Jones on the other side, and Peter Parker’s features Aunt May.
Divided cards are a nice idea – thematically it makes a lot of sense, it means that the cards you buy are more flexible, being able to be tailored to different situations, and often introduces a lot more decision-making when you actually get to your turn (often one card will offer the stats you want, but the other will have the class or affiliation you need to trigger an ability). The main problem for me, is how it appears visually – you have to play Divided cards sideways and, because the overall piece of cardboard is only the same size a standard card, that means that the half you play will only be 50% of the size. It just makes everything feel a bit squashed, and looks slightly odd.
Some Heroes are pairs, rather than individual – Cloak & Dagger both feature on all 4 cards in their set, as do Storm & Black Panther on theirs. Obviously, there’s plenty of logic tying these pairs together, but even here, things fall apart somewhat, with the Rare card being a “both-together” card, which inexplicably carries only 1 affiliation and 1 class.
The fact that every hero released in this set has at least one divided card, also leads to some slightly strange combinations – when it’s two versions of a single character, that’s easy enough to follow, but when it’s someone else it gets hard to keep track: I’m sure there is a reason why Hercules finds himself sharing a card with Amadeus Cho, but it was lost on me.
Some characters make a lot of sense in Civil War. It was inevitable that we would see Cap and Iron Man. Goliath and Ragnarok play big roles, and having Peter Parker exposed as the identity of Spider-Man is right on the money.
That said, there were still things I wasn’t a massive fan of. There are only so many Hero versions of Captain America that we need (there are currently as many ways to play Steve Rogers as there are to play the entirety of X-Force), and it would have made a lot more sense to me if we’d had a Cap Mastermind/Commander, and/or Iron Man as a hero. Also, whilst it was inevitable, given the ongoing nonsense over rights and royalties, the lack of a new Reed Richards or Sue Storm felt very out-of-place for a set claiming to be based on the original Civil War comics.
Other choices I wasn’t a fan of based on personal taste. The fact that Patriot gets the full 14-card treatment, whilst Kate Bishop (or Lady Hawkguy as I like to think of her) is confined to a cameo appearance on Patriot’s divided card, was a bit of a let-down for me. It doesn’t really do justice to someone who I think is a much more interesting character, AND it suggests we’re less likely to get a full version of her any time soon.
Civil War also features various new Keywords appearing on cards: Fortify, Size-Changing and SHIELD clearance.
I think it’s almost inevitable this far in to the game’s life that new keyword affects can get a bit janky, and Civil War is definitely no exception to this.
A nice idea, but awkwardly implemented, is “fortify” – this allows cards to occupy strange spaces on the board (it might be a city square, but it can also be a deck, a card pile, etc), making villains harder to fight, heroes harder to recruit, cards harder to draw, or wounds less likely to be acquired. The main problem, is the throwaway explanation they get in the rules, which strongly implies that only a villain will ever be fortifying a space, and leaves lots of gaps in the concept to be filled in. How do you show that this space is fortified? How can it be “un-fortified”? Thematically, I could see where some of these were going (like the Luke Cage who fortifies the wound stack, so prevents people from taking damage), but overall, it felt hit-and-miss.
Size-Changing is a keyword which reflects the ability of some characters to grow or shrink. As such, it allows you to recruit people like Stature or Goliath for a reduced cost, if you’ve already played a card of a certain type this turn, or to fight some villains more easily with the same conditions. This one just felt a bit flat and underwhelming. Occasionally it made it slightly easier to buy/defeat a card, or had some slightly altered impact for things based on printed cost/fight, but mostly it didn’t seem like it was doing much.
SHIELD Clearance is simply a requirement to discard a SHIELD hero as an additional cost of fighting that villain. There’s certainly some merit to this – it makes those starter heroes slightly less useless, and gives you something to think about when purging your deck of cards (you don’t want to reach a point where you’ve none left, and can’t fight the Villains / Mastermind), but in practice it mostly just felt frustrating.
Aside from the standard Heroes/Villains/Schemes, Civil War does a lot of tinkering, rather than a whole lot of brand new things. You won’t find a completely new pile here, like when Sidekicks or Ambitions were implemented, but you will find additions to existing piles: the wound stack now has a selection of Grievous Wounds shuffled in – Wounds which have an additional condition to being healed. Likewise, the Sidekick stack has a big group of Animal sidekicks added.
Grievous wounds aren’t supposed to be nice, and there’s a definite sense of frustration when you get one. That said, I’m not sure they really impacted gameplay that much for us: they can still be KO-ed by card effects, and it’s only if you skip the recruit and fight part of your turn to use the “Healing” action that it really becomes relevant.
The animal sidekicks seem like a fun idea. Unlike normal sidekicks, they have a Class and a Team affiliation, so they can be useful for triggering abilities. However, the random selection that you get makes it hard to deck-build with any consistency, and the affiliation is only useful if you have Avengers (it’s a definite disadvantage if you’re collecting X-Men [or Spider-Friends, Guardians etc] in the Avengers vs X-Men Scheme. The “Benefits” of class and affiliation are offset by generally having reduced powers – only drawing a single card, or rescuing a bystander, rather than that reliable card draw. We played with these a fair few times, but found them more frustrating than helpful, and have now gone back to normal Sidekicks.
As an aside: Lockheed being an Avenger annoyed me, and I would have much preferred if he’d had the X-Men affiliation. This generally served to rub in the fact that we still don’t have a non-parallel-universe Kitty Pryde (I’d take a Guardians affiliation, if we can’t have another X-Men version).
Overall, Civil War was a bit of a mixed bag from my perspective. It gave me fresh inspiration to get Legendary off of the shelf (I have played it a lot in the past couple of weeks), and provided some interesting new elements, but overall, it felt a bit underwhelming.
For the most part, I don’t think this expansion is bad: there are various bits and pieces I’ll continue to use, even if others (Animal sidekicks etc) will probably be staying in the box for a while, it’s just not as exciting as others. Still a must-buy for the completist, but if you’re new to Legendary, I’d recommend getting most, if not all of the other available content first.