Sneak Peek at Upper Deck’s New Marvel Deckbuilding Game

The latest entry in the rapidly growing deckbuilding genre is Upper Deck’s Marvel Legendary game, due out in November. I was able to play a demo game at Gen Con. Here are some highlights.


If you’re unfamiliar with deckbuilding games, here’s a quick breakdown. They’re not collectible – you get all the cards in one box (though there can be expansions, which are also non-random). In a typical deckbuilding game (Ascension, Thunderstone), players draw or purchase cards from a central deck to build their decks. Then they use the cards in their decks to attack and defeat “enemy” cards.

Marvel Legendary bears a lot of resemblance to Ascension. You start with a basic deck of SHIELD agents. You use these agents to recruit heroes to your deck, or to attack the villains attacking the city.

Crime Spree

Unlike Ascension, the heroes and villains are separated into their own decks. A few heroes are face-up, able to be recruited. When they are, a new hero is drawn from the deck to replace it. Villains march out of the villain deck one at a time. As they do, they fill a line of spaces on the board corresponding to locations in the city (sort of like the dungeon in Thunderstone). If the villain line-up is full, then one of them escapes. If enough villains escape, you lose the game. To be specific, everyone loses the game.

Big Bad

There’s also a lead villain masterminding the whole thing. In our demo game it was Magneto. The mastermind has special triggered abilities that make life tougher for the heroes. He can also be attacked directly, though he’s pretty tough, so you need to spend some turns improving your deck before you can take him on. Defeat the mastermind enough times and you’ll win the game.

Combos

Building your deck isn’t as simple as just recruiting the best cards you have the points for. There are some linear mechanics, like Avengers who are far more effective if you have other Avengers in your hand. Even in our quick demo, we ran into situations where there was a more powerful X-Men character available, but it was smarter to take the weaker Avenger to keep the deck focused.

The heroes also have color-coded attributes, like green for strength. Many cards were significantly better if the card you played immediately prior to it shared the attribute. So you don’t just dump all your cards out and spend your points. The order you play your cards in matters, and you can chain your cards together to create powerful combos. This definitely made me feel more in control of the action, rather than just reacting to whatever randmo cards I happened to draw that turn.

Tighter Decks

In the other deckbuilding games I’ve played, the ability to remove cards from your deck is valuable and sometimes difficult. You need to get rid of weaker cards to ensure you draw the powerful ones. In Legendary, there were a lot of combat effects that caused you to discard cards. This gave the game a very different feel. For one thing, your heroes are getting bashed around by the villains. For another, your deck size seemed to stay pretty small. There were turns late in the game where you’d draw your entire deck. Instead of building a large deck where you try to manipulate your draws to your advantage, it felt more like you were building a superhero team – a small, tight-knit group of supers recruited to fight the villainous menace. Perfectly on-theme!

Replayability

The basic set comes with more than 500 cards. There are several different hero and villain factions, and each game you only use a few of them, with a different mastermind. Upper Deck already has expansions planned to add even more factions.

I’m pretty excited to see a deckbuilding game with something different than a fantasy theme, and the rules design seems to fit the theme like a glove. Cryptozooic apparently has a D.C. comics branded deckbuilding coming out soon as well, but they’re different companies making different games, so sadly they will not be compatible.