Secret Wars I

Hey everybody!
Tuesday means just one thing here at spalanz.com: boardgames! Today, I’m taking a first-look at one of the big-box expansions for Marvel Legendary: Secret Wars volume one. It’s an expansion that came out almost a year ago now, in support of the Secret Wars storyline that was Marvel’s thing for 2015. Not knowing anything about that storyline, I was nevertheless intrigued by the look of a lot of the cards and mechanics, though have only now gotten round to playing with the game!

Marvel Legendary Secret Wars

In true big-box expansion style, there are a whole load of new cards – 350, according to the back of the box! In addition to the ‘more of the same’ heroes and villains and masterminds, we get a couple of other interesting twists that I’ll get to shortly.

The superheroes of the game are predominantly divided into The Illuminati and The Cabal, which sounds really intriguing to someone who doesn’t know what either of those things mean in the Marvel universe! There are also Avengers and X-Men, and a new Spider-Man, so there’s a broad spectrum there. The four masterminds are really odd, however, and have kinda fired my interest to see just what the storyline was about! We have a zombie Green Goblin, a wasteland Hulk, a “goblin queen” Madelyne Pryor, and a “super sentinel” called Nimrod. All very interesting! It’s important to note that some of the artwork – and perhaps, some of the concepts – is from the original Secret Wars event that ran throughout Marvel comics in the mid-1980s, which I’m slightly dismayed to note means it’s roughly as old as I am… Anyway!

Marvel Legendary Secret Wars

From what I’ve seen thus far, there aren’t any massive changes to game play, you just do as you always do in this game, recruiting heroes and fighting villains, all the while trying to stop the mastermind before his scheme goes off. They have made a few small changes to the way the game can play, of course, by enabling some villains to become a second mastermind if they escape! Looking at the Wasteland Kingpin card in the above picture, you can see he has a Master Strike ability, which will trigger if he has escaped and is placed as a second mastermind. These new bad guys don’t replace they current mastermind, but rather act in concert with him, meaning you need to fight extra hard to win! While this didn’t trigger in the game I played, I really like the idea, and I hope that we see it happen on future villain groups, also!

A new bystander is added to the game, a Banker, who gives you recruiting power when you rescue him, but only to buy a hero below the bank. A new small deck of cards is also added, Sidekicks, who allow you to return them to the Sidekick deck to draw two cards. You can only buy one per turn, though Black Panther’s rare card allows you to just gain three of them, and they can prove to be really, really useful when you need to dig through your deck for the better cards! I also thought this new deck was super thematic, as a Sidekick is basically providing you with a modicum of help without being too overpowering in and of itself.

Marvel Legendary Secret Wars

Time for the big change to the game: the one vs many mechanic.

Marvel Legendary is a co-operative game, where the players work together to overcome the evil mastermind and win. However, in the manner of Descent, you can now have a player take on the role of that evil mastermind, and actively work against the players!

The mastermind player has a deck of Ambition cards, though he does also get a starter deck of SHIELD agents like the regular players. On his turn, the mastermind flips over the top of the Ambition deck rather than the top of the villain deck, and places it face-up in an Ambition row. He can spend the attack points to play any of these Ambition cards, which have a universally bad effect for the hero players, but the mastermind player can still recruit heroes and defeat villains if he wants to.

I haven’t tried this mode, and was only able to summarise it above by reading what the rules sheet has to say on the subject. My first impression of the mode is that it feels distinctly tacked-on, though it’s probably the best way to implement such a mechanic onto an established game.

To be blunt, there isn’t really any meaningful interaction between the regular players and the mastermind player: the ambition cards are basically ways to mess with the regular players, but the players will likely know what the mastermind is going to do because they can see all four ambition cards at all time in the row. I imagine this mode would see the regular players just carry on as they always do, with the odd collected groan if the mastermind then plays a card that forces them to discard all of their attacking superheroes, for instance. But there’s no way to stop them on their turn, and it just feels a bit like the mastermind would be a marginal player in the game. Maybe it plays completely differently, though, so I suppose I’d have to try it first.

It’s worth mentioning that this is only volume one, and there are a few more Ambition cards in volume two (which I have played previously, and will hopefully get round to taking a look here soon!) These new cards do much more interesting things, though are still in the vein of messing with the regular players rather than the more directly interactive stuff. But I think I might be expecting too much from the mode of play, and as I said above, it’s probably the best way this could be implemented.

Marvel Legendary Secret Wars

There’s a definite flavour that comes out of this box, and it definitely makes it worthwhile for a purchase. I’ve already said that I don’t really know anything about the storyline, but this didn’t really impact on my enjoyment of it, though I would imagine that knowing the story would have a distinct advantage as you could get some really flavourful villain and hero groups going on there. I have played with volume two, and this will have its own blog, but I’m not sure how the two fit right now, if indeed they do at all, as there are distinctly different themes from the second box.

All in all, really enjoyable to play, and definitely worth getting if you haven’t already done so!

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