I’m definitely back in the thick of it with this game once more! After a short hiatus during the autumn, I’m back playing this game, and picking up more stuff – with a few bits on the way for both my birthday (this weekend), and Christmas. Playing again has got me thinking about a couple of things about this game, though, so I thought it’d be interesting to ramble on about those things here today!
In terms of one-off card games, Marvel Champions is fast becoming my go-to game to play. In fact, it probably already has become my go-to game. I’ve mentioned this before, of course, but Arkham Horror LCG is for me only playable as a campaign, and while Lord of the Rings LCG can be played as a one-off, the story from so much of the scenarios and cycles really demands that you play it as a storyline as well.
For example, I would categorically never consider playing Undimensioned and Unseen unless I was playing The Dunwich Legacy campaign. While I have played scenarios like The Hunt for Gollum and The Redhorn Gate as stand-alone games, pretty much from the third cycle onwards I would not think to play, for instance, Race Across Harad unless I was going to play the full nine-part Sands of Harad cycle.
For Marvel Champions, though, the focus seems to be much less on the scenarios and more on the heroes, with the big box being the only release in a cycle that comes with new game content to play. I know the hero packs are game content as well, but I think of playing the game in terms of playing against a villain. I’ve played a good handful of games against the core set Rhino villain using a good selection of heroes, and it does become a little stale – I remember my first game using Klaw felt like a real discovery, because of the change in villain.
I’ve read quite a lot of stuff online from early in the game’s life, and it suggests this was very true when the core set was the only box to play. The arrival of the Green Goblin scenario pack was a big deal because it provided a massive injection of replayability to the game. If all you have had is the option of three scenarios to play, adding two more into that mix is a big help. Of course, I’m lucky insofar as I finally took the plunge with the game when there was already a total of four big-box expansions, and four scenario packs in print, giving that variety right off the bat.
None of this is to say the game is no good, of course, but it does strike me as being a very different way to distribute the game. I do like the fact that recent hero packs have started to include modular encounter sets in them, so that you can further increase the variety of the villains you’re going up against, but this does bring me on to the next point…
Marvel Champions has one of the most bizarre methods of card distribution from all of the LCGs that I’ve played. It hadn’t really occurred to me until recently, but outside of the core set, there isn’t actually a way for players to get a good dollop of player cards – these are primarily tied up within hero decks, either the individual hero packs, or the campaign boxes. If you want to deck build for yourself, you kinda have to invest fairly heavily in the game.
In many ways, the game is very new-player friendly, because it allows you to buy a pre-built hero deck and then just go at it (assuming you have villains to fight, of course!) There are very few games where you find this kind of actual functionality in a product; think for instance about how Magic pre-built decks tend to be very casual decks for such a competitive game. However, if you’ve picked up, for example, Doctor Strange, he comes with a Protection themed deck that from all accounts is very good. But if you want to change those cards, you need to look at other hero packs/campaign boxes which have pre-built protection decks, there’s no big box of player cards you can buy to allow you to change up your deck. Heck, you may even find yourself picking up a hero pack just for one or two cards, as they do also come with one card from each other aspect, as well as a neutral card. If you wanted to make a Doctor Strange Justice deck, however, you’re committing to at least two packs, because the pre-built deck isn’t in that aspect.
Now, it isn’t really to say the distribution model is wrong, it really just struck me how difficult it can be to deck build for yourself in this game if you’re only now starting out, like I am. I started on this journey telling myself that I would buy an expansion and play it, not buy it all and then drown in content. However, to bring any kind of customisation to the game has required a fair bit of additional purchases. I currently have two of the campaign boxes, and seven hero packs, with at least one of those packs bought for the aspect cards, and not the hero.
This is all in direct contrast to Arkham Horror LCG, where new player cards come throughout a cycle allowing you to change up your decks very easily. In the old model, you’d get five investigators (as well as more cards) and two scenarios in the deluxe box, then throughout the six packs of the cycle there would be two copies of at least two different cards per investigator class, giving you options no matter which class you played. For Marvel Champions, you get your pre-built deck, with just one card per aspect (either two or three copies of) which makes card collection a lot slower.
A lot of the distribution is keyed to villains, and increasing the scenario pool to increase the replayability of the game. This is key, of course, because it’s why you build the hero deck in the first place, but there’s a big part of me that wonders about this balance. Sure, a big draw for the game is allowing players to play as their favourite heroes, so that’s going to be a primary concern, but it does baffle me as to why there isn’t some kind of “deck builder’s toolkit” released, even if it’s just one of the packs of a cycle. Forget about a hero, just give us a 60-card pack of hero cards. Or maybe forget about the whole campaign thing, and give us more aspect cards in the boxed expansions!
However, I suppose the release pattern is established now, and they’re not going to change it for me!
At any rate, all of these observations can simply be dismissed as “this is how the game works”, and it does make valid business sense to at least try to make characters like Venom and Nebula appeal to Doctor Strange fans by giving them really good and useful Justice cards, if you want to make that Doctor Strange Justice deck. I keep about half a dozen Hero decks sleeved up and ready to play, and looking through those I have cards in my Iron Man aggression deck from all sorts of places. I’m an experienced deck-builder though, so will be looking to increase my pool to further my options, and in many cases I might well buy a pack just to get one or two cards. I don’t know if I’ll ever play as Ms Marvel, for instance, but that was one of the earliest purchases for me, when making my Captain Marvel protection deck because of the cards in that pack.
On the one hand, then, the game is perfectly designed in that you buy the core set for all your bits and pieces to get started, but then you can have a ton of fun either just by playing with Spider-Man against the three villains there, or just pick up the Nova hero pack and enjoy that one because he’s a favourite. It’s almost designed to allow you to pick and choose just what you want to play with, and you absolutely don’t need to commit to buying a whole cycle as with previous games.
However, if you want to build your own deck for Star-Lord Justice, you’ll want his pack (which sadly comes with Leadership as the pre-con), then you might consider Venom as the Guardians Justice pre-con, the Nebula pack for her Justice cards, then you might want those good cards from the Ant Man pack, and Mad Titan’s Shadow box. Your shopping list could be huge, and then you might start to think, well there’s only War Machine from that cycle that I didn’t pick up, so I’ll get him as well. Oh, now War Machine has some good Leadership cards, but I don’t like the hero; I’ll mash them up with the Leadership cards from Ant Man and Star-Lord to make a great deck for Nebula, because I bought her pack and she’s deckless! Oh, but there’s a good card in the Scarlet Witch pack so I’ll pick her up as well…
And on it goes! You might buy three or four additional products to play with one hero. I realise that might just be me, but I would think there are lots of people out there who would do this, not necessarily buying them all at once.
It really surprises me how small the actual card pool is, though. In some respects, it feels like Lord of the Rings LCG, which was expanded at a very slow rate in terms of the player cards. We end up with a lot of reprints to get each hero pack functional, which I know causes a lot of people to roll their eyes online.
Ultimately, though, we do have a really great game here. The main draw will always be the heroes, I suppose, with some villains to throw them up against. I’m definitely a big fan of the game, and whether I know about these characters or not, I think I can see myself buying this stuff for a while yet!!