Marvel Champions week is in full swing here at spalanz.com, and today I wanted to talk about the distribution method for the game, and weigh up some of the pros and cons.
As you hopefully know by now, Marvel Champions is a living card game that follows, to some degree, the established pattern from Fantasy Flight by releasing content in a big box, and subsequent cycle of smaller clamshell packs. Here, the big box calls itself a campaign expansion, though I’ve already talked about my thoughts on that this week, and comes with five villains plus two hero decks. The villains add to the stable of what makes up the game, and function a bit like scenarios that you play through. You’re never really doing anything different each time – it’s always just a case of trying to defeat the villain before the main scheme is completed. The villain’s encounter deck is what makes games unique though, and what’s more, you the player can further customise it through the use of modular encounter sets that can change up how villains feel to play against.
The heroes will each come with a pre-built deck in one of the four Aspects (Justice, Leadership, Aggression and Protection). The subsequent cycle of hero decks will then bring out yet more heroes, who each come with a pre-built deck, as well as some extra cards designed to go into your collection, and that you can use to swap in to your decks to change up how your heroes play, usually one card per off-Aspect.
Each cycle also features a Scenario Pack which gives another villain to fight, meaning each cycle generally has six villains and six heroes, although the very first cycle after the core set technically had 11 heroes, and the current X-Men cycle will finish up with eight heroes.
Anyway! The pre-built decks for heroes can vary wildly in how they play, from a deck like Doctor Strange that is widely admired and is very often recommended for play as it comes, to Star-Lord that is baffling for some of the cards he comes with, and has been criticised for including Aspect cards that don’t play in accord with his Hero cards.
We’ll get more into these kinds of points in another blog, though. Today, I wanted to talk about the more positive aspects of having the preconstructed decks for heroes. The most obvious, I think, is the appeal of the game to non-gamers. Heck, even some gamers don’t like building decks to play card games like this, so to avoid having a product that would potentially only appeal to a sub-set of a niche hobby, FFG have taken the interesting route of producing content for their game that allows pretty much anyone who wants to try this game the ability to do so. If you’re a Captain America fan, then you can pick up his deck, shuffle up and play, without spending an evening (or longer) going through stacks of cards.
Cap comes with a Leadership deck, naturally, but that doesn’t mean you have to play him as a leader. A Cap Protection deck is entirely possible, of course – it just requires you to have a collection of cards from which to build a new deck. That said, it’s entirely possible that you could take the Protection cards out of Ms Marvel’s precon deck and put them together with Captain America’s Hero cards, and have fun. It might not work that well – as we’ll see, precon decks are often built to work really well with the Hero-specific cards. But it’s certainly possible!
Now, I’m a card gamer of many years, and have spent countless hours of my life going through stacks of cards to build decks for games from scratch. I think I t’s fun, and can be almost as engaging as playing the game itself, trying to find combinations of cards that should work well together. When I first got into this game, after playing my initial games with the core set suggested decks, I was aching to build my own, and as I began to buy new packs, I don’t think I used a single hero in his or her preconstructed form. Probably my inner hipster just wanted to go my own way, and I didn’t really want to be taking what I had begun to think of as the easy route. Hmph.
So I’ve been playing some games with the preconstructed Hawkeye and Black Widow decks, as I’ve gone up against the villains from the Rise of the Red Skull box.
Before I started, I hadn’t really heard a great deal about the Hawkeye deck, but Black Widow didn’t seem to be very popular, because of her reliance on Preparation cards. These are upgrades and support cards that you play, sometimes very cheaply, and can discard when their trigger is met for a certain effect. A lot of her personal cards interact with this mechanic, meaning that you would never build a deck for her without a lot of this type of card. It does make me wonder if the fact there is such a clear reliance on the Preparation cards that Black Widow is therefore not a popular choice for players?
At any rate, I have played with her a few times and had an absolute blast – it can be a little rough at times, don’t get me wrong, as it can take a bit of set-up to get things working, but in my very first game with her, the whole deck just seemed to hum along so beautifully, I was playing with such a huge grin on my face for that fact!
The issue I mentioned about Black Widow relying on her Preparation cards is perhaps compounded by the fact that the game doesn’t actually have a lot of these cards. Black Widow’s hero pack comes with them, of course, and there are cards in each Aspect included in the bonus cards at the back. Since then, however, only two other cards have been printed, one in Aggression and one in Protection. So I guess you are pretty much stuck in the Justice deck that she comes with, if you want to play Black Widow.
Hawkeye has a Leadership build and his main thing is, naturally, arrows. Something that I was really quite impressed by with Hawkeye was how well his personal cards work – you almost have the rest of his deck there simply to provide the resources to pay for his Hero cards. In pretty much all of the games that I have played with him, I have pretty much relied on having his bow in play (which you can search for by his Alter Ego action anyway), Expert Marksman (to generate resources to pay for his arrows) and then his arrows. You exhaust his bow to shoot an arrow, but then his hero action is to ready his bow, so normally you can fire two arrows per turn, unless you have additional ways to ready him.
Those arrows are just so damn good, though, I think I would definitely look for ways to recur events from the discard pile, as well. They pretty much all do damage, of course, but they can also Stun and Confuse enemies, and remove threat from schemes. It’s just a delight, which is even more of a surprise considering I wasn’t entirely sure I would like it as much as I do!
The Leadership build that he comes with is certainly fine, and for theme I would want to keep him as that because of Kate Bishop being a Leadership card, but I think the main way his deck is going to work as I would like it to is by having a number of allies out, and then playing Earth’s Mightiest Heroes to exhaust them to ready Hawkeye, to allow him to shoot again. Bit clunky, of course, but it might need a little tinkering to see what I can come up with. I think I’d also like to investigate using different allies, though each game I’ve played has been interesting because I’ve had some team cards out with no allies to benefit from them. But anyway!
Natasha’s deck is pretty good by itself, and the cards that I would traditionally have cut in favour of others have actually been perfect for generating the resources I need to play those cards that I do want. Indeed, every game with Natasha has been fascinating to me so far, because I’ve never had a bad run with card draw – I’ve only ever had an embarrassment of riches!
This is perhaps in direct contrast to the X-Men game that I played recently. X-Men are, of course, the new kids and they have a single cycle so far. I tried out Cyclops and Storm against Sabretooth from the new Mutant Genesis box, and I was actually surprised at how different it all felt. Two Leadership decks seemed like it could be an interesting idea at first, but in execution it turned out that Storm was just using all of her personal cards, much like Hawkeye, whereas Cyclops felt very much like a hot mess. It seems to be the case that Cyclops works from attaching cards to enemies, and then using that to his (and his team’s) advantage. I really struggled to get this kind of engine going, however, and in the event, he barely did anything all game. I think there was one moment of clarity where he could attach a card to Sabretooth, then play another card to deal +8 damage to an enemy with a card attached. It was beautiful, but I think in the context of the Sabretooth scenario as well, everything just felt so damn weird!
I think it is interesting, then, to see how a deck like Black Widow can be so damn good, Hawkeye and Storm are pretty decent, but Cyclops was just too clunky to get going. I do want to try the X-Men again, but I’m thinking I might actually go up against a different villain to see how they do.
Having the preconstructed decks does mean that you can very much treat this game like a board game – and that is actually how I was selling it to my wife when trying to get her interested last summer. You don’t have to build a deck, you simply need to buy a deck and play with that. I think I will certainly be keeping Black Widow in her precon form, and as time goes on, I may well be doing this with more decks that I buy. I’m sure my inner hipster will recoil at that, but it’s definitely the way forward with some of the heroes!