Marvel Champions: the card game

It’s Marvel Champions week here on my blog, where I’m getting to grips with the massive influx of content for this game that came my way between my birthday and Christmas last year. I initially got into the game last summer, but was trying to do my best to take it slow, and learn how to play the game at my own pace. The last thing I wanted was to drown in content, and that feeling lasted at least a couple of months!

The way the game is distributed, however, made me change my mind, and I began to buy more stuff in order to increase my options when it came to deck-building for the game.

Tuesdays are my traditional game days, of course, where for years I would post a blog that highlighted one of my favourite games, and so on. Today, therefore, I think it might be a good idea to go through how the game works, as that will no doubt be a major help during the rest of this week’s blog posts!! When I last did a blog like this, it was after my very first play, and I was still trying to learn the rules. I’ve now played this game about thirty times, all told, so I’ve got a much better understanding of the rules!

So let’s take a look at how the game is played, once again! This may be a long post, now that I understand the game some more, but I think it’s important to go through due to the fact there is so much more Marvel Champions content coming up!

Marvel Champions

The object of the game is for players to work together to defeat the villain. There are usually two villain cards in play, one on top of the other, referred to as villain stages. If you’re playing the game in Standard mode (which I do), then you use stage one and stage two of the villain. For Expert mode, you start on stage two. When both villain stages have been defeated, the players win! However, the villain has a scheme deck, anywhere between one and three cards, which he or she is trying to advance by scheming. If a scheme card accumulates enough threat, it is advanced, and if the final scheme card is advanced, the villain wins. Alternatively, if the villain is able to deal enough damage to each hero that they are defeated, the villain also wins. 

In many ways, then, it’s quite a simple game, as the player objective is to basically deal enough damage over time to defeat the villain. However, the scheme cards need to be dealt with as well, so you can’t be punching every single turn. Furthermore, the villain has an encounter deck that is full of nefarious things, such as minion cards who will also either attack the heroes or scheme alongside the villain, or treachery cards that will wreak havoc with the heroes in all manner of ways. There are also side schemes, which can make the main scheme more difficult to deal with. So each round is definitely a delicate balancing act!

Each round is divided between the Player phase and the Villain phase. In the Player phase, you can switch form between your hero and alter-ego, which can have an impact on what cards you can play and interact with. You can play cards by paying their cost and putting them into play (in the case of ally, support or upgrade cards), or trigger the action on the card if it is an event card. Upgrades, allies and support cards may also have actions that you can trigger. You can also use your hero’s basic powers, such as attack and thwart, or your alter-ego’s recovery. (Heroes also have a basic defense, which comes into play when defending against an attack, but that will come later).

To pay the cost of a card, you need to discard cards to generate resources, or use the abilities of cards in play to generate them. For ally cards, a player can only have three in play, although of course there are cards which allow you to break rules like these. When generating resources from cards, you sometimes need to pay a specific type of resource to gain an effect, or you’ll gain a bonus effect for paying a specific type of resource. There are three types – mental (blue), physical (red), energy (yellow) and also wild (green), which are shown by the icons in the bottom-left corner of the card.

Dealing damage through attacks and attack actions is quite simply a case of either dialling down the villain dial, or placing damage tokens on minions. Thwarting a villain allows you to remove threat from a scheme in play, although some cards (mainly side schemes) have the Crisis icon, which forces you to deal with that scheme first. This, of course, can be devastating as it could allow the main scheme to accrue too much threat! To use your basic hero or alter-ego actions, you must exhaust the card, by turning it on its side. (You can still flip between hero and alter-ego while exhausted, and you can still trigger actions on cards including your hero/alter-ego while exhausted; you just can’t use the basic actions of thwart/attack/defense, or recovery).

Marvel Champions

Allies can also thwart and attack, but in the majority of cases they will take consequential damage for doing so. This means that an ally won’t be around forever to help you, and so you’ll often have to weigh up whether an ally is going to best serve you by thwarting or attacking, or as a meat shield to absorb the villain’s attacks. Again, to use allies, you must exhaust them. Other cards like supports or upgrades may also require you to exhaust them to get their benefits.

Once you’ve done everything you want to do, you can discard any cards left in your hand, then draw up to your hand size at the end of your turn. You then ready all cards in your play area, and take a deep breath before the Villain phase begins!

To begin, the main scheme will accrue threat as per the Acceleration Field, which shows how much threat (usually per player) it gains each round. This acts like a basic clock for the game, because if the players ended in their Hero form, the villain will attack them – potentially meaning a turn could pass without the scheme accruing threat. The main scheme has an Acceleration field, but there are also many cards (mainly side schemes) that have an Acceleration icon, which will add additional threat tokens to the main scheme.

Marvel Champions

The villain then activates against each player, depending on which form that player has ended their turn in. If the player is in Hero form, the villain attacks as stated; if they are in Alter-Ego form, the villain will scheme, placing more threat on the main scheme. To do either of these actions, the villain is dealt a face-down encounter card which is then revealed to check for boost icons on the bottom-right corner. Boost icons buff the villain’s main scheme or attack stat, so two boost icons deal +2 attack or threat. Sometimes a card will have a star icon instead of a boost icon – the star doesn’t buff the villain inherently, but will trigger an effect on the card itself that will then resolve.

If there are any minions in play engaged with a hero, they will also activate, either scheming or attacking as well, although they don’t get boost cards.

Heroes and allies can defend against villain and minion attacks – and if you choose not to, another player can also use their hero or allies to defend you. Allies can defend, and absorb all of the damage from a villain attack regardless of how much health they have, although some attacks may have Overkill, where excess damage rolls over onto the hero (or, indeed, to the villain if this is a hero attack against a minion!)

Marvel Champions

Finally, each player is then dealt an encounter card. Again, some cards (mainly side schemes) have a Hazard icon that forces an additional encounter card to be dealt to each player. These cards are then turned face up, and can either be minions who will engage the player to whom it was dealt; treachery cards which have a one-time effect then get discarded; attachments which go on the villain (and usually make things so much worse), and side schemes, which will come into play with threat on them, and generally make the heroes’ job that much more difficult. New minions dealt this way do not attack or scheme the turn in which they arrived, however.

There are also the player Obligation cards, which are shuffled into the encounter deck at the start of the game, and which can cause problems for the heroes by interrupting any plans being laid. You may also find that your Nemesis minion and side scheme gets shuffled into the encounter deck, causing further chaos for the heroes! That said, I think in all of my games up to now, I’ve only had to do this once, so it isn’t a very common occurrence.

At any rate, that is the end of the round, and the players then get to lick their wounds and fight back!

There’s a lot of text in this post, I know, but the game actually plays out really quickly once you get going with it. I think it’s interesting how straightforward it can be at times, but I suppose this speaks to how the designers have made a game that can appeal to the mass Marvel crowd while also having a depth that will bring gamers into the fold as well. While I enjoy the Marvel theme, and will quite happily sit through any of the movies and TV shows that are being put out there, I think it’s interesting that I enjoy this game more for its actual gameplay than for its theme. There are quite a few games that I will play because I like the theme more than anything else, but this one intrigues me because I’ve come to it as a game first and foremost, and not because I’m some kind of huge Marvel fan. That, however, has been where I’ve gone a bit wrong, as I had initially thought I would only pick and choose the heroes and expansions that I liked the sound of, from having watched the movies or whatever. But given that I like the actual game so much, I find that I want more of these packs because I want to build new and different decks, etc! They’ve definitely got me with this one!

It is a fairly quick game to get through, like I said, although some villains can stall you a bit as you try to deal with everything that’s going on. Klaw from the core set is a good example of this, where he has a number of side schemes in play which can dictate the flow of what you’re doing, as well as some pretty tough minions in his deck. To cap it all off, the second stage gives him a massive boost in hit points which means the game just goes on for a very long time as you try to make it through each round. There are other villains that have so much going on that it does feel like a proper gaming session, and not just a quick play-through that can last half an hour, or whatever. Unless of course, you just die really quickly!

The Learn to Play booklet is excellent, and really takes you through the game step-by-step. There is also a Rules Reference booklet that goes over the more complex stuff, but generally speaking you can play this game without your head stuck in these booklets after just a couple of games – I’m not being disparaging here, I think it’s amazing how the game has been so well-designed! Often, you’ll find a game can be so dense to work out what you’re trying to do, it can take hours to work through even a tutorial scenario, or whatever. Not so, here! 

A well-designed game is great, but the variety that has come out of having such a rich and varied universe to work within is definitely another plus point for this game. I think the way the game is structured around villain-scenarios is great, of course, and the addition of modular encounter sets to subtly change these villains is fantastic, but heroes and their decks is another excellent point. I’ll get more into this later in the week, but each hero comes with a small deck of around 15 cards that are their Hero cards. They then bulk out their deck to between 40 and 50 cards from one of the four Aspects, Justice, Leadership, Aggression and Protection. Any hero can be built in any Aspect, so you can play your favourites in a number of different ways. The Hero cards will dictate, to some extent, what you want to include in the wider deck, but it’s amazing how much replay variety you can get out of the game in this way.

All in all, it’s just so much fun to play, I can’t believe it took me so long before I actually bought and played it!

Necromunda vehicles

It’s not massively complicated, of course, but since I’ve been working on painting the Goliath Maulers, I’ve been off-and-on trying to work out how vehicles work in Necromunda. There are loads of rules for them, both in the new Ash Wastes rulebook and in Book of the Outlands, but it’s interesting (to me) how the internet generally only talks about adding them to your gang, but not playing with them.

Necromunda Ash Wastes

I’ve got a game of Necromunda coming up later this week, so thought I’d dummy up a session to try to remember the rules, as it has been a very long time since I last played – and indeed, I’ve never played with the new Ash Wastes stuff. Having recently finished painting the Goliath gang, it was great to get them out for a spin, as well!

To start with, then, vehicles are almost the same as any other fighter – they can take actions, they can attack or be attacked, etc. The vehicle will usually have a weapon, and a crew, who will be responsible for firing that weapon. Vehicles begin the game mobile, but can become stalled or wrecked as the game goes on. The various conditions a vehicle can be subjected to determine which actions they can perform. So you can move, you can shoot, you can ram, you can move and shoot (moving half your move value to do so), and so on.

When you move, you go in a straight line. This may cause you to collide with terrain and stuff, but you can manoeuvre during a move, if you need to pivot to get around things. Otherwise, you only get to change your direction at the start or end of a move. It really makes you think about what you’re trying to do, especially if you’re trying to do a drive-by – you can’t just curve around things without thinking things through.

There are many game effects that can see the crew losing control of the vehicle, too. This is kinda funny, but it reflects the somewhat difficult terrain and the ramshackle vehicles they’re driving.

Necromunda Ash Wastes

You can, of course, attack vehicles, and it works similar to attacking other fighters. Vehicles have front, side and rear Toughness, and you resolve your hit depending on which you’re shooting at (or beating up). Once a hit has been scored, damage is inflicted via the vehicle dice – special location and damage dice that allow you to score glancing, penetrating or catastrophic hits against the body, engine, crew or drive of the vehicle. Depending on which type of hit is scored and where, different effects will take place. So for instance, a glancing hit to the drive will force a loss of control test (more in a bit), while a catastrophic hit to the engine will remove two hull points and reduce its move value by half for the rest of the game.

In my test game today, the Orlock champion scored a catastrophic hit against a Goliath mauler with his heavy bolter, destroying the vehicle in one shot!

Necromunda Ash Wastes

When a vehicle is reduced to 0 hull points, it becomes wrecked and can essentially function as terrain. The crew will be thrown clear, which I hadn’t realised, but that does mean you potentially need to have more models painted up for this!

Vehicles have a handling value, which is used when making a loss of control test. If failed, you roll a d6 and the Control dice, which is another new type of dice for the vehicle rules. This result will determine if the vehicle swerved, jackknifes, of rolls when the loss of control test is failed, with the d6 determining which direction it moves, left or right. Rolling vehicles can end up on their side or the roof, and will consequently wreck.

Necromunda Ash Wastes

It’s a pretty good system, when you get into it, and I think it’ll be fun to try out more vehicle battles in the future. The rules for Necromunda are quite dense anyway, and while the vehicular additions can be seen as making that worse, in all honesty I don’t think they’re all that bad – I mean, it’s just more of the same, in many respects. However, adding in this new type of “fighter” does really open the game out in so many ways, and as I’ve already said, I can’t wait to see what other vehicles will be making their way into the wastes!

Angmar Awakened – out of the dungeon, into the Ettenmoors

Hey everybody,
After more than two months, I’m once again back with the Angmar Awakened cycle! Back in November, I started this with The Wastes of Eriador, having played through The Lost Realm deluxe box back at the end of 2020! It’s definitely taking me a while to get through this, but I’m pressing on! I played the second pack, Escape from Mount Gram, at the start of December, so I’m currently doing well at one pack per month!

Escape from Mount Gram

At the end of the last adventure, the heroes were taken captive by the goblins, and Escape from Mount Gram sees us running around in the dungeons, trying to get our stuff and flee. There is a fairly annoying mechanic that starts the pack by shuffling all of the stuff, including allies and two heroes per player, into a sort of side-deck, meaning that we start the game with just one hero and a deck of event cards. Encounter cards often have the Capture mechanic, which draws cards from this set-aside deck under them and, when those cards leave play, such as by defeating enemies or exploring locations, we get to draw those cards as normal. Some effects will actually allow us to put cards into play for free, which is nice!

Escape from Mount Gram

Thematically, it works wonderfully, as it simulates the helpless/abandoned feeling of being lost in the dungeons and trying to regroup really well. However, it’s just that tiny bit soul-crushing as we start from so far behind, it’s like an uphill struggle right from the off. In addition, of course, players can’t team up until the second quest stage, so you really are on your own. It’s a little bit like Foundations of Stone from the Dwarrowdelf cycle in that respect.

Escape from Mount Gram

To win, you have to flee via the Southern Gate, which is quite the task because you can’t travel to that location until the quest has got the max number of progress tokens on it, so it’s very prescriptive in that respect. But it was quite enjoyable – just a bit hectic, and not one that I think I would rush to play again!

Across the Ettenmoors

Once we’ve escaped the dungeons, we then race Across the Ettenmoors, a wild place where Giants and Trolls abound. This one was a very interesting quest, as it is basically side quest heaven. Due to the fact that I was playing a team that includes Thurindir, and both my decks have quite a few side quests in as well, towards the end of the game I was questing for something like 20+ easily, Thurindir himself contributing well over half of that due to the 10 or so side quests in the victory display!

Across the Ettenmoors

There are a lot of enemies in this one, plus a lot of quite horrible treacheries, though I was surprised that it didn’t feel quite so bad as you’d think. Yes, there are massive Giant enemies to contend with, but as luck would have it, I was able to either discard them as shadow cards, or else deal with them on my own terms by keeping my threat low enough throughout!

I think Across the Ettenmoors is ranked as the easiest quest of the cycle, in the official literature at least. But like I say, it could be pretty horrific if you’re stuck with a bunch of giants and trolls looming over you. During my game, I was stuck with drawing a lot of player cards that interacted with locations, yet barely any locations were coming up. I always find these things interesting, because people will tell you that x quest is easy, or y quest is difficult, but without the right cards in your hand, x quest could be impossible! 

On that note, I believe I have an extremely difficult one coming up over the horizon. The Battle of Carn Dûm gets a lot of bad press for being one of the hardest quests in the game, but I still have another quest to get through before I’m there, so I can try to build myself up for that one. 

In the meantime, I continue to be quite impressed by how my decks are performing. The combination this time around has led to some very powerful turns where fairly significant enemies are crushed in one blow, and locations never seem to linger for longer than a turn or two. It’ll be interesting to see how I fare when the time comes – hopefully it won’t be too long before I will be able to draw this particular cycle to a close!!

The Dream-Eaters: stage three

In a bid to try to get the Dream-Eaters campaign finished before Christmas, today I breezed through both scenarios in stage three, which is probably not the best way to go but I was also on childcare duty, so didn’t have a great deal of spare time. I would have been back to this game sooner, but after getting a slew of Marvel Champions things for my birthday at the weekend, I have been once more obsessing with that game. I need more focus!!

The Dream-Eaters III

The Dark Side of the Moon is a bit like a dungeon-crawl scenario, where we start with a small board and by paying clues at a certain location, we can see just a few more locations further ahead. We are up on the moon, so of course we’re battling moon-beasts while exploring the caverns and suchlike up there. I’ve said it before, but it’s remarkable how the designers have been able to take Lovecraft’s Dream-Quest novella and turn it into this campaign. I’ve been really impressed so far with the Dream side of things, for sure.

The Dream-Eaters III

I enjoyed seeing more of the board on a stage-by-state basis, although there is a part of me that is fondly nostalgic for the more basic scenarios from earlier campaigns, where the map is just laid in front of you, and you get to explore it without trying to work out where the next pieces of the puzzle have to go. I can’t quite help but feel like this is a bit gimmicky now, though, and rather than just have everything out from the start, they’re trying to come up with new ways of staggering the laying-out of locations.

The Dream-Eaters III

At any rate, once we explore the caverns and stuff, we make it to The White Ship and sail away, another one of Lovecraft’s dream stories ticked off as being incorporated into the storyline. There is a mechanic in this one which uses doom tokens to represent the ‘alert’ level, which seems to be linked with drawing attention to ourselves. I was a bit unsure on this, as surely if we the investigators are on high-alert, we’re being super stealthy? But no, bad things can happen the more alert we are, it seems!

I did treat this one very much like a rush job, it has to be said, and evaded monsters rather than trying to fight them.

The Dream-Eaters III

In the waking world, we are now at the Point of No Return. We arrived in the Underworld of the Dreamlands last time, but rather than immediately set off after our friends, Randolph Carter thinks we have the opportunity here to discover what is making the barrier between the worlds weaken, so we’re off on a bit of a side-quest, it feels. Now, there’s nothing inherently wrong with this scenario, but it did very much feel like a rehash of Search for Kadath earlier in the campaign, as each location has a story side, and it’s only by exploring these locations that we can advance the Act.

The Dream-Eaters III

Rather than there being four distinct other worlds to choose from, there are just two further stages – Vale of Pnath locations, and then the Sea of Pitch. Each area has four locations, and one of them will allow you to advance the act. It’s a bit samey, but I decided I wanted to think of it in terms of the internal rhyme or parallel between the dreaming and the waking worlds. Or something.

The Dream-Eaters III

Something that I liked about the setup for this scenario was how different encounter sets would get shuffled into the deck as things progress. The pack actually features two additional small encounter sets, which help to stagger the reveals. One of them features the Dhole, a classic mythos monster that we finally get in the card game! I think we’ve had this before, where a mythos pack would come with more than just a single encounter set, but it remains to be seen if they’re used in any of the final scenarios.

The Dream-Eaters III

As you can see above, the sun started to shine as my victory became apparent, although I’m not entirely sure if I can really say that I’m winning – in the next Interlude, the black cat has brought my investigators news of Nyarlathotep, which cannot be cause for celebration! I’m a bit bemused, though, because I had thought this cycle was going to be all about Atlach-Nacha, and indeed, we have encounter sets for his agents, plus there are spiders and webs everywhere, so I’m not really sure what’s going on! But I’ve got a hefty chunk of experience points to spend on the final deck upgrades, so hopefully I can get myself organised and find the time for the last two scenarios before the weekend.

Stay tuned!!

Marvel Champions thoughts

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!!

Back under the mountain

At the weekend, I had a game of Warhammer Underworlds: Direchasm with my mate James, who is starting a Slaves to Darkness army and had picked up Khagra’s Ravagers. We’d talked about the game last year, which is what kinda prompted me to investigate all of the boxes that I have lying around, so it was nice to finally have a proper game with it!

Well, I say “proper” game; neither of us was really that sure of the rules, so we spent a long time trying to figure things out! One of the most critical aspects of the game was also a bit of a mystery to us until the third round, as well! See, we were playing it where each fighter had an activation, so it was getting quite baffling when we were talking about situations where fighters could potentially move and shoot – how could that happen, if they’ve already activated? Well, near the start of round three, and after a quick google search, it dawned on me – the player has four activations, not the fighter, so you can activate a single fighter multiple times if you so wish!

How foolish we were!

I think we were also both quite impressed by how tactical the third round became. We’d very much just moved a bit and had a bit of a scrap in the middle, and over the course of the first two rounds, I’d managed to score two objectives, and James had taken two of my fighters out of action, so we were tied on two Glory each. However, two of his fighters only had one hit point left, so if I was able to kill then both, I’d win. If I did nothing, he would win for having more fighters on the board. It suddenly became quite tense, especially when I was unable to kill anything! As it turned out, James was also able to score an objective because all of his fighters were Inspired, so he won 3-2 regardless, but it was funny how the game had been quite nice and free-flowing until that last round, when suddenly things started to really matter!!

All in all, it was a really fun game, even if I did lose, and it’s got me thinking once again about trying to play it some more. I only have the first four boxes, but I think we’re on season 7 or something now – I don’t see myself getting back into it very much, but I would like to see if I can perhaps pick up some more of the Direchasm stuff while it’s still out in the wild. Especially if the Bonereapers warband shows up anywhere, as I think those models would be quite good for my larger army, if nothing else!!

I’ve done a tiny bit of tinkering with my deck, ahead of any potential future games, as I had been using the “starter” Lumineth deck from the box. I don’t have a great deal from Direchasm, though, so there isn’t a lot of scope (unlike my collection from Nightvault).

But anyway, it’s something that I hope that we can play some more, going forward!

Back to the Champions

After quite a hiatus, I’ve got round to playing some more Marvel Champions recently, and it has been a lot of fun! Since I picked up the game this summer, I have pretty much only tried my hand against Rhino. I think I tried Klaw once and it didn’t go well for me, and I think I’ve also played against Ebony Maw from the Thanos expansion, but otherwise all my games have been against the same villain. Well, no more! For I have recently broken into the Galaxy’s Most Wanted expansion box, and have faced off against a couple of the scenarios therein with all-new (to me) heroes, as well!

The Guardians box was the second big box expansion released for the game, and has been almost universally panned by a lot of the online community, it seems, due to the steep difficulty curve that it involves. There is a lot of stuff going on in here, and while I don’t yet have the Red Skull box, it did surprise me how much of a step-up the scenarios are in comparison to what we’ve had so far. A lot of this comes from the fact that they have attempted to simulate space combat by using Ship cards which act as new Environment cards. It adds an extra layer, but it is nevertheless something that I was quite impressed with when I first tried it out.

The first scenario, which pits us against Drang and the Badoon, is quite good as it plays pretty much as you’d expect, albeit with the added threat of the Badoon ship. This charges up through a variety of effects, but at least does so at the start of each villain phase, and then does 2 indirect damage to each player when it has 4 charge counters on it. It’s an interesting way to simulate the idea of space combat as opposed to the more generic fights we’ve had so far, and I really like it. I mean, I don’t like it, per se, but as a rule it’s interesting! Drang can be quite powerful, especially when he gets hold of his spear at stage two, and his schemes enter play with a high number of threat counters on them already, so it can be difficult to balance the fight aspect against the thwart aspect.

Luckily, though, I was playing Star-Lord and Gamora, and while Star-Lord is a little bit janky in his pre-made deck, Gamora is quite a powerhouse and she was actually the one who saved the day by whaling on the villain and reducing him down each time. It was lucky, because both my heroes were close to death!

The second scenario is one of two where we are up against The Collector, and has a very different feel to the games I’ve played so far. At the start of the game, we have to set up The Collection, which takes the top card of each player deck and places it off to the side. Throughout the game, The Collector’s ability forces us to place any card that is removed from play into The Collection rather than into the appropriate discard pile, and if there are ever 5 cards per player in there, we lose. I felt like I was up against it from the off, and honestly couldn’t see how I was going to win this one. You can pay or exhaust a hero to recover cards, but due to me not understanding the rules, I actually lost pretty quickly.

See, any boost cards dealt to the villain, any cards used to pay for a card’s cost, any Treachery cards or any Event cards are never “in play”, so will not end up in The Collection. Did I realise that when I was playing? Of course I didn’t. So I was throwing everything in there, and lost in about 4 turns. Admittedly, Gamora was able to defeat stage one of the villain pretty well, and Star-Lord himself helped to get some of the health down, but he was also trying to recover cards from The Collection, which didn’t go well at all! 

It has been more than two months since I last played the game, though!

Interestingly, when I re-played the scenario knowing how it actually works, I didn’t find it half as oppressive as I had been led to believe by the internet. I don’t know if that was down to skill, or whether the aggro build for Gamora is just so efficient… But I was able to defeat both stages of the villain with only 6 cards in total ending up in The Collection.

While the Guardians aren’t exactly what I would call my all-time favourite group, the box does seem to have a lot of promise, so I’m looking forward to some more games at some point, as I take a look at the rest of the scenarios in here!

One of the things I wanted to talk about here is the campaign system for the game. LCG campaigns is something I’ve talked about recently here, and I suppose this can be read as a bit of an update to that blog. I’ve mentioned it before, but Marvel Champions definitely feels like a lighter game than some of the other card games I’ve got on the roster. It’s not a criticism, but simply an observation – it makes sense, as well, that FFG would want to try to appeal to Marvel fans, rather than simply gamers, so having a system that is fairly straightforward, and doesn’t take forever to play, etc, is a definite upside there.

The campaign system for Marvel Champions, such as it is, is correspondingly light as well. I’ve been playing with the Guardians of the Galaxy box, which I think needs to be mentioned again because I believe the campaign actually changes with each big box expansion. Generally, it seems that the campaign is very much a case of “play these scenarios in order”, and they are loosely related to each other. In the Guardian’s box, the campaign sees players earning “units” for things like cards in the victory display, having no minions in play, if the scheme is at a specific stage, etc. These can then be used to purchase cards from the market, which are added to your deck as you go through the campaign. It’s interesting enough, but it also sounds fairly lightweight and stuff. Shouldn’t be too much of a hassle to play through, I’m thinking, anyway!

In reading some reviews of the campaigns from around the internet, there seems to be a general feeling of they’re fine, but they’re not amazing. I wonder if that’s mainly because it’s gamers who are writing these things, or whether Arkham Horror LCG has the premiere campaign system of any living card game, and so the others fall down in comparison? Certainly, the Marvel Champions campaign system isn’t blowing anything out of the water, but I think the game is light enough that it doesn’t require (couldn’t withstand?) a complex system of levelling up and so on. 

I really don’t mean any of this to be disparaging, though! In a world where games seem to be constantly trying to put some kind of legacy-style campaign system into place, I think we need games where you can sit down, enjoy them, and put them away again. My first thoughts on the Hellboy board game were of surprise when I realised there wasn’t a campaign, before almost immediately about-facing, and asking why we’d actually need such a thing, anyway? I think we’ve been a bit spoiled, and we’re almost led to expect it now. Rather than enjoying a game for what it is. 

I feel like I need to dismount my soapbox now!

A lot of reviews seem to agree, though, that the Marvel Champions campaign system isn’t great, and folks would much prefer to have the additional cards in each box given over to more content such as more villains, or additional player cards. With what I know about the system, I think I would agree. This is mainly due to the release model for Marvel Champions though, where each cycle has five villains in a deluxe box, then one additional scenario pack each time around. Six scenarios per “cycle” seems a little light, although since the game moved to four heroes per cycle instead of six, it is in balance with itself. I suppose there is a perceived imbalance by having one box for villains and then all the subsequent packs for heroes.

I think I’ve rambled quite enough for today’s blog, however! Here’s to playing more Marvel Champions, anyway – especially when you consider how much content I still have to discover!! I think I would really like to make it through the core set stuff by the end of the year, if nothing else!

Marvel Champions

Old Games

I seem to be on a definite big game high at the minute, folks! Every so often, I really find myself in the mood for playing one of the big, table-covering games from my collection, and I think as we head towards proper winter, that is just intensifying. After it came back on the radar a few weeks ago, I’ve finally had a game of Runebound (my first since November 2014, as it happens!)

It was an absolute blast, and I was excitedly telling my mate Tony all about it as I was playing. It was like the carefree days of 2011, when I was playing this thing very regularly.

Playing just the base game used to feel like a lacklustre experience, but honestly, it’s been so long that it didn’t bother me in the slightest! I think there is just so much to enjoy in the game that it’s hard to have a bad time playing it. So much of it came flooding back to me, as well, that I was really quite surprised at how quickly I was actually able to play, rather than having to check every little move in the rule book.

I definitely want to return to Terrinoth, and soon, but I think I might do so with some of the small expansion packs involved. It surprised me, really, how big the card stacks were for each adventure colour, but I think it’ll be interesting to add some more variety in there, all the same. I have considered doing this in a sort of chronological sequence, as these packs came out in three “seasons”, almost, with a pair each of adventure decks, market decks, and adventure variants per season. But something as formal as that might be better left for the new year.

Runebound is definitely the sort of game that wouldn’t really see the light of day in the modern gaming age, it seems, but I’m very glad to have it!

At the weekend, I managed to make some time to play another favourite of mine, A Touch of Evil. What’s more, it was expanded with Something Wicked, which is my favourite board game expansion ever, I think – it’s very much more of the same, but it somehow manages to equal and surpass the core set, and I just love it!

I thought it was interesting that playing this one seemed to be really quite easy – almost accidentally, I was able to build up a powerhouse duo that killed off the Unspeakable Horror in a single showdown fight round, only sustaining a single wound in return. Interesting, because it almost felt like a let-down, really. I will freely admit that it’s possible I forgot a couple of rules. But all of the equipment that my heroes had was legal, etc, so I’m not sure how I managed to make a monk and a playwright into supernatural monster-slayers quite so easily!!

I want to play this game more, as well, but I also think I need to spend some time with the rulebook and check that I’m doing everything correctly. Just in case…

At any rate, while it’s lovely to be digging into the collection once more and playing these games, which I’ve not had the chance (or inclination) to look at for a number of years now, I think it’s really interesting that I’m playing these old games once again. The board game hobby seems to be plagued with the Cult of New like nothing else I know, and I constantly see online people who are (quite rightly) proud of a growing collection, who want to add new and different games to their roster etc, and who share shelfies of huge numbers of boxes. Impressive stuff, for sure, but when do you find the time to actually play them?!

There’s something really quite lovely, to me, about having a much smaller collection of games (I don’t count individual card packs as expansions, so by that reckoning my game collection is only around 20 distinct games) that I can actually get to play on a fairly regular rotation. True, some stuff like the Star Wars LCG might be going into storage until I can convince the kids of its greatness, but I like the fact that I am actually able to play these games now, and I can enjoy my collection accordingly!!

I’ve definitely been playing a much wider variety of games this year than in previous years, and I’m enjoying that aspect of things, as well. It’s great to be able to enjoy the collection – feeling like a game of Eldritch Horror, so just set up a game! It’s still difficult to balance around the kids, of course, and the game of A Touch of Evil at the weekend was cut a bit short by nap time ending prematurely, but even so!

My goal for 2023 is to increase my plays, anyway. I think it could be good to try to get at least ten games in each month, so that’ll be something to aim for! Of course, I don’t want to turn anything into a chore, but I’ve already exceeded that number for November, so it’s entirely do-able!!

Edge of the Earth: Ice and Death

It’s been ages since I started to play the Edge of the Earth campaign for Arkham Horror LCG, but I’ve not yet had a chance to talk about it here. I started this one three months ago now, shortly after finishing the Forgotten Age campaign, and have so far played the first two scenarios.

The campaign is basically a re-tread of At the Mountains of Madness, as we head back to Antarctica to see what happened out there. There is a huge chunk of story to read through as we start, whereupon we set off with our party. Now, so far one of the main objectives has been to try to keep the party alive, but as soon as we land on the ice, one of them dies! It’s quite grim, and as things move on, the disaster movie feel is real. Some of the party go missing in the night, and we have to mount a search party to rescue them.

The first scenario is a bit fractured, and gives us opportunity to park things rather than play through it in one go (though of course you can go through it all if you’re so inclined). We begin by basically heading to the frozen wastes, and after the crash-landing I mentioned earlier, we then set about trying to find a suitable camp site. The objective here, then, is to explore enough locations to find one with a high Shelter value, which will thereafter serve as our camp. After this, we have the opportunity to set a Checkpoint, preserving the game as it is for another time, or else pressing on with part two!

It took me more than a month to finally get back to part two, where we’re on the trail of one of our party members who has gone missing in the night. Whoever has disappeared from camp has a “possessed” version of themselves that we’re trying to find – we can fight them, at which point they are killed, or we can Parlay with them, to bring them to their senses.

We then hit a second Checkpoint, when something massive erupts from the snow and we have the option of running away, or standing and fighting these monsters! Naturally, I ran away, which meant that I skipped the third part of the scenario in its entirety. It’s touches like these that could never really have been implemented in the previous game model for the LCG, because Ice and Death is too big of an encounter to fit into a single mythos pack, but you’d never have had a pack where you had the option to skip that scenario completely.

We have plenty of Interludes along the way in here, as well, and there is a lot of text to read through as we make our way through the campaign. It’s surprisingly wordy, and I wonder why the design team have chosen to make it so. It’s almost like they have too much story to cover?

So far, then, the campaign has clearly deviated from those of the past, and it seems to break away quite a bit from the main “action” of the game. There is an awful lot going on, and I really like the sense of foreboding that comes through from the whole thing. But I can’t help feeling like I’m not actually enjoying this campaign, so far. Now, I know I’m only really one scenario in, but despite the theme coming out quite well, I’m just not as enamoured of this one as I have been of other campaigns. The sense of not knowing what the best choice is, which came through so well in previous campaigns, is missing here – perhaps because the storyline seems to be trying to re-tread the Lovecraft novella so closely. I do feel like Path to Carcosa was the high water mark for this game, and it hasn’t really been able to get back there, despite the fact that I enjoyed The Circle Undone, too. It is entirely possible that I’ll change my mind, the more that I play this, but somehow I don’t see it happening.

Lord of the House Rules

This is a post that I’ve been ruminating on for quite a while now. I’m not the sort of gamer who normally goes in for house rules, they always struck me as a bit dirty, somehow! I mean, I like to play games within the confines of the rules that come in the box (or book), and stick to the “official” way to play stuff. I find that this is the way that the game had been designed and balanced, so deviating from this can cause chaos. In terms of 40k, this becomes a fairly difficult undertaking, given just how much there is to track between the FAQs and errata, but with more regular board and card games, such things can be much easier to deal with. I recently printed off the FAQ for Runebound, and the entire game line (five big boxes, twenty-four card packs) is just four pages. Kinda tells you something about game design in the early 2000s, doesn’t it?

FAQs are one thing, but I have forever drawn the line at trying to alter a game myself. Or so I thought. For a very long time, I was playing The Lord of the Rings LCG incorrectly, but some of my accidental alterations to the game, it turns out, are variants adopted by many folks. Indeed, the game is widely agreed to be quite difficult to play, especially considering the game’s theme attracts many narrative or thematic players like myself. So I have begun to do a bit of research into this phenomenon, and I’ve actually been trying out some suggestions from the global community!

One of the official suggestions for learning the game is to leave out shadow cards, something that I was doing for years, but which I would not think to do anymore. Aside from the fact that they’re quite an important part of combat, with a lot of player cards that interact with them, shadow cards are also quite a useful way to thin out the encounter deck – I know it’s all random chance, but I would much prefer to see a hill troll as a shadow card than have to deal with it normally!!

Lord of the Rings LCG

The game also has an easy mode, which removes some of the encounter cards, and also allows heroes to start with two resources instead of one. Now, I recently tried this, and had Steward of Gondor in my opening hand, meaning Boromir was just a powerhouse. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing, because while the game is designed and balanced around its actual rule book, the variant is official, and it was just dumb luck. It’s equally possible to play the game as-is, yet draw Light of Valinor in your opening hand, allowing for Glorfindel to become a beast straightaway.

I think I’m a fan of starting with two resources, then!

Taking myself as the only player, even when playing two-handed, and so only revealing one encounter card per turn is, I feel, too easy. On reflection, I avoided a lot of location-lock while questing for around 12 points per turn, meaning it became really quite easy after a while. I did wonder if this was perhaps due to the fact I was playing The Hunt for Gollum, a scenario that I am very familiar with, but in all honesty, I don’t really think so. A lot of the difficulty around this game comes, I think, from how the encounters can snowball right from the off, and it takes the heroes time to build up. Encounter cards on an individual basis are not normally so terrifying, so playing in this way definitely felt a bit like the heroes ganging-up on the encounter set! Not a fan of this.

Lord of the Rings LCG

The next variation is something I’ve seen referred to around the web as “enjoyable mode”, which allows you to pick one card per hero to be in your opening hand. The cards you select must share a sphere with that hero. It sounds good, and in some of the discussions that I’ve seen around the internet, it does make sense: for example, a hero goes on the road prepared for what might come up, so of course they would come with a sword or an axe. Some variants take this further by limiting the cost of that attachment to cards costing 0, 1, or 2 resources. This makes some sense, and I do like the narrative idea behind it. However, in the game that I tried it, I decided that the attachment had to be a physical thing, not a title or whatever, which meant that it seemed to swing quite wildly as to what was useful and what wasn’t. Having Eowyn’s special horse and Celebrian’s Stone meant that I had two heroes questing for 8 between them, which seemed to be too powerful. Not entirely sure on this one yet.

Lord of the Rings LCG

In a similar vein, something I’ve thought about for a while is getting to start the game with a single ally in play, expanding the party and giving you more flexibility in the opening rounds. The reason for this is mainly due to the fact that I have played so many games where I have had a bad start and just couldn’t claw my way back from it. Even when playing Passage Through Mirkwood, the tutorial scenario! I understand that having three heroes allows you to quest, defend, then attack, so in theory you should be able to do everything required in the game from the get-go, but in practice it so rarely works out that way! There is the possibility of getting to start with a powerful ally which has been balanced to not be able to come out until turn 4+ normally, but I think without trying to abuse this, it could give the game just enough of an uplift that it isn’t a kerb-stomp straight off the bat. When I tried it, I specifically picked allies that wouldn’t be a massive benefit, but they had to be unique, named allies. It turned out to be pretty good, I thought, though it does feel a bit dirty to have 4-cost Elfhelm out right at the start, so I’m still debating this one with myself.

Much like the attachment thing, I think it could be a case of limiting this to starting the game with one card per player, rather than one per hero. Or even one card per party? Hm.

There are some very peculiar ideas out there as well. I saw something that suggested discarding multiple copies of the same location, which does kinda make sense for some places, it has always been thematically the case that you have multiple areas of the same place to explore, as some places are vast. It’s an unfortunate aspect of the rules that you can be location-locked with two or three copies of the same card up there taunting you! But I suppose the game isn’t meant to be easy, really.

So far, all of these things have been fairly straightforward things, which don’t really break the main rules of the game. Now, something that I’ve never really liked about the rules is the way enemies attack. Normally in the sequence of things, you need to defend against enemy attacks before you can attack, and this holds true whether you optionally engage that enemy, or if the enemy engaged you because of your threat level. It breaks the theme for me, to a point, where you have an enemy up there in the staging area, you shout a challenge and rush up to engage him, axes or swords swinging, but he can then strike first. As the game grew, there are cards that allow you to bypass the engagement, meaning you can straight up wallop an enemy still in the staging area, and there’s at least one card that allows you to fight before the enemy, but these still annoy me to some extent, because you’re relying on a card spot within your deck to do something that should be a rule.

I’ve read ideas to get around this where defenders, if they survive, can then attack back against the enemy, which isn’t bad really. The possibility to attack first does seem pretty strong, especially if you’re attacking en masse, but the only mitigation that I can think of for this basically makes everyone into Dúnhere – I do like the idea of a single hero being able to attack the enemy first when an optional engagement happens, then the fight is resolved as normal, but it does seem like you’re basically giving every hero Dúnhere’s specific ability. Even tacking-on a resource cost to it doesn’t help, in my mind.

Lord of the Rings LCG

One idea that I had come up with years ago, although I never tried it out, was to have almost a simultaneous fight, where you engage an enemy, declare “fighters”, and then everybody gets to go at it; the enemy damage is spread out as evenly as possible (but prioritises the highest-cost hero), and everyone can then have at the enemy card. It sounds like it would be way overpowered, but in reality, you might only have a couple of combat characters, alongside your couple of questing characters, so some enemies are still going to be difficult to shift, yet will still quite easily see off some allies, and even some heroes!

I never tried it, but now that I’ve come to write it up here, it’s got me thinking…

There are a number of other ideas out there that allow sentinel characters to not exhaust to defend, for instance, or ranged characters able to shoot into the staging area, which is another intriguing twist to things. I think these are principally variants for playing true solo (one deck to rule them all), but it’s an interesting idea that you could perhaps nominate one hero among your fellowship who doesn’t exhaust to do one thing, a bit like Light of Valinor but you could also apply it to defending or attacking in a single combat.

For the time being, though, I’ve settled on trying to have characters who survive an enemy attack as a defender can then deal their damage to an enemy, then the party can attack back as they see fit.

Lord of the Rings LCG

In short, I’d like the game to be not necessarily easier, but I’d just like to stand a chance against it, you know? Far too often, I’ve pulled early cards that have made it impossible to win, and even late game I’ve been sent back to the Stone Age with board wipes and similar. I’ve considered trying to maybe stack the top of the encounter deck so that I’m not starting from even further behind, or having at least one free pass where I just don’t reveal cards for the first quest phase. But all of that feels like it might interfere too much. The game is meant to feel like you’re playing against an actual player, and the purpose of Nightmare Decks was at first to simulate that player tuning their deck in the same way that us players do. However, with the encounter deck “able to play” powerful cards like hill troll on turn one, while us poor souls need to save up at least 3-4 rounds for our powerful cards does mean that we’re starting from behind, all the time.

I do love this game, I really do, but I’d like to be able to play it and enjoy it, not go through all the set-up just to then put my balls in a vice for a couple of minutes, then realise that I’ve lost regardless!

I think I’m going to adopt the 2 starting resources option in all my games going forward, and maybe I’ll sprinkle some other stuff into the game from time to time, as well…