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!

Why I like deck-building games so much

It’s time for something a little different for game day here at spalanz.com today! While I normally showcase something awesome from my game collection, today I thought I’d just talk more about what seems to be the largest-represented subtheme of games that I have, the deck-building game, and why I like them so much.

Dominion, of course, is the grandfather of the deck-builders, and has a whole slew of expansions. First released in 2008, it ignited the spark that brought us so many more since. However, precisely because of the developments that have taken place in board games over these past seven years, I find Dominion to be quite a dry experience today, with its generic medieval-themed cards and its basic mechanics of buying as many cards as you can to win. There’s more to it than that, of course, and I won’t deny, managing to set up those killer-combos can be a lot of fun, but I eventually sold my Dominion collection earlier in the summer, as it had become a game that merely took up too much shelf-space.

Thunderstone (2009) immediately began to shake things up. Following the basic idea of having a set of cards that you can buy from, the game included a separate action that felt so much more like an actual game, where you went into a dungeon to fight some monsters. This is where the deck-building game really takes flight for me. While Dominion’s premise was to build a deck as the end result of your game, Thunderstone combined deck-building with an actual game to simple yet highly effective ends. Fans of Dominion will recognise the village as the usual card pool, but while in the older game, you bought cards which would allow you to buy more cards, and the goal was all about trying to refine your turn and maximise your resources, here you buy cards to actually do something with them. You hire warriors and buy equipment to outfit them better to fight the monsters.

There’s something about Thunderstone that remains highly appealing to me, and it’s a game that I continue to enjoy the more I play it. It’s the idea of deck-building for a reason that is so enjoyable for me.

Ascension (2010) is a curious blend of the two, I find. The biggest departure from both is that the “village” idea of a collection of cards you always get to choose from has now been replaced by a centre row of just six cards. This combines the idea of buying cards to refine your deck, as well as elements of the dungeon from Thunderstone, so that heroes and monsters can both emerge from the main deck. I think Ascension is my favourite type of deck-building game, and it’s also one of my favourites for the theme, also. It’s a fairly generic fantasy-style world, but the theme of each faction you can recruit really comes through very strongly. The best thing about this, however, is the variety that comes from having an ever-changing line-up of six cards. No two games will necessarily be the same, while Thunderstone has the potential if you use the same set-up (though the monsters will change as you go through, of course). Of the three games mentioned so far, Ascension wins hands-down for its variety!

I play most of my Ascension through the app, which is actually pretty awesome as well, and definitely worth downloading.

Rune Age (2011) is a curious mix from Fantasy Flight Games. It’s a little bit like a pared-down Thunderstone, with just a few cards on offer to buy rather than the whole village. It also uses an event deck, which can be both beneficial and harmful. The greatest departure here, of course, is that you start out in a specific faction, and build up your deck from there. The object of the game varies with each event deck in play, and the result is almost like a third way for deck-building games. I love this game for so many reasons, chiefly among them of course is the setting of Terrinoth. However, while there is so much to enjoy right out of the box, it’s unfortunately starting to get a little stale for me now, as so much of any deck-builder is dependent on the different ways you can build your deck. For Rune Age, that depends on the faction you play, and also the event deck you use, and with only six of each to choose from, it has become clear that more variety is needed! But when it’s been a while between plays, it’s always a real pleasure to come back to this one.

DC Deck Building Game (2012) is almost a straight copy of Ascension, featuring a main deck and centre line-up of six cards, where you recruit heroes and fight villains. However, there’s an added element that makes it a little more exciting, but the theme is perhaps the greatest draw here. You get to play as classic DC superheroes, and fight the arch-nemeses such as the Joker and Lex Luthor. The design isn’t particularly ground-breaking, but the execution is really great, leading to a fairly straightforward, yet super-fun game. While the base game may be a pared-down Ascension with a superhero theme, subsequent expansions have introduced several different keywords that alter play a lot, while the Crisis expansions have really served to deliver a really interesting game experience. Importantly, Cryptozoic have used the game engine for several other deck-building games, that are all compatible with each other – Street Fighter, Naruto Shippuden, and Lord of the Rings to date!

Marvel Legendary (2012) continues the superhero theme, and has been one of the break-out games from the deck-building genre of recent years. Of course, the runaway success of Marvel movies no doubt has a part to play here, but the game is actually really, really great, more than justifying its success. It plays very much like two games of Ascension happening at the same time – or more accurately, a game of Ascension where the heroes and the villains have been separated out, so you have two decks that are spewing cards each turn. However, we’re very much back to deck-building with a purpose here, as the villains are being led by a Mastermind, who is trying to get his scheme to go off. The object of the game is always roughly the same – defeat the villains and the mastermind – but the addition of schemes means they always play a little differently. Subsequent expansions have succeeded in both appeasing the fanboy need for more superheroes and also enriching the game experience.

Marvel Legendary is definitely the deck-building genre grown up.

So what is it about these games? Why do I have so many, and why do I keep coming back to them?

Well, first of all, I love variety. I could have the same game in several different themes, and love them all equally. I love card games such as the LCGs from Fantasy Flight and the recently-discovered Magic, and deck-building is obviously a highly intrinsic part of such games. I’ve said it before that, for me, the best part of Android: Netrunner is the deck-building, as you try to put together the perfect deck that should, in theory, run like clockwork. Getting to make a game out of building a deck just sounds so cool, and the fact that it actually is cool is just the icing on the cake, really. In a game like Ascension or DC, you get to choose the cards you want to buy not because they’ll be worth a lot in the end (though that is certainly a strategy you could go with), but because they’ll allow you to do much more. It’s always fun to see people around the table start with the same basic cards, but end up building entirely different decks as they attempt to go about their strategies.

I said at the beginning that I’m not the biggest fan of Dominion any more, but I’m certainly more than grateful to it for having provided the basis for so many of my favourite games!

Dark City!

Tuesdays mean just one thing here at spalanz.com – it’s Game Day, where the spotlight of awesome is turned onto one of the many, many games I own and enjoy. Today, it turns to the first big box expansion to Marvel Legendary – it’s time to enter the Dark City!

Marvel Legendary Dark City

I love Marvel Legendary. I own and enjoy a lot of deck-building games, as you wonderful long-time readers will no doubt be aware, but there’s just something about this game that makes it feel so much more than just your usual deck-building experience. Maybe it’s the theme, or the fact there is actual gameplay involved as well as just round after round of buying cards, but there’s just something about it that really speaks to my soul. That said, when the core game came out back in 2012, it got old fairly quickly – and I didn’t even play it all that much at the time. However, Dark City arrived in the summer of 2013, and all of that changed. Indeed, since Dark City’s arrival, this game has never felt old to me since.

Dark City wasn’t the first expansion to the game, but it brought something entirely fresh to the experience, with a slew of new cards that aren’t just exciting because they feature some of our best-loved Marvel super heroes, but also because of the level of thematic invention that come from them. Let’s take a look!

Heroes
In Dark City, we get three new groups of heroes: more X-Men; X-Force, and Marvel Knights. We already had X-Men in the core game, of course, but here we have some of the huge names such as Professor X, Jean Grey, and Angel. We also have Colossus, a new Wolverine, and Cable in X-Force, and some of my all-time favourite Marvel heroes in the Marvel Knights faction: Daredevil and Elektra!

While the core set heroes were undoubtedly cool, the heroes of Dark City are so much cooler, I almost feel the core set needs to be redesigned to fit into this new world. I’m not talking about the artwork here – Dark City features different artwork for each colour of the hero-set, rather than each hero-set only having one piece of art across all 14 cards. I was actually fine with that, as it made the game almost easier to keep track of, and especially easier to clean-up afterwards. But whereas in the core set, there were some synergies such as Iron Man getting bonuses for playing tech heroes, the heroes of Dark City have thematic keywords that actually feel like they evoke that hero’s super power.

Marvel Legendary Dark City

Nightcrawler is always a favourite of mine for this, with his Teleport ability. It basically allows you to set aside a card with Teleport on your turn, then when you draw your six new cards on your next turn, you can add these cards to your hand, hopefully creating powerful combos.

Another cool mechanic is Versatile, which allows you to use a hero’s combat or recruit value, depending on the situation. A couple of heroes have the ability, but the Domino hero is built entirely around this. I must admit, I was never really a fan at first – when I got the game, I was either absorbed by Marvel Knights, or focused on the X-Men. It was the very excellent manofyesterday who pointed out just how awesome this hero is, and I must say, I haven’t looked back since!

Expansion integration is really awesome here too. Something that – inexplicably – only really shone at me recently is the wonderful synergy between Elektra and Spider-Man. Adding in Dark City to the base game heroes is definitely a better experience than can happen with a lot of games like this, where it’s basically adding just more of the same…

Masterminds and Villains
There are four new Masterminds in this set, along with a whole slew of more villain and henchmen groups that, I have to say, are very exciting to me. Let’s take a look…

Apocalypse and Stryfe are lots of fun to go up against, but my favourite has got to be the Kingpin. Well, being such a Daredevil fan, it’s somewhat to be expected… There’s a really cool mechanic that is shared between the Kingpin and his villains, the Streets of New York, called Bribe. This mechanic allows you to defeat the enemies with recruit points as well as attack, almost like some kind of link to Versatile. Anyhow, it sounds like it might make the game easier, but it’s just so very thematic that I can’t help but like it! Plus, the villain group includes such badasses as Jigsaw and Bullseye. Always fun!

Schemes
There are a lot of fun schemes to play here, including some fairly complex things that involve heroes in the villain deck, bystanders in the hero deck – which are complex for me, because I sleeve the cards based on what they are! For a long while, I just used to avoid these things, but they’re actually really fun.

Marvel Legendary Dark City

Among my favourite schemes to play, however, are Detonate the Helicarrier, and Capture Baby Hope. The former I find really exciting and thematic, as the scheme twists cause the hero slots to blow up – you start with more heroes than normal, as well as eight slots for the heroes, but while that sounds a lot, I can tell you, it doesn’t take long for you to end up with just one or two spaces left. Capture Baby Hope involves the villains trying to capture Hope Summers, represented by “a token”. Anyway, it can be one of these really fun schemes where the token is bouncing around between villains and the heroes.

Marvel Legendary Dark City

This expansion is terrific. As of the time of this writing, I have picked up Secret Wars v1 just days ago, but I will still confidently say that this is the best expansion Legendary has seen thus far. It has some of my favourite Marvel characters of all time, which of course makes me biased from the off, but in games like this, it’s more than half the battle!

If you only buy one expansion for Marvel Legendary, be sure to make it this one!

Catching Up!

It’s been a while since I’ve seen a good documentary, although my Sky planner is full of the things. I’ve decided to try and catch up with a lot of the stuff I’ve been recording, anyway, starting with this two-part series on the Incas. I was always very interested in the Incas, the Aztecs and all that sort of Pre-Columbian, meso- and south-American history when I was growing up, but somewhere in my late teens I seemed to lose interest.

While Machu Picchu is probably the most famous Inca relic, this documentary has introduced all sorts of other sites that look absolutely incredible, principally among them (to me), the Moray agricultural terraces shown in my tweet above. Designed to facilitate crop cultivation at high altitude, it’s another of the really humbling scientific innovations of the past!

I’ve decided to sleeve my entire Lord of the Rings LCG collection, a project that has been going on fitfully this past week, but is sufficiently mindless to occupy my while catching up with these things. I think I’ve used around 30 packs, which has allowed me to sleeve four decks, along with pretty much all of the scenarios released to date – not counting print-on-demand or Saga stuff. It’s a demanding task, but hopefully will be worthwhile in the end! Lord of the Rings, I’ve recently realised, is my most-played card game, and I’m concerned that the player cards might not hold up much longer. As it is also my most-beloved card game as well, it’s time to make some effort to protect it against wear and tear, methinks!

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Time to relax #StarWars #novels

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Over the last few weeks, I’ve been enjoying a return to some classic Star Wars with The New Rebellion, one of my all-time favourite stories from the Bantam era! Published in 1996, the story details the efforts of the Force-sensitive Kueller to set himself up as a new Emperor. Some of the story is a little, well, daft, with occasionally unclear motivations for the characters, but overall, it still stands up for me. I really enjoy the way the story is paced – it’s a big book, 532 pages in paperback, and has pretty much exactly the right amount of story within its pages. This could so easily have been padded out to form a trilogy, which would probably have diminished its impact, I would say. Lots of plots, lots of intrigue, and lots of subterfuge, with Han returning to his smuggling roots, Luke doing some Jedi stuff, and Leia going up against former Imperial senators. Even the droids have a significant part to play in the plot! Really good stuff.

Only a couple of things really detract from it. First of all, the chapters are fairly short, and a significant number of them end on cliffhanger-style “tune in next week to see if Han survives being shot in the ass” sorts of things, which kinda gets old after a while. Also, the title kinda bothers me. While “rebellion” is defined as armed resistance to the established order, within the context of the GFFA, “rebellion” conjures a different sort of sense to that which is portrayed in the novel. We see very little of Kueller and his forces until the very end, which is kind of necessary for the plot, but this means the novel is primarily one of intrigue and subterfuge – the sort of novel that I really, really enjoy, but it just feels like the title is a bit misleading.

But that’s all pretty secondary. The novel is great, and if you can still manage to find a copy, I can definitely recommend you pick it up!

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#StudioGhibli #awesome

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Last week, I read this excellent post from fellow blogger, travelling in my bookcase, which reignited my interest in Studio Ghibli. I was first introduced to these anime films back in 2008 by an ex-girlfriend, with the classic Spirited Away, and really enjoyed the everything about it. We watched a couple of others, which I also enjoyed, and while I had often thought of getting some of them to watch again since we broke up, it wasn’t until now that I did anything about it. Having had an amazon voucher burning a hole in my pocket for about three months now, I hope you’ll agree, I’ve made a sound investment with it!

In the coming weeks and months, anyway, I’m sure these will be featured as I get through them!

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#PathfinderACG #Pathfinder #DrunkenMaster

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Games now. Last week I finally got round to getting a copy of the new Wrath of the Righteous core set for the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game, having had the character pack and adventure pack two delivered from my Paizo subscription. While I haven’t actually played a game with it yet, I have found myself returning to the Rise of the Runelords game, playing with Sajan, my drunken master Monk, which has been pretty good anyway! I’m still only playing through Burnt Offerings, so there’s still a long way to go, but it’s good to be within this universe once again, though the card game can be quite repetitive so I’m not intending to play this a lot. But I have made up a new deck using the Wizard class deck, for the necromancer, Darago. Looking forward to seeing how that works with the adventure! The class decks are pretty exciting, anyway, so it’s good to see they’re going to be putting some more out this year – including that for the Monk!

Since watching the new Titansgrave series from Geek and Sundry, combined with the recent focus on the Pathfinder ACG, I’ve been feeling the need for a RPG adventure in my life. Soon, hopefully!

On the subject of card games, though, FFG has released a couple of expansions for the LCGs in the last week, and taken another look at the upcoming Great Devourer for the Warhammer Conquest LCG. The Tyranids were always going to be fun to play, and the previews for this box definitely support that idea. Of course, I’m still looking forward to the Necrons more than anything, but it looks great all the same. Some guys have recently started a LCG group at my local store – after that demo of Android Netrunner I gave, no less! – so I’m hoping to get in some more games there.

The Thousand Young expansion for Call of Cthulhu is another deluxe expansion that’s looking pretty exciting, as does Attack Run for Star Wars, the latter bringing a brand new Fate card that looks really powerful! I’ve recently made up a Sith deck for this game, in the hope that some more games aren’t too far off. We’ll see, anyway!

Remember this? It was set to be released in June, I seem to remember, but that seems to have been pushed back to next month now, I suppose in reflection of the Marvel comics being delayed, too. I haven’t kept up with the comics in years, but the Secret Wars storyline does sound vaguely interesting. Beware of following that link if you want to avoid spoilers for the comics, however!!

What’s that Volume 1 all about, on the lower-right? Hmmm!

I haven’t played Legendary for a long while now – not since February, in fact – so should probably make some effort to correct that soon… I’ve finally found the new Fear Itself expansion to Legendary: Villains on sale here in the UK, so looking forward to seeing that when it arrives in my hot little hands… I seem to recall reading somewhere Iron Man will be a commander in his enchanted armour…

While we’re on the subject of comics-based games…

DC Teen Titans

The fourth core set for the DC deck-building game, Teen Titans brings, well, the Teen Titans to the game, with playable heroes such as Red Robin, Wonder Girl and Beast Boy. Man, I love these names! The most interesting aspect of this one is the Ongoing Abilities that certain cards will have. Something that very few deck-builders incorporate (as far as I can tell), it’ll be interesting to see how the game plays when you have more options available to you on your turn. It’s coming out next quarter, along with another Crossover Pack with the Arrow TV series. I’ve not watched the series, unfortunately, but I believe it’s awesome. However, this pack uses stills from the show rather than comic-style art, so I’m currently thinking I’ll pass on this one. Later in the year, we’re getting Legion of Super Heroes with some time-travel mechanic, and then a Watchmen Crossover Pack, presumably before the end of the year, which gives a co-op with defector flavour to the game. Interesting…