04 July 2019
Marvel Strike Teams is a spin-off from the HeroClix series, turning the collectible miniatures game into a dungeon-crawling board game that pits one villainous ‘mastermind’ against some of the best heroes the comic-book world of the Avengers has to offer.
In place of HeroClix’s busy bases, which rotate as characters take damage and display all of their relevant stats, from speed to range, the bases of Strike Teams’ miniatures simply state their current level and available build points. These points can be spent to outfit each character with a different array of equipment and skill cards during each mission, providing a straightforward but incredibly satisfying level of customisability and shifting group dynamic. You might decide to make Iron Man a ranged fighter in one scenario, only to have him fight up close when you need to hunker down and protect something the next. Levelling-up – achieved during a campaign – is just as simple, with characters spending points amassed by completed objectives to expand their potential pool of abilities.
On the battlefield, the action is as smooth and solid as Captain America’s vibranium shield. A combination of individual character action points and shared command points that can be spent by any member of the group power a diceless system similar to Monolith’s slick Conan. Actions cost points for set amounts of movement and damage, but carry over from turn to turn and can also be spent to defend, dodge or otherwise react to the enemies’ turn, making it a pleasing challenge of careful resource management and strategy rather than luck. (The only die in the box presents an optional push-your-luck chance to gain or lose additional points, which feels a bit tacked-on if ultimately inoffensive.)
The combination of customisable powers and quick, tactical combat feels as good as being a superhero should. Cap can deflect incoming fire and bounce his shield off multiple goons, while Iron Man can zoom around on his jets before firing lasers and missiles at unfortunate baddies, Quake can cause tremors and Agent May provides covering fire. Scenery on the map provides cover but, in a nice interactive touch, can be destroyed or even chucked across the stage with the right skill. Abilities have a cooldown period and become more expensive to perform as damage is taken, so there’s no feeling of spamming the same powerful move to mow down row after row of opponents – although the mastermind player will certainly feel the might of their superpowered foes, especially with fewer players.
With such dependable and fun gameplay at its centre, it’s a shame that Marvel Strike Teams’ outer layers don’t quite live up to the promise of its colourful superhero brawling. Missions consist of a random map (one of six, plus the tutorial) and three random ‘stages’, each consisting of a generic objective that typically lasts for around four game rounds and presents a way for either side to score points: rescue a prisoner, attack a given object and so on. While the randomised nature provides a good dose of replayability, it lacks any real throughline to hang a full campaign on and feels quite bland – especially as winning or losing comes down to points, rather than a specific epic moment for the goodies or baddies. The lack of personality outside of the heroes themselves is made worse by the map tiles, which can be arranged into a variety of plain grey warehouses (one side is technically the Hydra base, which is also grey) with only a few sentry turrets, crates or barrels in fixed locations to really set them apart.
The uninspired mission structure and dull presentation – outside of the miniatures themselves, which do bring the world to life – undersells what is otherwise a thoroughly competent and enjoyable dungeon-crawler. The robust gameplay excels at making its stars feel superpowered, with the flexibility of selecting how your hero will tackle each scenario giving plenty of reason to come back and experiment with different loadouts and styles. If it could only borrow a little more of the colour of its comic-book inspirations, Strike Teams could be a truly super experience.
PLAY IT? – PROBABLY
It doesn’t look nearly as good as it plays, but the action is strong enough to make this an extremely solid superhero dungeon-crawler.
Designer: Andrew Parks
Artist: Errick Dadisman, WizKids team
Time: 1-2 hours
This review originally appeared in the April 2019 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
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