There’s a directness to Marvel Champions that hits you like a swing from floor’s Mjolnir and keeps you glued to this new co-op living card game like one of Spider- Man’s webs.
This is a simpler game than previous LCGs Lord of the Rings: The Card Game and Arkham Horror: TCG, though designers from both were involved in the making of this and its gameplay is clearly built on that incredibly strong foundation. Even so, Champions trims things back to a leaner heroes-on-villain battle; while there are evil plots aplenty to foil, there are no location cards to move between, fewer numbers to crunch and the unfolding narratives tend to be far more straightforward ‘beat
the baddie’ scenarios. If you haven’t played an LCG before, this is probably the best one to jump into yet – but don’t take that as a sign of this being a lesser experience in any respect.
Champions’ simplicity puts its outstanding cardplay front and centre. The players’ superheroes – Black Panther, Captain Marvel, She-Hulk, Spider-Man and Iron Man make up this core set, with more already on the way in expansions – summon allies, upgrades, events and more to wear down the main villain’s health with physical attacks, while stopping too much threat building up on their scheme card with ‘thwart’ attacks. Cards are paid for by discarding other cards for their resources – a tidy rule that makes for some tough decisions about what to spend and what to play, as well as throwing up interesting ways to boost certain abilities by spending the matching icons.
The villain (either Spider-Man’s Rhino, Black Panther’s Klaw or the Avengers’ Ultron here) returns fire with their own encounter deck, which makes attacks slightly unpredictable with the potential for added damage and throws up various other events and minions to deal with – including specific ‘obligations’ that are added depending on the heroes used, and must be resolved by them in a fun sense of individual peril, as well as minor side schemes to juggle alongside the main plot.
While the narrative rarely goes deeper than a surface-level comic-book brawl, the encounter deck can be created from a different combination of villain, plot and obligations each time, inviting plenty of gameplay variety and customisability. (It helps that the core box includes a full set of cards this time around, so you won’t have to buy two copies to mix things up or play with more people.) Deck construction is laughably simple, with the modular sets making things a doddle to put together.
Champions’ real masterstroke is in its alter ego mechanic, which lets players switch between their hero’s superpowered form and everyday persona – T’Challa, Peter Parker, Carol Danvers and so on – each turn. Being in one form or the other allows for a different stock of abilities (typically: heroes attack, alter egos heal), giving an authentic sense of managing your two different lives. It’s a strategic consideration, too: the villain attacks heroes but has the window to scheme when alter egos are present, so victory comes down to timing your attempts to bring them down and working with your fellow Avengers to maximise your assaults. What the scenarios lack in story specifics, the characters make up for with the sense of staying true to the comics – this may well be the most authentic Marvel game yet.
Cutting back to the essentials without sacrificing the strategic joy of deciding how you use your cards leaves Champions a stronger experience, set apart by its punchy direct gameplay and reverential, authentic treatment of its superhero stars. Like any living card game, its true longevity will be tested in the months and years of expansions to come, but this core set – by all measures a hugely enjoyable and fully featured game in its own right – is a Hulksmashing way to make an entrance.
PLAY IT? YES
Designer: Michael Boggs, Nate French, Caleb Grace
This review originally appeared in the November 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.