30 November 2018
Guar-die-ans of the Galaxy
In Avengers: Infinity War, Thanos’ masterplan to sort galaxy-wide overpopulation with a (literal) snap of his giant, purple fingers is to instantly wipe out half of all life in the universe before you can say “Where was Hawkeye, anyway?” Survival comes down to a gigantic game of chance. 50-50. Heads or tails.
Your odds are a little better in Thanos Rising, the board game based on the movie based on the Marvel comic (phew), though the (giant, purple) hand of fate can still quickly close its grip and leave you feeling like you did when the cinema lights came up.
Dice-chucking is the order of the day here, as players start out with a ragtag band of some of the Avengers and, yes, attempt to assemble the superhero gang back together before Thanos can decorate the Infinity Gauntlet with all six Infinity Stones and leave half of the players vacuuming what remains of their companions from the Avengers Tower carpet. Roll results are cashed in to either recruit some of the heroes from the central board or attack villains, with ten minor baddies needing to be dispatched to apparently convince Thanos to give up his grand vision and trot off back home. What can we say – it’s still a board game.
Thanos also gets to throw down, lobbing a couple of cubes to work towards getting the Infinity Stones in his grasp, weaken heroes (ten dispatched goodies and he claims victory instead) and activate his minions intermingled around the central ring of cards. Rolls upon rolls upon card draws mean this isn’t a place for those incensed by a lack of control, but the game has an enjoyable curve of expanding options once more heroes are recruited and combine with their allies to grow dice pools, trigger special abilities and rack up bonus tokens, which can be spent to bolster roll results and undo some of Thanos’ punishing blows.
The punches come thick and fast – even the recommended beginner’s easy mode presents a fair challenge during your first few runs. Tough as it can be, it all feels faithful to the film, especially as you get to delight in bouncing the Avengers’ various battle, tech, mystic and cosmic specialisms off each other, pass bonuses onto your fellow players or feel the sting when you’re forced to forfeit a die after an unlucky roll. The gameplay isn’t doing anything especially new – it’s essentially Elder Sign with Spider-Man – but, like the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it makes for a dependable, enjoyable time with friends. Plus, at under an hour to play, it’s a darn sight shorter than rewatching Infinity War.
Though you’ll still be able to appreciate Thanos Rising’s well-made gameplay if your idea of a comic book is Peter Kay’s autobiography, this is a game created with the fans in mind. The box does ample justice to the polish of its onscreen counterpart, packing in six actual (alright, they’re plastic) Infinity Stones for Thanos to slot into his cardboard mitt and a painted statuette of Thanos himself that does more than just making for a striking centrepiece as he swivels between sectors of the board, dishing out damage cubes as he goes. The cards feature run-of-the-mill screenshots, but the overall experience lives up to the grandeur of the multi-million-dollar movie. The only slight disappointment is that only four of the Avengers – Captain America, Black Panther, Doctor Strange and, most curiously, Guardians of the Galaxy’s Gamora – are available as starting characters. Would it have been too much to ask for a way to play as Thor, Hulk, Black Widow or Iron Man?
Even with a few slight misgivings, Thanos Rising stands up as a very decent crack at bringing the Avengers to life on the tabletop. If you’re an MCU diehard, you’ll absolutely get the most out of the familiar yet effective take on the universe and fan service aplenty, but the reliable gameplay and impressive production on display here offer plenty for anyone to have a good time saving the galaxy.
Avengers fans are in for a particular treat thanks to a fantastic realisation of Infinity War on the table, but even comic-book critics will find it hard to resist the occasionally punishing, frequently satisfying co-operative gameplay behind the flashy visuals.
Designer: Andrew Wolf
Artist: Rick Hutchinson
Time: 45 minutes
This review originally appeared in the October 2018 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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