Geekly Comics made a triumphant return a few days ago, so I figured what the heck, let’s do a Geekly Games. But I’m not doing a full review for a while. Full reviews take a lot of time and I’d like to get a heap of plays with a game before committing to any thoughts—that’s even if my brain yields any thoughts—and my poor camera could use a break, too, so no pictures.
Okay. Some pictures.
Let’s get to a game I’ve played since the last time we talked: Marvel Legendary Villains.
Marvel Legendary Villains is a sequel to Upper Deck’s Marvel Legendary deck building game. I call it a sequel because it does more than add a few new characters; it’s a complete game that uses the same game system. I like Marvel Legendary a lot. It edges out the DC Deck Building Game because it’s more thematic, as in it captures the feel of a superhero beating down a specific villain, the mechanisms are easier to understand, and the game plays in a snap.
Marvel Legendary is also a cooperative game. With a few exceptions—like Deadpool whose cards make you question whether or not they help or hinder the group—most of the hero cards work in concert to defeat the villain. Marvel Legendary Villains may be faithful to the theme to a fault. Villains don’t work well together.
If you’re lucky, you’ll get a set of villain cards similar to Deadpool’s mild annoyances. If you’re not, you’ll end up with Loki or Ultron whose cards wreck their “teammates’” decks. Since you can pick and choose which villains you add to your game, my gaming group instituted a no Loki or Ultron rule. I’m afraid that I’m the reason for such a rule. Just because a card that can screw your “teammates” is available, doesn’t mean you have to buy it and add it to your deck.
But I keep using quotes for “teammates” because Loki and Ultron own some of the most powerful cards. It’s tempting to add their awesome power to your deck at the expense of pissing off everyone else at the table and yet, often times the only way to defeat the target hero (the roles are reversed) is to unleash an attack that hurts your “teammates” as well as the hero. There’s this delicate tightrope walk of teamwork versus your “teammates” holding you back in Marvel Legendary Villains. I love playing as the heroes, but that balancing act is intriguing.
If you want to win at least 50% of the time, don’t get Marvel Legendary Villains. The villains fail—a lot. If you want a more nuanced version of Marvel Legendary, then Marvel Legendary Villains may be the game for you.
That is if you like deck building games, so let’s look at what makes a deck building game special and what makes them tick.
Deck Building Games
Video games have it all over tabletop games when it comes to explaining rules. You have to spend a good ten to twenty minutes—if you’re lucky—going over the rules of a tabletop game to newcomers before you can start to play it, while video games have you play a tutorial or learn the game as you go. Deck builders are one of the few tabletop game types that can give video games a run for their money.
You start with a simple deck and slowly add cards that possess various abilities to your deck as you go. You still have to learn the baseline rules of the game, but deck builders use a scaffolding approach toward teaching the more advanced rules, kind of like a video game’s tutorial. I’d be remiss to not mention Fluxx here. For all the vitriol some gamers sling at Fluxx (for being too chaotic and random), it starts with two basic rules—draw a card and play a card—and builds up from there. I’d love to see more tabletop games use a scaffolding approach for teaching all of its rules, but let’s get back to deck builders.
Even though deck building existed in tabletop games for decades, Dominion is credited with starting the deck builder genre of games because no game prior to Dominion used deck building as the game’s focal point. Dominion—like Fluxx—gets a lot of flak but this time it’s because it has little to no theme. It didn’t need one. By laying the groundwork for others, Dominion ushered in a flood of deck building games, each of which added their own wrinkle to the original idea.
Deck builders capture the strategy of building a deck—like Magic: The Gathering and other collectible card games—without forcing their players to drop hundreds–if not thousands–of dollars. The wave of deck builders has waned a bit, but deck building games is an interesting design space. A Study in Emerald added some board game elements to the genre, while cooperative deck builders, like the aforementioned Marvel Legendary, have been gaining steam. There’s even a solo deck builder Friday where you help Robinson Crusoe survive. With so many great titles already using this game type, it’ll be interesting to see what’s on the deck builder horizon.
I’ll try to keep this a weekly–or geekly–post. Thanks for reading.