Thursday, November 29, 2012

Review: Robinson Crusoe: Adventure on the Cursed Island

My biases first: I am a big fan of theme in games and do not mind reaching through piles of chits if the theme and game play is good enough. While I do favor confrontation, chits, bits and polished pieces of AT games, there are still a large number of Euros that I'll build my farm on or attend auctions at and be quite content at the end of my experience. Also, Ignacy Trzewiczek is my favorite game designer and I have had some interactions with him. I'd like to think I'm on a first name basis with him, but that's just because I have absolutely no idea how to pronounce his last name.


The Overview:


The box cover.


Robinson Crusoe: Adventure on the Cursed Island is a scenario-based cooperative game about survival on a harsh island. Each player takes the role of one of the castaways on the island and beyond just survival, each of the six included scenarios gives other objectives that must be met. Objectives range from gathering enough wood to create a signal fire, to rescuing another of your shipmates trapped on a rock, to battling cannibals on the island.

The game is for 1-4 players and plays in about 2 hours. Number of players will decrease or extend time a bit, but this is primarily just from more discussion between players. The game is played out on a modular board and with a different assortment of available resources (starting items and inventions that can be built), which offers a lot of variation and replayability on each of the scenarios. However, the specific scenario will determine the specific objectives for each game.

Skip to the next section, "The Theme", if you do not want to read a rules rehash.

Each player chooses a character out of the four included (Cook, Explorer, Carpenter and Soldier), although the Soldier isn't available in games with two or fewer players. Each of the characters has four special abilities that they can spend Determination (an individually gained resource) to activate and each also has a specific Invention that they alone can build to assist the camp.

Set up may vary slightly depending upon the scenario, but typically each scenario gives the player nine standard Inventions that can be built for the scenario to aid the players. Then, five additional Inventions are added at random from the deck. Finally, two items are drawn from the Starting Island deck. These represent limited resources that were salvaged from your sinking ship. Each has two uses and once they are used, they are gone for good.



Some of the inventions that can be made. Missing is a radio made from coconuts. 


The starting Event Deck is created by forming a deck that consists of half of the cards with an Adventure Icon and half of the deck with a Book Icon (more on those later). The castaways begin with no Shelter, though it can be built during the course of the game. Also Roof levels and Palisades for the camp begin at level 0 and can be built during the game to protect from weather and wild animals respectively. The players' Weapons level begins at 0, but can also be built up during the game. And the Morale of the camp is set at 0 as well, and can increase or decrease throughout the game.

Play then begins. Each turn is broken into six phases, which are resolved in order.

1. Event Phase: The first player draws the top card of the Event Deck. Each Event Card is broken into sections. The top of the card dictates the Event's effect that needs to be resolved immediately. And Adventure Icon on the card means a mandatory Adventure Card will need to be resolved for the action type depicted later in the turn if the action is taken. A Book icon has specific scenario effects depending upon the Scenario. Once these are resolved, the card is placed in the Threat Action field. The bottom half of the card depicts the action that needs to be taken during an Action Phase and the needed resources to complete it. It also depicts what bad effect will occur if the Threat listed on the card is not resolved in time. If there is already a card on the Threat Action field, then it is slid to the next space on the field. If there was already a second card there, it drops off the track and the negative effects of the card are resolved.

Morale Phase: The first player then checks the current Morale of the Camp. If it is high enough, he or she gains a number of Determination listed, or even possibly heals one wound if it is high enough. However, if the Morale is too low, the first player loses the number of Determination tokens listed. If he or she cannot pay, then they take a number of wounds equal to the amount they cannot pay. Note: This is a common theme of the game. Whenever you cannot pay a specific resource, either you or everyone in Camp takes a number of Wounds equal to the resources you are in deficit.

Production Phase: Players gather a number of resources based upon the tile their camp is on. This will usually be one Food and one Wood, but it is possible to move your Camp to tiles that produce fewer resources. Also, certain Inventions can increase the what is gained. For example, creating a Snare increases Food Production by one on the Camp's tile. Events and Adventures can also modify what is gained either temporarily or permanently.

Action Phase: The Action Phase is broken into a Planning subphase and a Resolution subphase. Planning is essentially just placing each player's pawns on their intended action space. Each player has two pawns (actions) to place during this phase. After all of the pawns are placed, then each of the actions are resolved. The seven actions that can be taken are:

1. Threat Action: Remember that Event Card you drew at the start of the turn? Well, you have the option to take actions to try to resolve it. Sometimes this action will provide a minor boon, but usually this action is taken simply to discard the Event Card from the Threat Action field , otherwise if it drops off of the Threat Action field during the Event Phase the negative Threat Effect is resolved.

2. Hunting: If there are any cards in the Hunting Deck, a player can place two pawns on this space to hunt. They flip over the top card of the Hunting Deck and resolve it. Hunting is always successful, but can easily result in wounds. The Beast's strength is compared to the Weapon level of the players. If the Beast's strength is higher, the Hunter takes the difference in Wounds. The card will then indicate if the players lose any Weapon levels (if it cannot be lowered by this amount, the player takes the amount in Wounds that it cannot be lowered) and how much Food and Furs they gain from the beast.

3. Building: A player taking a Building Actions places their pawn (or pawns) on the Invention or Structure of their choice. With this actions, Shelter can be built, and levels can be added to the Roof, Palisades and Weapons for the Camp. If two pawns are placed on an item or structure it is automatically built, but at the cost of an extra action. If only one pawn is placed on any item or structure that is to be built, then three dice are rolled to see if it is successful and if there are any further events. The first die is the Wound die. Succeed or fail, if a Wound marker comes up on the dice, the player takes one Wound. The second die is the Success die. If a success is rolled, the Item or structure is created and the appropriate resources are discarded (if any). However, if the action is unsuccessful, the Player instead receives two Determination. The third die is the Adventure die. If a blank facing comes us, nothing further happens. If the Adventure icon comes us, then the player draws a card from the appropriate Adventure Deck and resolves it. These are circumstances and situations that occurred while performing the action and each action type has its own deck, so the Adventures are fitting and thematic. They are also usually bad for the players. Sometimes good effects can happen, but often bad things happen. Many cards give a short term boon, but instruct that the card is then to be shuffled into the Event Deck. When it comes up and is drawn, a bad effect is then resolved.

4. Gathering Resources: A player taking the Gathering Resources action collects one resource from an adjacent tile for the camp. Like Building, if two pawns are put on the Resource to be gathered, it is automatically successful. If only one pawn is on the action, the action dice must be rolled to see if it succeeds and sees if a wound is taken and resolves an Adventure Card if the dice indicate that it needs to be done. If a player wishes to Gather Resources past the adjacent tiles, they will need to expend more pawns to travel further.

5. Exploration: A player taking the Exploration action explores an adjacent empty space and places a tile drawn from the stack onto it. As with the other actions, two pawns means an automatic success, while one pawn means dice will need to be rolled to determine success, wounds and Adventures. A revealed tile shows a number of things. First is the terrain type. Certain Inventions can only be built after the proper terrain type is discovered. It also shows any resources (Food and/or Wood) that can be gathered from the tile. Some tiles have a symbol indicating that an animal of some type has made its lair in the area and you need to add a card to the Hunt Deck. Discovery Tokens may be listed on the tile, which would result in the player drawing that number of tokens to return to Camp with. The Discovery Tokens provide useful benefits and boons to the camp, some of which are Scenario specific. Finally, there are Mystery Icons on some of the tiles. If one is present, then the Scenario must be referred to in order to see how they are resolved.

6. Arranging the Camp: A player taking this actions gains 2 Determination and increases the Morale level of the Camp by 1.

7. Rest: Anyone taking the Rest action recovers one Wound.



The weather dice are unforgiving to the unprepared. 


Weather Phase: Each Scenario describes which of the weather dice need to be rolled during each turn. There is a Rain Die, a Winter Die and the Hungry Animals die. For the weather, the icons and number of clouds are important. For each snowflake rolled, one wood needs to be discarded (to keep warm). If there is not enough wood, each player takes one Wound per wood they are in deficit. Afterward, the total number of clouds are added together and compared to the Roof level. If the Roof level is higher than the number of clouds, then the Roof was sufficient in protecting the players from the elements. However, if there are more clouds than roof levels, then the players must discard one food AND one wood per Roof level you are deficient (as the players need to stay warm and healthy as they are rained upon). For each that they are unable to discard, everyone takes one Wound.

The Hungry Animal die has several results. The players may lose one food (as the Beast stalks the camp and steals from it), lose one Palisade (everyone taking one wound if the Palisades are already at 0) or Fighting a Beast with a strength of 3 (each player gets one wound per Weapon level they are below 3).

Night Phase: During this phase, the players need to eat. One food is discarded per player. If there is not enough food, then the players have to decide who does not eat that night. Anyone without food loses two health. Also during Night, the players may opt to move their Camp to an adjacent tile (perhaps for better reach of resources). However, moving Camp means the player loses half of their Roof and Palisades in the move, so it is usually wiser to move your camp early unless you absolutely have to. If the players have not built Shelter yet, they each suffer one Wound from being out in the elements. And finally, unless the players have an Invention or something else to protect their extra food, any extra food is discarded from the Camp as it spoils. The players will have to gather food all over again the next turn.

The first player token is then passes to the left and the turn marker is moved forward one space.

The game ends immediately if the players fulfill all of the Scenario's objectives and the players win. However, the game ends immediately if any of the players die or if the last round is completed and the Scenario goals are not completed.


The Theme:

Robinson Crusoe: Adventure on the Cursed Island is dripping with theme and, moreover, gives an excellent narrative. The game tells the story of the castaways trying to survive on an unforgiving island. As a word of warning: the game is difficult, so often that story ends in the death of the castaways. However, each and every time, you will have a great and engaging story being told before your eyes.

One of the things that I love most about the game is the characters. Each are made to feel very different for a number of reasons. First of all, each character sheet is reversible to either a male or female side. This has no impact on abilities or stats, but is such an easy way to make one's character more relatable and therefore makes it easier to draw you into the story to make it feel more personal.

Each character's abilities are designed around a specific role (the Carpenter, for instance, has abilities focused on Building), however, it requires determination to use these abilities. Regardless of if you have Determination to use your abilities or not, you will still find yourself arguing over what actions should be taken. There is something innate that when you are playing the Soldier, even if there is nothing to Hunt at the moment, you argue against using your actions to build a lowly shovel.

We played one Scenario three times (trying to beat it) with three players. We used the same three characters and rotated after each game. It was funny that when I was the Carpenter, I would argue against the point of wasting my actions to build weapons and would rather build a Snare or other trappings for the Shelter. However, when I was the Soldier, I adamantly argued for the effectiveness of raising our Weapon level instead of building the other things that now looked like comforts instead of necessities. The game made us perceive our characters through their roles. This is the sign of a well-crafted theme. It didn't matter which of the three of us was the Soldier, weapons seemed like the best idea. The Carpenter was always more worried about Roof levels and Inventions to use in Camp and our Explorer always argued that exploring and finding Discovery Tokens might give us an edge for the upcoming threats.

Finally, all of the characters have the same health, however, as a character takes Wounds, it may drop below a Morale point. If it does, the Camp's Morale is lowered by one as the character begins to complain about his or her Wounds and brings down his companions. This is another wonderful touch. The Soldier and Explorer are more hardened and have fewer Morale drops. However, the Cook is a whiny little bitch. This doesn't mean that the Cook isn't useful--the character's abilities may just be the only healing and extra food sources you may find. But it is something else that differentiates the characters and you'll see the Soldier try to take Wounds to defend the Cook if, for no other reason, so as not to hear him bitch about his pain and misery back at Camp.


Learning the Game:

The downside of the game is that in order to create such a dynamic and changing story that tells so many things, the game is fiddly. Very fiddly.

The English version of the rulebook is a little scattered and sometimes a little less than intuitive to follow. This seems to be mostly an issue with translation being a little weak from the native Polish. However, Z-Man games has the US release and reprint license, and I imagine that they will touch up the language of the rules to make it more clear.

The first game will take longer as you will need to figure out some of the icons and get used to all that is going on. However, after a couple of games all of this melts away and you see the intuitiveness of what you are doing as everything really does make sense as far as what the mechanics are doing to tell the story.

The rules make the game seem more intimidating and overwhelming than it really is. I would suggest reading my summary before reading the translated rules as it might help get an idea of what is going on before reading deeper into the technical aspect. But again, the mechanics make sense, so it is easier to remember. Not enough food for everyone to eat? Whoever doesn't eat takes Wounds. There is a snowflake on the Winter die? We need to keep warm and burn a wood.

Games that have abstract mechanics to make a challenge against a game make these rules harder to remember. However, the theme of each of these mechanics tells a narrative and it makes them much, much easier to remember.


The Components:


The board is beautiful and functional.



Tokens for the game.




The characters are the same on either side, except for the sex.




"You feel like in London..." Personally, I find some of the clunky translations charming.




Example of a Scenario. Our late Navigator unfortunately misread the map and thought this was Cannibus Island. 



The artwork for the characters is beautiful. It makes me wish that there was more of it throughout the game. The tiles have a bit of iconography on them, but it is kept to a minimum, allowing the top half of the tile to show scenery reflecting the area found.

The tokens are a little flimsy, but sufficient and the wooden bits to track resources are wooden bits. They're fine. A few more black markers and white markers for tracking scenario effects or unavailable resources would have been nice. Hopefully, Z-Man Games will add a few more into their release. Ultimately, however, it isn't a big deal.

The board is beautiful. However, more than that, it is a combination of beauty combined with effectiveness in design. Once you are familiar with the game's structure, everything that you need to know is right there on the board, even numbering each of the Phases to walk through the turns from the board. The only complaint that I have with the board is that it is thin. The cardboard itself is fine, but the material along the back to allow for folds is thin and mine tore, so I now have my board in two segments. Again, this is something that I hope Z-Man Games will fix in their release.

Lastly, the cards also carry some of the awkward translation from Polish. Personally, I find a certain charm in it. I smile to myself when I read aloud the Storm card which says, "Ocean is in a bad mood today." The effects of the cards are very clear, however, the flavor text shows a little difficulty in the nuances of English. It doesn't affect gameplay at all and I find it a charming quirk of the game. Still, it is something that I think Z-Man should definitely fix.


Playing the Game:


Play in progress; seeing the components working together.


The first time I played the game it was just my wife and I. Like most first games, it was broken up with a few breaks to look up rules and a little hesitation and confusion on how to actually accomplish our objectives efficiently. As a result, the narrative wasn't fully felt with the pauses and we lost terribly. I wasn't certain how I felt about the game. We cleaned it up and we went on with the evening.

However, as I ate dinner that night, I started to think, "Maybe if we try to stockpile wood earlier, we could get enough to get us in a better position before the harsher weather hits." Then when I was getting my daughter ready for bed, I thought, "We should've probably explored more quickly and moved our camp to the center of the island to give us more gathering options." And while in bed with my wife that night, well, I thought about her. But then when we finished I thought, "Maybe if we go for a quick hunt and suck up the Wounds, we could get fur to make a roof and that would leave us more wood for our signal fire."

When my wife got home the next day, the game was set up and she barely had time to take off her coat before I asked her to play again.

And, thus, my uncertainty for the game was gone. I spent the entire evening afterward thinking about what we needed to do. If it wasn't obvious then, it was once I started to play the second game with a better idea of what needed to be done; I loved this game. We still lost in our second game. But not as horribly. Just... almost as horribly. But we started to learn the structure of what needed to get done. We beat the scenario on the third game.

Feeling confident, we started the second Scenario. And we lost horribly. We had to approach it with another way of thinking. We eventually introduced the game to another friend of ours and played three player and the game was completely different again. It took a few tries and we finished the first Scenario and moved onto the second with him, trying new paths each time.

And one of the nice things about the game is that there are different valid avenues to complete what you need. The Soldier will argue for the effectiveness of hunting for food and fur, but the Cook will argue for a more reliable Gathering attempt to get what is needed. I don't think that the game eliminates the problems with an alpha player in a cooperative game, but the different avenues of success make it feel less puzzle-like and more natural as you decide as a group what to do.


Scalability:

The game plays from 1-4 players. The scaling is just a hint clunky, but ultimately still offers a challenge without changing gameplay. With two players, you'll only have 4 actions a turn, so you have an NPC (Friday) who can lend a pawn to assist, giving the group 5 pawns. It costs fewer resources to build Shelter and the Roof and Palisades. Also, the Soldier is restricted in the two-player game. Three players seems to be the intended number and really is the game's "sweet spot". Nothing alters in the three player game. Four players increases the resources needed to build Shelter and such further and also lowers the effectiveness of the Arranging Camp action a bit. I haven't played the game's solo variant, but you draw one character and have extra pawns by adding Friday and the Dog and your Morale always moves up by one at the start of a turn. I might instead play a solo game and control three characters.

However, I don't think I'll play it solo. First of all, I'm not much of a solo-gamer to begin with. But secondly, I think this game really thrives on playing with multiple people. It doesn't feel like a puzzle, so the fun isn't in "solving" it. The fun is in the narrative. And, as I said, something innately happens where you become your role. There's something to be said about everyone arguing over why they should be the one who gets to eat tonight.


Does the Wife Like It?:

The most important category. I play games without her, but she's an integral part of my core gaming group and my most frequent game partner. She likes cooperative games. Don't get me wrong, she's subtlety cutthroat in competition, but there is a special place in her heart for cooperative games. That being said, she really enjoys the game. You may not know it from watching her play. She's essentially the C-3PO of our gaming group as she'll cry out, "We're doomed!" by the end of turn two and constantly point out the most pessimistic result that could happen by any actions we plan out. Normally, it isn't that bad to get around. As she recites that if I only put one pawn on my build action, there is a 1 in 3 chance that I'll fail and not build the Shovel. I can just grab the dice and grit my tell and tell her, "Never tell me the odds". It just stinks when I fail because, unlike C-3PO, my wife has "I told you so" programming.

But, pessimism aside, she really does enjoy the game and she'll eagerly suggest it for an evening game before I have a chance to.


The Pros:

*Immersive theme that has a distinct and strong narrative in its storytelling.
*Challenging cooperative play that doesn't simply feel like you're solving a puzzle.
*Mechanics all make sense; there are no artificial mechanics to increase difficulty. Everything you do, you do for a reason and it makes sense why you do it.
*Character cards have a male and female side it increase immersion.
*Difficulty can be altered for any player level (adding Friday in a three-player game, drawing a random set-up card, etc.)
*Beautiful artwork and a beautiful board that is completely and intuitively functional.
*Roles have an effect on gameplay, making each feel different.
*Tons of replayability; each scenario plays differently, plus the random set up and nature of the game create a situation where you may play the first Scenario multiple times, but depending on what Inventions are drawn, your approach may be different each time.


The Cons:

*A few minor component issues and wording issues that will hopefully be cleared up in the Z-Man US release.
*Elegance is sacrificed for fiddlyness, but with the gain of storytelling narrative.
*English translation of the rules is clunky and some of the card narratives show a lack of understanding of the nuances of the language (again, Z-Man should fix this).
*The game's scaling is a little clunky. The sweet spot is three and all other variations are adjusting the game to the three-player difficulty.
*While there is replayability for each Scenario, only have six still feels light.
*You risk anyone making a Gilligan's Island reference or quote at any moment while playing the game.


Overall:

Robinson Crusoe: Adventure on the Curse Island is without a doubt, the best cooperative game that I have played. Unlike many cooperative games, it does not feel like a puzzle, nor do you feel like the actions required are dictated by the events before you. There are valid arguments at any time for any number of different routes to take to get what is needed or what must be done. The narrative is immersive and everything happens for a reason. After each game I find myself thinking about what we could have done better. This is exactly what I want in a game: one that immerses me while I am playing it and one that makes me think about what I did afterward.


9.5/10

Friday, November 23, 2012

Review: Legendary: A Marvel Deck Building Game

My biases first: I am a big fan of theme in games and do not mind reaching through piles of chits if the theme and game play is good enough. While I do favor confrontation, chits, bits and polished pieces of AT games, there are still a large number of Euros that I'll build my farm on or attend auctions at and be quite content at the end of my experience. And, as for my biases, I'll just leave this here:




The Overview:


Box cover art. 


Legendary: A Marvel Deck Building Game is, in fact, a Marvel deck building game. It is a semi-cooperative deck building game set in the Marvel comics universe and hosts a number of familiar intellectual properties (hereafter referred to as "characters"). Players each takes the side of the heroes, building decks with hero characters to battle numerous villain characters who appear and ultimately try to defeat the villainous mastermind, whose tactics and win conditions alter based on the current scheme that he is employing.

The game is for 2-5 players and playing in less than an hour. There is also a solo-player variant for the game as well, which also plays in about the same amount of time. The number of players does not have a great impact on the game length, however, more players will generally cause the game to run a bit longer since there is more time in between moves for everyone to "toughen" up their decks for the endgame. It is a semi-cooperative game, meaning all of the players can lose together. However, if the Mastermind is defeated, then the players compare their scores to see who is the ultimate winner.

Skip to the next section, "The Theme", if you do not want to read a rules rehash.


The game's four Masterminds. 

The game is actually very simple and it familiarity of other recent deck building games helps with the learning and flow of the game. The game is most similar in design to Ascension and knowledge of that game will help understand the flow of the game.

Perhaps the most complicated part of the game is the set up. Each player begins with the same set of 12 cards, 8 S.H.I.E.L.D. Agents used for recruiting (purchasing) more cards and 4 S.H.I.E.L.D. Troopers which are used for weak basic attacks. Then, the players set up one Mastermind to go up against (currently four are present in the base game). A scheme is chosen for the Mastermind, which may dictate further set up rules and will give victory conditions for the Mastermind. I'll describe Schemes a little later in more detail.

The Villain Deck is then created. This will be the main deck of cards that the players will be attacking and contending against. The deck is created by adding Villain groups (which are moderate to high power bad guys who work for the Mastermind), Henchman groups (which are low level chumps and lackeys working for the Mastermind) and Bystanders (which are innocents that can be captured by the bad guys and rescued by the players). The number of these groups is based upon the number of players in the game. Finally, five Master Strike cards (which result in the Mastermind resolving his special attack) and a number of Scheme Twist cards (which result in a effect based off of the chosen Scheme being resolved) based on the Scheme's description. All of these are shuffled together to create a single Villain Deck that will be drawn from.

The Hero Deck is then formed. This will be the cards that are available for the players to purchase to add to their decks to increase their ability to purchase more cards and attack the villains. Five Heroes are chosen and the 14 card decks of each of these Heroes is shuffled together. Playing with 5 players, however, you add a sixth Hero deck and the solo-variant only uses three Hero decks. Once the cards are shuffled together, five cards are dealt out to the "HQ" section of the board. These cards are available for purchase by the players.

Finally, several other stacks of available cards are added to the board. S.H.I.E.L.D. Officers are always available for purchase. They increase the recruitment (buying) power of a player if they are in their hand and are an upgrade to the starting S.H.I.E.L.D. Agents. Wounds are left on the board and certain cards or effects may cause a player to add them to their deck. Wounds essentially just take up space in your hand, forcing you to go through more cards before you get more useful cards into your hand to play. And Bystanders are also placed on the board. While some are already present in the Villain deck, certain effects may require you to add a new one from this stack to somewhere on the board.

After all of that, you are ready to play.

A player's turn is simple and is broken into three steps.

1. Play the top card of the Villain Deck: The current player turns over the top card of the Villain deck. Depending on the type of card it is, it is then resolved.
*If it is a Villain group or Henchman group card: It enters the City, which is a five-space section of the board which tracks the available bad guys that can be fought by the players. If there is already a card in the first space, then it bumps over the existing card (or cards) along the track if it needs to make room for it. If a card slides off the fifth space along the track, then the villain "escapes". Certain cards have specific effects if they escape. However, the standard effect is that the players must discard one of the cards in the HQ every time a villain escapes. This cycles through the Hero Deck quicker, which can allow the villains to win, or at least stalemate. Also, some cards have an Ambush ability, which is resolved as soon as the card is added to the track. Others have special abilities if they are on a specific location along the City track or a special ability that is resolved if they escape off of the track.
*If it is a Bystander card: It is captured by a villain. It slides under the nearest Villain card along the City track and will move with this villain card if it is bumped forward along the track. If there are no Villains along the City track, then it is added to the Mastermind instead. If a Villain card "escapes" off of the end of the track with a bystander, then each player needs to discard a card. If a Villain with a Bystander under them is defeated by a player, they claim the Bystander for their victory points.
*If it is a Scheme Twist card: The player refers to the active Scheme card chosen in the set up of the game and plays the effects listed on the card. Scheme Twists represent the villain advancing his plot and usually pushes him closer to his win condition.
*If it is a Master Strike card: The player refers to the Mastermind card and resolves the Mastermind's special attack.

Bystanders, Scheme Twists and Master Strike cards do not advance the cards along the City track.

2. Play cards from your hand: The current player then adds the Attack points and Recruit points for each of his cards to create an Attack Pool and a Recruit Pool. Many of the Hero cards that can be purchased have Superpowers which can activate to increase one or both of these pools, and most of the cards work off of icons on other cards. For example, Thor might be able to add his bonus, but only if another Strength icon was already played. While many of Captain America's abilities increase depending on the number of different types of Hero cards played.
*Recruiting a Hero: Each card in the HQ has a recruitment cost listed on the card. A player can spend their Recruitment Points to pay the cost of one or more of these cards. The card or cards are then placed in that player's discard pile. As soon as a card is purchased from the HQ, a new card from the Hero Deck is put out in its place.
*Fighting a Villain: If your Attack Pool is equal to or higher than a Villain on the City track, you can fight them. The Villain (and any Bystanders under their card) are added to your Victory Point pile. If the card had a "Fight" effect listed on it, it is then resolved. Any remainder left in your Attack Pool can then be used to fight another villain. Alternately, a player may decide to attack the Mastermind if his Attack Pool is equal to or greater than his strength. It is resolved in the same manner, but one of the four cards under the Mastermind card are taken and resolved and then put in the player's Victory Pile. If it is the fourth card under the Mastermind that is taken, then the Mastermind has been defeated and players tally their Victory Points.

3. Discard and draw up: The current player discards all of the cards from their hand--they cannot hold any cards for later rounds. The player then draws up to their hand limit (usually 6).

Play then continues with the next player.

Play ends when the last card under the Mastermind is defeated (the players win and each player tallies their victory points to see who is the ultimate winner), the Hero Deck runs out (the players and the Mastermind are considered to have a draw with neither side winning), or the conditions on the Scheme are met (in which case, the Mastermind wins and all of the players lose).


The Theme:


The Legacy Virus scheme does force decision points at purchasing certain cards. 


Legendary is a game that holds all of the right components to build great theme, but ultimately fails to really create any narrative. This isn't to say it is a bad game--it isn't. The game is very good. But the game doesn't fully tell a story--at least not from a player's perspective.

The first problem in theme is with recruiting heroes. I like the idea of playing your S.H.I.E.L.D. Operatives to recruit Heroes to engage the threats to the city. However, when I recruit Captain America, I am only recruiting one out of 14 Captain America cards. So there are 13 others that can be recruited by other players. So I never feel like I've build my team when I then see "my" teammates then played by the other players. The end result is that it feels like we are all playing essentially the same team, but when he shows up in my hand Cap is out recruiting and while he's in the player to my left's hand, he's throwing his shield around at baddies.

I also think that the City track is genius underused. I love the idea of bad guys beginning in the Sewer and moving up to the Bank, fleeing over the Rooftops and then through the Streets and the last chance to stop them is on the Bridge before they escape. It is genius and is ripe to set a narrative. However, too few of the cards use these actual locations in any meaningful way. Some Schemes make use of the locations, but it would be better if more of the Villain cards referenced the locations that they were in to make it "feel" like they were moving through the Bank, rather than just moving to the second space on the City track.

Now, what works well for theme are the Scheme cards. Or at least, they have the potential to bring in more theme and narrative. Each card sets up the Scheme Twist cards to have a different effect. Such as the "Midtown Bank Robbery" Scheme means that a Scheme Twist card will make any Villain in the Bank capture two Bystanders and the Mastermind winds if 8 Bystanders are carried away. The "Negative Zone Prison Break Out" Scheme, in contrast, causes the top 2 cards of the Villain Deck to be played if a Scheme Twist card is drawn and the Mastermind wins if 12 Villains escape. So, this offers variety in victory conditions and in some play, even if ultimately it does come down to just beating the Mastermind four times in a game.

Another point where theme is thought through well is with the effects of the cards--especially the Villains. Each of them play well and are thematic to their character. I have no complaints with the intent and use of the cards. It is, however, just that they are cards available to everyone. I would get the theme more if we were all S.H.I.E.L.D. agents trying to vie for a promotion by organizing the most efficient team to handle a crisis, but even that narrative falls apart when Thor's on each of our teams.


Learning the Game:

The game is very easy to learn. The actual gameplay itself is really simple and the set up is really the most complicated part of the game.

There are a few things in the game, however, that could have been a bit clearer in order to help early plays. For example, using the term "color" heroes, instead of Hero Class, as it can cause confusion over the borderless hero cards as to what "color" they are. Also, a game that has to clarify what "Your Heroes" and "Heroes You Have" means in the rulebook probably should realize that there might be some clarity issues with the wording of a few of their cards.

However, that being said, the game is easy for non-gamers and younger gamers to pick up with little difficulties.


The Components:


The board is very efficient and the Cityscape track is genius.



The artwork in the game is beautiful, if unfortunately repetitive over 14 cards of different powers for each hero. 




An example of a villain group card. 




The artwork for the game is beautiful. Each of the character cards have well-drawn pictures of the characters on them and the only complaint that I have with the artwork is that the same picture is used for every card. Again, it doesn't detract from the gameplay at all, but it does represent a missed opportunity to build theme. For example, purchasing Captain America's "Perfect Teamwork" attack card has the same illustration as his "Avengers Assemble" recruit card. Granted, it's paying for more artwork, but I would have loved to see the "Diving Block" card have Cap diving and blocking with his shield, which his attack card showing him throwing his shield and his recruit card showing him trying to sell war bonds. Instead, the only differential of the card effects at a glance are from the color borders.

However, that is not to say that I am disappointed in the quality of the artwork I am not at all. It is beautiful and stylistic.

The cardstock is a little thin and wears at the sides easily, though there a lot of cards for those who want to go the sleeving route. However, the stock isn't that bad and less obsessive players should have no real problem with the bit of wear the cards will likely receive.

The board is very functional and the only issue that I have with it is that the City track is just a busy for a background (it should be faded back a bit more) and the cards, especially Bystander cards underneath of other cards, tend to blend into the busy background with a quick glance. But this is really a very minor complaint on what is an otherwise incredible functional board. Many card games would forgo the board and let you set up your areas on your own, but I think the board helps contain ease and flow of the game.

The biggest complaint that I have with the components, however, is a lack of randomizer cards. This is almost standard in deckbuilder games now as it makes for ease of choosing random heroes, villains and henchmen.


Playing the Game:

Game play is simple and it is easily picked up and learned, especially if you are familiar with Ascension. Strategies are somewhat dictated by the Scheme in play, however, most games are still essentially just a race to bash the Mastermind four times.

As with many deckbuilders, the game finds itself with a slow creep in power at first and then suddenly players hit a turn where they are able to do 14 damage in a single turn and the game has a sudden fevered pitch to its conclusion. I know that there are players out there who do not like this. However, it is the nature of deckbuilders.

I would also suggest playing with the "Final Showdown" variant. Basically, after the fourth Mastermind card is defeated, the Heroes each pit off against the Mastermind one last time with the victor getting the actual Mastermind top card to add to their Victory Pile. Basically, everyone plays one last hand, though in this battle, recruitment points count toward attack. Whoever has the highest total gets the last card. Since the person who just beat the fourth Mastermind has to draw a new hand, it means that a very lucky stack of cards is likely to be countered by this variant. Also, it gives recruit heavy decks a chance to still be competitive. It's just my opinion, but I think it adds just a bit more balance to the end game competitiveness since everyone has a chance for one last card and turn order isn't a factor.


Scalability:

The game plays from 2-5 players (not including the solo rules), but each of the Schemes has a sweet spot. On the whole, the fewer the players, the easier the game will be. For example, both players will have had a chance to go through their entire starting deck and will be drawing up their stronger recruited cards before the first villain can make it to the fifth space on the City track. However, in a five player game, each player will only have gone through one hand (of two) from their starting deck by the time a villain could reach the fifth space on the City track. More Bystanders in the five player game slow the progress of villains, but there is definitely a noticeable difference. So fewer players will allow the players to prepare their decks better before the City track is a threat.

A few cards (such as Rogue's) are more powerful with more players, but ultimately that isn't an issue because anyone has the option of buying that card.


Does the Wife Like It?:

The most important category. I play games without her, but she's an integral part of my core gaming group and my most frequent game partner. She isn't quite the comic book geek that I am, but she's still involved in geekdom and has more than a superficial knowledge of most comic book characters. That being said, she likes the game, but isn't in awe of it. She, like me, likes theme in game, but more than that, likes narrative in a game. Unfortunately, the game is missing narrative. I think I have more appreciation to play the game and enjoy the game's mechanics while looking at pictures of the superhero characters I really like than she does. It isn't to say that she doesn't like the game; she would likely play it whenever I suggested it, but I do not think it will ever be one that she would suggest herself.


Comparisons:

I think that this game will likely draw comparisons to two other current games: Ascension and Sentinels of the Multiverse.

The comparisons to Ascension are very apt. Most deckbuilders are working off of a familiar mechanic and adding to it. Legendary was very influenced by Ascension. However, what Legendary does is separate your purchase cards and villain cards. And the City track really is a stroke of genius, just currently under-used (expansions may hopefully take full advantage of the villain visiting locations while escaping narrative). Ascension has a couple of expansions that have fleshed out the original game and I think that it has some advantages for that. However, I think that if you are comparing vanilla games, Legendary has it beat. Still, Ascension really lacks in theme and narrative as well. I really enjoy the game because I find the mechanics of it fun (though I prefer playing it on iOS). However, given the choice between the two, I would probably play Legendary over Ascension. This is likely because of the appeal of playing with familiar comic book characters, but it makes for an overall more enjoyable time at the table.

Sentinels of the Multiverse is one of my guilty pleasures. The game has a bunch of flaws to it, but I don't care, I love the hell out of it and it is a lot of fun despite its warts. Being a superhero card game, there will be comparisons. Sentinels is not a deckbuilder. Each hero has their preset deck of cards and you play against a villain with a preset deck of cards. So the mechanics of the game are very different. However, the superhero theme will draw comparisons. I think overall Sentinels carries a better narrative--you are playing one hero with your teammates fully cooperating to defeat the bad guys. In Legendary, you might let a villain go to screw over another player (a hero) for points. Plus you are all playing Hulk, so the narrative theme suffers. However, Legendary has familiar and known characters. Legendary is also a much more refined and elegant game. My wife will definitely prefer Sentinels over Legendary, but for me, it will depend on how the mood sets me. The games are different enough that they each satisfy a different craving.


The Pros:

*Captain America is in it.
*Other, less important, but known characters from the Marvel Universe are also in the game.
*The card effects fit the theme of the characters they are representing (such as Storm has advantages when fighting on open spaces in the City track and Rogue being able to temporarily steal other player's powers).
*The City track is a genius design to potentially build a narrative about villains escaping the city.
*Lots of variety and combinations.
*Schemes change the lose conditions and can change the strategies of the players.
*Great artwork and very functional board.
*There is a lot in the game box.
*The game reeks of potential from expansions, but is still very solid in and of itself.


The Cons:

*Theme is there, but the game is sorely missing any form of narrative.
*Superheroes represented offer variety, but the many of their cards are simply offering a bonus to attack or recruit, making them feel less dynamic and more of just mechanics on a card. Individual decks feel more theme-centric (such as Hulk getting wounds and getting angry and then casing massive damage), however, since you do not play a specific hero deck and anyone can buy these cards, the theme and variety is lost to mechanic functionality of your deck.
*City track is under-used to establish narrative. There is much more potential in it than what appears in the base game.
*Scheme cards offer variety, however, the game essentially still ends up being a race to beat up the Mastermind.
*There are some minor problems with scaling for players. Fewer players means a quicker opportunity to ready their decks before the City track becomes a threat.
*No randomizer cards to help determine set up.
*A little terminology/symbology vagueness in the card text ("Each different color hero").
*Gambit's inclusion in the game means that on occasion, I may be forced to include him in our set up and have to deal with the X-Men's big "trying too hard to be cool and liked" character in our games.


Overall:

The Marvel Universe is a very popular property and any attempt at a game to include the characters could have been a quick, easy money grab with the license. Legendary, however, delivers a solid, fun and mechanically sound game with the license. Most of my complaints are merely just in that despite solid mechanics, the game is still a little abstract in that it doesn't present a fully comprehensive story. I love theme, but really, I love narrative more. It is a game with expansions in mind, but, unlike the track that some publishers take (*ahem* Fantasy Flight), the game delivered doesn't feel like things were intentionally taken out of it to be made into expansions later, but rather it is a solid game in and of itself. I believe that Legendary is an excellent game that will be improved by expansions if they add to the potential that is already there in the game. I would have ultimately preferred a game where the narrative was that I was Captain America helping Spiderman to defeat Doctor Doom. Instead I have a game where me and the other players are all Captain America and Spiderman sometimes screwing each other over on our way to defeat Doctor Doom. But at the end of the day, I'm still playing a solid game that involves many of my favorite comic book characters.


7.5/10