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Legendary - The Marvel Deck-Building Game from Upper Deck

GameHead spent the morning with Jason Brenner and Bubby Johanson playing Legendary - Upper Deck's new deck-building game featuring heroes and villains from Marvel Comics (editor's note: "Legendary" is the working title). They are going to preview the game for the first time next week at Gen Con, and it's scheduled to release around Thanksgiving. 

We're fans of deck-building games and have played dozens and even playtested a few, so we were happy to get a chance to check out Legendary. As the game is still in the final stages of development, it's possible that there will be slight changes to mechanics or names before the game is released. 

In Legendary, players take on the roles of Marvel heroes, including the Avengers and X-Men, and team up to defeat an evil Mastermind. The players have to defeat the likes of Magneto, Loki, Dr. Doom, or Red Skull to win the game - if they do, the players are ranked by the most Victory Points accumulated during play. Because of this Legendary has a cooperative feel like the World of Warcraft TCG Raid Decks. 

Gameplay will be very familiar to anyone who has had experience with other deck-building games. Players start with a 12 card deck containing 8 S.H.I.E.L.D. Agents that generate one Recruit Power when played, and 4 S.H.I.E.L.D. Troopers that generate one Attack Power. Players shuffle their deck and start with six cards each turn. 

Instead of setting up piles of cards available for purchase, Legendary uses two decks, named the Hero Deck and the Villain Deck. Cards are randomly revealed from these decks a few at a time, and only the revealed cards are available for purchase. 

Hero Deck

To create the Hero Deck, you select five heroes such as Wolverine, Captain America, and Spider Man. Each hero has a total of 14 cards, so the hero deck starts at a minimum of 70 cards. There are 4 different versions of each hero at different rarities, so there are five copies of each of the two common version, three uncommon versions, and only one of the rare card. 

Each hero has built in synergies with itself. For example, the common Wolverine draws a card, while the rare cards gives you one additional Attack power for each extra card you have drawn that turn. This is very helpful to new players, as it encourages a basic strategy that helps focus their deck. 

When you start the game, the top five cards from the Hero Deck are flipped up to become the Hero Lineup. Each time a hero is purchased, the top card of the hero deck is immediately flipped over to fill the spot. Heroes are purchased using Recruit Points. 

Villain Deck

Like the Hero Deck, you build the Villain Deck by combining three Villain Groups like the Brotherhood or HYDRA and one Henchman Group. Villains are what you would expect from a Marvel game with characters like The Lizard and The Juggernaut all making an appearance. 

The Villain Deck plays a little differently than the Hero Deck. Instead of revealing five cards at the start of the game, at the beginning of each player's turn they put the top card of the Villain Deck at the end of the Villain Row. Some Villain cards have the "Entrance" keyword, which means they have an effect when they come into play. If there are now more than five Villains in the Villain Row, the one at the front of the row (the one that has been in play the longest) "escapes" off the board. Some Villains also have a "Escape" keyword, and they do something bad to the players as they get away.

Villains are defeated by spending Attack Power - the second of two currencies in Legendary. When a player defeats a villain they add it to their Victory Pile, and that villain's Victory Points will be added to their final total. Some villains also give a player a benefit when they are defeated. Villain cards go into the players Victory Pile and therefore do not clog up their decks.

In addition to the bad guys, three other types of cards get shuffled into the Villain Deck: Bystanders, Scheme Twists, and Master Strikes. Bystanders represent the innocent victims of the random destruction that always surrounds superheroes and supervillains, so when they get flipped from the Villain Deck they are placed under the closest villain and are their hostage. Bystanders do not count towards the five villain limit in the Villain Row. If a player defeats a Villain with a Bystander they add it to their Victory Points, but if a villain escapes with a Bystander all players have to discard a card from their hand. 

Villain Groups have eight cards each, and there are 10 Henchman cards. You also start with 10 Bystanders, so the base of the Villain Deck is 44 cards. 

Schemes

The coolest parts of Legendary are the Masterminds and Schemes. In short, the Mastermind is the evil genius and the Scheme is his or hers latest nefarious plot. The Scheme defines the Mastermind's win condition, and if that is satisfied the players immediately lose. This is the heart of the Legendary game, as player's have a concrete threat to overcome, and by using Scheme cards this threat can change every game. There are a number of different Scheme cards, and you choose one each time you play the game. 

When you setup the Hero and Villain decks, you place Scheme Twist cards into the Hero and Villain decks. When these cards are revealed during play, you take the action described on the Scheme card. It sounds much more complicated than it really is:

For example, here are couple Schemes: 

Negative Zone Prison Breakout
Setup: Put 8 Scheme Twists in the Villain Deck
Evil wins: If 12 Villains escape
Twist: Play the top two cards of the Villain deck

With this scheme, every time a Twist is revealed you play two more cards from the Villain deck. This can quickly overwhelm the Villain Row, especially if you cascade into a second Twist while resolving the first. 

Replace Earth's Leaders with Robots
Setup: Put 6 Scheme Twists in the Villain Deck. Create a Bystander stack with 4 Bystanders per player
Evil Wins: If the Bystander stack runs out
Twist: Each player KO's a Bystander from their Victory Pile or from the Bystander stack

With this Scheme, saving Bystanders from the Villain Row takes priority, as the players lose when the fourth Twist is revealed unless they've saved them from the Villain Row. 

Masterminds

The game wins by the terms of the Scheme cards. So how do the players win? By defeating the Mastermind. 

The Mastermind is represented by a face-up Mastermind card that shows the Attack Power required to defeat him. In addition, there is a "Master Strike" ability. During setup five Master Strike cards are shuffled into the Villain Deck, and when they are revealed that player immediately does the action described on the Mastermind card. 

For example, Loki's Master Strike ability reads "KO two Heroes from the Hero Lineup". That doesn't sound too bad, but when combined with the Super Hero Civil War Scheme things can get nasty quickly: 

Super Hero Civil War
Setup: Put two Scheme Twists in the Hero Deck and four in the Villain Deck
Evil wins: If the Hero Deck runs out.
Twist: KO all the heroes in the Hero Lineup. 

If a player spends enough Attack Power to defeat a Mastermind, they take one of the four Mastermind Tactic cards at random from below the Mastermind and take that action. These are beneficial actions such as Magneto's "Recruit an X-Men Hero from the Hero Lineup for free". Then the Mastermind Tactic is placed in that Hero's Victory Pile.

If the players defeat the Mastermind enough times to remove all the Tactic cards, they win the game. The length of the game depends on the Scheme, and how well the players are able to mitigate the Scheme Twists while building up their decks. 

When reading through the rules, the sheer number of different types of cards was initially confusing, but once we started a game, it was very easy to follow and future setups were trivial. Turn structure was very easy, as there's basically only three steps:

  1. Play the top card from the Villain Deck
  2. Play cards in your hand to purchase cards
  3. Discard your hand and draw six new cards

Conclusions

Legendary is designed by Devin Low, who is well known as the head developer of Magic: The Gathering and the Marvel Super Hero Squad TCG. We think this is important, as the success of Legendary is going to be on how well the heroes play together and the balance between the Masterminds and Schemes. Heroes need to have a unique feel and encourage fun interactions. The villains need to be challenging without being overwhelming, as the "epic" feel of good play being the only way to defeat the game will make Legendary stand out from the other deck-building games currently in the market. 

The current playtest version is very good. We had no problem jumping in and playing, and it felt like we were superheroes teaming up to defeat a villain while still having plenty of strategic decisions available each turn. It's not a "pure" math exercise like some of the other games, and we're okay with that - the market for the abstract deckbuilding game is pretty full. 

Legendary is worth keeping your eye on when it releases in November, and if you're at Gen Con next weekend, you should definitely try a demo. 

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