1-4 players, Cooperative, Card Playing Action Taking Struggle
Designer: Andrea Chiarvesio, Eric M. Lang
Artwork: Édouard Guiton
Publisher: CMON Limited, Spin Master Ltd.
Release Year: 2020
This is one that I do remember popping up on Kickstarter and I did peruse it. However, I wasn’t taken by the art style and with the way new board games pop up on Kickstarter I really have to be choosy about what I decide to back. In this case, even though this game was co-designed by my second fav game designer Eric Lang, I opted to wait for the retail release. So, with that said this review will be focuses entirely on the retail version of the game. The particular retail version I picked up was the Wal-Mart exclusive “Venom” version. Note that I have only seen one other version and that is the one offered on Amazon that contains The Wasp instead of Venom as a playable character. If you backed the Kickstarter then you will be getting both those characters as well as bookoos more.
Overview of Gameplay
In Marvel United players will be taking turns playing a single card from their hands to the “Storyline” on the table and completing the action on the cards all in an effort to put an end to the nefarious schemes of whatever particular villain you are facing. Every round you will draw a villain master scheme card and place it in the Storyline and complete whatever the card details such as moving the villain mini to a different location or adding civilian or thug tokens to locations or even activating the villains special BAM! ability. The Storyline is basically just the line of cards that have been played one after the other, I’ll explain this more in a bit and why it’s important.
Once the villain card is completed then players will take turns one after the other playing a single card to the storyline and completing the icons on the card played AND the last hero card that was played. SO, in essence you do want to work together on what cards to play not only to try to complete tasks at your location but to also prep the next hero taking a turn as well. The actions on the cards are super simple with only four different icons to remember. You have: Attack, Move, Heroic Action and Wild with the wild icon basically being any of the other three. For Attack you can remove thug tokens from your location or deal damage to the main villain once he is vulnerable or even deal damage to his henchmen on threat cards. Movement allows you to move to an adjacent location, easy. The Heroic Action allows you to rescue civilian tokens from locations and also work towards clearing out those pesky Threat cards at all the locations. The Threat cards are different with each villain and vary in ability. For example, the Red Skull has a few henchmen that you have to defeat in order to clear the threat card whereas Taskmaster just has threat cards that hinder you/slow you down. Starting out, after three hero cards are played to the Storyline then you draw another master plan card for the villain and he takes another turn and this repeats.
Now, your objective is to defeat the main villain but to do that you have to complete at least two of the main goals of the game. These goals are the same every game regardless of what villain you are playing against; defeat nine thugs, rescue nine civilians and/or clear four threat cards. After you clear your first goal the game gets a tad bit harder with the villain taking a turn after every TWO hero turns instead of three. Once you clear you second goal then the villain becomes vulnerable and you can start attacking him. Once you get his life to zero you win! You do also get a bonus if you clear out the last goal which is every player gets to draw a card to their hand. Now, this is important as your hand of cards is basically your life amount. You see players all start with three cards in their hands and draw one card at the beginning of their turn. So, in essence players have three life as you always play a single card on your turn. If you ever take damage you will choose a card from your hand and place it on the bottom of your draw pile, and if you ever have to place your last card and your hand is empty you are KO’d. But not to fear! There is no player elimination in this game, instead you lay your mini down and resolve the villains BAM! ability and then on your next turn draw back up to four cards.
The game is a bit of a race as well. You have to defeat the villain before he runs out of cards in his master plan deck and before a player runs completely out of cards to play as well. This can get super tricky with some villains such as Taskmaster who slows you down at every opportunity. There are also other ways to lose the game as with Red Skulls fear track ever maxing out. That’s basically it, if you can work together to bring a villain down then you win!
The components are ok. The miniatures are by far the best thing about the game, very detailed and just flat out fun. I especially like the Ant-Man miniature as he is perched on top of a quarter, each mini is bulky in line with the art style they went with so they feel sturdy and premium. As far as everything else, the cardboard tokens are pretty standard quality and the cards are nothing fancy. My biggest complaints with the components are the location cards and the mission guide. The mission guide is especially thing and it forms the centerpiece to the entire play area. You will be staging the villain dashboard (which is just as thin) on this as well as the three goal cards you are meant to complete. This mission guide has already warped so it doesn’t lay flat which just throws off all the other thin card materials that sit on it.
The location cards are not much better being thin paper areas you stage around the center mission guide. Which brings me to the next thing I didn’t much care for, the game area setup. You are meant to place six location cards around the center mission guide in a circular pattern and the storyline cards are kinda meant to follow that pattern as well, at least that is how the playmat they offered during the Kickstarter is displayed. Setting up the game in that fashion is incredibly unwieldy as players on the opposite side of the play area will continually struggle with seeing what is going on with the played cards. The “Storyline” is a neat idea yes, but it just doesn’t work out well in practice. What I’ve been doing is just making a stack of the cards played because after the third card hits the storyline you no longer need the 3rd one back, so no reason to keep it displayed. And personally I didn’t feel any loss of theme from creating a stack anyway. In any case, other than the minis the components are pretty lackluster, but for the price you can get this game in retail that is to be expected.
The box is really nice! There are dedicated spaces for the decks of cards and all the miniatures as well as the tokens and location cards in the insert. It even comes with a nice see-through plastic topper that holds it all in place. On top of that the box is rather small so it can easily fit in most shelves with little issue. Overall a job well done on the storage solution here!
Visual Appeal /Theme
As far as theming goes this is a VERY well-known license so basically anyone that is into super heroes or the Marvel franchise can’t really go wrong here. That said, I do think the artwork will turn some away. I don’t think the art is bad at all, quite the opposite in fact, however I do think it’s an acquired taste as is most art. This style, to me, seems to beckon towards children and honestly with as simple as the game plays I could see this game being a really good family/children’s game. Sadly though I think the artwork will cause many gamers to completely ignore this one thinking it just a children’s game. It is unfortunate because I believe the game does offer a fun time beyond the artwork.
Aside from that I don’t really get a strong sense of thematic elements through the gameplay. Each hero has their own set of cards and even though there are a few in each deck that do some thematic elements that harken their hero, the vast majority of cards are just the standard icons which are the exact same for every hero. Because of this players will mostly focus on the icons and the logic of where to go and how to use them rather than actually tying them to their corresponding hero in some heroic fashion.
The rulebook is very well done! Super easy to read and comprehend with examples and good formatting to make it easy to read without getting a fuzzy brain. Granted the game isn’t super deep but still I enjoy a good rulebook and this one hits all the marks. The back of the rulebook even has a nice rules summary with the turn structure and the icon definitions so you can keep it out to reference if needed the first couple games.
Player Interaction/Fun Factor
You will find quite a bit of player interaction here since players will be utilizing the previous players played card as well. Discussing strategies is of the utmost importance if you want to succeed. However, this game can lead to a bit of quarterbacking as well if you have someone that has that tendency since the cards aren’t secret. I did have quite a bit of fun playing the game! The game starts out relatively simple with players just focusing on clear thugs and civilians but then they start to realize the importance of the threat cards and the villain’s powers. Our first play against Red Skull took us COMPLETELY by surprise as we didn’t look through his master plan deck beforehand. Let’s just say that those “crisis” tokens are not to be taken lightly. Now, that said the fun does begin to wain after just a few plays since there are only three goals and three different action icons on hero cards. That is where the game starts to remind me that it seemingly is focused towards children. VERY easy to get into and learn but just not that much meat on it.
Optimal Player Count/Replayability
The game plays up to four players and also has a dedicated solo mode built in. It’s setup in such a way that it doesn’t really matter how many players there are in conjunction with the difficulty. What I mean is, regardless of how many players, the villain always takes a turn after the third play. The only difference is the amount of health the villain receives, which increases as more players are playing. Because of this I think the game plays fine with two all the way up to four. There is a solo mode where you just mix three different hero decks together and control all three heroes but honestly I didn’t feel it was much different than just two or three handing a few heroes separately. I guess it makes an interesting variant in any case.
The replayability in this one is VERY dependent on the villains. The retail game comes with three different villains, Red Skull, Ultron and Taskmaster. Each one plays different from the last with different abilities and play styles so you really cannot play the same way if you hope to defeat them all. It’s almost like three different games in one box. BUT, on the flip side the larger variety of heroes I found were just TOO similar to each other. I touched on this earlier, and even though each different hero has their own deck of cards and a few specific unique cards, they still all use the same three icons for actions. And this is where some people will love it (for the simplicity) and some will hate it (for the simplicity). Frankly speaking though, because of this it really hampers the amount of replayability. Heck even adding more Villains (which would drastically increase replayability) only goes so far because the heroes are all so similar. Adding more heroes doesn’t help either as, again, they are similar because of the same three actions.
Beyond all that you do have eight different locations out of the retail box and only ever use six in a game, so that increases replayability a tad. Another thing that also hampers it are the three same goals every single game. Then again adding different goals would add a much larger bit of complexity to the game and I’m not sure that’s what they were going for with this one.
Positive Final Thoughts
For the price (under $30) it’s a steal. It’s a fun, super lightweight race/action puzzle game. Very accessible to children and yet a fun romp for adults. The miniatures are excellent and sturdy and the variety you get with the different villains is awesome.
Negative Final Thoughts
Because of its simplicity most heavy gamers will probably lose interest in this pretty quickly. The different heroes don’t really add much at all to the replayability even though there are seven of them in the retail version. The card stock for the locations and mission guide are very thin and prone to warping.
The Bottom Line
There is another game on the market that this game instantly reminded me of, Batman the Animated Series: Gotham Under Siege. It a very similar play style where you are moving around trying to take out thugs and preventing damage to areas. I like both games but find Marvel United to be even simpler than that one. Because of the art style and the simplistic actions in this game I think most serious gamers will want to steer clear, however for families and those looking for a lighter game this game will be a sure fire hit.
The Fuzzy Llama Bronze Seal of Prevalence