Marvel Champions is a cooperative living card game created by Fantasy Flight Games. If you don’t know, a living card game is like other major card games with one huge exception. There are no randomized card packs. Each box comes with a specific set of cards, there is no randomness, rarities, or second-hand market.
In Marvel Champions you create and play with a deck of cards featuring heroes such as Spider-Man or Captain Marvel and take on villains such as Rhino or Ultron. The game is playable with 1 to 4 players cooperatively as the heroes work together against the villain.
The core set features five heroes, four aspects, three villains, and several modules to be used with the villains. Additionally, the box includes neat damage tracking dials and a bunch of tokens to be used with the game.
The included heroes consist of Spider-Man, Captain Marvel, Black Panther, She-Hulk, and Iron Man. The Villains include Rhino, Klaw, and Ultron.
Each hero comes with a hero card that has an alter ego on the backside and 15 cards exclusive to that hero. These cards must be included in any deck using that hero. Those cards are then combined with your choice of cards from a single aspect, Aggression, Leadership, Protection or Justice, and neutral cards that can go into any deck.
If you aren’t into deck building the rule book includes decklists for you to use. Likewise, every villain has cards that are always used in that villain’s deck, these combine with a set of standard cards that can go into every villain deck and you may include a module into the villain’s deck such as Bomb Scare or Legions of Hydra. If you choose to play expert mode, a set of expert cards are also included.
The goal of the game to reduce the villain’s final form hitpoints to zero without allowing your own hero to be defeated or letting the villain’s schemes progress to a point where you lose the game. Each villain has main schemes and side schemes while modules also have side schemes.
The game progresses in turns between the heroes and the villain. During the heroes’ turn, they may play cards, activate abilities, attack the villain or his minions, or they may thwart threat away from a scheme.
During the villain’s turn they will either attack the hero or scheme (depending on whether the hero is in alter ego form or hero form) and each player will need to draw an encounter card from the villain’s deck and suffer the effects. This could add a new scheme to the field, summon a minion, or have a wide variety of terrible effects.
Threat automatically accumulates on the main scheme each turn. If the player is in hero mode, they are actively trying to stop the villain in battle. If a hero is in alter ego mode, the villain is free to scheme without interference and add more threat. Striking a balance between forms is one of the key components of the game.
Heros have different abilities and cards they can play in each form. Alter ego form can let a hero heal damage but they can’t attack or thwart. While hero mode lets them attack, thwart, and defend if need be.
This balancing act is crucial to the strategy and adds a lot of depth to the game. Trying to predict when to draw the villain’s attention and when to take off the suit and rest is interesting to manage and helps add some degree of control to the chaos.
Every turn players draw cards up to their hand size that is dictated by both the hero they chose and which form they are in. The individual cards themselves are also the resources needed to play them. Most cards can provide one type of energy when discarded and most cards require a certain amount of energy to be played. Some special cards can provide more than one energy at a time.
This mechanic puts a large focus on decision-making. Each turn you must give up some cards to play others. This also means that unlike most other card games you are rarely in a position where you are tapped out from bad luck and unable to play anything.
You can play all kinds of cards, from special attacks, status effects, upgrades, or thwarting abilities. Each hero has a set of cards specific to them that reflects who they are as a hero. Spider-Man can web up foes, backflip out of damage, and use the spidey sense to counter some encounter cards. Ironman must build up his suit to be effective but is a powerhouse once he does.
Additionally, each hero will be using an aspect in their deck that can drastically alter the playstyle of that deck. Justice cards focus on thwarting, Aggression on dealing damage, Leadership on ally cards, and Protection on healing and defenses. Every hero works with every aspect. You could double up on She Hulks heavy-hitting power with aggression, or shore up her lawyer side with Justice.
The various combinations of heroes and aspects make for a staggering amount of variety in just the core set alone. This is before you factor in the villains and modules. There are several modules that can be added to the villain’s deck that can alter its feel and adds substantial replay value to the game.
Marvel Champions is also incredibly easy to learn without sacrificing its depth. The game is highly strategical but after playing a game or two you will rarely need to reference the rule book. The mechanics are cohesive and make sense thematically which helps the learning curve a great deal.
The game scales linearly with the number of players. The villain’s hitpoints, threat, and encounters by a flat margin per player. This means every player must carry their own weight or they will bring the whole team down and working together is essential in cooperative play. It also means that Marvel Champions is very solo-friendly.
In fact, I’d go as far as listing it as one of the best solo games available. I believe the sweet spot is one to two players. Mechanically four would work fine, but you would have a lot more downtime between turns. Two people keep the game flow fluid and moving.
I will note that you will run through your own deck and the villains deck quite a few times during each playthrough. This means a lot of shuffling. It will pay to become good at it so you can shuffle quickly and you will want some sleeves as the cards will face more wear and tear than other games.
A True Marvel
A game works best when its theme is married to its mechanics in a way that not only emulates the universe the game takes place in but makes the gameplay feel cohesive. Marvel Champions accomplishes both expertly.
Every hero not only has a different style of play, but each one feels as if you are playing that hero. Spider-Man feels agile as he avoids damage entirely or uses webs as a resource. Captain Marvel hits like a truck once she gathers up enough energy and Iron Man has to buy time to build his suit because is he just a man without it.
It’s amazing how the actions on a card can work mechanically and totally reflect things that you might see in comic books. Spider-Man can play a spider tracer on a minion and when that minion is defeated, you remove three threat from a scheme.
This translates to Spidy planting a tracer on a thug, following the goon to a hideout, and taking him out. Spidey then learns the villain’s plans from info obtained in the hideout and uses it to thwart the villain’s moves. This makes a Marvel nerd like me giddy.
Additionally, every hero comes with a set of villain cards exclusive to them. Spider-Man may end up pulling his obligation that his rent is overdue during the villain phase. Worse yet, the Vulture, his nemesis may show up and cause problems.
The thematic flair continues with the villain cards as well. Rhino may get an upgraded horn making him more dangerous or send a goon to get in the way of the heroes. He may start smashing and looting stores to distract the heroes from his main plan of trying to break into S.H.I.E.L.D.
Every module can be justified with each villain as well. If you include the Legions of Hydra in his deck, it’s clear the big dumb Rhino is simply a pawn of Hydra. If you include the Masters of Evil, they have teamed up with Rhino to take a share of S.H.I.E.L.D’s vibranium stores.
Every villain has a distinct playstyle just like the heroes. Rhino is a straightforward brute. Ultron uses an army of drones and Klaw utilizes a lot of upgrades and hits hard. When you factor in the hero and aspect combinations with the villain and module combinations, you truly have a staggering about of play value even if you only play each combination once.
All of this blends with the finely tuned and deep mechanics to make a truly great cooperative card game. It really has infinite potential for growth with additional add ons as well.
Marvel Champions is a deep card game with a cohesive theme that is easy to learn. It works well with all player counts but can really shine as a solo and duo game. The core set offers a ton of replay value with five heroes, four aspects, three villains, and five modules.
Unlike most Fantasy Flight Games LCGs, you only need one core set if you are serious about the game. You can comfortably play with four players out of the box and the core set will offer a staggering amount of playtime alone.
You could get by only ever buying the core set, but there are already hero and scenario packs if you want them. Keep your eyes peeled for my reviews of them as well.
Marvel Champions is my favorite living card game to date and easily the best game I’ve played for solo play. The game gets everything right from its learning curve, mechanical depth, and tying its theme to the game. Whether you’re new to card games or a veteran you can’t go wrong here. If you are a huge Marvel Fan like me, it is a must-have.
Check out my other Marvel Champions content!
- Deep mechanics and high strategy
- Solid resource management and balanced gameplay between alter ego and hero mode
- Heros play different from each other and work with all four aspects for high gameplay variety
- Villains are very replayable with five optional modules plus expert mode
- The game melds its theme to its mechanics very well, it feels like you are playing a comic book.
- Exceptionally easy to learn and grasp, partially due to the blending of theme and mechanics.
- Very solo friendly
- The game requires a lot of shuffling, sleeves would be a wise investment