Wednesday 23 November 2016

Cardboard - Legendary: A Marvel Deckbuilding Game card game review

Since Dominion took the boardgaming world by storm in 2008 all manner of deck-building games have been released. There's seemingly one for any theme you could think of, from novel writing to sci-fi or anime maids to mythological gods, and I feel like I've played a fairly sizeable chunk of them.

Teetering on the edge of deck-builder-burnout, what appealed to me most about Legendary: A Marvel Deckbuilding Game is that it's co-operative. Your elite team of Marvel super-hero types will fight a dastardly Evil Mastermind together, fending off a parade of villains and henchmen and generally foiling evil schemes to clinch a win. More accurately it's a *semi* co-operative game; whilst you may achieve victory over the bad guys as a group, you still get judged on your personal performance to pick an individual winner. Because there's no 'I' in 'team', guys... but there is a 'me' and I was clearly just more heroic.

Legendary: A Marvel Deckbuilding Game box art

For anyone not familiar with the deck-building mechanism, the general idea is that you start with a hand of fairly weak cards which you use to obtain better cards from a central pool. These cards then go in to your discard pile which is eventually recycled to form a draw pile, allowing you to play your shiny new cards to get even shinier cards, and so on. Usually there are victory points involved on the cards somewhere, so it's a case of counting out the points in everyone's final deck of cards to determine a winner. Legendary adds an additional dimension where as well as optimising your own deck you're also trying to make sure that everyone succeeds as a team to defeat the Mastermind.

Before you can start beating up the big bad, however, there's a bit of housekeeping to do in terms of setup, especially for your first game. The cards aren't really grouped in their packets the way you'll need them for play, so make sure when you open your brand new shiny box of Legendary that you've set aside a bit of time for card-wrangling. Here's the mess we made:

Legendary: A Marvel Deckbuilding Game - card sorting

There are also some decks to build; this took quite a while on the first go, but once you understand how it all fits together things go a lot quicker. Here's a quick rundown of the main bits you'll need:


First step: pick your bad guy. There are four included in the base box: Red Skull, Loki, Dr. Doom and Magneto. Once you've chosen, take his (and yes, they're all boys) four matching Mastermind Tactics card and tuck them under the Mastermind card face down in a random order.

Mastermind - Red Skull card

These cards represent the four times you'll have to fight him in order to win - because we all know the villain is never beaten after the first try, right? All four cards are equally tough to attack, but they each have different effects described on the card which resolve during the fight.


Every good villain needs a good evil plot. Normally it's only good for gloating to the good guys about just before they throw a massive hero-shaped spanner in the works, but you need one nonetheless. One Scheme card is chosen at random and placed in the Scheme space on the board. Each Scheme will have a little setup section which lets you know how many Scheme Twist cards to put into the Villain Deck and describes any special rules for this Scheme.

Marvel Legendary scheme cards

Villain Deck

There's a bit more setup involved in the Villain Deck. To build this you need to add:

  • 5 Master Strike cards - these have different effects depending on the Mastermind in play and are generally fairly painful.
  • Villain Groups - these are bands of Marvel nasties like Hydra or the Brotherhood of Mutants who are helping out the Mastermind.Sometimes specific Villain groups are prescribed by the Mastermind.
  • Henchmen Groups (because someone has to get the coffees and sort out the drycleaning)
  • Innocent Bystanders

The number of Villain Groups, Henchmen Groups and Innocent Bystanders added will depend on player numbers and is shown in a handy little reference table printed both on the board and inside the rule book.

Once you have all the elements, shuffle this heap of badness together and pop your newly formed Villain Deck onto the marked space on the board.

Hero Deck

This one is a bit easier; pick 5 or 6 sets of Hero cards (depending on player numbers) and shuffle. Done! Flip five of these cards to fill the HQ Hero Spaces - this is where you'll recruit new heroes for your deck.

Marvel Legendary Hero HQ

Player starting decks

Each player needs a starting deck, made up of 8 S.H.I.E.L.D Agents (who generate 1 Recruit Point each) and 4 S.H.I.E.L.D Troopers (who generate 1 Attack each).

Marvel Legendary - game board

Once the decks are set up and ready to go, game turns have a few straightforward steps:
  1. Play the top card of the Villain Deck
  2. Play the cards from your hand, using them to recruit or attack depending on the card stats
  3. Discard your hand and draw new 6 cards
When a Villain enters the city they're put in space closest to Villain Deck (which happens to be the Sewers; not exactly the most glamorous of entrances). Any Villains already in the city get pushed forward into the next space along the 5-space track. If they run out of spaces to move to, they'll make a hasty getaway to the Escaped Villains space, causing a Hero from the HQ to be KO'd on their way out and sometimes causing a nasty Escape effect as well.

Sometimes you'll draw a Bystander card from the Villain Deck. These are immediately captured by the nearest Villain (tucked underneath) and get moved with them through the city. If you can take out the Villain, you rescue the Bystander and they're worth 1 VP to you at the end of the game.

Marvel Legendary - Sentinel with captured Bystander

Scheme Twist cards will also turn up in the Villain Deck; these do something different depending on the what the main Scheme card says, but it's safe to say it probably won't be good news! You could also reveal a Master Strike card, representing an attack from the Mastermind. The effect of this will be different depending on the bad guy, so you'll need to check the Mastermind card to find out what inconvenient sort of doom is headed your way.

Once the Villain Deck draw is resolved, it's time to play the cards from your hand, using them to fight or recruit heroes. Some cards produce Recruit Points (as shown in a little gold star on the bottom left) that let you recruit more heroes. Others produce Attack (shown in the Wolverine scratch mark, bottom right) to help you defeat Villains.

Cards are played one at a time, resolving any effects and counting up any Recruit Points or Attack marked on the cards. Some cards work better if they're played with other heroes of the same class or team (like the X-Men or Avengers), meaning there's often a bonus to focusing your deck on heroes of a similar type so that Superpower abilities get activated as much as possible.

Recruit Points can be spent on heroes in the HQ (or S.H.I.E.L.D Officer cards which are always available in their own stack)to add to your deck.

You can use your Attack to fight any number of Villains in the city by matching your attack to theirs. Any defeated Villains (along with any Bystanders they had kidnapped) go into your personal victory pile to gloat about at the end of the game. If you're feeling particularly brave you can take a shot at the Mastermind instead. Every Mastermind has a set of four Mastermind Tactic cards to beat before you finally defeat the big bad boss. Each one has the same attack value, but have different 'Fight' effects on them which resolve as described on the card. If you can, as a team, beat all four of the Mastermind's cards, you win!

Marvel Legendary in play

There's a recommended 'starter' scenario in the rulebook which is great for learning, but the real fun in Marvel Legendary comes in trying out all the possible combinations of Mastermind, Scheme, Villains and Henchmen to make every game a bit different. You can pick from a good selection in the base set and there are plenty of expansions available to buy if you're missing your favourite characters or feel like adding something new. There's plenty of space in the base box to store your future purchases, just asking to be filled up by cool new cards.

Marvel Legendary - box insert

Luckily I also have a couple of those expansions to try out as well courtesy of Esdevium, so there will be more Legendary-themed posts on the way soon!

I thought Legendary: A Marvel Deckbuilding Game was tons of fun, with amazing artwork and huge amounts of replayability. I love that the game board has a sensible place for everything, and the quick reference for setting up the game and decks is great. It would be great for anyone who loves the Marvel universe (very popular in our house, obviously!), enjoys playing co-operative games, or is generally a fan of deckbuilding games.

Check back soon for a look at Legendary: Civil War and Legendary: Captain America 75th Anniversary!

Legendary: A Marvel Deckbuilding Game

Designer: Devin Low
Publisher: Upper Deck Entertainment
Players: 1-5
Age: 14+
Cost: RRP £49.99 [Take a look at Esdevium's store locator to find a local brick-and-mortar retailer in Europe]

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