Legendary: A Marvel Deck-Building Game [Review]

Early on in my experience with the board gaming hobby, I came across the app version of a physical deck-building game on my phone. That game was Ascension, and it truly captivated me. I’d never played anything like it before. It perfectly mixed the delight of random card draws while simultaneously mitigating that randomness by purchasing cards and adding them to your deck. I loved it, but I never ended up purchasing the physical game, mainly because the art style didn’t appeal to me. Shallow, I know, but I couldn’t justify buying a game at the time where I didn’t love every part of it. Not too long after that, I saw a game with similar mechanics based on one of my favorite fictional worlds, the Marvel Universe. And even better, this one was cooperative, which always seemed to make it easier to find players. However, I didn’t know if this world would translate well into a deck-building game, whether it would be fun or if it would feel like a cash-grab for Marvel fans. If you’ve wondered the same thing, maybe my experience can help.

If you are familiar with Marvel comics, you probably already know the theme: Superheroes are trying to stop supervillains from doing terrible things. You would expect this to be obvious, but the gameplay doesn’t actually present it as clearly as one would expect, and it’s hardly explained in the rulebook. You may be asking yourself, “how is this possible”? It’s because in Legendary: A Marvel Deck Building Game, you aren’t just picking a single Marvel superhero and playing as that hero. Instead, you will be using your basic deck of cards to purchase cards representing the abilities of up to five different heroes at once. That’s not to say that the theme isn’t there; it’s that you have to fill in some blanks. To me, it appears that the players are working for SHIELD and directing the heroes to go after the bad guys in an attempt to foil the plot of a dangerous mastermind.

You start the game by picking the five heroes you want to play with, each with a fourteen card deck representing the various skills and levels of their attacks. You then shuffle those decks together to make the hero deck and lay out the top five cars in the HQ area to be purchased later.

You will pick a Mastermind to be the big boss of the game and a Scheme to let you know what nefarious plan the Mastermind is trying to accomplish. The Scheme can affect various parts of the setup or even the play of the game. Then to make the Villain deck, you will take the Villain group that your chosen Mastermind always commands, another villain group, and a less powerful henchmen group. The Mastermind will have a special attack called a Master Strike, and five master strike cards will go into the deck. There will also be several Scheme Twist cards that will affect the Scheme you selected. You’ll finish out the villain deck by adding a couple of bystander cards and shuffling it all together. At the start of every turn, you will flip the top card of the Villain deck and place it in the closest spot in the five-space city section of the board, moving any other villains one space further down the board as needed.

Your basic starting hand consists of 12 cards, eight with purchase power and four with striking power. You will spend your turns purchasing new cards and getting rid of old ones to improve the likelihood that you’ll draw your better cards. While doing this, you’ll also be trying to defeat the villains in the city, survive the Scheme Twists and Master Strikes, and ultimately, defeat the Mastermind four times to win the game. All of the players lose if the Scheme isn’t stopped. And the game results in a draw if the Hero or Villain deck runs out before the Mastermind is stopped.

Unlike some deck-building games, the order you play your cards can matter a lot. Some powers will need you to have another card already in-play with a particular team affiliation or hero type before playing it. This dynamic makes this game take a lot more brainpower than it otherwise might. This is especially true once you have a lot of good cards in your deck. It is easy to find yourself trying to figure out the perfect order to play cards to maximize the amount of damage dealt.

I previously mentioned that this game is cooperative, and although that is mostly true. The various bad guys you defeat and bystanders you rescue are each worth a certain amount of victory points at the end of the game. These victory points allow you to see at the end who was the best player. But honestly, I’ve never played with anyone who didn’t want to ignore those point values. Very few powers and Schemes in the game make those necessary. Many Mastermind and Scheme combos are incredibly tough to defeat, even if everyone is helping each other out. If players are trying to undercut each other to gain victory points, the game can be nearly impossible to win. Plus, it just doesn’t make thematic sense for most heroes to figure out who was the best. I’m sure some people will love having that bit of competition there, and that’s great, but if that isn’t your thing, it’s easy to ignore.

From this description, you might have realized that this sounds a lot like a pretty standard deck-building game, and you’d be right, but this is a game that I’m still playing eight or nine years after I first got it and have eagerly picked up every expansion I can get for it. That is because in all the times I’ve played it, and there have been very many, it has never felt like the same game twice. There are so many variables between the Hero and Villain decks and how the Masterminds and Schemes can significantly affect the game. Even with the base game, there are likely more combinations than anyone will probably ever play. Once you start adding in expansions of characters you like, those combinations and the game’s variability only grow. It’s worth noting that some expansions tend to do better not mixing with other sets, as their keywords work better with other cards from the same expansion. That being said, there is nothing actually stopping you from mixing them together. There are even various randomization apps that will help pick cards from any set you own. My wife and I eventually stopped doing that once we had a lot of expansions because it tended to make for some very awkward teams. Now we usually will try to recreate famous comic storylines and play them out. It turns out stopping Thanos from pulling his End Game shenanigans isn’t all that impossible, but if you want to survive the Dark Phoenix Saga, you’re going to need an absurd amount of luck and the perfect team to handle it.

Gamers often ask each other what their desert island game is. For me, there is never any hesitation. It’s always Legendary: A Marvel Deck Building Game. More than any other game I own, I’m confident I’ll never get bored of it. If you like deck-building games or Marvel comics, I can’t think of a reason you shouldn’t get this game.

Upper Deck Legendary: A Marvel Deck Building Game
  • Easy to learn, with fast-paced gameplay
  • Features incredible original artwork of Marvel heroes and villains
  • Game consists of nearly 600 cards, Full color Game board & Color Rule Book
  • Designed by award-winning game designer Devin Low, former Head Developer of Magic: The Gathering
  • Legendary is a deck-building game set in the Marvel Comics universe

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