There is Big Trouble in Little China town, as Upper Deck’s Legendary series takes an unexpected new direction into a world of Chinese Gangs, Undead Sorcerers and dubious mullets: Legendary Big Trouble in Little China
Mechanically, the Big Trouble set is modelled very closely on the previous Marvel sets, with 95% of the mechanics carrying straight over, and most of the cards in this box being compatible. In this review, I’m going to assume that you already know the basics of how Legendary works, so if you’re not familiar with the game, it’s probably worth checking out a review of that first here.
What’s in the box? Cards but no space
Legendary Big Trouble in Little China is a stand-alone game, so everything you need for a game comes in the box, including starter Heroes, named-character Heroes, Schemes, Twists, Master-Strikes, Villains, Wounds, and Bystanders. Rather than a board as you get with the original Marvel version of the game, Legendary Big Trouble in Little China comes with a large play-mat that marks out what goes where in the game.
Overall, the component quality is good: the cards are generally clear, legible, and have nice if not particularly spectacular art. The only disappointment is the play-mat: whereas the Legendary Villains box was expanded to make room for a neatly rolled mat, the playmat for Legendary Big Trouble in Little China has to be folded rather awkwardly to be wedged back in the box, which generally means that you need to store it separately or have lots of kinks and folds when you try to play the game. It’s hardly the end of the world, but it’s certainly disappointing.
Big Trouble in Little China – the whole game?
I must admit that I was quite surprised when I first heard that this set was coming: whilst there is no denying the popularity of this cult classic, it’s still only 99 minutes of film. Was there really enough material to put together Legendary Big Trouble in Little China?
The selection of Heroes seems to illustrate this well: the first few are obvious: Jack Burton and Wang Chi, Gracie Law, Eddie, Egg Shen, even Miao Yin (who is a key element of the film, even if she doesn’t really do much) or Margo all make sense for fans wanting to re-create the film in game form. Beyond that though, it started to feel stretched – when I saw that the final two Heroes in Legendary Big Trouble in Little China were Pork Chop Express (Jack’s Truck), and Henry Swanson (the fake name Jack uses when infiltrating the Wing Kong building), it was definitely time for some raised eyebrows.
Overall, the cards like this which really feel stretched are definitely in the minority, and most of what has been printed flows fairly naturally from the source material. That said, I can’t see any possible scope for taking this idea further: a stand-alone set that doesn’t get a million expansions could be a good thing, but part of me is dreading them churning out something nonsensical just for the sake of it – I certainly won’t be buying Legendary Big Trouble in Little China 2!
Spot the differences – they’re worth noticing
For those of you familiar with Legendary already, the biggest question about Legendary Big Trouble in Little China is where it differs from existing versions of Legendary. There are definitely some interesting ideas that we haven’t seen before, so let’s look at them one-by-one now:
Mediocre Heroes (not Maria Hill!)
Instead of simply getting a starting deck of 4 1-fight guys and 8 1-Recruit guys, Legendary Big Trouble in Little China takes a slightly different approach. You still get 4 of the generic fighters, and 6 of the generic recruiters, but you also get 2 random “Mediocre Heroes.”
Mediocre Heroes are a fun twist, somewhere between starter characters and the proper non-grey Heroes that you buy as the game goes on – they are divided between the same characters as the proper heroes, and typically start off at 1 recruit, but with the potential to increase when certain triggers are met. I really like the concept of the Mediocre Heroes, and wouldn’t object to seeing them appearing in a future Marvel set, but found the execution a little bit off – in our first game, both of my Mediocre Heroes triggered periodically to provide extra cash, but neither of the characters my wife had ever did anything more than having a starter Recruit character in play.
19 Card Heroes: the same but different
Pick 2 of the 3 before each game – or just 10 random cards out of 15 for maximum chaos!
Every Hero (or Ally) seen in Marvel Legendary so far has 14 cards to a set: 5 copies each of 2 different common versions, 3 copies of an uncommon, and 1 of a rare (typically very expensive and very powerful).
For the most part, Legendary Big Trouble in Little China follows this well-established model. For the films two leads however, Jack and Wang Chi, they offer a bit of variety with not 2, but 3 different common cards, for a total of 19 in the box. You still play with only 14 cards of the given hero in the deck, but you have the flexibility of picking which common version to leave out or, if you’re feeling chaotic, of shuffling all 15 commons together, and dealing out ten at random.
Again, this felt like a really smart decision. With only 9 Heroes included in the game, Legendary Big Trouble in Little China looks very light on variety compared with even the Core Set of Marvel Legendary, let alone the copious number of expansions available. The 19-card hero approach allows them to give extra prominence to key characters without massively bloating the card pool, or leading to the strange imbalance seen in the Marvel game, where we have half a dozen different versions of Captain America. Obviously, this type of variety is going to be of biggest concern if you’re playing Legendary Big Trouble in Little China fairly intensively, and we’re a long way from having exhausted the combinations, but it’s nice to see some future-proofing built in.
Again, copying directly from the Marvel version of the game, the City in Legendary Big Trouble in Little China is divided into 5 spaces: Sewers, Bank, Rooftops, Streets, Bridge. The twist however, comes with the introduction of Chinatown – an area with special interactions that typically makes Villains more powerful and trickier to fight.
For example, the Wing Kong Security Bystander starts off as a normal card waiting to be rescued, but once on home turf, they will actually fight against the Heroes, making the guarding villain +2 to Fight. Equally, the Mastermind Six-Shooter jumps from a 7 to a 13. Whilst there are any Villains in Chinatown, and the otherwise unremarkable Ceremonial Armour Henchmen become the only card you can fight that turn if they are in Chinatown.
Of course, the Chinatown interactions do place a limit on the compatibility of Legendary Big Trouble in Little China with other sets. Whilst it looks superficially like everything in this box can be mixed in with the Marvel sets, a card like Eddie’s “China is Here” which powers up for every other card you play with the word “Chinatown” on it is unlikely to be triggered by Wolverine or Iron Man. Put Six Shooter on the Villains board, and he’s just a 7-strength Mastermind with no real ability.
Legendary Big Trouble in Little China: Play together, or don’t play at all
All the Marvel Legendary games we’ve seen so far have contained a separate solo variant, allowing a streamlined version of the game to be played by one person. It didn’t work as well with the Villains set, as there were lots of effects that interact with other players’ hands, but it could be done.
Legendary Big Trouble in Little China says on the back of the box that it supports 1-5, but inside the rules explicitly state that the game is not designed for solo play, and no solo variant is described. Overall in fact, Legendary Big Trouble in Little China is very high on the player-interaction side of things, with lots of cards interacting with other players’ hands, decks, or discard piles.
For some people, this will be a definite positive, making the game more social and interesting. For us though, it primarily felt frustrating. The common Gracie Law which costs only 2 and provides a point of Recruit and a point of Fight is just too efficient to leave in the city. However, every time you play it, your opponent is forced to discard a card and then draw a card, and we all experienced frustrating turns where we were thwarted in our plans by having to discard, or guessed the wrong way on which card to discard, before drawing something that would have synergised nicely with whatever we’d just ditched.
The final way that Legendary Big Trouble in Little China pushes the player-competition side of things, is with the final showdown. Final Showdown has existed as an optional rule in Marvel Legendary for a while, but we never bothered with it, and my general impression from the internet is that most others didn’t either. In Legendary Big Trouble in Little China, the Final Showdown becomes compulsory, with each player taking an additional turn after victory is secured, in an attempt to claim the Mastermind card itself for some extra victory points.
The Verdict: A Little Legendary? Or just Big Trouble?
As I noted at the start, Legendary Big Trouble in Little China draws very heavily and very directly from the film of the same name, and its most obvious appeal is to die-hard fans of the original. If you count yourself among that group and want a slightly chaotic, highly interactive version of Legendary, then this is for you.
If, like us, you’ve seen the film, but aren’t obsessively devoted to it, then it becomes a trickier decision. As I’ve already mentioned, there are some really interesting ideas in this set, and I’d love to see the 19-card Hero introduced in some Marvel sets (a 19-card Scarlet Witch, Psylocke or She-Hulk might go some way to placating the fans who have been crying out for these characters for years). Overall though, if you’re like us with a stronger connection to the Marvel theme, and you typically play the game more for its cooperative side than to mess with people, then you might want to pass on this one, and just pick up the Deadpool box when it lands next month.
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I'm an avid board and card-gamer, still trying to figure out where Board Gaming fits into life as the dad of a very grabby toddler.
I enjoy thematic games (Fantasy, Cthulhu, etc) and play a lot of cooperative games, along with a bit of competitive gaming (currently Legend of the Five Rings) when I can make it out of the house.
When not playing games, I can be found doing a mundane office job, or working on my own Blog, Fistful of Meeples.