Legendary X-Men is the latest expansion for Marvel Legendary, a semi-cooperative game which puts you in the shoes of your favourite comic-book heroes (or possibly villains) as you attempt to thwart some kind of devious scheme – then decide who gets the bragging rights for stopping the plot. If you’re not already familiar with it, check out our video review here.
Over the course of the last 5 years Legendary has seen 4 big-box expansions, 6 small-boxes, and a short-lived “Villains” line which can be integrated with the main game.
Legendary X-Men is the 5th big box expansion, bringing a host of heroic mutants and their greatest foes together – is the game too bloated to bother with another expansion? Or is this the box we’ve all been waiting for? Let’s find out.
Legendary X-Men: What’s in the box?
There are now somewhere close to 150 different playable Heroes in Marvel Legendary, about 5 of which will get used in any given game. Whilst this seems like it ought to cover most comic-book favourites, by the time you realise that 5 of those are Steve Rodgers and 3(ish) are Wolverine, you can expect there to be a couple of gaps left.
Legendary X-Men does a great job of filling in the gaps – there are X-Men affiliated, main-timeline versions of Beast and Kitty Pryde and there are finally appearances for previously absent favourites like Jubilee, X23, Dazzler and Psylocke.
A few divided cards are a price worth paying for a Fastball Special
The line-up isn’t perfect: Colossus fans have complained about their hero having to share a divided card with yet-another Wolverine, and I was quite disappointed that Legendary X-Men didn’t include a Heroic version of Magneto or Sabertooth, but overall, the coverage is good.
Aside from 15 Heroes, Legendary X-Men is packed with new Villains, Masterminds and other card-types. The card quality is decent as we’d expect from a Legendary game, and by-and-large the art-work is nice. So far, so good – but how does it play?
New Keywords? All kinds of Heroes
There is a whole plethora of new effects in Legendary X-Men, along with the revival of some old ones. Personally I wasn’t thrilled to see the return of divided cards, as I find the aesthetic jarring, but overall the Heroes are good, combing a range of new keywords.
Soaring Flight is the simplest new keyword: when you recruit a hero with soaring flight they don’t go into your discard pile, but get put to one side, and are added to your hand as an extra card next turn – nice for some early-game acceleration, and thematic for flying characters, but overall quite underwhelming.
On a more menacing note, folk like X-23, Wolverine, and Beast can go Berserk. When you play a card with Berserk, you discard the top card of your deck and gain fight equal to that card’s printed fight value. Obviously this can be a bit hit-and-miss, unless you have ways to look at / stack your deck for maximum effectiveness (maybe it’s time to dig out Gambit…) but it does blend fairly well with X-Gene. X-Gene looks a lot like the normal triggers on cards – meet a condition, trigger a bonus effect. However, whereas normal triggers until now have been looking at cards you have already played this turn, X-Gene looks at what is in your discard pile. This is nice if you can combo it with Berserk, but more often it seemed to mis-fire as cards get shuffled back into your deck. Not a bad effect, just not that exciting.
In Piercing Energy, Legendary X-Men brings us one of the biggest changes we’ve had since Legendary came out, an entirely new way of fighting! Piercing Energy isn’t available in large quantities, but when you use it, you don’t need to match an enemy’s attack value, but its victory points. As Piercing Energy ignores other restrictions that might prevent you from fighting that enemy, it has the potential to be very powerful, but unless you build a Hero Deck where everyone produces it, you’re unlikely to break the game.
Piercing Energy also won’t do anything against villains which don’t have victory points – and Legendary X-Men has plenty (“Fight: gain this as a hero,” ascended Master-strikes, or heroes made into villains by schemes). This makes it a fun twist, but not over-balanced in my book.
the rare/uncommon effects are powerful, but the cantrip on the commons is what makes her really shine
Lightshow is the big thing for Dazzler and Jubilee, although it features to a lesser extent on some other heroes. Lightshow abilities aren’t all that powerful, as you need to play at least two of them before you choose and trigger just the one. However, the fact that this forces the players into making choices is a definite positive. As a fan of the 90s X-Men Cartoon, I was pleased that Jubilee seems to deliver most effectively on lightshow, but in other characters like Dazzler the lightshow effect felt a bit underwhelming (although her base stats are better).
Don’t just stand idly by – join in
Whilst they don’t really follow a new keyword, Legendary X-Men also introduced the New Mutants as Heroic Bystanders – Bystanders who turn into Heroes when you gain them. A few people seem to have been a bit disappointed that these characters weren’t given the full hero treatment, but it seemed to me like a good way to include characters who wouldn’t otherwise have been given their own set.
Overall, there are some great player cards in Legendary X-Men, my favourite is probably the rare Phoenix – a card which Berserks 4 times, giving it a good chance (in the right deck) of generating enough fight to take down even the biggest mastermind. On the downside, it comes with the risk that you generate too much attack – in that case, the Phoenix could become corrupted by power and destroy the world! Win some, Lose some…
What about the Villains? New powers too!
It isn’t just the Heroes who get new powers in Legendary X-Men. The villains – of whom there are an impressive number, with 7 groups and 5 new Henchman groups – also power-up with new abilities of their own.
Dominate is a keyword that we found severely irritating when we first encountered it – it allows Villains and Masterminds to steal your heroes and boost their own stats by having done so. Too many of these in the same deck can quickly lead to a pointless game where you shuffle your SHIELD agents round and round, buying a new hero only to have it taken away. On closer inspection, it turned out that we had been a bit unfortunate with a near-perfect storm of scheme, mastermind and villain, and in more measured doses, Dominate can be quite interesting. Still, it does highlight the difficulty this far in of actually balancing a game of Legendary.
Villains who don’t quite feel up to dominating a Hero can instead capture a Human Shield, rather than a hero from a player’s hand or the HQ, you take a face-down Bystander from the stack. You can’t fight a villain or mastermind with a Human shield, but you can pay attack equal to their fight value to rescue the Bystander (no piercing energy here) – once all the human shields are gone, they can be fought as normal.
Once you get past the confusion of all the different villains with cards tucked underneath them, the Human Shield mechanic was actually quite good fun. Arcade, one of the new Masterminds, only has a fight value of 3, but captures an ongoing string of Human shields. A lot of the time in Legendary, you find yourself more-or-less ignoring the Mastermind for most of the game, as you try and fail to muster the required 16 attack. Instead, we found ourselves in a constant battle, regularly taking out human shields, then seeing them replaced, and it gave the game a nice amount of tension as the numbers went up and down.
It’s a Trap!
Each of the Villain sets in Legendary X-Men also include at least one Trap – essentially an ultimatum dealt out by the Villain deck which gives you until the end of the round to fulfil a particular condition, or else suffer a particular penalty. These vary wildly in difficulty, and will sometimes fail to have any impact at all, but overall they felt like an interesting twist.
Another great innovation in Legendary X-Men was the creation of Epic Masterminds. All the Mastermind cards are double-sided, with a ‘standard’ version, and a powered-up one which has a higher health value and often a nastier effect. This was a very simple thing to introduce – it doesn’t require any more cards, and only a small amount of additional design or printing, but it greatly adds to the scope of the game, allowing players to tailor the difficulty of their games. A lot of people have commented on the need for some of the older Masterminds to be given epic versions, and it will be interesting to see whether we get these in a future expansion, or in a Legendary 2nd Edition (if such a thing ever appears).
Oh the Horror!
Most big-box expansions for Legendary come with something completely new, and Legendary X-Men is no exception. Up this time are Horrors – a card type that deals out nasty effects which crop up in a variety of fashions. At the simplest level, there is a horror-based scheme where each Twist is simply “reveal a horror,” but they can also be included to add difficulty at the start of the game, or used in other ways.
Sometimes it’s very obvious which is worse…
The Horrors vary a lot in difficulty, and can range anywhere from a minor irritation to making a game near-impossible (try playing against Onslaught with the “Reduced-hand-size” Horror for max 4 cards in-hand!!), so the random churn-out of the Horror of Horrors scheme can get excessively brutal in low player-counts, but as an overall concept, these are a great option for allowing players to up the difficulty against older, less powerful Enemies and Schemes.
Legendary X-Men – Final Thoughts!
Overall I loved Legendary X-Men – it’s quite possibly my favourite Legendary expansion. It ticks a lot of boxes in terms of fan favourites, and really feels like a broad sweep of the X-Men’s history, rather than being dominated by new characters who enjoy brief popularity before being completely forgotten (no Goldballs here!) In a crowded environment where any hero, villain, mastermind or scheme is going to struggle for play-time, this set has some great cards that I definitely want to keep playing.
Mechanically, Legendary X-Men did feel a little fiddly at times: it can certainly be hard to keep track of all the different things that are going on with all the keywords that have accumulated. Most of the effects (aside from possibly Piercing Energy) aren’t all-that earth shattering, but there are some simple changes which really add a lot to the game.
Every time a new Legendary expansion comes out, I tell myself that I have enough cards for Legendary, then I end up getting it anyway – I can’t remember the last time I was this pleased that I decided to pick it up, and think that Legendary X-Men is easily the best Legendary Expansion in years. 8/10.
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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.