Marvel Legendary is a semi-cooperative deck-building game, in which players must work together to prevent a Mastermind from carrying out a nefarious scheme, whilst doing their best to stay just ahead of their comrades in terms of who has made the most important contribution to overall victory.
If you’re not familiar with the game itself, check out our video review here, but in today’s article I want to talk a bit about the most recent expansions.
What’s Marvel’s Big Secret? Secret Wars!
Last year’s big cross-over event for Marvel Comics was “Secret Wars” – a bit like DC’s Crisis on Infinite Earths, this involved them bringing together some of their favourite characters from parallel worlds and time-lines, experimenting with some unusual twists and mash-ups of characters for a few months then, when the dust finally settles, leaving a single, simplified universe behind.
I think Legendary is a great game – we discovered it last year, and got hooked almost immediately, picking up all of the (available) expansions. For Secret Wars though, I was a bit on the fence – I read Marvel comics online, via Marvel Unlimited, so I’m constantly six months behind, and I wavered for a while about getting these. When I eventually took the plunge though, it was well worth it.
Legendary produced two whole big-box expansions (so far expansions have either been small-box: around 100 cards, or big-box with around 350 cards), for the Secret Wars event, simply named Secret Wars Volume 1 and Secret Wars Volume 2. That’s a lot of content: There are 30 new playable heroes, 8 new Masterminds, 12 Villain groups, 6 sets of Henchmen, 16 new scenarios, and even the option for one player to take on the group, playing as the Mastermind. Aside from the fact that you need various starter and set-up cards from the original box to play the game, these expansions alone have enough variety / replayability to keep most players going for a long-while.
Holding Out for a Hero? Well take your Pick!
One major concern which a lot of people have raised about the Secret Wars boxes, is the obscurity of some of the characters: if you haven’t been reading the latest releases from Marvel, there will almost certainly be characters in these boxes you simply haven’t heard of. A bigger concern for some, is that they may well be characters you never hear of again – “Dr Punisher, Soldier Supreme” (Frank Castle possessed by Stephen Strange) or “The Captain and the Devil” (Steve Rogers riding a giant dinosaur).
That said, even without some of the more obscure characters, there are also some big names from Marvel getting ticked off the list – Beast, Captain Marvel (Carol Danvers), Magik, Dr Strange and Kitty Pryde all appear as playable characters for the first time in Legendary in this box (at least in some form or other). Other characters like Lady Thor, Ultimate Spider-Man and Spider-Gwen may not have such a long history, but they look set to be features in the main-strand of the comics for a while at least. You even get the chance to play as Thanos, although you won’t get a purchasable ally with 20 Attack, unlike his Mastermind version.
Leaving the theme aside for a moment, it’s worth considering how the Heroes themselves actually play – no matter how iconic a character is, you’ll quickly get bored playing them if they don’t actually do anything.
Thankfully, there are still a lot of interesting mechanics here, giving the cards a genuinely different feel from some of the earlier boxes. There are cards which interact with the Bystander pile, cards that care about whether particular places are empty, and new affiliations and key-words.
The increase in the breadth of heroes available gives you more options to custom-build a team for extra-powerful synergies: For example, Spider-Man, Ultimate Spider-Man and Symbiote Spider-Man from earlier boxes all work best when every card in your deck costs 2 or less- with the addition of Silk and Spider-Gwen (both found in Secret Wars 2), you can now have a full set of five Heroes where every single card costs 2 – On my final turn of a recent game, I managed to get up to 48 Attack, which is pretty good going for a starting hand of 6 cards, and no more than 2 Attack printed on any one card.
Secret Wars also introduces the concept of Multi-Class Heroes: for example all of Beast’s cards are both Strength AND Tech – which allows you to trigger combinations more easily, and generally increases the amount you get to do on your turn. This expansion definitely feels like it has upped the sense of meaningful activity during the game, even if the overall objectives remain the same.
Secret Wars. Not-so-secret Enemies!
Aside from the characters you get to recruit in Secret Wars, you also need to worry about the enemy. With Secret Wars being all about parallel worlds coming into conflict, it should come as no surprise that the lines between friend and foe can get blurry, and you’ll find a lot of characters coming out of the Villain Deck to hurt you, who you might normally expect to be on your side: Domain of Apocalypse and Limbo both contain characters like Wolverine, Cyclops and Nightcrawler, who are now most definitely not feeling friendly.
All is not lost though, as another new mechanic for Secret Wars is the Recruitable Villain: Ultimate Thor and Ultimate Wasp might be out to get you when you first show up, but once you’ve knocked them out, sat them down and explained the situation, they’ll gladly fight alongside you for the greater good.
Other Villains are not only implacable, but their hate burns brighter than you’ve grown accustomed to: many Secret Wars Villains, having evaded you all the way across the city, opt not to take the standard route of simply disappearing, but “Ascend” becoming a second Mastermind that can cause you greater problems as cards come off the Villain deck, and add an extra requirement before you can win the game.
Is It Hard Enough? That’s Up to You
One complaint I’ve heard from people who pick up Legendary, is that it’s too easy to play – certainly the Masterminds in the original box tended to have fairly low Attack values, and could be knocked over quite easily once your deck was up and running.
The expansions as a whole have dealt with this pretty well, and Secret Wars just continues to expand your options. Aside from the fact that Masterminds like Hyperion are just nastier than Red Skull or Loki, a random setup could leave you in a very sticky situation, with a group of Heroes that lack synergy, feeling decidedly underpowered as they face off against Villains who seem to know their exact weaknesses. If that’s not your cup of tea, you can select the cards being used for a particular game, to ensure that you have brilliant synergy in the Hero deck whilst being comparatively unaffected by the bad things the Villain deck throws at you. Compared with an expansion-free Legendary experience, Secret Wars offers a lot more scope, including plenty more scope at the harder end.
Are you still following this? Good!
It’s important not to confuse difficulty with complexity. Many games produce expansions that manage to make things a lot more fiddly without actually changing much about the likelihood of you winning- just the probability of a frustrated table-flip or simply not bothering to play anymore.
Secret Wars certainly does increase the complexity of the game, and you’ll probably find yourself digging for the rulebook the first time you encounter the Fight ability “Fateful resurrection, then Cross-Dimensional Deadpool Rampage” but if you’re familiar with the core mechanics of Legendary, then most of these things will be fairly easy to get the hang of. A lot of the keywords in this pack were introduced in earlier expansions, and are being revived, so if you’ve been picking things up in order, that reduces the learning curve too.
So Should I buy it? Yes! (but in the right order)
First things first: If you’re completely new to the game, you’ll need to pick up the base set, as these expansions aren’t playable by themselves – you wouldn’t have a starter hand, or any number of basic cards that make the game tick. If you like board games, deck-builders, co-ops or Marvel, this one is well worth checking out.
For existing Legendary players, I think Secret Wars is a good expansion, one that adds a lot to Legendary as a whole. Secret Wars definitely feels like one expansion split into two boxes, so if you’re only planning on getting one, be prepared for some things to feel incomplete. I certainly wouldn’t get Volume 2 without Volume 1, as there will be things that just don’t work properly (like trying to play as the Mastermind with only ten ambition cards).
You might also want to think twice about picking this up as your first expansion, as it is at the more complex end of things, and it works more naturally as a progression on from these earlier boxes, but there’s nothing mechanically that won’t work if you put the base set and the two Secret Wars boxes together.
Overall though if you’re a Legendary fan who has been wavering on account of a lack of familiarity with the Secret Wars storylines, I’d recommend picking this up: I’m waiting for the whole of the Secret Wars Comics to be available on Marvel Unlimited, so I’ve basically read nothing of the main plotline, but I still enjoyed these boxes and think they’re well worth getting.
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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.