Who doesn’t like superheroes? Ok, that’s a sweeping statement, they’re not for everyone, but the geeky kid in me adores them. Since my childhood, I’ve enjoyed many superhero cartoon shows and the occasional comic. In fact, I’d say Spiderman is probably my favourite at the moment. I definitely prefer Marvel to DC (uh oh flame wars!) but these days I highly enjoy every single blockbuster movie that comes out with superheroes in it. I’m still foaming at the mouth from watching Age of Ultron recently.
Naturally, board games have appeared that are strongly superhero-based. In fact, you probably already know that my favourite game is actually Sentinels of the Multiverse – a comic book superhero Co-Op that includes characters that parody mainstream superheroes. There’s also Marvel Legendary which has been a huge hit and sticks solely to the Marvel heroes. It also, now, has many expansions and is naturally also in my collection.
Typically these games are about the heroes’ and their fight against the villains. But, with Marvel Legendary: Villains that’s been turned on its head. Now you can take control of the villains and lay the smack down on a legendary hero like Nick Fury or Dr Strange. Certainly appealing to the geek generation here, but at first glance it looks identical to its predecessor and boasts a lot of potential about mixing up the cards. But, whether you already own Marvel Legendary, or not, is Villains worth the high price tag?
Designer: Devin Low
Publisher: Upper Deck
# of Players: 1-5
Play Time: 45-60 Minutes
BGG Rank/Rating: 450 / 8.01
Nothing Can Stop Us Now!
If you’ve not seen a Legendary game before then read on. To start, the deck building mechanic used here is well known among most modern gamers, where you start off with a basic deck and then build it up over time (e.g. Dominion).
In Villains, players select a Commander they want to face off against including – Dr Strange, Professor X, Odin or Nick Fury. They then choose a Plot which is essentially the scenario for the game. From this, a deck of adversaries is set up which holds cards to hinder the players such as plot twists, commander attacks and enemies such as the Avengers or X-Men.
You then choose a selection of villains to form the villain deck. To begin with players only have a few Hydra agents and grunts in their deck, but each turn they may purchase villain cards from the Lair (drawn from the villain deck) by spending recruit points from their hand (represented by a star). In contrast, players can also fight enemies on the board by spending cards with a fight value (a claw mark).
At the end of your turn, all cards that you bought, played or otherwise, go into your discard pile and then you draw a new hand. When your personal deck runs out, you reshuffle all the discards back in and carry on. The idea is that as time goes on, the more powerful cards purchased earlier will surface in their hand to be played in the same manner.
Villain cards have an affiliation such as the Sinister Six, or an attack symbol – tech, ranged, etc. Alone these mean nothing, but some cards have extra abilities that activate if a previous played card shows the same symbol. It’s this combo-ing of cards that forms the crux of the game.
Play continues with players battling enemies and purchasing new cards until either the Commander is defeated, by winning 4 battles against him, or the Plots end condition is met and the villains lose.
It’s Like Fighting In The Clone Wars
If you already know Marvel Legendary, my brief gameplay overview for Villains probably sounded very familiar. That’s a fair comment, because in most ways, Villains is exactly the same! It’s nice to see that Upper Deck have learnt their lesson and introduced differentiated artwork within the villain decks and a neoprene play mat that’s far nicer to use than the original board. The old board felt like it would break apart if you handled it too roughly. The artwork has taken a bit of hit, in terms of consistency, in places – with some of the villains having really cool artwork, but some of the adversaries looking weird. Take a look at the side by side comparisons below! But aside from that, everything is the same aside from having to switch out some terminology.
There are however, two key differences worth mentioning. Firstly, in both games, even though it’s a co-op there is an MVP overall winner for whoever has the most points in their victory pile. I would bet that 99% of Marvel Legendary players house-rule this out and just play the game as a full co-op because that makes more sense and, in my opinion, improves the game. With Villains however, it’s actually worth keeping track of your score because when have you ever seen a villain team work harmoniously together? Every villain deep down is out for Number 1, so it’s thematic that you would try to rise above the rest.
Secondly, the Wounds mechanic has been replaced with Restraints which clog up your deck, but rather than be KO’ed out of your hand, they can be passed on to other villains in your team. Again this goes back to my previous point about villain teams having their issues. Thematically these work well, but you have to go into this knowing that it’s a little more cutthroat at times than what you might be used to in Marvel Legendary.
We’re Not A Team…We’re A Time Bomb!
Now, unlike Sentinels of the Multiverse you don’t have a specific character just for yourself. Instead, the Lair is populated with a random selection and you buy the cards from there. So, you might focus on one particular villain or opt for several. Here, the theme becomes a little more abstracted, but just remember you’re taking the role of HYDRA sending in a team of villains, not just one. Despite this though, there is still a strong theme present as all the abilities on the cards reflect their characters nature. For example, Doc Ock favours 4’s and 8’s, Loki’s trickery powers, Venom’s hunger and the list goes on.
The rules themselves are fairly straightforward, but all Legendary games have one main issue and that’s the setup time. This takes a while, no matter how well you organise your collection, but certainly going the extra mile and downloading/laminating some custom dividers off BoardGameGeek will really help. You choose a Commander and create the adversary deck based on his requirements. Then you choose a plot and create the plot twist deck based on its requirements. Then you choose your villains, mix them up and create the hero deck. There’s a lot of deck creation here and it only gets worse at the end when you have to sort out all the cards before putting them back in the box. Expect your first few games to take a little longer while you get used to the process. However, if you persevere, even though Legendary Villains has a fairly high price tag, you will be rewarded.
Marvel Legendary Villains is a fun game that contains a ton of variety out of the box and there’s already an expansion being released in the UK shortly. However, I firmly believe that this edition is by far harder than the original hero-based Marvel Legendary, because some of the adversaries are incredibly tough!
For those of us who are not new to Marvel Legendary, the real pull of this standalone expansion is the ability to mix and match the heroes and villains. If you’ve watched the TV shows or read the comics in the past, there have been times when they had to band together, for various reasons, to target a greater threat. I’m glad to say that the integration of one into the other is near seamless here. The graphical design is unchanged and some villains actually pair quite well with some of the heroes in practice, although that’s usually because of the attack icons rather than by affiliations. The only slightly fiddly aspect is using both Wounds and Restraints and the fact that your team is both rescuing, yet kidnapping bystanders as well. Nothing that can’t be dealt with, but you might need to think about how it ties in thematically in each game you play.
Theme-wise it makes more sense to use the Masterminds out of the base game rather than the Commanders from Villains. Aside from defectors, I can’t think of any reason why heroes would team with villains to attack another hero… Saying that we have the upcoming Captain America: Civil War, but that’s heroes vs heroes. Not to worry though, there are plenty of Masterminds where this makes sense. Apocalypse, Galactus and Thanos are perfect examples where you can get some really epic hero/villain mixed battles going. However, be warned, this could mean a lot of boxes to carry to a game night if you’ve expanded Marvel Legendary beforehand.
If you own Marvel Legendary you’re going to find very few differences here. Aside from the restraint cards and the general feel of working within a “shaky” team, this is almost identical. All that’s happened is that the heroes have swapped places with the villains. However, this change does allow you to mix and match to your heart’s content and for some, that’s the primary reason for buying this game! Re-creating some of your favourite moments from the Marvel universe, when heroes and villains joined forces and worked side by side.
For those who, like me, simply love the Marvel Universe – Villains is a fine deck-building game, just like the original. But, if you’re new to the franchise, then it really boils down to whether you like the idea of playing the heroes or villains more.
With regards to the games components, it would have been nice to see some better dividers for sorting your cards, but the addition of the playmat is a welcome upgrade. Without proper dividers, the setup time is the main problem with Villains because there’s so many cards to mix up. Despite this failing, once you’ve set everything up and you get stuck in, it’s a great challenging co-op game with a twist in that the Villains points system actually makes sense and you won’t have to house-rule that part out.
You Will Like This Game If:
- You are a fan of the Marvel Universe.
- You prefer the villains to the heroes and want to take control of your favourites.
- You want to mix and match heroes and villains – it’s a near seamless integration.
You Will Not Like This Game If:
- You want a pure co-op game – you work together but can hurt each other too.
- You hate long setup times – creating the hero/villain decks are a fiddly affair.
- You are put off by the high price tag – definitely a license premium here.
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I'm known as The Broken Meeple, a blog, podcast and YouTube channel devoted to board and card games. I live in Portsmouth, UK, working as a Chartered Tax Advisor and I enjoy playing games of many genres and varieties with as many people as possible.