If you’re a fan of superheroes or card games, you should keep reading. Legendary combines both into one game that transports you to the world of Marvel.
Marvel is one of the most adored superhero franchises, and with the success of their cinematic universe, you don’t need to have read the comic books to be a fan. Thanks to the release of Legendary Marvel, your favourite superheroes are brought to your tabletop.
It’s your job to use the heroes at your disposal to defeat the evil mastermind and their henchmen, perhaps rescuing some bystanders along the way, to restore peace to the city.
What is Legendary?
In 2008, the first “deck-building” game was released (Dominion). Since then this genre has grown in popularity leading to more and more games that use the mechanic, Legendary is one of the best examples to date.
It’s a co-operative game for 1-5 players that takes around 30-45 minutes to play (plus setup and re-boxing). You take turns recruiting Marvel superheroes to your deck, which you draw from each turn, in the hopes that they’re strong enough to defeat the mastermind. Sounds simple? Well along the way you’ll encounter villains and henchmen trying to slow you down.
Some people term this as a semi co-operative game because at the end you can add up your victory points to find the individual winner. You get victory points from each enemy you’ve defeated and bystander you’ve rescued.
If you manage to defeat the mastermind then you can rest easy, knowing that the city is safe for another night. If the mastermind completes his scheme, then everybody loses and the villains are free to wreak havoc on the city.
Legendary Marvel Set-Up
Before you start playing, the game needs to be prepared. It comes with a large board to help you organise the cards, there are a few cards to sort and place on the board before taking the first turn:
The base game features four famous foes to act as masterminds. You need to pick one, shuffle its tactic cards, then place the mastermind card on top. This little pile goes on the corresponding space on the board.
Some masterminds are more difficult than others, determined by the amount of attack you need to defeat them. If you’re new to the game then the weaker Red Skull might be best for you, but if you want to prove yourself then Dr. Doom, Magneto, and Loki are waiting to test you.
Schemes are how the mastermind plans to triumph over the heroes. There are eight in the box, each affecting gameplay a little differently. This could be through changing how you set-up the hero/villain decks, forcing actions when you draw certain cards, or some other unique game dynamics.
The card will say how to set-up the rest of the game and explain any effects that particular scheme has, including how you lose. Once you’ve picked a scheme you can place it on the allocated board space.
A mastermind wouldn’t get very far without some goons to send into the city to do their bidding. The villain deck holds villain and henchmen groups, the number of which is based on the number of players. Each mastermind has an “Always Leads” feature. This identifies one villain group that you must pick for the villain deck when that mastermind is in play. For example, Red Skull always leads HYDRA, so they must be in the villain deck.
Bystanders are added to this deck too, along with master strikes and scheme twists which cause events to set you back. It’s very important to shuffle this deck well before adding it to the board, you don’t want to draw all your scheme twists at once!
You can’t fight villains without some heroes. This deck is much easier to make. Pick five heroes (unless the scheme twist says otherwise) and shuffle their cards together before putting them next to the HQ. Deal a hero card into each HQ space.
There are 15 heroes that have different powers and abilities. These could be X-Men, Avengers, or even the unaffiliated Deadpool. Each combination creates a completely different game.
Wounds, Bystanders, and S.H.I.E.L.D Officers
You don't need to shuffle when adding these three piles to the board. When drawn, wounds take up a space in your hand without giving you any abilities, hindering you just like any wound would.
Bystanders can be rescued to give you victory points at the end of the game. S.H.I.E.L.D Officers can be bought on your turn, just like the heroes, to be added to your deck.
With a beginning hand of eight S.H.I.E.L.D Agents and four S.H.I.E.L.D Troopers, you can begin the game. Shuffle these cards and draw six, which become your hand for the turn. The rest go face down to act as a draw pile for your next turn. At the end of your go you create a discard pile with the six cards you’ve used, plus any you gained through recruiting.
To start your next turn, you’d draw six more cards from your draw pile, then discard them at the end. When your draw pile runs out, shuffle the discard pile to make a new one.
Drawing from the Villain Deck
Every turn starts with a card being drawn from the villain deck. If it’s a villain or henchmen then it goes in the first city space, any villains there already get pushed down a spot. If a villain is pushed out of the fifth city space, then they have escaped, causing you to KO a hero from the HQ.
Some villains have “Ambush” and “Escape” effects written on their cards. Ambush effects happen when they enter the city and escape effects are done if they escape (no surprises there).
If a bystander is drawn, then they’re captured by a villain. That bystander stays with the villain until you defeat it. Should the villain escape with the bystander, each player must discard a card, since any decent superheroes shouldn’t be losing civilians.
The last cards left that you could draw are Master Strikes and Scheme Twists. These are designed to make your job harder, and they do something different in every game. The effects of Master Strikes are decided by the mastermind, which has the penalty written on their card. The scheme tells you what to do if you draw a Scheme Twist.
Once the drawn card from the villain deck is resolved, you can use the cards in your hand.
Some heroes in your deck will have a star symbol containing a number in the bottom left corner of the card. Add these numbers up across all six cards in your hand to work out how many recruit points you have.
Heroes in the HQ have a number in the bottom right corner of their card, this is their cost. If your amount of recruit points higher than the cost, you can buy the card to put on your discard pile. This could leave you with some recruiting power left over to buy more cards with.
Some heroes are more expensive than others, but a higher cost tends to come with more powerful abilities. Choosing the right heroes to buy is crucial because, if purchases are planned correctly, abilities written on hero cards can link up for some powerful combos. Replace recruited heroes from the hero deck.
You can buy S.H.I.E.L.D Officer cards too. These are cheaper, but all have the same abilities.
Some cards have an attacking symbol (a red claw mark) instead of, or as well as, the recruit symbol. Adding the attacking numbers reveals which villains you can defeat. Each enemy (masterminds, villains, or henchmen) have a number in the bottom right corner of their card. If your attack level is greater than this number, then the enemy can be defeated.
If an enemy has a “Fight” effect written on their card, you must do what it says as soon as you’ve fought them. Defeating the mastermind lets you reveal a mastermind tactic card, do what it says immediately. Revealing all the tactic cards wins you the game.
Most heroes have a “Superpower Ability” shown by a team or class icon followed by some text. You can only use the superpower ability text if you’ve already played a hero of the corresponding team/class this turn. This means you have to plan the order that you play your heroes in, a veteran player will be able to make a chain up of lots of abilities.
Some actions written on heroes or enemies may tell you to gain a wound. Draw a wound and put it in your discard pile. You can’t heal these unless another action tells you to, or you take no actions on a turn. This means no recruiting or attacking.
Healed wounds get put into the KO pile on the board. KO’d cards are out of the game for good and can’t be brought back. There are a few ways that heroes can end up here too.
If the hero or villain deck runs out of cards, you can finish your turn, but then the game is over. You didn’t catch the mastermind, but you survived the scheme, so the game ends as a draw.
Final Thoughts on Legendary Marvel
While writing this article I realised how confusing the rules sound. Then I remembered how confused I was when someone was telling me how to play for the first time, it’s a lot of information to take in. The way I learned the rules was just by playing the game. I quickly picked it up and now it’s encoded into me. This will probably be the best way for you to pick it up too, it’s definitely helpful to have somebody who already knows how to play in the game though.
While it can sound complex, there are plenty of things you can do to make it easier. One of the great features of Legendary Marvel is the ability to control the difficulty. This could be as simple as changing the mastermind you face, but the rule book makes lots of other suggestions. These include adding extra scheme twists to the villain deck, making the mastermind stronger, or having to defeat the mastermind a fifth time. New players can make things simpler while more experienced players can give themselves a challenge.
Legendary Marvel isn’t a game that you can quickly pick up and play. The set-up can take a while, especially for newcomers. You get the same problem at the end of the game when sorting the cards back into their sets ready for the next game. So, while the game lasts 30-45 minutes, consider that you’ll need 10 minutes either side for setup and re-boxing.
My favourite aspect of the game is the massive variety it offers. There are 15 heroes with different abilities, each with 14 cards that do different things. Then there are seven villain groups, four henchmen groups, and four masterminds.
It’s the eight different schemes that influence the game most though, for each one you’ll need different tactics to handle the crime. Stopping the “Secret Invasion of the Skrull Shapeshifters” will need some different skills than dealing with “Portals to the Dark Dimension”.
Replay-ability can be increased even further through expansions. These are released regularly to give you new ways to play the game. Perhaps you’re missing one of your favourite X-Men, they’re probably in the X-Men expansion. Maybe you love the Guardians of the Galaxy? They have their very own expansion too. Some expansions are harder than others, which is great for when you’re comfortable with the game and looking to challenge yourself.
A fan of the Marvel comics will appreciate the artwork on each of the cards. The images have been designed specifically for the game, so while they’re not stealing pictures from the comics, but they’re staying faithful to each character’s look and style.
I think Legendary Marvel is definitely worth buying, my collection wouldn’t feel complete without it. I’m not a comic book fan, but I don’t need to be to recognise the characterise and feel part of the game.
I can play it on my own or with a group, and the co-operative element gets us all working together to protect the city. A few games of this and you’ll be feeling like an honorary avenger.