The latest standalone campaign and character cycle for FFG‘s Marvel Champions LCG at last introduces the Mutants, coming with Shadowcat/Aggression and Colossus/Protection in box. Let’s speak about Mutant Genesis.
Behold The Evolution
For those of you unfamiliar with Marvel Champions, it’s a co-operative Card Game in which you take on the role of a Hero from the Marvel Comics Universe, using a deck of Allies, Resources and Skills to take down key Villains. There’s a lot to love in Champions, but there’s a (bewildering) amount of content, so it can be a good idea to focus on a single “cycle” at a time. We’re just coming out of the exceptionally strong Spider-verse cycle, so it’s to see how the Mutant cycle compares. But we can’t consider Mutant Genesis without thinking about the core game itself…
I Need A Hero
To play, you need a copy of the core game: as well as including several iconic Hero decks (Spider-Man, Iron Man, Captain Marvel, She-Hulk and Black Panther) it also includes the core modular Encounter sets. One of the most compelling things about the game is that you are playing against an AI Villain, whose individual deck is modified by both a Standard Encounter set and any Modulars you may wish to include: so, for example, once you’ve played the introductory scenario against Rhino, you may at a later date want to throw in the modular Sinister Six encounters from the Green Goblin scenario pack.
This is one of the key strengths of the game, along with the customisation of your own deck: each Hero deck is made up not only of unique character-specific cards, but one of four suits (usually): Aggression, Justice, Leadership and Protection. All hero decks come pre-built to one aspect (well, pretty much, there are a couple of oddballs out there) but a huge part of the appeal is customising your aspect or indeed switching it out completely for another. Aggression is the most straightforward (combat, funnily enough); Justice is about Thwarting the Villain’s schemes (and is generally regarded as the strongest aspect); Leadership about buffing your team as a whole (vital at 2-4 players) and Protection is sort of support but increasingly used to be the most experimental design space (and as such probably my favourite). Anyway…
Meanwhile, Back At X-Mansion
The start of the campaign features familiar storylines involving the kidnapping of Senator Kinsey by the Brotherhood, in the form of Sabertooth (initially) followed by the creation of the Sentinels and the rise of Master Mold – all the while dealing with the persistent threats of Days of Future Past baddies Nimrod and Bastion AND Mystique just spontaneously turning up when you least expect it. It’s a challenging opening gambit (ahem) with some good scalable difficulty, albeit with the Mystique mechanics – interfering with your deck, pretending to be the Villain – proving much more satisfying than Future Past – effectively, one gets shuffled into the villain deck part-way through each scenario… Meh.
Whilst the start of the campaign felt really challenging, the back end – Brotherhood attacking the mansion, and then Magneto with his M-type Sentinels – was a wee bit disappointing, particularly after how terrifying [REDACTED] was at the end of Sinister Motives. Partly, this is because Shadowcat and Colossus are arguably the best designed pair of decks they’ve done – synergistic and completely lethal straight out of the box. They are fantastic, lots of fun, but almost TOO good: the elder spawn no damage in the entire campaign. I’m looking forward – cautiously – to trying them out with other Villains.
In terms of play style, Shadowcat has a remarkable amount of card draw, which really appeals to me (my mantra is, as my kids like to remind me, Card Draw is King). I don’t tend to play Aggression decks as they’re a bit one-dimensional and, historically, have not been fantastic in the game, often punished out of the box by low-hand size (Hulk, Thor et al) and too restrictive in solo.
However, with enough threat removal and card draw built in, Shadowcat is a delight, a really interesting twist on the Aspect; she could also bounce easily to Justice or even Protection (her native ability to flat-out ignore damage by phasing is like a souped-up Vision), though I think she’d struggle as a Leadership build. Colossus, on the other hand, is fascinating as the most Protectiony Protection deck that every Protectioned.
Rather than playing around with the aspect as a finesse deck a la Dr Strange or Spider-Gwen, it leans hard into the theme making him a tremendous team player and a LOT of fun to use: everything, in fact, that Groot should’ve been, and just isn’t. There’s a lot of similarities here between Rocket and Groot, actually, but the character design has really come on from Galaxy’s Most Wanted.
Equally, I can see Colossus working in pretty much any aspect, as his unique cards will keep him protected (ha) whatever way you choose to build him; there’s serious space for customising there. But it has to be said that the campaign itself is a bit of a let-down when it comes to developing your hero: whilst you gain new one-off “Role” cards and a couple of out of aspect event and/or upgrades, plus extra Mutant allies as you rescue them, it doesn’t feel like you’re really growing as the campaign goes on – as opposed to the Guardians going Gear shopping or the fantastic node mechanics from Sinister Motives.
Perhaps it’s unfair to compare it to Sinister Motives but, as the most recent campaign box prior to Mutant Genesis, it’s inevitable – much as Mad Titan’s Shadow built on Galaxy’s Most Wanted. Whilst not as prone to sheer table-flipping frustration as Rise of Red Skull, it’s still not quite a strong a campaign as it might have been.
Physically, the game continues to be beautiful, with stunning art that leaps off the page, sorry, card. There’s many nods to classic panels, so whether you’re a die-hard comic aficionado or just a casual pop-culture fan, you’ll find plenty to love. The campaign rulebook is always a treat, too, with its comic pages in between scenarios, as well as being well laid out. The box is sturdy but I’d still like more dividers – just having a couple that pop up seems mean when you’re clearly going to be splitting up the collection.
On balance, Mutant Genesis is still a great buy but surprisingly entry level – if you’re familiar with the game you’ll want to tackle it on Expert, or indeed dial it up to the new Heroic difficulty. It’s not the best campaign, but not the worst, and has great modulars as well as probably the best pair of out-of-the-box heroes to date. Certainly, buying this alongside Core gives you a tremendous entry level product. If you’re an experienced Champions player – or even just an experienced card-gamer – I’d recommend running it with Standard II from The Hood Scenario pack, as it makes for a more satisfying challenge. You could, actually, be a little cheeky and JUST buy The Hood Scenario pack instead of Core. I mean, hey, Santa’s an Omega-level mutant, right? So I’m sure he’d approve.