Marvel Champions is a 1-4 player superhero game. Each player takes on the role of a Marvel hero to battle it out against one of three villains. Each Hero is represented by a deck, consisting of basic cards, Hero-specific cards, and aspect cards. Each Villain is represented by a deck of cards, comprising similarly of basic villain cards, villain-specific cards, and a modular encounter set.
Marvel Champions is a Living Card Game (LCG). As such, the publisher, Fantasy Flight Games, is expanding the game with new Hero & Villain packs all the time. You can check out the ever-growing list here.
To set up the game, each player will select a Hero to play and place their identity card, alter-ego side up in front of them. The identity card will number the hit points they have and these are entered into the hit point dial. Each Hero will have an obligation card and a set of Nemesis cards, which are set aside for the moment. The player then shuffles their player deck which will consist of Hero specific cards, basic cards, and aspect cards. Hero decks come pre-constructed, but players are free to build their own decks whilst complying with the deckbuilding rules.
Next, a Villain is selected and is placed on the table along with the Villain’s main scheme and the Villain’s main deck. The Villain’s hit points are entered into the Villain’s hit point dial. The main scheme may have some setup instructions which are followed and resolved at this stage. The relevant encounter cards, modular sets, and the Heroes obligation cards are added to the Villains the main deck and shuffled to form the encounter deck.
Each player then draws a starting hand of cards, as detailed on their identity card, and can discard any number of cards drawing back up to their hand limit. If a Hero has any setup instructions, these are resolved and followed now.
The game is played over a number of rounds, alternating between the player’s turns and then the Villains turn. On a player’s turn they can perform a number of actions:
- Change form from alter ego to Hero or Hero to alter ego, but only once per round.
- Play cards from their hand, paying the relevant resource costs.
- Use their Hero’s basic attack or thwart ability (only in Hero form, exhausting their identity).
- Use an ally they control to attack or thwart (exhausting the ally).
- Activate an action card they control (and exhausting the card if applicable).
- Use their alter-egos recovery ability to gain hit points (only in alter ego form, and exhausting their identity).
Once a player has performed all of their chosen actions, the next player performs their actions until all players have passed. At this stage, players can discard any remaining cards in their hand (if they want) and draw up to their hand limit (This may change depending on the form they are in). Each player then readies all of their cards (identity, allies, action cards).
Next is the Villain phase. At the start of the Villain phase, threat is placed on the main scheme as detailed on the main scheme card. The Villain and any minions then activate against each player. If the player is in Hero form, the Villain attacks. If the player is in alter ego form, the Villain schemes and adds a threat to the main scheme. Each time the Villain activates, they draw a card from the encounter deck and add the number of boost icons to his base attack or scheme value. The Villain then deals each player an encounter card, face down and in turn order. Each player reveals and resolves the encounter card.
The first player token then passes to the next player and the player’s start the round again.
The game continues this way until the Villain has been defeated, by reducing his hit points to zero, for both stages and the player’s win. Players lose if the Villains scheme threshold reaches its maximum or they all have their hit points reduced to zero.
What I love about Marvel Champions is the way the Heroes and Villains play differently. The key to success is figuring out how the Heroes play. Their strengths, weaknesses, and how to best utilise them to take down the Villain. Certain Heroes require a certain amount of setup to become strong. These Heroes are best left in alter ego mode as you build up their suit, armour, and weapons. Once they are up and running they can be formidable characters.
Figuring out when to stop building and when to take the fight to the Villain comes with practice and experience, but it is worth that time investment. Where it might seem that you are not making progress by hitting the enemy, it’s wise to learn the “arc” of the Hero and play into that. Being efficient with your cards and trying to not have any cards left in your hand at the end of the turn is a good idea.
The board state needs to be managed very carefully. Often the best move is not necessarily just smacking the villain in the face. Controlling the minions and the side schemes that can mount up is often a better move. Keeping an eye on the main scheme threshold is also key. Knowing how the Villains play and what’s in the encounter deck can help you decide how best to defeat them. At some point, you will have to start dealing damage to the Villain. But knowing when to push and when to hold off and control the threat/minions is critical. Like the Heroes, each Villain and modular encounter set has a different feel. Knowing how to handle them is essential. The timing of when to defeat one stage and advance to the next is often a critical step.
There are four aspects in the game that all have their unique playstyles.
Aggression. As the name suggests, this is all about hitting the enemies hard and fast. Generally, aggression based Heroes are not great at thwarting and removing threat from a scheme. Subsequently, it is often a race against the threat build-up and taking the Villain down
Justice is more focused on removing threat from schemes. Justice based characters are good at managing threat and keeping things under control however they are not typically hard hitters.
Protection is all about defending, preventing damage, and healing. It can react to incoming attacks, prevent that damage, and sometimes cause reactive effects based on that.
Leadership is a very versatile deck and can do a lot of things, but is mostly about bringing out Allies. Allies can be good for attacking, thwarting and defending and is a good all-purpose aspect if used with a large selection of ally cards. Protection is reliant on these allies so Villains that target allies can make this aspect weak.
Editors note: This blog was originally published on September 12th, 2019. Updated on June 10th, 2022 to improve the information available.