Sadly I never grew up on comics, only animated series and of course now the Marvel Cinematic Universe, so I've missed out on a lot of cool stories with the Marvel crew and just haven't the time these days to start (or even begin to find out where I'm supposed to enter from, there's so many comics). A lot of good things are said about the Planet Hulk and World War Hulk storylines though, even Thor Ragnarok apparently borrowed some of the source material and even though I wouldn't necessarily know what elements those were, boy was that movie awesome!
Legendary Marvel is now, I think, on its 16th expansion. Part of me wants it to stop, but then part of me doesn't care. I have a huge wooden vault box for all my Legendary games and even though I'll never be able to take it to a game night ever due to the size/weight, it works nicely at home for storage. And this is the biggest expansion yet, pipping even the likes of X-Men. Over 400 cards, it's insane! But Hulk has been somewhat absent from all the other expansions out there when you think about it. We got his Core version.........and then what? So for those who have missed out on the Hulkness, well consider this the expansion for you!
Does it feel thematic, are the new mechanics fun, is the game still stupendously difficult and should this be considered as a first or later buy in the franchise?
More, More, More!!
Other expansions to date have tried to shoehorn in alternate variants and play modes to the mix as well as more cards and keywords. World War Hulk doesn't bother with the alternate variants, it's all about the cards and there are over 400 of them here. It's the biggest expansion to date and in a way I'm glad to see that it's just more of the good stuff.
Secret Wars added some weird new characters, but also that somewhat pointless "Control the Mastermind" mode - does anyone ever play that? We still don't have an effective Solo mode other than obscure BGG variants and personally I think just piloting 2-3 decks solo is a better way to do it. In fact, to be honest the only new "mode" mechanic I've liked is the Horror cards you can add to Masterminds to make them harder from the X-Men Expansion. It rejuvenated old classic Masterminds that by now would have gotten way too easy to beat.
With World War Hulk, you've got plenty of new keywords (with a couple repeats) that are pretty easy to grasp, but add some interesting deck building ideas. Mastering some of them will take more time, but rules-wise, you'll probably have no trouble remembering how they operate when you start mixing everything together. It's also cool and thematic that they've gone with a similar approach to the Civil War Expansion where heroes can still be villains.
For example, you might be Hulk as the hero trying to stop the Illuminati (made up of smart Marvel heroes) from sending him into space. But on the flip side when Hulk returns enraged seeking vengeance, suddenly Hulk is the Mastermind and Earth's Mightiest Heroes are trying to stop him.
The New Abilities
Discard a different card to an attack boost equal to the Smash value - simples. Not hard to learn or even master, but it combos well with other similar mechanics like Berserk from earlier sets. Bonus attack is given for shouting "HULK SMASH" before you play each card. #NotTrue
If you can reveal a total of three different costs among all your cards in your hand, you trigger a unique ability. Even without trying, it's usually quite easy to trigger this as it also includes basic SHIELD heroes as "0". Just don't combine it with Spider-Man any time soon! Also works on villains though so be prepared!
Get +1 attack per wound in the active player’s discard pile. Again this can apply to both heroes and villains to both equally benefit heroes who love hurting themselves to make them angry (oh look, Hulk!) and also punish them with villains succumbing to their bloodlust. A neat addition and again, simple to use.
One of the repeated keywords - KO the top card of your deck. Previously only really a villain trait, but now you have hero cards with Feast as well, which would sound nuts at first. However most make it less painful by allowing you to manipulate or check the top of your deck before feasting so you only KO the cards you want. For those who like to fine-tweak their decks mid-game for efficiency, this is for you.
CROSS-DIMENSIONAL X RAMPAGE
I do hate this keyword - not necessarily for the effect, just the silly long name that has to be printed on every card. Was no shorter alternative possible? The returning keyword forces players to either reveal a figure matching the name (X) from their hand, in play, or the victory pile or gain a wound. They have however cleared up the rules regarding the "name in the title" confusion so that's a plus point as it was a little clunky beforehand.
And here is the newcomer with the biggest impact in World War Hulk. All of the heroes, plus all of the masterminds from this set, transform into different cards! You have a separate pile of "transformed cards" that stays with your hero but isn't part of your deck. Other cards that you acquire will have a condition that if met results in you exchanging the card for the upgraded transformed version.
Typically, these will trade recruit boosts for attack boosts keeping with the theme of the set. For example, Bruce Banner turning into the Hulk. This is a cool and new ability that allows for some fun changes to your deck to occur mid-game. They advise placing the two cards in the same sleeve to save on space, but for me that raises the question of "bulkness" when shuffling and not cheating. Masterminds basically have two sides to their tactics cards, so it basically raises the variety in what effects can trigger during a game.
Now I'm not going to go into detail in every single hero and mastermind in World War Hulk because I don't consider myself an expert on Marvel Legendary, I just enjoy playing the game. There are also too many heroes to note here. Other articles can tackle that part if you want giant spoilers.
The Masterminds themselves are varied, but also not a pushover to beat. The Illuminati and King Hulk are definitely tough, but they're tough in different ways. One slows you down like crazy, the other beats you to a living pulp! Thunderbolt Ross is probably the easiest here, but even he's no lightweight, though he is a fun thematic boss to fight given this is Hulk we're dealing with! His transform feels organic as well switching from an obsessed General with his army of helicopters to the Red Hulk when he resorts to just straight up smashing. What I am grateful for though most of all is that none of the Masterminds, no matter how tough, rival some of the previous expansions for Masterminds which are damn near impossible to beat (I'm talking to you X-Men.......)
The Heroes are for the most part, pretty sweet in how they operate and combo. There's also a really wide mix of characters here from the human (or humanoid anyway) characters, to the various Hulk's, to all sorts of weird alien creatures. Obviously, those who know the lore will instantly recognise every single one present. For others, not so much, but I welcome a diverse mix of teams here even if just from a comedy perspective.
I haven't come across any duds apart from maybe Caiera who is a bit more unusual, but fans of Marvel will be more than pleased to finally see She-Hulk in the mix as well as Bruce Banner. For me, I was most keen on piloting the Hulkbuster Iron Man - my favourite action scene from Age of Ultron by far.
Final Thoughts on World War Hulk
You won't even get this far before buying the expansion if you're a fan of Hulk whether by the character or the original comics this is based on. Rather than implement game-changing variants like some recent additions have done, this is almost like a giant version of "more of the good stuff". There is no alternate play mode, no difficulty variant, just 400+ cards that boost up your heroes, villains, schemes etc with a variety of new keywords which in essence are pretty straightforward to grasp, if maybe a little trickier to master in-game.
I likely wouldn't recommend World War Hulk as a first expansion purchase though. You're strapped for choice these days and if you can get hold of Dark City, it still remains a very good entry level expansion. Most players are picking them based on the characters they love and I still advise doing that. If that means Hulk is a must-buy for you, then go ahead, you won't be disappointed with the contents. It's a solid expansion all round.