“Welcome to the future.” – Magneto
I’m going to let you in on a little secret: I’m a geek. I know, you must be thinking to yourself, “What!?! That can’t be right!” It is, in fact, the truth. One aspect of geekdom that has always fascinated me is comic books. I don’t collect them, or even read that many, but the ideas and stories and iconography have always held a place in my heart. Larger than life people with extraordinary power that just want to make the world a better, or safer, place to live for the rest of us. The teams were always a favorite of mine: Avengers, Fantastic Four, X-Men. Different people with different abilities and different backgrounds all coming together for the greater good. Gives one hope for the future. Then there is the art itself, some of the most stunning images I have ever seen.
That is why I jump at the chance to play anything that allows me to become one of these amazing heroes. Many a videogame has come along that has allowed me to fight alongside such greats as Spiderman, Cyclops, Thing, even the Hulk. Unfortunately, not many board games have lived up to the expectations I have of living in a comic book universe, so I was hesitant to give Legendary a try. Like the great heroes themselves, I overcame my fear and forged onward.
Legendary, like the title suggests, is a deck building game based on the Marvel comics produced by Upper Deck. It is for up to five players and has rules for a solo game. It is often referred to as a “semi-cooperative” game where the game itself can defeat all the players, but if it is defeated, the player with the highest Victory Point count is the ultimate winner. There isn’t a lot of player interaction, although there are cards that can affect the other players.
Let me begin from the moment I opened the box. I was actually pretty upset when I looked upon the ruin that was the inside of the box. All of the decks of cards were originally held together with little plastic strips, but by the time I had gotten it home, most of them had come loose and were a jumbled mess. Even the few bundles that were still together were not in any particular order. The rule book had nothing that explained what cards went into what decks and so it took us the better part of an hour to get it all sorted out. The box did come with a plastic tray to hold the cards, as well as a bunch of divider cards to help find the ones you want. These were blank and was no help in figuring out what went where. The board is large and folded weirdly, but looks very nice and is of sturdy construction. The artwork on the cards themselves is fantastic. All original art commissioned just for this game.
The game’s cards are broken up into a few groups: Heroes, Villains, Henchmen, Master Minds, Wounds, Bystanders, and S.H.I.E.L.D. agents. There are also the starter decks for each of the five players.
At the start of the game you must decide who the Mastermind is going to be. This is the Big Bad Guy that is attempting to ruin your day. You have the choice of Dr. Doom, Loki, Red Skull, or Magneto. Each comes with four cards that must be defeated in order for the players to win the game and each influences what other villains you will be facing. If you pick Red Skull, for example, you will have to face the armies of Hydra. Next, you determine what scheme the Mastermind is using to defeat the heroes. There are eight different schemes to chose from, all with very different effects and difficulty. The scheme also tells you some of the setup for the villain deck.
Next up for the Villain deck are the villains themselves. There are seven different villain groups to choose from, the number you use is dependent on the number of players, usually around three or four. These range from the Brotherhood of Mutants to Spider Foes and contain such dastardly dudes as Sabertooth or Dr. Octavius. Each group has eight cards, two copies of four villains. What good villain doesn’t have minions? They are next up for the bad guys. Only one or two of these groups go into the deck and are just like villains, but generally weaker. There are four groups to choose from, all of which contain ten identical cards. Doom Bots anyone?
To round out the villain deck you add a number of Bystanders (extra VP for saving them), Scheme Twists (further the Mastermind toward victory), and Master Strikes (the Mastermind doing the dirty work himself). These all get shuffled together and placed on the board, ready to spring into action.
The hero deck is much easier to put together. You choose five of the fifteen different hero options and mix them together. Each hero has fourteen cards split into four different variations. All fourteen cards do have the same art work, which I was a little disappointed in. It is such good work, I would have like to see more of it. Another nit pick about the design of the cards: the coloring of the titles of each card. With the colorful and busy background art, the titles can be difficult to read on a lot of the cards.
The rest of the cards (Wounds, Bystanders, Shield Agents) get placed on the board in their designated spot. It is a lot of setup, but no more than the other deck builders I have played. The starter deck that each player starts with includes twelve cards, of which you draw six, then the game can start. Five heroes are drawn and place into the HQ where they are available to recruit by the players.
The first step in a turn is to draw a card from the villain deck. If a villain or henchman is drawn, they are placed into the city. The city is broken up into five areas: Sewers, Bank, Rooftops, Streets, Bridge. Each villain gets played into the Sewers, pushing any others already in play down one spot if needed. If a villain or henchmen gets pushed off the bridge, they escape, usually with harmful affects for the players. When a villain is drawn, they might have an Ambush ability which would be followed as soon as they are played. Each also has a Fight ability that triggers when they are attacked. If a bystander card is drawn instead, they are captured by the closest villain to to deck, increasing the number of Victory Points that villain is worth.
The player then plays the six cards in their hand. The order of play can be important, so it is good to plan ahead. Each hero has one of two stats: Recruit Points or Attack Points, or both. Recruit Points are used to, naturally, recruit heroes. Each of the five heroes that are in the HQ are available to recruit by the player if they have enough to pay the point cost. Recruited heroes are then placed into the players discard pile and a new one is drawn and added to the HQ. There is no limit to the number of heroes you can recruit on your turn, as long as you can afford the cost. Attack Points are used to take down the baddies laying waste to the city. If you have a number of attack points equal to any of the villains, or even the Mastermind, then you can defeat that card. Defeated villains are placed into your Victory Pile, along with any bystanders they captured, and are not put into your deck. There is also no limit on how many you can fight, as long as you have enough attack points do defeat them. You can also fight and recruit on the same turn. At the end of your turn, you discard your hand and draw six new cards, shuffling the discards when needed.
Each hero has a class and a team that can come into play in different ways. Some villains may force you to show that you have a Strength hero, or an X-men, to avoid KO’ing a hero. KO’ed cards are removed from the game entirely. Some heroes may fight better if there is another member of their team also being played, or if you played a certain class before that hero. Paying attention to these abilities is key to maximizing your hero’s effectiveness.
The game continues like this until either the Mastermind is defeated four times, or the defeat condition of the scheme comes to pass. The game also ends if either the villain deck or hero decks run out of cards. In these cases that game is considered a draw. If the Mastermind won, then none of the players win. If the Mastermind was defeated, then each player counts the number of victory points they have gained and whoever has the most points wins.
Overall, I’ve really enjoyed playing Legendary and it will continue to see table time. To me, this would be a fantastic introduction to the genre. It is not complicated to play (aside from setup) and most people at least recognize many of the icons in the game. The play style reminds me of Thunderstone, if a bit simplified. There are no weapons to equip or spells to cast, just heroes to recruit. The strategy does not feel overly deep or complex for beginners, but there is enough to keep fans of the deck builders engaged. Depending on the setup, it can be very easy to defeat the Mastermind and the game is just a race to see who can end the game while they have the most points. I would say this is a majority of the time, as I’ve only seen the Mastermind win once so far, and that was a beating. There are certain combinations of scheme/villain/mastermind that can be difficult to beat. The rules also have some optional setups if you would like a more difficult, or easier, game.
There really are no cooperative elements besides everyone losing. There are no cards that allow you to help another player defeat a villain, nor are there any that would stop them from defeating one either. I believe it should be played purely competitively, with little regard to what might hurt the other players. I know, not very heroic, but hey, I play to win.
Like most of my newer games, I have yet to win a game.