Arena Review: Marvel’s Legendary by Upper Deck

As someone who has been playing Magic: the Gathering for close to 20 years, it comes as no surprise that I love card games. One of the few things I’ve done longer than play Magic though is read comics, so when Upper Deck announced that they were making a deck building game with the Marvel license, I was excited.

Suggested ages: 14 and up
Number of players: 1 – 5
Playing time: 45 minutes
Contents: Rulebook, game board and 500 cards (plus 60 dividers)
Retail price: $59.99 and available on Amazon.com

Upper Deck isn’t a brand I usually associate with card games, but if Legendary is any indication of where the company is going, it is a good thing. In the spectrum of deck building card games, Legendary falls between Ascension and Dominion with a dash of Penny-Arcade the Game – sort of. It is a co-op deck builder where you join up a ragtag team of heroes to take down a villain and their lackeys.

Legendary sounds complicated when you describe it to people (which is probably why the instructions say the easiest way to learn is just jumping in). You have a deck of heroes, a villain deck constructed of henchmen, a mastermind villain pile, wounds, bystanders, Maria Hills and then a scheme. It sounds over the top, but the execution makes a lot of sense. The goal is to defeat the mastermind by recruiting heroes before they can enact their scheme.

Legendary includes 17 different heroes to pick from, ranging from the classics like Captain America and Spider-Man to various X-Men like Cyclops and Rogue. But it is lacking a lot of classic characters like the Fantastic Four, Ghost Rider and Daredevil. The selection is basically the X-Men and Avengers plus Spider-Man.

Each hero has a different theme that influences how your deck is built. Iron Man is about drawing cards, while Wolverine is chaining attacks. Captain America goes for diversity, while Hulk is all about smashing. The assortment is decent, especially when odd pairings make for neat combos – like Hulk and Deadpool (Deadpool is all about random stuff).

Like Ascension, the hero row is five heroes that replace the cards whenever needed. Unlike Ascension, the hero row is only heroes – villains get their own row! This is a nice shift because it means you almost never have dead turns… unless there aren’t any villains to fight. The goal of the game is to defeat the mastermind four times before either they complete their nefarious scheme, or their henchmen overrun the city.

Four masterminds are included and each of them comes with four tactic cards, similar to the loot cards in Penny-Arcade. When you defeat Doctor Doom, you might get an extra turn or a free hero as a reward. It’s a nice dash of randomness, but the masterminds aren’t evenly designed. Red Skull feels like he’s on training wheels, especially since he’s too easy to defeat. Magneto is cool, but if your group of heroes doesn’t contain any X-Men, he’s less fun.

Doctor Doom is probably the most fun since all of his loot is about getting extra stuff. Finally there is Loki who is downright mean. Loki feels like the kind of mastermind you’d want to fight in a non-co-op game because he fights back.

When making the villain deck, you have to follow the rules set forth by the scheme. The schemes are your standard comic book plots, like harnessing the power of the Cosmic Cube, hosting a secret invasion of the Skrulls or just robbing a bank in midtown. Okay, that last one is a bit off, especially given the masterminds. But these different scenarios allow for a variety of strategies to be played out. With 8 different schemes in the box, there is plenty to keep the game fresh. And most importantly, the schemes tell you how you can lose.

The biggest gripe I have about the schemes is that all of them use the same artwork! The sinister six (most likely) just look menacing which is fine, but when the scheme is about replacing all the world leaders with kill-bots, it feels a bit wrong and kind of cheap.

The villain deck’s construction is outlined by the scheme and might require certain groups. The Masterminds always lead a certain group, like Loki and the Enemies of Asgard or Red Skull and H.Y.D.R.A. But the rest of the group is fairly open, like Spider-Foes (Green Goblin, Lizard, Doc Ock and Venom) or Masters of Evil (Baron Zemo, Melter, Ultron, and Whirlwind). It’s a solid assortment of Marvel’s villains (but seriously, Melter is in this game?) but leaves me scratching my head about where the line between villain and mastermind is. I don’t think Ultron is taking orders from anyone.

The final groups for the villain deck are small pieces of cannon fodder. Hand Ninjas, Sentinels, Savage Land Mutants and Doombots round out the group as the easiest to kill. They’re decent, but some have much better rewards then others.

While the game is co-op, there can be an ultimate winner. If you want to figure out which of the players is the most “legendary,” you can count up victory points that each villain card is worth at the end of the game.

Now here’s my biggest gripe about the villain deck: if you’re going to sleeve the game, you have to sleeve all the villain cards the same as the heroes, because some schemes put heroes in the villain deck. So I hope you like sorting cards.

The cleanup of this game is really the worst part of it. Unlike Dominion where every card has a stack at the end, Legendary leaves you with two giant, shuffled decks and each player’s deck as well. Since you can’t cheat it by sleeving cards differently, the end of this game is more annoying than most.

But I will hand it to Upper Deck; the fully sleeved game fits perfectly into the box – with room to spare! An expansion or two could easily be stored in here as well. As an added bonus, extra dividers are included so the cards don’t all mix together.

I really like Legendary as a game, especially since no one will play Ascension with me anymore. The theme of being a group of heroes working together is great (plus the fact that this has a solo variant doesn’t hurt), and the boss tactic cards bring the best element of Penny-Arcade the Game out to a new audience.

The artwork repetition is annoying, especially on the schemes, but the more I play, the more the bursting out of the frame design begins to appeal to me… except in the case of Wolverine where almost all of his cards look the same. The heroes are good, the villains are great and given Marvel’s extensive history to draw from, I can see this continuing for a long a time. But Legendary isn’t cheap and that is the biggest thing holding it back from being the next big deck builder.

PROS

  • Great license
  • Each hero plays differently
  • Crazy amount of customization
  • Schemes change the game
  • Co-op vibe
  • Sleeved, it all fits in the box – and there is extra space!
  • Nice design on hero rarities

CONS

  • Can’t sleeve everything differently so clean up blows
  • Same art on EVERYTHING – especially bad on schemes
  • Really just Avengers & X-Men + Spidey
  • ULTRON IS A HENCHBOT?!
  • Game is begging for a VS mode
  • Feels like there is an expansion already in the works
  • No randomizer deck
  • Where the hell is the Fantastic Four?
  • $60 is a lot