Arena Review: Marvel Legendary: Dark City

Legendary quickly became one of my favorite games at the beginning of this year. The combination of an incredible license, solid game play and a terrifying amount of options were enough for me to put its expansion in a must-buy-immediately category. Plus Tom was coming up the weekend after it was released, so I knew I was going to have a captive teammate.

Suggested ages: 14 and up
Number of players: 1 – 5
Playing time: 45 minutes
Contents: Rule insert, 350 cards
Retail price: $39.99 and available on Amazon.com

The rules of Legendary haven’t really changed. You take an assortment of heroes from the Marvel Universe, select a super villain, a dastardly scheme, some henchmen and go to town. The engine is similar to Ascension with two resources (attack and recruit) but the board is different with a row of heroes and a row for villains. It’s a minor change, but certainly helps the game feel more unique than something like DC Deck-Building or Lord of the Rings. Technically the game is considered “semi-co-op” since villains have victory points assigned to them so there is a “winner” at the end, but we almost always play it as strictly co-op – some schemes really require it – and just count the points for fun.

Dark City is the first expansion for Legendary and goes above and beyond what I ever thought an expansion would be. When I first heard about it, I didn’t realize just how big this expansion is – it is almost bigger than the core game!

One big change to the game is now that each hero card has unique art. The single artwork in the first set was odd, but made sense. This time though, all four of the different hero cards have unique art. Some of the art is stunning and looks exceptional, while other pieces leave more to be desired – but that is probably a direct result of quadrupling the art requirements for the game.

There are 17 new heroes included in this set and it introduces two new factions – Marvel Knights and X-Force (which still leaves Spider-Man awkwardly alone). Marvel Knights are the street level heroes like Daredevil, Punisher and Elektra. X-Force is an awkward splitting of the X-family since it includes Cable, Wolverine and Colossus. But the X-Men faction gets a lot of support with Jean Grey, Bishop and Nightcrawler.

To give these heroes some depth, each of them feels unique and offers a new way of building. Jean Grey is about bystanders, while Elektra focuses on smaller heroes. The real fun comes from characters like Daredevil, who helps manipulate the top of your deck, and Punisher who can turn you deck into a giant gun. But my favorite in the set has to be Nightcrawler and the new ability, “Teleport!” Teleport allows you to set aside a card, unused, and add it to your hand next turn. This allows for some very interesting bamfing back and forth and one game resulted in me having a 7 card deck accidentally. Domino is also included with a new ability – “Versatile (Number)”. When you play her, you get to pick whether she adds attack or recruit!

While the heroes are a big chunk of the game, Dark City lives up to its name by introducing five new masterminds: Stryfe, Sinister, Kingpin, Mephisto and Apocalypse. These villains are terrifying in battle. Gone are the friendly foes like Red Skull and Doctor Doom who are filled with presents like some macabre pinata. If you face Apocalypse, you feel the pressure as his horsemen try to destroy you. Sinister keeps kidnapping bystanders for experimentation, while Mephisto relentlessly wounds you. Aside from Master Strike abilities, each mastermind has an additional ability that affects the game continuously and allows them to get tougher to defeat as the game wears on. All of the masterminds feel like threats and that is the way it should be.

To aid the masterminds are six new villain groups as well! Like the masterminds, these different groups feel unique in their own ways. The kidnapping Marauders team up with Sinister a little too well, while the Four Horsemen of Apocalypse make me want to cry myself to sleep. Mephisto’s Underworld contains some fan favorite demons like Blackheart and the Emissaries of Evil include classic Spidey villains like Electro and Rhino. Even the Kingpin’s Streets of New York include Bullseye and a special villain mechanic: bribe.

Bride is another keyword in the set and is an easy one – instead of defeating villains with bribe with damage alone, you can use any combination of recruit and power to defeat them. It’s a nice touch and allows for fewer dead hands.

But the final villain group makes barely any sense to me: MLF. The Mutant Liberation Front is associated with Stryfe rightfully so, but just feel like a handful of D listers that got randomly added in because someone really loved X-Force in the early 90s. Two new henchmen groups are provided as well: the bribeable Maggia Goons and the tech-hungry Phalanx. Both are nice changes, but there is a weird undercurrent to this game that seems to be tech-centric.

If all that wasn’t enough for an expansion, Dark City brings a handful of new schemes to the table. The schemes change how each game is played and the creativity expressed here is impressive. Whether the villain is trying to capture baby Hope or blow up the Helicarrier, each one feels high-stakes and eventful. The closest to a boring scheme is a massive earthquake generator! This is far better than robbing Midtown Bank, right? Sadly, the schemes still have the same artwork which doesn’t make much sense since it’s Venom, Scorpion and Doc Ock standing around.

The last change to the game is the introduction of unique bystanders. Now the bystander deck is facedown and has the chance of giving you a News Reporter, Radiation Scientist or Paramedic which include an extra bonus like drawing or KO’ing a card. They’re a nice touch and can make some interest dynamics when you intentionally put them in harm… not that we did that. Much.

All in all, this expansion includes 350 cards and that is astounding since the core game included 500 cards but over 150 of those were starter cards required to play. So there is actually more content in this expansion. That’s kind of nuts. But this expansion isn’t a stand alone experience as it doesn’t include any of the starting cards like SHIELD Agents, Maria Hill, Wounds, regular Bystanders or Scheme Twists.

Even better, the game fully sleeved still fits in the original box with the dividers. There’s barely any extra space so I don’t know what I’m going to do when we get to the Fantastic Four. Now, even with all this greatness and value, the game does still have a handful of odd flaws.

First, the box is less than a centimeter too big to fit in the core box. It’s a shame because it has a great divider and holds sleeved cards with ease. The art is generally good too, but a handful of pieces look rushed and I think are a different artist all together. I’m fine with different art and styles, but it might be worth flushing out the in-house style a bit more (especially since we thought Iron Fist was Batman once).

Another gripe that we can’t do anything about is the clean up of the game at the end. Sorting out the villain deck into each group and the hero deck by hero is time-consuming and a serious drain on fun. Finally, this game seems to be fighting some serious power creep – especially in the bosses. I don’t ever see us bringing out Red Skull as a mastermind again, but maybe he’ll become a villain in the regular deck.

In the end, Legendary: Dark City (which hilarious abbreviates to Legendary: DC) is a fantastic expansion. This system clearly works and the Marvel mythos have so much potential for further growth. The inclusion of X-Force Wolverine is interesting too since it shows how the same character can play differently. So as long as Upperdeck can give their artists more time, the next expansion will be a must-buy too.

Pros
Alternate art on all heroes!
New masterminds fight back. Hard.
Bigger than the original set!
Innovative and creative schemes
New abilities on villains and heroes add new strategies

Cons
Some of the art is awkward
Power creep kills the old masterminds
Still terrible clean up after each game
Expansion is not a standalone experience