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Legendary

Reviewed by: Herb Levy

(Upper Deck Entertainment, 1 to 5 players, ages 14 and up, 30-60 minutes; $59.99)

legendaryboxLike many great games, Dominion (featured in the Winter 2009 Gamers Alliance Report) has sparked a slew of successors using its core mechanism: deck building. While Dominion had only the slightest hint of theme, many games that followed added real flavor to the game mechanic. Think of Thunderstone (Spring 2010 GA Report) or Ascension (Fall 2010 GA Report) where fantasy realms were the setting, A Few Acres of Snow (featured in the Fall 2011 GA Report) where players fought the French and Indian War or Trains (featured last issue) where, as you may suspect from the title, railroads come into play. With Devin Lowe’s Legendary, another theme makes an appearance as players leap into the Marvel Universe as 1 to 5 players command various Marvel Superheroes in battle against some of the fiercest foes to ever appear on the comics page.

The large and deep Legendary box holds a mounted board which depicts the city (divided into five spaces) and a superhero “headquarters” as well as room for the various card decks of the game. And, as you would expect with any deck building game, there are lots of cards. Each player starts with a basic hand of 12 cards: 8 S.H.I.E.L.D. Agents and 8 S.H.I.E.L.D. Troopers. Agents have a value of 1 for recruiting other “good guys”; Troopers have a value of 1 in launching an attack against a chosen “bad guy”.

Bystanders have their own deck of cards as do Wounds. There is also a deck of S.H.I.E.L.D. Officers available for recruitment and use. But when it comes to the Villains and the Superheroes, decks have to be created.

Player choose one Mastermind who will command the forces of Evil. Masterminds range from Magneto to Loki to Doctor Doom to the Red Skull (who is the particular villain I love to hate). Each Mastermind comes with a set of four “Tactics” cards which come into play when the Mastermind himself is under attack. A Scheme card, randomly chosen, reveals the evil goal of the Mastermind and also reveals how many “Scheme Twist” cards will be placed in the Villain deck. Five “Master Strike” cards are added to the mix. In addition to these cards, the Villain deck consists of several Villain groups (some specified on the Mastermind card, others chosen randomly), one or two “Henchman” groups (more of but less powerful than the Villains) and some hapless Bystanders caught up in the soon to ensue mayhem. Against these forces, we amass our heroes.

legendary2The Hero deck consists of your choice of 5 different sets of Hero cards. Legendary offers many classic Marvel Comics heroes including Spider-man, Iron Man, Wolverine, Storm, Captain America, the Incredible Hulk and more. Each Hero card set comprises 14 cards, similar in artwork but often with different values and abilities. The Villain deck is placed on the board next to the city track, the Hero Deck next to the HQ track with five Heroes drawn from the top of that deck occupying headquarters. All players shuffle their hand of 12 cards, draw six and the game begins.

Game turns consist of three phases. First, the top card of the Villain deck is drawn. If a Villain (or Henchman), that card goes into the first slot in the city. If a card already occupies that slot, that card gets pushed ahead. (Should a Villain manage to go through the city and be pushed out the other side, that Villain has “escaped” – and players will pay the penalty for their inability to defeat that enemy.) Should the drawn card be a Bystander, that card gets placed under the Villain closest to the Villain deck and is considered “captured” by that villain and in desperate need of rescue. A drawn Scheme Twist indicates that the Mastermind’s scheme is moving ahead and can result in some nasty things happening while a drawn Master Strike means that the Mastermind not letting his minions do all the dirty work but that he, himself, is on the attack and will cause some damage to the good guys. Sometimes, this results in a hero being KO’d which results in the loss of a Hero card permanently! With the drawn Villain card resolved, players may now go into action with the cards held in their hands.

legendary3Hero cards display several attributes. The Star value on the left indicates the value used in recruiting new heroes into your personal deck while the Attack icon shows how many hits that card, when played, will inflict upon a Villain or Mastermind. The number found in the circle on the right indicates how many Stars it takes to recruit that Hero into your personal deck. (Recruited Heroes go into your discard pile and will surface once your deck is reshuffled.) Many Hero cards also display text which will result is something special happening (such as draw another card or discard a card from your hand to play this one or rescue a Bystander etc.) or grant you a bonus if you have already played the same type of card on a turn. You may recruit any number of Heroes from the five on display in HQ (recruited Heroes are immediately replaced by drawing the top card from the Hero Deck) or fight any number of Villains on your turn.

A player can fight – and defeat – any Villain as long as the Attack values he has on the cards played equals (or exceeds) the Villain’s attack value as displayed on his card. Villains also have a Victory Point value. Defeated Villains go into that player’s personal stash. If a Bystander had been held by that defeated Villain, the player adds that Bystander to the stash as well.

The Mastermind may also be attacked. The Mastermind is fought as with any other Villain but the Mastermind has a higher attack value and one of the Tactics cards associated with him is randomly drawn in response to an attack. (These cards can be good or bad in their effects.) Defeated Mastermind Tactics cards are also added to a player’s stash. But defeating Villains can sometimes come with a price. You might suffer Wounds in combat which forces you to add Wound cards to your deck. Wounds serve to clog up your hand unless you decide to, in essence, miss a turn to KO Wound cards in your hand and permanently remove them.) Once finished recruiting and/or attacking, players discard any remaining cards in their hand and draw a new hand of six.

Play continues in this manner until either the Scheme of the Mastermind has been realized (in which case, EVERYONE loses) OR the Mastermind has been challenged – and DEFEATED – four times. In that case, good has triumphed over evil. All players compare the Victory Point totals of the cards they have accumulated in their stash: Mastermind Tactics cards they have won, Villains defeated and Bystanders rescued. High scorer is the winner and the hero who is truly legendary.

If you’ve played Dominion or any of the other games using deck building as a core ingredient, then Legendary will be easy to learn. But Legendary differs from other deck building games in that the Mastermind has a goal that works against the players; you are, in effect, fighting the game! This creates a duality of purpose for players. On the one hand, you have to work, cooperatively, to defeat the Mastermind’s master plan while, on the other hand, act competitively to maximize your score. Action is constant as new Villains appear, new Heroes get added to the fray and players have to decide how best to use their cards each turn. You can use every attribute of each card (special powers, Attack or Recruit points). It might have been interesting – and increase decision making options – if players could only use a card’s special ability at the expense of Attack or Recruit points. Still, because there is no such restriction, the game moves quickly. Of course, with more players, downtime between turns can be a factor so, although the game handles up to five, four is probably the sweet spot.

The many permutations available in play, from choosing different configurations of heroes to assemble to choosing different teams of villains to battle to having different schemes and master plans presenting different set ups and challenges make this game feel fresh and exciting each time it hits the table. Rules provide a “sliding scale” of ways to adjust the difficulty in case you find the challenge too hard or too easy which is a nice touch. And the game does work well as a solo experience. (The game provides rules and a scoring guide for that.) Game play is enhanced by the original artwork on the cards that is beautifully rendered and looks like it came right out of the comic book pages. For the most part, this works extremely well – although gold lettering on a gold background may not be the wisest graphic choice.

Any game which provides a large dose of Superhero excitement is hard to resist. This is certainly true of Legendary, which is well crafted, beautifully presented and is, in a word, MARVEL-ous.


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