As an avid player of Legendary, I wasn't all that interested when Fantasy Flight Games announced that they would be publishing Marvel Champions, the latest in their line of Living Card Games that has included Call of Cthulhu and Lord of the Rings. As it is I feel like I've barely scratched the surface of the available content for Legendary, so why would I need more than one Marvel super hero card game? And besides, I really don't have time for another game where you have to build decks.
However, as I started to find out more about the game, I got more interested. It looked like the structure would be similar to FFG's Lord of the Rings: the Card Game, but refined and streamlined, and the deck building could be reduced to simply choosing a hero and what the game calls an "aspect," a theme such as aggression, protection, leadership, or justice. I was intrigued enough to give it a try.
The game's similarities to Lord of the Rings are very apparent, with the focus on narrative and the primary player decision being whether to spend your turn fighting adversaries or progressing the story (in this case, thwarting the main villain's evil scheme). It's cooperative, with each player taking on the role of a hero and teaming up to foil one of a variety of villains whose actions are controlled by the game. The cards are divided into allies & support cards that stay in play and events that have a one-time effect, and there's even one card, Nick Fury, that is clearly a direct translation of the Gandalf card from Lord of the Rings.
Despite the similarities, however, Marvel Champions has enough unique elements to make it more than a simple re-skin. The game uses an ingenious system to reflect the classic "secret identity" trope: your deck is built around a single character with a double-sided card: hero on one side, and civilian identity on the other. Many cards will only work with one side or the other, with attacks and other proactive actions associated with the hero side, and recovery and support actions with the civilian side. The way the villains behave also depends on which identity is active -- if you're in heroic mode they'll attack you, but if you're hiding out in your civvies they'll work on progressing their evil scheme, which if completed will cause the heroes to lose the game.
In addition to the main villain and his assorted thugs, each hero brings their own set of cards representing their arch-enemy and personal obligations, which may be shuffled into the villain deck at various points during the game, which really adds to the sense of story.
So how is it different from Legendary? Well, apart from being a somewhat different style of game (Legendary is a deck building game where players build a deck during the game, while in Marvel Champions players begin the game with a deck representing their chosen hero), the sense of story is more developed and personalized in Marvel Champions. In Legendary, players choose five heroes at the start of the game, and then spend the game buying cards associated with those heroes, looking for useful combinations of cards but not necessarily focusing on a single character -- the sense is that the players are unseen tacticians guiding the action. In Marvel Champions, you are playing as a particular character such as Spider-Man or Captain Marvel, using their unique allies and abilities to foil the villain. I enjoy both games for different reasons, and don't see a reason to choose one or the other.
Rating: 5 (out of 5) a unique and compelling game that plays well right out of the box but also supports a level of expansion and customization that should keep most collectible card game players happy.