Upper Deck’s 2012 release of Legendary: A Marvel Deck Building Game was surprising on multiple levels. First, Upper Deck released a complete, non-collectible game. Second, it was really good! While it certainly cribbed on the mechanics of the popular Ascension deck building game (two types of currencies, one to fight for victory points (VPs) and another to spend on cards for your deck), it improved upon them to make a fairly solid and challenging cooperative game. It wasn’t free from criticism, though. In the game, you don’t play as any particular hero. This thematic element is something that drives some to prefer the DC Comics Deck-Building Game, as they take on the particular roles of heroes. The competitive element of the game, in which the true winner is determined by who holds the most VPs, also serves to disconnect players from the experience. We took down the supervillain, but only one of us walks away the hero? “Copetitive” is a word used to describe this, and it doesn’t work.
Well, it doesn’t work for the original Legendary game. Legendary Villains is one of the latest entries in Upper Deck’s growing Legendary family of games. The game’s mechanics are identical to the original game in the series, but the cards and the feel are different. Playing with supervillains (and some non-super villains) means there’s no disconnect in the copetitive gameplay. And, in all honesty, the new cards help players feel like a supervillain.
Full disclosure: I’ve only been able to play solo games of this so far. Despite that, the idea of screwing over your teammates as you attempt to foil the plots of the heroes makes a lot of sense, especially as a reader of Marvel comics. When villains team-up, one tends to be the standout as a leader of sort, and that person tends to have the most to gain. That individual will also foil his “friends” at the drop of a hat if it means he can get away or get something he wants. Cards with negative results for your teammates, of which there are a few (one of the basic cards, the Bindings card, is a useless card that takes up space if you gain it; if you have more than one and do nothing on your turn, you can give those cards to another player), make perfect thematic sense.
The new Dodge mechanic found on many cards in the set really makes the game stand out. A card that says Dodge on it can be used as normal for whatever ability it has, or the Dodge ability can be used by simply discarding that card and drawing a new card. This is a thematically sound and mechanically rewarding ability. Villains often have many tricks up their sleeves and take risks when they get desperate. This mechanic is just that. When you discard the card to draw something else, you usually do not know what you are going to get. When you Dodge your hand and come out with less worthwhile cards than those you discarded, you feel like there is no one to blame for that decision but yourself. However, when you Dodge through a number of cards and find yourself with a better hand, you feel extremely satisfied.
Granted, just like in the original Marvel version of the game, you are not playing as any particular villain. The mechanics make you feel like you’re a villain, though. The fact that you have a hand full of cards featuring classic Marvel villains makes you feel even more powerful. You’re a puppet master, pulling the strings to use those villains for your own gains. And it’s a great feeling when you win.
Something additional I have to comment on as a Marvel fan is just how good of a job Upper Deck did with keeping classic villains while also making sure the set was up to date. I am a bit disappointed that villains-turned-heroes like Magneto and Venom are recruitable villains in the game and prominently featured on the box, but I understand that fans who do not keep up with the comics will want these villains to be villains in the game. On the other hand, it was satisfying to find that one of the good guy groups you fight in the game is the Uncanny Avengers, the Nick Fury you fight in the game is Nick Fury, Jr., and some of the Loki cards feature artwork of him in the younger form he used recently in Journey into Mystery and Young Avengers.
This game gets my recommendation for fans of Marvel Comics, fans of deck building games, and fans of cooperative games who like the idea of stepping on each other’s toes while doing so. I cannot recommend this to traditional coop game fans who want as few outside obstructions as possible, people who hate having to refer to small print card text, and to people who greatly dislike the amount of time put into setup and cleanup due to the lack of organization in the box.