As regular readers certainly know by now, I’m a huge fan of the card game Marvel Champions (in fact, brace yourself, because character breakdowns are probably on their way back). Last week, the game released its second campaign box expansion–a large set that contains two new heroes and five new villain scenarios, which are meant to be played in order to create a story (similar to Arkham Horror: The Card Game).
Each campaign box in Marvel Champions has a theme, and this one, “The Galaxy’s Most Wanted,” is centered on the Guardians of the Galaxy. As such, the two new heroes are the popular Guardians Rocket Raccoon and Groot. Meanwhile, the villains are an assortment of cosmic baddies: the Brotherhood of the Badoon, the Collector (who gets two scenarios to himself), Nebula, and Ronan the Accuser.
To enhance the space theme even further, players get control of Star-Lord’s ship, the Milano, over the course of the campaign. The ship gives you a few extra options per turn, and it plays a role in most of the scenarios. It’s a neat new mechanic that serves as a great example of what this box expansion does right: pushes the boundaries of Champions‘ design.
Let’s start with the heroes, Rocket and Groot. Heroes are by far the most exciting part of the game to me–new scenarios are cool, too, but I love seeing how the game represents these iconic characters. Rocket and Groot are both great, and Groot in particular has a fascinating and unique playstyle.
Rocket is focused on overkill. He’s a minion-buster; the whole goal with Rocket is not just to defeat minions, but to destroy them–if he deals excess damage to an enemy, he gets to draw more cards. This might sound relatively simple on the face of it, but in my experience, economy of damage is extremely important in Marvel Champions; wasting damage never feels good when you know you’ve got a juggernaut of a villain you could be hitting instead, or that you could draw a minion from the encounter deck at any time. Rocket upends that careful distribution by incentivizing a playstyle based on being a lot less careful with your attacks.
Groot, on the other hand, is more defensive. He has cards that encourage you to stay at max health as long as possible. He also gets a type of unique… currency, I’d almost call it (I don’t want to say ‘resource’ since that term is used elsewhere in the game), called Growth Counters. Growth Counters absorb damage, protecting that max health… but as you grow your field by playing certain upgrades, you can also start spending them on useful abilities (for instance, improving your attack or thwart, or readying up after using a basic action). This makes each of his turns a fun little puzzle–should I spend my Growth Counters here, or save them for defense? Do I want to flip to alter-ego so I can stack up more of them? I love how thoughtful and different Groot feels thanks to this mechanic.
Fresh mechanics like this are the highlight of the box, as each scenario is peppered with them as well. I’ve already mentioned the presence of the Milano, which rotates between players throughout each scenario. While the ship starts off as a pretty basic support, it can be upgraded as the game goes on thanks to another new mechanic: Units.
If you’ve played Arkham Horror: The Card Game, you’re familiar with Units–though you’d know them as XP. Yes, this box adds Victory Points and a Victory Display in its scenarios, paving the way for players to ‘buy’ new cards to upgrade their decks as the campaign moves along. That’s one of my favorite aspects of Arkham, and I’m glad to see it make the transition to Champions. In addition to regular events and such, several of the purchasable cards here are upgrades for the Milano, which I think is a neat twist to that mechanic.
The scenarios themselves are jam-packed with new ideas, too. The Collector can steal away your upgrades and supports for his collection; Nebula can stack up tons of ‘Technique’ upgrades to unleash a devastating attack; and the Ronan the Accuser fight takes the form of a game of keep-away with an Infinity Stone. Perhaps my favorite concept here, though, is Scenario #3, which is the second scenario to feature the Collector as the villain.
In this scenario, the Collector is invincible–he has infinite health. Instead of defeating a villain, the group has to focus on removing Threat from a series of schemes. I love that this scenario has a completely different win condition than any other villain in the game so far; it bodes well for the game that the designers are coming up with twists to the formula like this. It also reminds me once more of Arkham, which tends to focus more on advancing various scenario cards than defeating any specific monsters.
Overall, “The Galaxy’s Most Wanted” is a terrifically inventive and fun expansion. While it’s maybe a little harder than I’d like (Nebula and Ronan are just downright mean), the ideas inside it have me very excited for where the game could go next. In particular, the character design around Groot has me incredibly pumped for future heroes–this kind of outside-the-box thinking is going to make characters like, say, the X-Men fascinating to see in action whenever they get added to the game.