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I was at GenCon judging for UDE. Right now WoW TCG is on life support here in Atlanta (there’s only one group actively playing and it is over an hour away from my house, so it’s very inconvenient for me to get there regularly) and WoW Minis never really got off the ground. But there’s still a core of players here that continue to play Vs. I have folks over to my house a couple times a month to do some drafting of older sets. So, there was a lot of interest from my fellow gamers about the new game coming out. I was able to get some time with Ben Seck, one of the designers of the game and the Brand Manager of the Marvel Superstars line, to demo the game and to ask him some questions about design goals and why some specific decisions were made. I’ll primarily discuss the game and rules first and try to hold off on commentary and discussion of design decisions until later.

First off, a few things to get out of the way:

– This is not Vs. – The game engine is similar to the WoW TCG, but does not have as much complexity as WoW (primarily because it doesn’t have to try to replicate a lot of WoW’s idiosyncracies like totems, tanking, pets, etc) – This is not Vs. – While the game looks like it’s based on comics, it’s actually based on movies that are based on comics (which turns out to be a big distinction) – This is not Vs. – Some of the terminology I use will not be correct. I’ll use the closest analogous term to get the meaning across, but please realize these aren’t the final names of things. – Oh, and if you didn’t get it, this is not Vs. If you are going to dislike the game out of the gate for the sole reason that it’s not Vs, that’s pretty closed minded. At least read through this before dismissing the game. – Finally, this is my impression of the game. Yours will likely be different. Also, even though I judge for UDE and am friends with many of the folks there, I will do my best to not prejudice this review (either being too easy on the game or too harsh). As always with everything on the Internet, take this with a grain of salt because it’s just my opinion.

Ok, now onto the game engine/rules.

If you know the WoW engine, this will sound very similar. There are four types of cards: Hero, Ally, Actions and Location. Location: Locations are specific types of cards that are placed as resources. You can only use Locations as resources, you cannot place other kinds of cards in the resource row. You start the game with three blank Locations in play. Locations you play from your hand should have abilities. In the demo decks, the Locations all said “Your Hero gets +1 Power on your turn”. Hero: Your deck has a single hero. The demo decks were Iron Man and Wolverine. Each hero has 50 Life. Each hero belongs to a Team (there are 5 Teams and this number should only increase when there’s a new franchise added (aka Spider-Man movie license reverts from Sony back to Marvel); current teams are Avengers, X-Men, “Bad Guys” and two others… I don’t remember if Hulk is his own team or not). Each hero has a Power in their text box. The costs for a Hero’s Powers are paid using “Charges” which are put on your hero every time you play an Action. Powers can only be used on your turn. Powers that have the form “(Cost) -> (Effect)” can only be used once per turn. In Marvel, the arrow means you can only use that power once per turn. Heroes are directly attackable and are like Allies that have a lot of health. Heroes do not have a natural ATK (aka Power) value. In the demo decks, Heroes slowly built up their Power when they played Locations. Ally: Allies have a Team, Cost (which is paid by exhausting Locations), Power (how much damage they do when attacking), Health (how much damage they can take) and Power. Damage is persistent in the game similar to WoW, but unlike Vs and Magic. I did not see any healing powers in the game, but imagine there’s some in the full set. Allies can attack the first turn they come into play (in WoW/Magic terms, everyone has Ferocity/Haste). Ally Powers can only be used on your turn. Allies are Unique (only one with the same name on the field at the same time) unless they share a name with your Hero. Ability Cards: Abilities have a Cost and Effect. They can be played on your opponents turn. Each time you play them, you put a Charge counter on your Hero. Ability cards resolve immediately. There is NO chain in this game. When you play an ability, it resolves immediately, then you implicitly pass priority to your opponent. If they want to play an Ability, they can and it will resolve immediately. If they do not wish to play an ability, you can continue to play Abilities until you’re done. When both players pass in sequence, play moves to the next phase/turn. For deckbuilding purposes, you can put up to 3 of any specific card in your deck. Turns are separated into Main Phase 1, Action Scene, Main Phase 2. You can recruit characters during your Main Phases only. During the Action Scene, attacks are similar to WoW in that it’s one attacker against one defender. There’s a mechanic called Intercept that allows any ready Ally to become a defender in place of the proposed defender by exhausting (identical to the Protector mechanic in WoW). Abilities can be played during an attack. To start the game, randomly determine who chooses to go first. The player who goes first does not skip the first draw. There is one free full mulligan for each player (identical to WoW). The initial hand size is 7. There is no maximum hand size.

That’s pretty much all the rules in reader’s digest form. Now onto some other things.

The layout of the cards is sideways compared to most other card games. This means that, when in play and ready, a card will be wider than it is tall; when a card is in play and exhausted, it is taller than it is wide. This takes a bit of getting used to (especially when looking at the cards in your hand). While there is a good sized element of tactics to the game, going the beatdown route did not often seem to be the incorrect play. As the game progresses and there’s more damage on the field, there are definite decisions to be made about who to leave up for Intercepting, who to send in for attack as well as whether to attack the heroes or the allies for the most damage throughput. I said above that this isn’t a game about comics, it’s about movies that are about comics. This is reflected in both the appearance of the game (primarily the “letterboxed” cards and use of screen captures) but also in the rules. The biggest thing Vs players (and even WoW players) will need to get used to is non-Uniqueness of Allies that share a name with their Hero. The flavor reason for this is to simulate the star of the movie taking on lots of different guys at once. Each time one of those Allies is sent to the KO pile, it represents the hero getting beat on, but not being defeated. You can play a pure Hero deck comprised solely of Allies sharing a name with your hero. You can also throw in other guys for diversity. . . it’s up to you and how you want to play. Iron Man on his own, or with the Avengers. Wolverine hacking and slashing his way through things, or bringing along Storm, Cyke and the rest of the team.

My impressions

I thought the game was good and am cautiously optimistic. I’m not overjoyed with it because it’s different than the game I’ve been playing for the past 6+ years and, like all gamers, I fear change. That having been said, I sat down with Ben Seck at GenCon for a fair amount of time and discussed the design, my feelings about it and some of the decisions about why things were done the way they were. I’m confident he and his team have learned from the mistakes that Vs made (and, yes, even though Vs was MY game and I loved it, there are many mistakes it made and/or improvements that could be implemented) and that WoW made. I forgot to ask about Limited play (Sealed and Draft), but I’m confident Ben and company did not overlook this. This game was fun. If there are starter decks, I’ll be getting one of each. I’ll pre-order a box from my FLGS as well and, if it drafts well, this will succeed Vs as MY game as long as they keep putting it out and keep making good decisions.

Ok, enough of me . . .

When I talked to Ben Seck, he kindly volunteered to answer any outstanding questions the community might have. While he won’t be able to answer every question folks might pose, he said that if I gathered up a list of questions and sent it to him, he’d do his best to answer as many as he could. So, having read as many of the rules as I could remember (and had written in my notes) and my impressions of the game, what questions do you have? If it’s something I know, but forgot to write down here, I’ll answer it to the best of my ability. Next Monday, I’ll gather up all the questions that have been sent to my Twitter account ( that I don’t have answers for, send them to TBS and post his answers when he replies.