From the Vault: Marvel Heroes! Reviewed by Mauro

From the Vault: Marvel Heroes 

With Marvel’s recent hype trailer released for the Disney+ shows WandaVision, Loki, and Falcon and Winter Soldier a couple of days ago, I figured now would be a good time to dust off a 2006 classic and revisit the unique board game designed by Marco Maggi and Francesco Nepitello titled “Marvel Heroes”.

Game Components

Marvel Heroes is a 2-4 player game which is great when you can’t find a 3rd player. The box itself is pretty hefty as it comes with 20 1 ½ inch painted miniatures, 8 red battle dice, a 15-page full-colored instruction booklet, over 100 villains, hero, resource, master plan, headline, scenario, and superhero reference cards. Also included are over 100 color-coordinated tokens to keep track of valuable resources, game rounds, combat, trouble levels, and victory points. Topped off with a brightly colored game board, it makes this game ripe for epic adventures ready to be handled by the 4 iconic superhero teams included.

Basic Overview

The objective of the game can vary depending on the scenario card drawn at the beginning of the game. Each card has a unique victory condition which can lead to some thrilling endings. For example, in the scenario “The Evolutionary War” the game ends after the 3rd game round and anyone who has 15 victory points or more wins the game! These cards can alter gameplay too, so make sure to factor in the scenario effect when strategizing. 

The game begins by choosing one of the 4 teams included, the X-Men, Avengers, Fantastic Four, or Marvel Knights. Each team has 4 members that have unique stats, powers, and skills that make them proficient in handling certain types of “headlines”. Think of headlines as The Daily Bugle reporting a crime in real-time. I want pictures of Spider-Man! Speaking of Spider-Man, if we glance at his hero card it says he excels in rescue and science-related danger and crimes, whereas Dr. Strange is proficient in handling mystic-related mysteries. Makes sense, right? During each game round, you assign heroes to solve headlines that are being reported in different districts across New York City to acquire victory points. A sample headline reads “Demons Walk the Earth (Does a New Inferno Threaten the City?)” which is a “Mystery and mystic” mission worth 6 victory points. Perfect for sending Dr. Strange! Spider-Man can sit this one out. Sorry, tiger. During these headline missions, low-level villains (and some more powerful ones) can be used against you by your opponents such as the lowly Toad to the more threatening and powerful Ultron. 

After the first game, round things begin to get tricky as each player is also designated the role of a mastermind villain. The 4 classic Marvel masterminds are Magneto, Kingpin, Dr. Doom, and Red Skull. Their goal is to stop the X-Men, Marvel Knights, Fantastic Four, and Avengers, respectively, from succeeding. So while your hero team is working to resolve headlines, you are also playing your mastermind plotting to stop your archenemies from completing the game objective by using your mastermind’s unique scheme cards and scheming skills. These mastermind villains can also get entangled in combat and meet their archenemies in battle, if the heroes are up for the challenge.

Initial Thoughts About the Game

The game itself can be pretty overwhelming at first, and when glancing at the near 15 full pages of instructions it might seem a little much for beginner tabletop gamers. There are 3 different phases that occur within the game, (game round setup, planning, missions) and there are various steps within these phases which can lead to some initial confusion. However, the instruction manual includes a detailed scenario that guides you through the phases and steps of the game. Also included are 4 team reference cards that include important information that aids in outlines the various phases and steps in the game plus other important details. This helps streamline gameplay making for a richer gaming experience.

The real fun starts once you get over the initial learning curve. You’ll quickly realize that Marvel Heroes feels like you’re acting out a comic book! Each game has an overarching storyline, revealed in the scenario card at the beginning of the game, that impacts the entire game itself and sets the objective.

Within these arcs, smaller heists are taking place in various districts in the form of headlines. These crimes can be seen as the individual comic stories where heroes find themselves battling lower-level villains until the mastermind villain is ready to reveal their grand scheme. The game’s resource cards include several allies, like The Punisher, Hawkeye, and Scarlet Witch to name a few, who make cameos to help your team resolve headlines or aid you in taking down the mastermind villain. These guest stars contribute to the feeling of playing the role of your heroic team in a comic book. As the story plays out you acquire power-ups like the Blackbird or Quinjet to allow for faster travel across the city’s districts and your mastermind villain can get power-ups too! 

Final Review

This standalone game created by the now-defunct Italian company Nexus Editrice (published by Fantasy Flight Games in the US) is not for the weak of heart, so beginners beware. If you consider yourself among the upper echelon of Marvel fans or are a board game fanatic looking for something different, then this game is definitely for you. The artwork has varying levels of quality, but that can easily be overlooked by the fact that almost every card has original artwork on it made specifically for this game. The hundreds of small-sized tokens and markers often become a nuisance once the game gets going, but they are a necessary evil to keep track of important game details. The 16 superhero and 4 mastermind villain plastic figures lack the Marvel-style flair and detail we know and love, which is a bit of a letdown considering they’re the only non-paper element of the game (besides the dice of course). However, the immersiveness of the different scenarios more than compensates for that fault as you’ll find yourself captivated by one of the many ongoing crimes, battles, or schemes. Finally, the best feature in Marvel Heroes is the feel of the game. Once you get in the groove you’ll see just how close the gameplay comes to capturing the pages of a comic book. This game is more than just a set ‘em up and brawl it out that plagues other comic games, so give it a shot if you happen to come across this game.