Dale Yu: Review of Marvel: Age of Heroes

Marvel: Age of Heroes

  • Designer: Rodney Thompson
  • Publisher: Wizkids
  • Players: 2-5
  • Age: 14+
  • Time: 60-90 minutes
  • Played with review copy provided by Wizkids

Per the publisher: “Marvel: Age of Heroes is an epic strategy game in which each player commands a duo of X-Men who are dispatched to defeat villains and complete objectives.

Your team will collect resources and power-ups before embarking on dangerous missions in one of the three uniquely challenging scenarios included in the game. The most effective team will manage their skills, train their mutants, and outpace the competition in the Institute and Mission Phase. Scenarios, asymmetric abilities, new abilities, and scoring conditions all serve to provide uncanny playability! Players are heroes represented by a set of striking full-color acrylic standees. Teams include fan-favorites like Wolverine and Jubilee, Jean Grey and Cyclops, Forge and Storm, and more! Cards and player boards have a gorgeous dreamscape art effect as if a powerful telepath is seeing them through Cerebro. The deck features dozens of iconic X-Men characters and events that are available through a shared market. Players will be jockeying to collect and influence the heroes that are most useful for their strategies. As the board and scenarios evolve, your characters will, as well. Special evolution cards add new abilities and scoring conditions.“

Place the Institute board on the table, and choose which of the 3 Missions you will play: Children of the Atom, Fatal Attractions, or Fall of the Mutants.  Each of the three missions has a specific setup and components.  Each player takes the bits of their color, and takes a player board which shows the heroes that that player will play.  This is double sided with the blue side being the basic side and the gold side more advanced, giving each player a unique ability. Place your resource cubes in the appointed places on the three tracks. Each player also gets the Evolution cards for their specific heroes as well as 3 Institute cards dealt to them.

The game is played in rounds – each split up into an Institute Phase (where they gain resources) followed by a Mission Phase (where they move to Mission action spaces).

In the Institute phase, players take turns doing one of three options:

1] Place a Pawn into an empty Institute space and do the action there

  • Headmaster’s Office – play a card into a Xavier Protocols space, then draw cards into your hand either from the face up Protocols or from the top of the deck
  • Medical Bay – Play an event card and then choose your place in turn order
  • Cerebro – play an Ally card or Evolution card

  • Danger Room / Research Lab / Dormitories – gain the resources shown in the space; mark the new resources on the charts on your player board

2] Place a Hero pawn onto the X-Jet – place your pawn on the topmost available spot in the X-Jet.  The first player to play here also gets to play a Team-Up card.

3] Pass – ending your participation in the phase. When you pass, choose you place in turn order for the next round.

In the Mission Phase, each hero pawn on the X-Jet is assigned to a Mission action space (from top to bottom on the X-Jet).   Possible spaces are on a Team Up card or a Team Up card space, in the Extraction Zone, on an ally card in the Extraction zone or on a Mission tile attached to a Villain tile.  Once you choose where to place your pawn, you do the action associated with the space.

When you place on a Mission Tile action space, you spend the resources on the left of the space, move the Damage marker to the right and score VPs as shown.  It is also possible to damage a villain with a card action; also spend the resources on the card and then move a damage marker that matches the type as shown on the card.  When all the damage icons on a Villain are covered, the villain is defeated.  All the defeat special effects listed on the Villain tile are resolved.  Then all players who have Heroes on the mission tile get to reassign them to an unoccupied Extraction Zone action space and perform the action on their new space.

The phase continues until all the heroes have been placed and their actions resolved. Now, resolve all “End of Round” actions of Ally and Team Up cards, and then all players take their pawns back.  Flip over any Extraction zone tiles if needed based on the new round number.  If there are not 4 face up Xavier Protocol cards, deal out until you have 4.  Play another round.

The game ends whenever a criteria is met from the Mission card or a Parameter tile.  At this point, total up your victory points and the player with the most is the winner.

My thoughts on the game

So, Age of Heroes is an interesting worker placement game that feels fairly different than most others in the genre.  For me, the difference is in the constantly increasing number of worker spaces – as they will be found on the cards that are being played to the board.  

Players will be motivated to play cards down in order to hopefully score the bonuses that come when their opponents use the action cards there.  Every game will play out differently as the cards played will surely be different.  It can be extremely helpful to your cause to play a good card as each time it is used, it is almost like you’re getting a free action – and that is a great way to get a leg up on your opponents.

Speaking of opponents, this is the one thematic thing that my mind just doesn’t like about the game.  In the game, you have control of 2 of the X-Men, and the game is a competitive battle.    According to Wikipedia, “The current iteration of the official X-Men team is headquartered in The Treehouse, a Krakoan base in New York City, and the roster is voted on by their fellow mutants in elections held at periodic Hellfire Galas. No longer working in secret, they fight publicly for the safety of mutants, to build bridges between Krakoa and human nations, and to protect the Earth and Solar System from extraterrestrial threats”.  It just doesn’t make sense that they would be pitted against each other – the X-Men (to me, at least) are supposed to be a team working TOGETHER with each other.

But, maybe it’s just me.  In the end, it’s a worker placement game.  You have to spend actions gathering your resources – which are tracked on your player board, and then convert those resources into attacks to damage the enemies.  You can either use the attacks printed on the enemy board or there are plenty of ally cards that give you alternative methods to hit the enemy; and you’ll have to examine your constantly changing options to see what gives you the best chance for success.

And speaking of the enemies, I do like the puzzle piece method of constructing the enemies – by pairing together different attack possibilties with the different enemies, the players will have to closely examine what types of attacks will be needed against a particular enemy, and it will change with each play of the game!

The rules are… adventurous.  I think that everything is included, but I’ll admit that I had nearly no idea how to play the game from just reading the rules.  I think a lot of this is because the bulk of the interesting actions come from the cards, and there frankly isn’t a lot of talk nor card examples in the rules.  So, I couldn’t visualize just how important the card actions would be to the overall course of the game.  There are also no clarifications on the cards, so we had to have a couple of group decisions on how to interpret card actions that weren’t clear from the start.  Also, the organization is a little wonky – the rules for the student pawns is in the very back, though the students are referred to throughout the rules; and honestly, I’m still not entirely sure that we’re playing correctly with the students as it feels like two of the rules about them are in direct conflict with each other.  In the end, our group was pretty happy with our interpretations of the rules that we had to come up with – though it is entirely unclear if we’re playing with the rules as the designer intended.

The individual turns are pretty quick – once you are familiar with the actions, you only have one or two new ones to parse each round; so you try to make your plan.  There is a bit of a push-pull in that you want to race to get the actions you want, but you also have to take time out of your plan to put people into the X-Jet in order to attack the enemy, and the timing here also matters as the attacks happen from top to bottom, and the particular attack that you’re working towards may be claimed before you get your turn – and it really sucks when you’ve spent all turn trying to collect blue resources only to have all the blue attacks taken before your turn!

The overall game is a bit longer than I want for this – as even though the action spaces change during the game – it feels pretty churny by the end:  scramble for resources, try to get in line for an effective attack, repeat.  

In my first game, we actually missed a fairly important rule in setup – that the boss enemy is to be face down until it is unlocked; so we were able to start attacking it right from the get-go.  This obviously shortened the game length as we cut out at least one to two enemies’ worth of damage – but in all honestly, the game didn’t feel like it went overly short.  We then played with the correct rules in the next game, and it definitely felt a bit on the long side for me – though the game still finished in 75 minutes, so it was not too long on the clock.

I’ll admit that I’m not a comic book guy, so I have no affinity whatsoever to the theme.  Some of my local gamers still read the comics, and they were pretty excited to play the game, and they were even more excited to know that they were going to inherit the game from me after the review process.  Like many of the other games with an IP license, I think the draw for many will be the theme alone, but for those who don’t care, there is a decent worker placement game here and one worth trying.  If you are an X-Men fan and a gamer, this should definitely be a game to check out.

Until your next appointment,

The Gaming Doctor

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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