A Review of The Rise of the Red Skull. Part I: Unboxing, Solo Rules, and First Impressions

The Cover of Rise Of The Red Skull

Marvel Champions is a cooperative superhero card game based in the Marvel Universe. It’s a “Living Card Game” (or LCG) which means there are expansions, but you always know what you get. (In olden days, a “Collectable Card Game ” (or CCG), expansions were just filled with random cards: you didn’t know what you got)). I have been “secretly” collecting all the Champions expansions: Heroes and Scenarios for quite a while now: there are quite a number (see below).

Champions and all of its expansions, as of September 2020.

I am a huge fan of  cooperative superhero games (see my Top 10 Cooperative Superhero Games), but Marvel Champions hadn’t been released when I put together that list about a year ago.  In that time, Fantasy Flight has made up that time and released tons of expansions (see picture above).

Back of the box

Strictly speaking, I shouldn’t like Marvel Champions. It’s very similar to the Arkham Horror: The Card Game (another LCG from Fantasy Flight) and that just didn’t work for me (see my review here). What’s different? I think I like the theme better, I like that there’s no randomness from chit pulls, I like that there’s no choose-your-own-adventure moments that kill you. Marvel Champions is all about battling the villains and keeping your deck going. It even made my Top 10 Cooperative Games of 2019 and my Top 10 Cooperative Fantasy Flight Games. What makes this particular expansion exciting? Rise of the Red Skull offers campaign play (an ongoing story)! How well does it deliver on that campaign? Continue reading…

Unboxing

The expansion comes with a Rulebook, 5 new Villains (Crossbones, The Absorbing Man, Taskmaster, Zola, and the Red Skull), 2 new Heroes (Spider Woman and Hawkeye), 4 New “add-ons”, some Expert Mode cards, and finally some upgrades you can earn in between campaigns.

The 5 New Villains!

Of course, the best part of this expansion is that you get 5 new Villains! Of course, you have to go through all of them in the campaign, but you can also fight “one-shot” scenarios with all of them after the campaign is done.

The Two New Heroes

Similarly, you can play Spider-Woman and Hawkeye in the campaign or standalone.

Expert Cards and Campaign-only cards.

In general, the cards look just like the rest of the game and fit in the Universe just fine. It’s Marvel Champions: you either like style or you don’t! I do.

The 4 Add-Ons used by the Villains.

Rulebook

The Rulebook

The Rulebook introduces some new keywords (Permanent, Piercing, Ranged, and Setup) as well as the new mode of play : Campaign Mode.

The first chapter of the Campaign

The Rulebook doubles as the Campaign book. There are 5 scenarios, where each scenario is introduced by a a few pages of comic art to introduce the story (see above)!

Scenario 1: Text description

Each scenario is then introduced formally, with rules for Set-up and Expert Mode (if you decide to go that route).

In general, the rulebook was easy to read, and it was easy to set-up for each scenario. The rulebook uses nice, big text, and I had no trouble reading it. I was very satisfied with the rulebook/scenario book (as they are the same).

Solo Play

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So, Marvel Champions is pretty well balanced for 1-4 players.  Many of the mechanisms in the game are based on the number of players (the number of hit points of the Villain is usually a constant times the number of players, the amount of threat each turns is based in the number of players, etc).  So, the solo game works pretty well.
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When trying “new things” out, I prefer to concentrate on “the new stuff”, so I am not overwhelmed with rules.  In this case, I played through the whole campaign with a single hero: Captain America (a hero not found in the base game: you have to buy him separately). 

The campaign game basically played like Marvel Champions, with a few new rules here and there.   It worked pretty well.

Campaign Play

Scenario 2

So, I was more excited about this expansion than all the others! (Well, except for Captain America) I like Marvel Champions a lot, but the lack of story was, well, limiting. The idea that a campaign would help direct a game was amazing!

So, to prepare for the campaign, I played a number of solo games with Captain America over the week before Rise of the Red Suill arrived. When it did arrive, I pretty much played all 5 games over the weekend. I messed up the rules on the first play (I won, but I cheated), so I replayed the first scenario again. I then proceeded to play all 5 scenarios!

I don’t know if I cheated, but Captain America walked through the scenarios. It was really easy! The only scenario that gave me difficulty was Zola: I barely kept his threat under control so that he wouldn’t walk all over me. Winning seemed to be: “Keep the threat under control and occasionally do damage”.

If you lose a game, you simply have to replay it. There were no upgrades or “helpers” for losing a game. If you win a game, typically a card or two gets added to your deck (see cards above on right), or a new permanent upgrade was added (later cards in the Scenario).

The upgrades weren’t great, but they were helpful. They just didn’t really change the gameplay that much. It was cool to get something that was a little helpful, but the core game was still Marvel Champions underneath. It didn’t feel like the campaign mode changed the game THAT much. For example, the first upgrade is something you use ONCE, then remove from the game! It’s really cool when you use it, but that was the ONLY change from scenario 1 to scenario 2.

What the campaign did do: it encourages/forces you to try all all the new Villains! That was the best part! The campaign mode was a framework to try out all the Villains, and a nominal story to motivate/immerse the players.

A Month of Campaigns

Over the last month, I have been playing mostly campaign games!

Hero Realms: The Lost Village (see review here)
Aeon’s End: Outcasts (see review here)
Marvel Champions: The Rise of the Red Skull (see review… oh, you are reading it)

And, I’ll be honest, none of them really “nailed” the story. They all augmented their respective games, but I never felt like the main game changed that much. The one I enjoyed the most was The Lost Village: the cards and augmentations evolved but I think the story was the most compelling. Overall, I think Aeon’s End: Outcasts had the best story/writing overall: I also liked that I got to “choose” a lot more stuff between scenarios (you can use the new upgrades you get or completely ignore them or use an old one). Marvel Champions was good, and I liked the story, and the comic book art, but I felt like it was the game that changed the least. That’s not a BAD THING!!! I still like Marvel Champions a lot, I just think it was changed the least by the scenario augmentation.

Fiddliness: Sentinels of the Multiverse vs Marvel Champions

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A lot of people make comparisons of Marvel Champions to Marvel: Legendary. I think a much more apt comparison is to Sentinels of the Multiverse: In both games, players controls a deck that “is” their superhero and powers!  Both decks came out kind of randomly, and both have the heroes do damage to a big bad to win.   The weird thing to me: people seem very polarized on these games!  People I l know who LOVE Marvel Champions don’t care for Sentinels of the Multiverse. And vice-versa.  I’ll be honest: I don’t get it. They are both great games, especially if you like cooperative Superhero games!!! (I like SOTM better, but I still like Marvel Champions too).   Some players complain about the “fiddliness” of  one over the other … but, let’s be honest!!!  They are both fiddly in different ways!!  I like them both, but I the recognize fiddliness in BOTH games of having to follow effects, counting damage, building decks, interpreting keywords, managing villains, and so many other things.

The reason I bring this up: The Rise of The Red Skull adds more fiddliness to the game! Between new understanding new keywords, interpreting new rules, and sorting new cards, the game becomes even more fiddly. I personally don’t mind, but you should be aware the fiddliness level of Marvel Champions rises a little more in The Rise of the Red Skull. (Should it be The Rise of the Fiddliness of Red Skull ? Nah, that probably wouldn’t sell well)

New Keywords and new Rules

Conclusion

So, Marvel Champions: The Rise of the Red Skull is a good expansion: the best part (so far for me) is that 5 new Villains! All 5 Villains played very differently; they added a lot of variety to the Marvel Champions system. If you didn’t like Marvel Champions and you were hoping the Campaign Mode would change your mind, you will be disappointed. Campaign Mode doesn’t change the base game that much: it add a neat story and some variety, but Marvel Champions is still the same core game. Like I said in the Aeon’s End: Outcasts review, the best part of the Campaign Mode (in both games) is that it gives players a framework to play all the content of the box and discover the variety therein.

I like Marvel Champions: The Rise of the Red Skull so far. It’s good. I still need to play the new heroes (Spider-Woman and Hawkeye) to see what I think of them. We’ll do that in Part II of this review! We’ll also look at how the campaign plays cooperatively with with multiple people.

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