The X-Men are my jawn. Dick Grayson is my favorite singular hero. Captain America: Winter Soldier may be my favorite superhero movie. But overall, the X-Men reign supreme, ‘nuff said. I first became a fan in 1992, and two things contributed to that. First, the X-Men six-player arcade cabinet. Do you know how many quarters my brother and I pumped into that thing? And 95% of them were as Nightcrawler. Second, the Fox Kids Network show, X-Men: The Animated Series. We had just been gifted with the Batman Animated Series, and now this! Us nerds were getting spoiled. From then on, I lived and breathed the Blue and Gold teams. Give me all the other teams too: X-Factor, X-Force, Generation X. I scoured all the back issue longboxes for any older issues I could afford. I consumed everything I could. However, around the mid-2010’s we lost touch, but I continue to try and figure out how/when to jump back in.
So, when Marvel: Age of Heroes was on display by WizKids! at Pax Unplugged in Philadelphia this past December, I knew I had to see it. With the name Marvel: Age of Heroes, you may be expecting another game with the Marvel IP slapped on it and Avengers pouring out the box. Well, I hate to disappoint you or, in my case, excite you, but this game is exploding with mutant goodness provided by Marvel’s Merry Mutants. Then in late January, coincidentally on my birthday, a package arrived, and oh, my stars and garters, I now possess a copy to review. My first review!
The game is designed by Rodney Thompson, a co-designer of Lords of Waterdeep, and this is very apparent in its gameplay, but we will get to that later. Andrew Veen is credited with Game Development, and Cover & Player Board Art was done by Gong Studios. The game is played with two to five players and is suggested for anyone 14 and above.
Players take control of a team of two X-Men, or in the case with Magik, one solo character, and you are preparing to go on one of three missions. Your options are between a generic Children of the Atom beat up the bad guy plot or one of two more familiar stories, Fall of the Mutants (1988) or Fatal Attractions (1993). Which mission you play decides on the setup, deck construction, enemies engaged, and special parameters to follow.
Teams not only include fan favorites of Cyclops & Jean Grey, Wolverine & Jubilee, and Gambit & Rogue, but also Magik, Kitty Pryde & Lockheed, and Storm & Forge. I mean, come on, FORGE, and paired with Storm!!! Seeing that, I immediately flashed back to the cover of Uncanny X-Men #289.
A round consists of two phases, Institute and Mission. In the Institute phase, players use acrylic standees of their characters to visit locations at Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters to perform various actions such as obtain resources, play or draw cards (Allies, Team-Ups, Events, or Evolution), or board the X-Jet. The Ally and Team-Up cards provide more spaces for your characters to go to with better rewards than the standard spots you start the game with.
Then in the Mission Phase, heroes assigned to the X-Jet are sent on missions. These missions take you to Team-Up cards or to the mission tiles, where you will deal damage to the villain. You progress through harder villains until you get to the final villain, which when defeated, brings the end of the game.
Another cool feature is the ability to upgrade your characters. Each hero has an evolution deck that gives your heroes special abilities. A fun way to give your team asymmetric powers. Cyclops’ Veteran Warrior upgrade will get you more victory points when assigned to a mission, or Wolverine’s Healing Factor will increase your physical resources if it is at two or lower, but if it is at four or higher, you gain one resource of your choice.
Now here’s the thing, you and the other players are the X-Men, and you are both attacking and defeating villains, but Marvel: Age of Heroes is a straight Euro-style game. When you “attack” the villains, you get victory points. At the end of the round, you review Ally card special rules for points. Just like in Lords of Waterdeep, cards played by a user are considered owned or “Recruited,” meaning when utilized by other players, you get a bonus of resources, cards, or victory points. The player with the most points after the Mission Parameter condition is fulfilled wins!
I really enjoyed how the cards being played opened more hero placement options for all players involved. Finding the right order to place your heroes and the combos you will utilize to gain more resources and points each round is really satisfying. Personally, I loved how when a hero is placed on a card, I’m immediately reminded of a moment in the comics or in the animated series. Seeing Jean Grey being played to the Emma Frost ally card kept getting a chuckle out of me.
The cover and player board art are fantastic! The watercolor style really is something I haven’t seen before regarding Marvel IP, and I feel it sets it apart. As the game progresses, the game board slowly gets covered with beautiful art from the cards, making a lovely unique site each time you play.
Set up took some time but wasn’t anything too long or difficult. Of course, our first game went longer than the 60 – 90-minute time on the box, but our second time playing fell in that indicated time frame.
The multiple missions included are a great way to provide replayability. Not only with the character cards and the villains you face but also with the extra rules provided by the Parameter. Dual-sided player boards and the evolution decks also ensure each game played will be different from the last.
The rule book is put together well. Stepping you through the setup and end of round with easy-to-follow numbered steps. I’ve found myself scrambling once to find a rule but was able to pinpoint it quickly.
At the two-player count, you have 6 X-Men workers at your disposal and the potential to get “Student” pawns for a one-round buff. As the player count rises, you get fewer workers at your disposal, making your actions more urgent and the choices of where to go more critical.
One small flaw with the game is the box. It will not survive. With the number and weight of components in the box, it will burst at the seams. A sturdier box would have been nice.
Overall, Marvel: Age of Heroes was a great experience, and even if you aren’t an X-Men superfan, I would still recommend it. I’ve played Lords of Waterdeep maybe twice, so the gameplay here was fresh for me. But regardless of the theme, there is still a fun worker placement game here with a ton of replayability.