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The Marvel U on Your Kitchen Table: Designers Talk “Marvel Heroes” board game

by  in Comic News Comment
The Marvel U on Your Kitchen Table: Designers Talk “Marvel Heroes” board game

As many fans know the Marvel Universe is a place where heroes and villains engage in epic clashes. Now Marvel fans can wage their own grand battles with the “Marvel Heroes” strategy board game designed by Nexus Games and distributed in the U.S. by Fantasy Flight Games. CBR News spoke with the designers of “Marvel Heroes” Roberto Di Meglio, Marco Maggi and Francesco Nepitello about the game.

Interestingly, Di Meglio, Maggi and Nepitello’s work on another beloved fictional property was one of the things that lead to “Marvel Heroes.” “Representatives from Marvel UK contacted Roberto Di Meglio as CEO of Nexus at the Nurnberg Game Fair, without prior contacts from us,” the designers told CBR News. “They wanted to have a game that tackled their universe in a ‘serious’ way, as we did successfully for the ‘Lord of the Rings’ with our ‘War of the Ring’ game. We jumped at the chance, of course. There are very few universes and licenses as interesting as this one!”

Once they accepted the license, the designers at Nexus had to decide which the elements of the Marvel Universe they needed to capture in the game. “It’s all about heroes and villains,” they explained. “We needed to focus on that, because the Marvel universe is really a mosaic composed of thousands of personalities, heroic and villainous. So the rules had to capture the variety of characteristics, and the confrontation between good guys and bad guys. Of course it was necessary to go reasonably in depth on combat and super-powers, which are central to many super hero stories, but at the same time we also wanted to show that there’s more to the life of heroes than a continuous series of fights.”

“Marvel Heroes” is a game that gives equal time to the heroic personalities of the Marvel Universe as well the nefarious ones, with players controlling both heroes and villains. “We felt that the average Marvel Comics reader feels a strong connection to both heroes and villains,” the designers said. “We could not make the bad guys an automatic mechanic, because there will always be someone who prefers Doc Doom to Reed Richards! And from a gameplay perspective, to put players in control of both heroes and villain make sure that all players are involved all the time; downtime is often a problem in many strategy/adventure games.”

Players can win “Marvel Heroes” in a variety of ways. “There are different conditions based on the chosen scenario,” The designers explained. “Scenarios are included exactly to give players alternatives in how to win the game. And this is the most ‘customizable’ feature in the game: players can easily come up with different scenarios, based on comic issues, to determine the objectives they prefer. There are already several fan created scenarios available on the web. In general, you will have to go and troubleshoot all types of crimes and supernatural events with your heroes, while at the same time you must keep an eye on the evil-doings of your ‘nemesis’, the mastermind villain opposing your team.”

“Marvel Heroes” puts players in charge of a four person team of heroes. The teams available are The Avengers (Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, The Hulk), The X-Men (Wolverine, Jean Grey, Cyclops, Storm), the Fantastic Four (Mr. Fantastic, the Invisible Woman, the Human Torch, the Thing) and the Marvel Knights (Spider-Man, Elektra, Dr. Strange, Daredevil). The designers didn’t have a difficult time deciding which heroes to include in the game. “The selection was based on the fact that the game needed to represent the Marvel universe in general, so the characters needed to be as archetypal as possible. You probably can tell by the characters chosen that everybody involved in the choice was thirty or older,” The designers joked.

Opposing the four hero groups are four mastermind villains. The mastermind a player chooses depends on which hero groups the opposing players are using. Magneto is the mastermind that opposes the X-Men. Dr. Doom is the Fantastic Four’s mastermind. The Red Skull is the mastermind targeting the Avengers and The Kingpin of Crime is the mastermind with a grudge against the Marvel Knights. When it came to choosing these playable masterminds the designers had a tougher time with the selection process. “We needed some balance, they stated. “So we decided to leave out for the moment extraterrestrial or extradimensional entities.”

The four hero groups and the four villainous masterminds are the only playable characters in “Marvel Heroes” but a number of other Marvel characters make appearances in the game in the form of cards. “The deck of ‘Resource’ cards available to the players during the game is almost entirely composed by heroes,” the designers explained. “These heroes come in play as temporary allies, and are very useful, especially in combat. A lot of heroes are included, from Black Bolt to She-hulk, from Spider-Woman to Ghost Rider, from Beast to Nightcrawler.

“The deck of Villains cards included in the game is used by players to make the life of another player miserable, and is entirely composed of unpleasant entities from tens of stories,” the designers continued. “Your fights will include infamous denizens of Marveldom like Juggernaut, Electro, Rhino, Sabretooth, up to scary guys like Dormammu.”

Teaming up with other heroes and battling villains are just two things that might happen during a typical player’s turn in “Marvel Heroes.” “As the Hero player, each participant must decide each turn which heroes he needs to solve the problems that currently plague New York,” the designers said. “In the form of ‘Headlines’ cards, missions are available each turn, and heroes are assigned to them based on their skills and special powers. So, in a typical turn you have a hero moving to a location in NY to investigate, usually backed up by a supporting hero lending his abilities. If the mission proves to be difficult to solve, usually villains are behind it, and so a fight starts, with players opposing each other as heroes and villains. Story actions are also very important, as they enable a player to ‘beef up’ his team by adding allied characters, or to evolve their team buying ‘power-up’ cards, reflecting new equipment, or positive story twists.”

A player must also be extra-vigilant while maneuvering his heroes during his turn, because this is when the mastermind opposing him acts as well. “Each player in the game acts also as the ‘nemesis’ of another player, his archenemy,” the designers said. “So, each Mastermind character has at his disposal a series of nasty things he can do to a hero player. Among these things, he can unleash supervillains on the enemy team, or boost a villain’s combat abilities, or even confront a team directly to accomplish a Master Plan, a plan that directly weakens the opposing team. There is not a proper ‘Mastermind turn’, as these activities take place when the heroes you oppose are going on a mission.”

Heroes and villains opposing each other in combat is a reoccurring situation in “Marvel Heroes.” “Combat occurs every time a hero cannot solve the trouble going on in a district by simply intervening or investigating, because villains show up,” the designers explained. “There are many different villains, so you can have many different situations, from Spider Man fighting Sandman or Venom, to Wolverine facing a Sentinel. Then, there are the Heroes vs. Masterminds confrontations: these happen when a Mastermind attempts a Master Plan and heroes want to prevent that.”

Since “Marvel Heroes” is a strategy game of opposing super powered people, super abilities also play a big role in the game. “Super abilities come in the game mainly in two ways: in combat, and as support abilities,” the designers explained. “First of all, the combat ratings of a hero already represent some of his super-abilities. For example, Wolverine’s adamantium skeleton and regenerating power are represented by a high ‘Defense’ rating across all of his combat ratings (each hero has three different set of ratings). On top of this, you also have combat abilities. Combat abilities change the way a hero’s combat ratings work: Spidey’s ‘Spider Senses’ can help him to defend himself, while the Torch’s ‘Nova Blast’ can burn enemies to cinders right away. Support special powers are very varied, and are used to aid another hero in combat, like having the Invisible Woman create shields to defend other the F4 members, or out of combat, like having Matt Murdoch working as a lawyer and lowering the crime rate in an area. The great variety of these powers and the way they combine really bring out the theme in the game, and the strategy as well.”

Plot points are a game mechanic that reflects and balances the strengths of the various heroes. “Plot points are the main resource in the game,” the designers stated. “You need plot points to bring your heroes in the game. They are the main balancing element: stronger heroes need more plot points to be played. The rationale behind plot points is that high-profile heroes are usually involved in high-profile stories: the plot point mechanic ensures that the same happens in the game: Thor or Doctor Strange are not going to come on the stage for any petty burglary!”

As Marvel fans know, the Marvel Universe is often rocked to its core from time to time in big events like “The Kree-Skrull War”, “The Infinity Gauntlet” and “Civil War.” The designers have included a game mechanic to simulate the effects of epic event stories. “Scenarios handle that,” they said. “The victory conditions of the basic game are altered to reflect these earth-shaking events, changing the way heroes and villains interact, and the way to win. Ten scenarios are included in the game, and their structure is fairly simple. Players can customize them and make them more detailed if they want to.”

The “Marvel Heroes” game is set up to give players countless hours of varied play, and –if that wasn’t enough– the designers are already brainstorming expansion ideas for the game. “The game has surely room for expansions, and we have a very clear idea of what to do with the first one at least,” the designers said. “But we can’t really say anything officially about them until we have a ‘go’ from Marvel.”

Since “Marvel Heroes” is based upon the characters of one of comics’ premier universes, players of the game can expect to find lots of comic art, both original and existing, in the game. “The game cover and all the main characters and ‘mastermind’ art is original, pencilled by Salvador Larroca,” the designers said. “The rest is taken from the Marvel database, and includes artwork by many prominent artists, enhanced by our Art Director Fabio Maiorana’s layout and design.”

“Marvel Heroes” is a complex and in-depth game because the designers wanted to come up with a game they felt did justice to the House of Ideas’ intricately designed world. “We feel that the game is fairly complex, as a lot of different elements had to be blended together,” the said. “But we are sure that a true Marvel fan may deal with the complexity and will end up appreciating it as a feature, not a flaw.”

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