Review: Marvel: Crisis Protocol
Designer: Will Pagani, Will Shick
Publisher: Atomic Mass Games
Price: $65.94 Amazon.com
Marvel: Crisis Protocol brings the popular comic book universe to the tabletop! This skirmish miniatures game puts 2 players head-to-head as they control squads of superheroes (or villains!) in a race to 16 victory points. The core set provides all the materials players need to get started, but numerous expansions are already available to further customize the game.
I have been active in the tabletop gaming scene for more than a decade, but I have very little experience with miniatures games. With the exception of the über-popular X-Wing and a drop-in game of Battletech at a recent con, the entire genre is unexplored territory for me. As a lifelong Marvel Comics fan, however, Marvel: Crisis Protocol made me stop and stare.
This game turns the tabletop into a superpowered battlefield. The core set comes with a staggering amount of plastic goodness for players to assemble and paint (I should note that I have not painted the miniatures in my set yet). In the base game box are 10 characters – 5 heroes and 5 villains – including Captain America, Iron Man, Spider-Man, and Captain Marvel.
The goal of the game is to be the first player to 16 victory points, but the way players earn them varies from one game to the next. At the start of each game, 2 crisis cards are drawn; these establish the scenario and list special rules and scoring conditions.
Both players begin with a squad of characters. (As with most miniatures games, the rulebook includes instructions for squad-building.) Players need not stick to just heroes or just villains, but they can mix and match as desired. Each character has their own stats sheet, which lists their vitals (stamina, speed, defense, etc.) and details their attacks and superpowers.
At its core, Marvel: Crisis Protocol is not that complex, but its rules are a bit lengthy. With that in mind, the general gameplay involves players taking turns activating 1 character at a time. When a character activates, he/she can take 2 actions. Most often, these actions would be moving and attacking.
Movement works much like it does in X-Wing: the game comes with “rulers” to measure distance as figures are moved from one end of the ruler to the other. These measuring pieces can pivot, allowing characters to maneuver around obstacles.
Attacks are character-specific, and they are all thematic to the individual hero/villain (e.g. Captain America throws his shield, Iron Man uses his repulsors, etc.). Each attack has a range, a strength stat, and a power cost. Range is self-explanatory, strength is the number of dice rolled when the attack is used, and power is the amount of energy needed to use it. (In a sense, power can be thought of as the game’s money.)
This brings up an interesting aspect of the game. Characters gain 1 power each turn, but this residual income does not go very far. However, any time a player suffers damage, they earn power equal to the damage they sustained. In this way, damage is bad (obviously), but sometimes it is the best way to gain the power needed to launch awesome attacks.
Of course, no Marvel game would be complete without superpowers. Characters each have their own abilities, which are asymmetrical, unique, and thematic. Some have an associated action or power cost to perform, but all are satisfyingly cinematic.
Characters can use the terrain in battle, climbing up buildings, dodging behind dumpsters, and yes, throwing cars. Depending upon the scenario, there may also be tokens on the battlefield for players to interact with, such as civilians, mission-specific items, or areas that must be secured.
Play continues until someone reaches 16 victory points; that player is the winner.
As I mentioned before, there is much more minutiae to this game than what I’ve covered here, including threat levels, squad affiliations, and different types of attacks/superpowers. It would be difficult to cover all aspects of this game succinctly, but hopefully my above description gives a general idea of how Marvel: Crisis Protocol works.
This game is very, very thematic. Playing it feels like acting out a climactic fight scene from an Avengers movie, complete with car-tossing, baddie-blasting, and cosmic-death-ray-dodging. Mixing and matching the characters is fun, and it provides great potential for customization. Speaking of characters, dozens of others are already available in expansion packs, and I suspect we will see more and more of them in the future.
The rulebook succeeds at explaining the dynamics of play, but I wish it included “Quick Start” rules, like X-Wing does. As it is, the thick rulebook may be a bit intimidating for newcomers (though it is fairly thorough). That said, the game looks and plays great. I had a ton of fun assembling the miniatures; in total, they took ~3 to 4 hours to build, but I found it relaxing. (Side note: If you buy this game, you will also need to buy a hobby knife and modeling glue.)
Marvel: Crisis Protocol is a theme-drenched superhero skirmish. As a comic book fan, I appreciate the level of detail that went into its design – it is very clearly a labor of love. I don’t think it will be for everyone, but fans of minis games and true-believin’ Marvelites will definitely want to check it out.
Review copies of the Marvel: Crisis Protocol core set and Black Panther expansion were provided by Asmodee.
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