Having played a lot of Zombicide, I was intrigued by the concept of Marvel United, CoolMiniOrNot’s original board game based on Marvel’s superheroes. Their expertise with miniature-based games seemed a perfect fit for the Avengers’ world, and I was not disappointed with the results.
Marvel United pits 2-4 players against an iconic villain. Players must move their chosen hero across 6 locations thwarting the villain’s schemes. They must complete at least two of three missions—beating up thugs, saving innocents, or dismantling threats at each location—before the villain becomes vulnerable to damage, and then deplete their health before time runs out.
Each hero comes with a miniature and a deck of cards. To take a turn, a player puts down a card from their hand, and then can use the actions indicated on it. For instance, a Captain America player may put down a card with a move symbol and an attack symbol, allowing him to perform one of each action. The next player can then use the symbols on their own card, plus the card of the previous hero—so if Iron Man’s turn comes next, and he plays a card with a heroic action symbol, he can perform a move, attack, and heroic action.
The most valuable symbols are wildcards, which allow the player to choose any of the three actions. Each hero also has signature abilities on some cards. For instance, Black Widow can look at the villain’s next card and dismiss it to the bottom of its deck, Captain America can bestow extra actions to allies in the form of consumable tokens, and Hulk can obliterate everything in his square.
After a set number of hero turns, a card is played from the villain’s deck, which can punish the heroes, add new thugs and civilians, or activate their henchmen. Damage is dealt to heroes by discarding cards from their hand back to the bottom of their deck; if a hero runs out of cards, they are knocked out for a turn. The game ends in defeat if heroes play their entire decks, or if the villain’s conditions are met.
“Success is balanced nicely between strategy and the randomized elements of drawing cards.”
The core game comes with Black Widow, Captain America, Captain Marvel, Hulk, and Iron Man for heroes—while the edition we received for review also included Ant Man and Venom in heroic form—and Red Skull, Taskmaster, and Ultron for villains. Red Skull is recommended for learning to play the game, and his campaign board includes a Fear Tracker as an alternate defeat condition. Taskmaster weighs heroes down with Crisis Tokens, which can bite players in the butt later, while Ultron wants to swarm the board with thug and civilian tokens.
The game itself is easy to learn and setup, while the various variables make each playthrough interesting. The wrong combination of threats, or an unfortunate villain activation, can spell disaster, while teamwork and each hero’s special abilities can make a world of difference. Success is balanced nicely between strategy and the randomized elements of drawing cards.
That being said, the contents of the core game box themselves are a little limited. There are eight location tiles, but each game requires six chosen at random, so there isn’t a lot of room for variety there. Along the same lines, if you’re playing four-player games, you’re going to encounter the same cards often, since only two heroes aren’t being utilized at a time. The villains provide enough variety with their different objectives, but the other sections of the game could run staler first. To counter this, CMON offers a downloadable Achievements Booklet, offering some huntable accomplishments to extend your playtime.
Taking damage by discarding cards keeps the game simpler, but also imposes a lack of options on players. I found games often started with heroes taking damage, which meant playing the whole game at a disadvantage. I would have preferred the extra complexity that some kind of health system would have brought instead. Conversely, when playing with Venom and using his Regenerate special ability to reset my hand to 3, I felt like I burned through the small, 12-card deck rather quickly.
“I recommend die-hard Marvel fans of all stripes check out Marvel United”
The rules suggest removing the cards from each hero’s deck that feature wildcard symbols, but this just imposes another deficit upon the player. The challenge here stems from the lack of flexibility and the inherently shorter time frame. Randomization becomes the real villain, and that can be a tedious experience for some.
The layout of the game board needs a deceivingly large space, with the locations arranged in a circle around the central villain tracker and mission cards. It also expects you to keep all played cards arranged in a ‘Storyline’, but by the end of the game this would become unwieldy; I found it easier to keep the two most recent turns out, and beyond that, return each character’s cards to their own piles.
With that in mind, Marvel United’s layout is still well-designed. Each type of card conveys its information efficiently. Édouard Guiton’s chibi-esque artwork gives the game a unique style and carries over deftly to the miniatures—which live up to CMON’s high standard of craftsmanship. The core set comes with a full assortment of tokens and a modular dashboard for the villain, all stored in a convenient, custom-moulded inlay.
While Marvel United is a fun game, I can’t help but feel a little dismayed by all of the things that aren’t in the box. As part of a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign, CMON offered a plethora of other expansions, such as a Spider-Verse pack or a Thanos expansion. This is standard fare for board games, but a lot of other desirable characters are hidden behind Kickstarter exclusivity.
Want to play your favourites from recent hit shows WandaVision or The Falcon and the Winter Soldier? Unfortunately, Scarlet Witch, Vision, and Falcon are not openly available, nor are the likes of Doctor Strange, Baron Zemo, Carnage, Venom as a villain, and Hawkeye, among a plethora of others.
As it is, I recommend die-hard Marvel fans of all stripes check out Marvel United, and it’s even accessible enough for kids as young as 8. However, you are likely to find the base game somewhat limited without picking up at least one of the expansions as well, and even then, half of Marvel’s movie roster is unobtainable.