Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Threat Level Magenta - Getting ready to thwart a post-GMW World

The seeds of this article were sown when I made my first pass at a Rocket Raccoon Justice deck.  I shared it on Discord and somebody immediately suggested I should try Heroic Intuition.  I'd initially left Heroic Intuition out because Rocket comes with his own version in the Thruster Boots and I thought it would be overkill, and said as much.

"There's no such thing as too much thwart in Galaxy's Most Wanted" was the reply, and several people immediately agreed with that sentiment.

'Hmm', I thought to myself, 'is that right?  That sounds like the sort of thing I can throw some maths at to find out'.  

So I did.  


WE HAVE NO IDEA WHAT THREATS ARE OUT THERE

SPOILER ALERT - This blog will contain some spoilers of the Galaxy's Most Wanted encounters and campaign.  I'm going to talk in general terms about some of the maths around what we can expect from Galaxy's Most Wanted but what I'm going to try and avoid doing is giving any sort of detailed rundown of how specific cards work, or how to beat any of the encounters (I can't do that, because I've not played against them myself!)

Everyone has their own line drawn around what they do or don't want to have spoiled.  I think I'm going to be pretty spoiler-light but the information will help you go into Galaxy's Most Wanted a little forewarned of the sheer scale of the dangers you'll find.  Whether you want that information is up to you...

I went through each villain encounter from both the Rise of the Red Skull and Galaxy's Most Wanted campaigns, and worked out an average amount of threat that the encounters would generate.  Working out something like this has an element of 'how long is a piece of string' about it because obviously the more player you have, or the more turns a game lasts for, the more threat you'll see the encounter create.  To neutralise this I decided to calculate the average threat for the encounters if you had 2 players and the game lasted 10 turns.  This was a consistent approach for all the encounters so what we're left with should be a pretty comparable view of how many yellow triangles the villains are spitting out.

In general terms the calculation took into account:

  • Main Scheme starting threat, plus 10 turns of +2PP threat being added
  • % chance that an encounter card is a Side Scheme, multiplied by 2 players being dealt encounter cards over 10 turns
  • Odds of hitting an Incite effect or something like Advance, multiplied by 2 players and 10 turns.
  • Any additional factors, such as Red Skull's side scheme deck, starting side schemes, Shadows of the Past and Masterplan, the players having access to the Milano in Galaxy's Most Wanted, etc.

In doing this I made a few assumptions and if you repeated this calculation you may make different assumptions and come out with slightly different answers.  But I don't think it would change the overall outcome of this analysis: yes, there is more threat in Galaxy's Most Wanted.

How much more threat?

An absolute TRUCKLOAD more threat.


CROSSBONES vs DRANG

Crossbones and Drang are the two initial villains you face in their respective campaigns.  Crossbones plays it relatively straight as a pretty conventional villain without too many new mechanics while Drang immediately brings the Ship Command module and the Milano into the game.  It turns out that the Milano has a major role to play in the story of Galaxy's Most Wanted threat/thwarting so it's worth taking some extra time to talk about it.

The Milano attaches to the first player (so it moves around every turn) and that player can exhaust it to generate a Wild resource.  That's what's written on the Milano itself but probably the most important uses of the Milano appear on various villain Main and Side Schemes in the campaign... including that you can exhaust the Milano to remove 3 Threat from a lot of schemes you'll find along the way.  

Spoiler Alert: the amount of threat you're going to have thrown at you means you should probably view removing threat as your default use for the Milano and only use it for a Wild resource as a last resort.  In all my scenario calculations I've assumed the Milano being used to remove threat as much as reasonably possible and it still leaves a ton more threat for you to deal with than you would have faced in Rise of the Red Skull!

In an average game Crossbones would generate 41 threat tokens over 10 turns.  Over those same 10 turns Drang is going to generate 93 (NINETY THREE!) threat tokens.  Even if you assume that you're going to use the Milano to remove threat every turn you're still left with facing 63 threat tokens.  That's about a 50% increase on what Crossbones would kick out over the same length of game.  

Where those extra threat tokens come from is pretty important though, because if you're using Milano to help pin the Main Scheme back then it's the Side Schemes where you're going to see the threat really ramp up for Drang.  You're going to see both more Side Schemes (5 from Drang vs 3 from Crossbones) and importantly the Side Schemes are going to be much bigger - an average of 7 threat each in Drang vs 4 each from Crossbones.

Keeping all of Drang's side schemes under control is over twice as difficult as it was to keep Crossbones' schemes tidied away.

This isn't just a one-off for Drang, though, and in fact you see the same pattern playing out across all the other Galaxy's Most Wanted encounters too.

IMPORTANT: The Milano in 3 & 4 Player Games

The Milano's ability to remove 3 threat from a scheme does NOT scale with the number of players.  In a four player game you're dealing out 4x as many Side Schemes as you are in a solo game and you're putting 4x as much threat onto the main scheme as in a solo game.  The Milano is still only removing 3 threat regardless of how many players there are, though.  This may be a pretty big design oversight and it's certainly true that for most of the Galaxy's Most Wanted encounters it gets materially harder to deal with threat in larger player games simply because the Milano's impact is reduced.  You may even decide you want to house rule some scaling for how much threat the Milano removes (say: 1 plus 1 per player, maybe).


ABSORBING MAN vs COLLECTOR (INFILTRATE)

Both Absorbing Man and The Collector feature unique mechanics and I know The Collector is vexing a lot of players but ignoring all that for the time being, I want to look just at the threat generation in the two decks.  You get the same picture emerging of far more threat being generated by The Collector and in this encounter the players don't even have the Milano to fall back on to help in removing the threat.

Absorbing Man created 45 threat tokens in an average 2 player/10 turns game, while Infiltrate The Museum will create 70 threat tokens - pretty much exactly the same 55% increase in threat generation that Drang had over Crossbones.

You also see it manifest in the same way, with more Side Schemes to deal with and each Side Scheme having a higher threat value.


TASKMASTER vs COLLECTOR (ESCAPE)

If you thought the threat generation was crazy already then wait until you have to Escape The Museum again after successfully infiltrating it!  This encounter uses threat as the win condition instead of the villain's health pool, and it throws little yellow triangles all that much faster as a result!

Taskmaster would create 49 threat tokens (assuming you dealt yourself damage each turn instead of adding a second threat token with Hunting For Heroes) but over those same turns Escape The Museum will see 117 (!!!) threat tokens hit the table, with the Main Scheme stages both landing with a ton of threat AND adding a lot of threat per turn.

The good news is that players can use the Milano in this encounter to clear threat from Side Schemes and the final stage of the Main Scheme.  The bad news is that you need to make it past the first stage of the scheme in order to find the Milano and start using it - you're on your own at first!

At least Escape The Museum marks the peak for threat generation in Galaxy's Most Wanted.  The unique mechanics of this encounter mean it pushes threat to the fore more than in any other villain battle.


DR ZOLA vs NEBULA

Dr Zola was one of the toughest encounters in Rise of the Red Skull but that difficulty ramping came from his ability to hurl minions at you more than from his threat profile, with a pretty typical number of side schemes in his encounter deck.

After making it out of the Collector's museum you'll be glad to hear that Nebula offers a different challenge and isn't all about the threat tokens.  But there's a hitch.  Of course there's a hitch.  There's always a hitch.

Nebula's threat generation is closely linked to the number of Evasion counters on her ship.  Every turn she adds an Evasion token and every turn you can use the Milano and discard some resources to remove an Evasion token and put her back to the start.

If Nebula ever gets up to 2+ Evasion tokens she will very rapidly shift from "I'm not really all about the threat" to "holy hell we need to deal with all this threat she's making or we lose!" and (spoiler alert) there's a couple of Treacheries in her deck that will almost certainly push her up to 2 Evasion tokens eventually.

Even assuming you can keep Nebula pinned back to 1 Evasion token for the whole game she's going to generate 25% more threat than Zola does.  But if you let her spend half the game with 2 Evasion tokens that becomes 45% more and it spirals rapidly upwards if she ever gets to 3 Evasion tokens.

In theory Nebula isn't an enormous threat problem, but she can quickly become one.


RED SKULL vs RONAN THE ACCUSER

This is the one encounter that goes the other way and GMW has less threat than RORS.  Red Skull's whole schtick was Side Schemes and he had a special deck that threw one at you every turn instead of waiting for you to fish one out of the encounter deck.

By contrast Ronan The Accuser doesn't really care about scheming.  Ronan cares about crushing your skull like an egg and walking away with the Power Stone.

Even so, it's a testament to just how much Galaxy's Most Wanted ramps up the threat that even without trying too hard Ronan almost incidentally creates 90% of the threat (80 for Ronan vs 91 for Red Skull) that the Red Skull created as his whole purpose for living.

This analysis for the Ronan encounter has included that players have the Milano available, although it's more complicated in this final encounter with Ronan as you can't always use the Milano to remove threat from the Main Scheme (only in the first stage of the Main Scheme), and it now has a more powerful extra ability to cancel Treacheries so I think you'll use it to thwart a lot less than you would in other scenarios.  If I'm right and the Milano doesn't actually get to contribute much threat removal then Ronan could well turn out worse than Red Skull for threat with even trying!


THAT ALL SOUNDS AWFUL

It's definitely not not-awful.  Galaxy's Most Wanted is certainly playing a whole new ball game when it comes to the amount of threat tokens you'll face.

If you remove Red Skull from the comparison because his Side Schemes warp the numbers you get this:

You're going to need to increase your Thwarting by 20% just to avoid losing to the Main Scheme.  But if you also want to kill every Side Scheme that you see you're going to need to more than DOUBLE your thwarting capacity.


WHAT THE HELL ARE WE SUPPOSED TO DO ABOUT IT?

It's a great question, and I think there are four routes to explore...

  1. Bring more thwarters.  If you're playing a four player game it's not reasonable to expect one player to carry the load for everyone on thwarting, people need to be able to chip in more than the odd bit of thwarting here and there.  If you're really serious about handling all this extra threat you may even need multiple Justice players in your team.


  2. Change your thwart events.  I expect one big casualty of this to be Clear The Area, which until now has been the go-to Thwart event for most players.  With Side Schemes now averaging 7 threat instead of 4 threat it's that much harder to line them up to the point where Clear The Area than quickly and efficiently remove all threat and draw you a replacement card.  You may need more powerful thwarting from cards like Multitasking or Lay Down The Law (each removing 4 threat for 1 cost) instead of a small amount of thwart that draws a non-thwart card to play as well.  The Spider-Man (Peter Parker) ally may no longer be an expensive indulgence, Speed may demand to be played ahead of Daredevil etc...

  3. Bring different heroes.  Similar to number 2 we may also see the 'best' Justice heroes move around - Ms Marvel remains the best place to play both Clear The Area and Multitasking thanks to Shrink, but nobody can really make use of Lay Down The Law like Ant-Man, and with Heroic Intuition the fact that Captain America can ready himself to perform two big basic Thwart actions may be really important, even better with Fearless Determination.


  4. Let it slide.  If you have to DOUBLE your thwarting output to control every side scheme then it really begs the question of whether that's actually what you want to be doing.  There's always a tipping point where it's going to expend more energy to remove a Side Scheme than it will to cope with the consequence of allowing that Side Scheme to sit in play.  Players have been used to whack-a-moling Side Schemes the second they appear, much like that do with minions, but in Galaxy's Most Wanted that approach may need to become a thing of the past, with tough decisions to be made about what can stay and what needs to go.

I also have a final recommendation for some further reading.  Alex Marsden wrote about making these sorts of difficult decisions about leaving villain cards in play on his blog Ghastly Boss not long before Galaxy's Most Wanted was released.  In light of just how much harder it is to keep up with the threat in Galaxy's Most Wanted I think it becomes an even more important read.

Hit or Miss on the Ghastly Boss blog, by Alex Marsden

Good luck everyone... and try to stay away from yellow triangles!





Friday, March 26, 2021

The Danger Room - A Custom Marvel Champions Encounter

It all started when somebody on the Marvel Champions Discord channel said something to the effect "I've always wanted to just stack a deck full of all the nemesis minions and see what happens".  That really got my attention because while battling Klaw and Ultron is cool and all, as an original Spider-Man fan a lot of my favourites are only in the game in minion form, like Vulture, Electro, Sandman etc.  

I really liked the sound of that and I thought to myself: "I'm pretty new to this game with barely any experience of different encounters and how they work... I'll do it!"

So I did.

From the outset I laid down three golden rules that I had to follow:

  1. Make Minions Matter.  Put loads of big scary minions in and make them the focus of the encounter.  That's the seed of the idea and it's why we're here.
  2. No New Cards.  The encounter would entirely be made from existing cards that players can easily pull together from their collection.
  3. No New Rules.  The cards should all be able to be played exactly as they are in any other encounter.  For instance this ruled out villain-specific cards that said things like "Attach to Rhino" or "Klaw attacks you" and meant I could only use cards that used the generic "the villain".  It also made the Main scheme choices a little more restrictive (eg. I had to include a scheme that said you lost the game if the villains completed it!)
All I was really setting out to do was make The Bestest Most Difficultest And Most Funnest Encounter Ever.  Tony Stark built an arc reactor out of bits of scrap he found in a cave, so how hard could this be?

Over the last month I've gone through many different iterations of the encounter as I've fine-tuned it, learning a lot about the game along the way.  The resulting encounter, which I call the Danger Room after the X-Men training room, is one that I really enjoy throwing my heroes against.

As we all wait anxiously for Guardians Most Wanted to arrive maybe this is the perfect time to share my Danger Room with the wider world, so that you've got a little time to try it out before we all get distracted by playing as Rocket Raccoon and Groot for the next six months!

I hope you give it a try and I hope you like it.  I think the Danger Room is a very tough encounter, probably close to Heroic level, so it should provide you some stiff opposition and because of some design choices I've made it doesn't play or feel entirely like other encounters.

First I'm going to share the encounter with you, then if you're still interested after that I'll also talk a little bit of the design journey I went on to make it.


SCENARIO A - THE DANGER ROOM

Listen up, Avengers!  You may think this is just a training drill and nothing can go wrong but trust me, once you step inside that room it's going to feel very real.  Tony has spent weeks programming J.A.R.V.I.S. to produce completely authentic simulations of some of the most dangerous villains we've ever faced and they're all waiting for us in this room.  They may only be training drones but they're going to look like the real deal and they're going to hit like they're the real deal, so be sure you bring your A-game.

I don't know who we're going to have to beat down, but I've fought a couple of the early demonstration runs and I can promise you this: the bruises are real, the fear is real, and the danger is real.  And once you've handled what this room can throw at you you're going to feel like you take on the whole world.

So let's take it seriously: look out for each other in there and watch your backs.  It's time to suit up!

Villain Deck: Taskmaster (II), Green Goblin (II)

If you like eating dirt use Taskmaster (III) and Green Goblin (III) for expert mode.

Main Scheme Deck: The Island of Dr. Zola, The Mad Doctor

Follow all Setup instructions on The Island of Dr Zola as normal.  Reveal Hydra Prison and put Ultimate Bio-Servants into play.  

Note: there are only three Ultimate Bio-Servants in the encounter deck.  In a four-player game one player has an easier start with no minion engaged from the start.

Encounter Deck: Danger Room set. 

It is not recommended to add the Standard set or any modules as the Danger Room set is large enough that it includes cards you would normally add from modular sets.


Additional Setup rules: Remove Hysteria from the encounter deck and set it aside.  When Green Goblin II is revealed attach Hysteria to the Green Goblin. (this was the only thing I did that contravened one of my golden rules.  I decided to let myself off this one time!)


The Danger Room Set


Text version, sorted by expansion:

Core Set: Under Fire, Exhaustion, Caught Off Guard, Shadow of the Past, Vibranium Armor, Concussion Blasters, Vulture, Titania, Whiplash, Electro-Whip Attack x2, Kree Manipulator x2, Heart-Shaped Herb

Green Goblin: Green Goblin (II), Hysteria, Monster, Scorpion

Rise of the Red Skull: Taskmaster (II), The Island of Dr. Zola, The Mad Doctor, Hydra Prison, Hydra Regular x2, Hydra Jet Trooper x2, Hydra Soldier x2, Ultimate Bio-Servant x3, Crossfire, Technological Enhancements x2, Hail Hydra!, Concussion Grenade, Hydra Patrol, Taskmaster's Training Camp, Test Subjects, Avalanche!, Defensive Programming x2

Hulk: Abomination, Clash of the Titans x2

Black Widow: Deadly Shot

Scarlet Witch: Luminous 

Design Notes: Taskmaster and Green Goblin are both villains who reveal cards from the encounter deck, potentially putting big minions into play.  The Dr Zola main schemes push minions into play and they get to activate that turn, making them a bigger threat.  There is no Standard set (see below) but there are lots of attack effects based on minions like Quickstrike, Hydra Jet Trooper, Clash of the Titans, and there's a lot of little Incite effects to keep threat ticking along as well like Technological Enhancements and Kree Manipulator.  

There aren't many side schemes or attachments but the most of the ones that are there support the 'make minions matter' theme.  The Danger Room will push a lot of meaty minions at you and try to keep you on your toes while you deal with them.  You'll need to fight for the right to reach Taskmaster and the Green Goblin and finish the encounter!


MAKING THE DANGER ROOM

v0.1 - A Shaky Start

My very first attempt lasted just one game because it was clearly wrong, but the intentions were almost all laid in at this stage.  I was looking to make a very difficult scenario so I picked the two most difficult villains I was aware of: Ultron II to spawn his Drones and then Green Goblin III from Mutagen Formula who would come in with three of the super-powerful Encounter deck I had created.  I grabbed a handful of scary beasties, shuffled it all up and was ready to go.

The difficulty curve was WAY off.  Without an entire deck to support him it turned out that Ultron II was easy to control, then Green Goblin III unleashed World War 3 on me and I died seconds after he was flipped up from Ultron... I got Quickstriked twice for 6 damage, including a stun from Scorpion, and there was an Advanced Ultron Drone that I'd have to kill twice thanks to Biomechanical Upgrades.  GG.

That's ok, I can fix that.


v0.2 - Let's Hear it for the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss

A lot of the decisions I made for v0.2 are still in the deck today, including the villain choices.  Instead of having Goblin III hurling three encounter cards at me I took Taskmaster II for the first stage, who would deal one encounter card, then Green Goblin II for the second stage who would add two encounter cards.  My fear at this point was that the best way to sidestep all the dangerous minions I was putting into the deck was to simply burn through the villains directly and I added a third villain in Red Skull III to stop players doing that.


This version immediately played much better and I got into a really nice duel with the deck as I tried to cope with all the big minions and not get pushed too far behind the ball.  Then I drew an Advance and lost.

This was very frustrating.  I was trying to rewrite the flow of an encounter so that it felt different and dangerous.  I wanted to throw a spotlight onto the likes of Abomination and Titania, and yet games were still being decided by hitting an Advance just like in any other encounter.  This was where I made a controversial decision... the Standard deck was subverting my plan and had to go!


v0.3 - A New Standard

I didn't want Assault, Gang Up or Advance anywhere near my deck.  I was trying to build an encounter that was all about huge scary nemesis Minions and the Standard deck was just overpowering my intentions - a full 25% of my deck that was the same as every other encounter and making games all feel the same.

Now, I respected that the Standard deck fulfills an important game function (I figured there's probably a reason why it's in every single encounter FFG make) but I wanted to tune down the sudden game-ending capability of the Standard deck to give my Minions room to take centre stage.  I tried to like-for-like swap the cards as much as possible for weaker or more flavourful versions.  Assault became Clash of the Titans, for instance, still nasty to see but less likely to suddenly hit you for 7 damage and end the game and it was nice that it showcased big minions too.  Same for using cards like Trickery to replace Advance, something that would put Threat onto the main scheme but was less likely to suddenly dump 6 stress and force an instant loss.

Some of the more experienced players had concerns about this change: if I took Assault and Advance out of the deck how could the heroes possibly lose?  I didn't want to believe that the game was in a place where it was only spikes of extreme bad fortune on Treacheries that saw the villain attack or scheme that could beat a strong hero team.  I wanted to give time for my horde of minions to push the heroes to where they were stuck behind a rock and a hard place.

Spider-Snob — What would be a loss that isn’t swingy and out of nowhere?

Stay On The Leader (Me) — I feel something is wrong that that’s even a question

Spider-Snob — Haha. Yeah, I think that’s how most of the losses in the game feel already. I don’t think that’s different.

Spider-Snob was right and I was wrong, but I didn't know that yet.


v0.4 - Public Beta Test

After another little round of tweaks (the biggest addition was settling on both stages of Dr Zola's main scheme because having minions thrown at you was much more interesting than Hunting Down Heroes) - my new Standard-less encounter was at a stage where it was kicking my ass all over the place, but I now liked the way that I was losing.  I felt like I'd tested it as far as I could and I needed more experienced players to try it out.


Thankfully a few of them did, and the feedback that I got back was both very clearly negative, but also very descriptive and helpful.

KennedyHawk — Interesting, so I’ve found (in just my lowly 2 games) that the danger room feels more like a slog than a danger. You just slowly chip away at the villain and handle whatever minion comes up every turn. The lack of villain activations took the tension out. Much like wrecking crew the minions just felt like they were adding to the health total but not threat. Maybe I’m doing it wrong :p

SpiderMana — I finally finished my run.  I had fun! It was certainly sloggy, but I don’t know how to differentiate a good slog from a bad slog, because Ultron is my favorite scenario and playing that multi-handed can be a bit much sometimes 

I could definitely see how it would feel like a slog - I'd designed the encounter to feel like you were stuck in the trenches against the mighty minions and trying to fight your way through.  But if your hero was strong and you knew you were going to win then all I was really doing was making it take ages for you to finish the game.

I already had ideas for how to change this and develop the scenario to add more peril back in when something clicked for me: I beat the encounter for the first time.  Or rather, I *would* have beaten the encounter except that the turn before I was going to win the game the Encounter deck spontaneously created an Assault by putting Titania into play then immediately revealing Clash of the Titans on the next card.

So, let's get this straight.  I'd taken all of the Assaults out of the deck and had created an encounter that I was inevitably going to win until I hit a pseudo-Assault.  That very neatly proved to me that all the other people right about how essential it was for the encounter deck to have those dangerous knockout blows in it.  Without the encounter deck being able to throw instant attacks and damage at you, or stack lots of extra threat onto the main scheme, it's actually almost impossible for a strong hero team to lose a game of Marvel Champions.  No matter how strong you make the minions they're just speed bumps to a hero that's had time to set themselves up... Abomination may as well be a Weapons Runner.  In fact the Weapons Runner has Surge so it's arguably a bigger problem than Abomination!

It's a frustrating and inconvenient truth for me, seeing as I wanted to make an encounter that was all about big scary minions.

It wasn't the end of the road for Danger Room, but it did mean I have to shift my parameters for design success.


v0.5 to v1.0 - He's Not The Messiah, He's a Very Naughty Boy

I'd set out with the rather ambitious plan of making The Bestest Most Difficultest And Most Funnest Encounter Ever.  

I had failed.

But what I *had* created was still pretty difficult and still pretty fun.  The first thing I did was reduce the 'slog' feel by cutting the third villain phase.  Red Skull was no harder than Green Goblin so having him there wasn't proving anything - if you'd got as far as Red Skull you knew you had what it took to beat him too, all I was doing was making the game longer not harder.

Back down to a shorter runtime of two villains I kept tweaking and fiddling with card choices here and there and I kept running at it because it was fun to play against.  And it was also seriously tough, which I appreciated more fully once I went back to trying the standard villains.  After being used to dealing with big minions getting launched at me by The Mad Doctor and Green Goblin II it was actually a bit of a relief to only have to face a psychotic droid and his army of drones - it felt like Klaw and Ultron were moving on slow motion.

I'd failed because the goals I set myself turned out to be unachievable, but in aiming for them I'd created something that was still well worth the effort.

I think it's not really possible to make Minions the be-all and end-all of Marvel Champions because even the most powerful minions are just meat shields for the villain.  They may buy the villain time but the hero will get to them eventually and it turned out that even signature villains like Electro or Titania couldn't stop that because they were dead as soon as they hit the table.  I recalibrated - if the danger was extra attacks from encounter cards but I wanted the game to be about minions then fine, let's make sure to include signature Quickstrike mions like Vulture and Crossfire.  If heroes could build up their economy to the point where they overwhelm anything the villain does then let's hit those economy cards more directly.

It turns out that I'm no Tony Stark.  I couldn't make The Bestest Most Difficultest And Most Funnest Encounter Ever from bits of scrap, but I think my Danger Room encounter is still something close to Heroic level difficulty thanks to the extra threats coming out of the main scheme.  And because I've stood firm on removing the Standard deck it does play differently to most other encounters you'll have faced and it comes at you a little bit sideways, constantly trying to trade upwards on cards and push you back down instead of relying on those big swings of variance from a Gang Up or Advance to steal a win.  

If you're strong you'll beat it, but you HAVE to be strong and I think it probably does exactly the job that the real X-Men Danger Room does: if you can reliably beat this then you're ready for anything!

I hope you'll give it a try, and if you do I hope you like it!


v2.0? - The Post-Credits Scene

Interior, day.  It's the Oval Office.  The camera pans slowly over the furniture towards the famous Resolute desk.  The chair sits empty as the camera draws to a standstill with a closeup across the top of the desk.  We hear a door opening and footsteps approaching and then something is placed on the desk directly in front of the camera.  It's the Green Goblin's mask.  Out of focus, a figure dress in green and purple takes the chair behind the desk and puts their feet up.

We hear a second person enters the Oval Office, then voice speaks from off-camera.  The voice has a very noticeable German accent.

Red Skull - President Osborn.  Our plan proceeds exactly as we devised it.  Hydra forces control most of the Eastern seaboard and are pushing inland.  New York was holding out but thanks to you personal involvement we will take the city within weeks.

Green Goblin - But...?

Red Skull - *pauses* But... there are reports a small group of heroes has escaped New York.  There have been sightings within Washington and several Hydra patrols have gone missing within our perimeter in the last two hours.

Green Goblin - The heroes cannot be allowed to retrieve the Infinity Gem, Schmidt!  They will undo everything!  But no matter, they will be stopped.  I have something special lined up for our would-be vanquishers.  Something... new.

Red Skull - The Wrecking Crew?  You mean to unleash them here, within the city?  Can we do that?  What about the rules?

Green Goblin - What use is an Infinity Gem if we can't change reality.

The Green Goblin puts his mask back on and the camera pans up until he's looking directly into the lens

Green Goblin - I think it's time to write some *new* rules.

TO BE CONTINUED

Monday, March 22, 2021

The Five Classes of Hero

 


In my last blog I wrote about adjusting to playing Marvel Champions without the trusty guide of competition showing me where true North lies the whole time.  At first that freedom to do whatever I wanted because there may not be a 'wrong' way to go seemed really nice, but rapidly it turned into deckbuilding agoraphobia.

I felt like a little Civilisation settler, standing alone in my little island of visible squares and surrounded on all sides by the unknown.  Where should I go first?  Did I want to find a river?  Mountains?  Forests?  Indeed should I go anywhere at all or should I start my first town right here?  

"Hey, experienced player.  Can you help me?"

"Sure!"

"I'm new here, what's good, what should I do first?"

"Well, you can go anywhere really and do whatever you want"

"Oh.  Ok.  Thanks."

When you're brand new to a place and looking for a signpost to get your bearings I think being told that you can do anything may well be 100% accurate but it's also close to 100% unhelpful, even if the intentions were good.  When you boot up something like World of Warcraft for the first time as a Level 1 character there's always a quest right in front of you, a trail of breadcrumbs to follow as you learn the game.  Those starting quests help you build up the experience and knowledge to the point where ultimately you can deal with the responsibility of leaving the starting areas to go anywhere and do anything.

Staring at my full collection of Marvel Champions hero packs and aspects I might be just as hopelessly lost as that Civilisation Settler or World of Warcraft newbie.  But I'm a self-starter and I felt like I needed to give myself some points of reference to work from.  

I set out to look at all the heroes on offer and see if I could understand what they did and how they worked a bit better, so that I knew what I was dealing with.


KNOW YOUR HERO

Disclaimer: I'm going to talk about the heroes of Marvel Champions and I'm going to break them up into five broad types of hero.  This sort of thing tends to get people very 'engaged' because they feel like they're being told what they can and can't do with their heroes.  What I want to make clear is that I'm talking about how a character might *lean* towards a particular style of deck or play.  That's leaning, not planking so that they can only do that one one thing and can't do anything else.  It's not even like a Michael Jackson lean where it's a huge effort. 

Most of the time it's just a, you know, "it feels a bit more comfortable just resting my shoulder here" kind of a lean.  Pretty much any hero CAN do pretty much anything, some just do it a little bit more comfortably than others.  Think of it like trying to follow the deckbuilding feng shui of the natural strengths of weaknesses of your hero's stats and their 15 hero cards.

I looked at every hero and their 15 cards that you have to take in your deck when you play them.  I looked at the cost of those cards, but first I went through and bundled those effects into five broad classes:

  • General Economy - these are cards which produce resources for you to play other cards, or which draw you more cards (which you could use as resources to play other cards).  Some clear examples of cards in this group are Captain America's Super-Serum which remains in play, the one-time use Vibranium that Black Panther has.  It also includes things like Spider-Man's hero abilities to both produce a Tech resource in Alter-Ego form or draw a card in Hero form Spider-Woman's Finesse (which can pay for any Aspect card), Ant-Man's Pym Particles, She-Hulk's Focused Rage etc.

  • Internal Economy - the smallest subset I used, these are economy cards which are mainly focused on supporting the hero's other cards, like Hawkeye's Expert Marksman which can only pay for Arrows, or Black Widow's Gauntlets.

  • Offensive - you may think that 'offensive' refers to Attacks and dealing damage but I took a broader view that offense included anything that was proactive and attacked the villain's position and cards.  That could be damage from attacks, like Repulsor Blast, but it could also be thwarting schemes with a Sub-Orbital Leap or destroying minions with Explosive Arrows - anything that saw your hero taking the fight to the villain.  It also included some hero abilities that were similar, such as when Ant-Man flips to either his Giant or Tiny form.  Finally, Offensive cards also include pretty much any signature ally you might think of as they tend to spend their time attacking and thwarting.

  • Defensive - just as 'Offensive' was more than just attacks, Defensive cards are more than just damage prevention or healing.  I tried to group together everything that was about slowing down what the villain could do to the hero, so it's got Spider-Man's Backflip in this group of cards but it also has his Enhanced Spider-Sense to prevent a nasty Encounter deck reveal.  It also includes most Status effect changes, such as Stunning or Confusing the villain, or using Tough to avoid future damage.

  • Engine Investment - most hero cards have a standalone effect but there are some heroes whose cards operate a little bit differently.  What I call Engine Investment is for the heroes whose cards often have built-in interdependencies where if you play them alone they do very little (or nothing) but combined together they can become incredibly powerful.  Using those cards often means making a resource investment up front which you won't immediately see a benefit from until you've assembled a few of the pieces in one place.  The clearest example is Black Panther, who needs to assemble multiple pieces of his suit together before he can really take advantage of Wakanda Forever.  Quicksilver is quite similar as his ability to ready several times in a turn is far more effective once you've got other pieces that increase his stats. Finally, Iron Man's dependence on pieces of armour to both take control of the table and sustain a large hand size put a lot of his cards in this group too.

As well as looking at what the hero's cards did I took a view on how many resources they cost to play (including the cost of the card you're playing, so a One-Two Punch from She-Hulk costs 2 cards) and then I compared that to the Hero hand size of the hero, just as a way of ranking whether the heroes would find it easy to play their cards because they were cheap, or might need a little help if they were more expensive.  Comparing it to the hero's hand size really shone a light on the restrictions that heroes with just 4 hand size feel, I think.

That's enough preamble, let's take a look at what I worked out...


So I've bunched them all into five broad classes of hero.

TEAM PLAYERS

Originally I called this first group 'Support' but that tag didn't really sit well for me as it was too passive - these are still your hero, still the leaders of your team after all.  But even if the spotlight is still firmly on them the Team Players share a few traits that make them well-suited to letting the rest of your deck shine as well.  

Firstly, their hero cards include strong economic support that you can use to play any other cards you want to play with.  Secondly, their own hero deck has a mixture of offensive and defensive abilities that can flex to whatever you need from them.  Finally the cards in their hero decks tend to be on the cheap side.  That means there's room in the cost curve for you to play some expensive and hard-hitting cards from your chosen aspect, but it also means (if we assume it follows that cheap cards have less impact on the game than expensive cards) they might need your aspect to bring a bit more firepower to the table.

A few example Team Players are:

  • Captain America - Super-Soldier Serum is one of the best resource generating Supports in the game and as Steve Rogers you also get assistance playing heroes.  Captain America has a suite of low-cost but low-impact cards, such as Fearless Determination, Shield Block and Captain America's Helmet that are happy to take a back seat in your deck and let the other 25 cards you bring do a lot of the heavy lifting.
  • Captain Marvel - in both Alter-Ego and Hero form Captain Marvel has strong & steady economic abilities that compliment her powerful one-shot Energy Absorption resources.  With 3 Energy resources from one card there's no other hero in the game who is as good at generating huge bursts of economy to play expensive aspect cards.  Like Captain America she also has a flexible, but relatively low-impact, set of hero cards with the exception of her Energy Channels when they're ready to be unleashed.
  • Spider-Woman - Jessica Drew's resource generation is a bit weaker than the other Team Players but as it can help to play any aspect card Finesse is still a strong economic Support.  The rest of Spider-Woman's gimmick is being a little bit of every aspect so she naturally fits the template of having some offensive effects and some defensive effects.  Just as importantly the main reason to bring Spider-Woman is to deckbuild with two aspects and that alone makes her a Team Player - if you didn't want to be showing off what aspect cards could do you probably wouldn't be playing Spider-Woman to begin with!


SPECIALISTS

Specialists are the smallest group I've identified - currently just two heroes - and I almost killed this group entirely to lump Black Widow and Hawkeye in as more Team Players.  The big distinguishing feature for Specialists is that their card pool has a really strong internal theme (Preparations/Arrows) and their economy cards are dedicated to supporting that theme so can't be used to play any other cards.  I think that changes how you approach deckbuilding with these heroes as they can be so strongly internalised to their hero mechanics that they often won't really interact with the other 25 cards you put in.

At the moment there are only two Specialists in the game:

  • Black Widow - each aspect has their own Preparation cards so Black Widow isn't entirely independent of the rest of your deck, but the flow of having to set your little traps up in advance of anything happening can mean you really need some problem-solving cards in the rest of your deck because if she ever gets behind in the game it's not easy for her to catch up.
  • Hawkeye - at least Black Widow has other Preparation cards but poor Hawkeye is completely isolated as the only Arrow cards in the game are in his hero set!  Hawkeye's starting 15 cards will be virtually no help at all to the remaining 25 cards you add to the deck and you'll probably need to approach deckbuilding Hawkeye almost as though you're running two mini-decks alongside each other rather than one cohesive deck of 40 cards.


POWERHOUSES

First up, even though the word Powerhouses has the word 'power' in it you shouldn't assume that I'm saying that these are the 'best' or 'winningest' heroes.  I'm using the term Powerhouse to reflect that these heroes tend to be playing cards that have a really strong impact on the game (usually meaning that you've had to pay a lot of resources for them).

There's two really defining traits for these heroes in my eyes: firstly that their cards are very proactive and take the fight right to the villain's door, and secondly they're often more expensive cards but the heroes don't bring much of their own economy to help play them.  It means that when you're building these decks you often need to be thinking more in terms of adding cards that will help you play your signature hero cards.  That contrasts with Team Players like Spider-Man or Captain America who tend to be asking how they can help you play other cards.

A few example Powerhouse heroes are:

  • Doctor Strange - I've got five hero classes but I could have made it six.  That sixth hero class would be called "Doctor Strange" and would feature only one hero: Doctor Strange.  Doctor Strange is too good.  Every other hero has 15 hero cards.  Including the Invocation deck that he has access to every turn, Doctor Strange has 20 cards.  Every other hero loses a card from their hand to play one of their signature hero card, but the Invocation deck isn't in your hand so you don't lose a card (although it costs exhausting your hero).  The spells in the Invocation deck are also insanely powerful and insanely cheap.  I said that the 'Powerhouse' group didn't correspond to being the best heroes... well in Doctor Strange's case it does.
  • Scarlet Witch - she's the most recent new hero and the Scarlet Witch perfectly fits the definition of a Powerhouse character.  All Wanda needs to do in order to rewrite reality the way she wants it and win the game is keep casting her Magic Shields, Hex Bolts and Molecular Decays as often as possible!  It's a powerful set of cards but an expensive one that really benefits from the rest of the deck giving her the economic help she needs to sustain all her hexes.
  • Wasp - in case you've not noticed the trend, the 'Powerhouse' style of hero has been a pretty recent thing and it's been how most of the newer heroes have been designed.  Wasp is no exception to that with Wasp Sting, Pinpoint Strike and Giant Help being some of the hardest-hitting offensive cards in the game.  But they're also expensive - only two Rapid Growth cost less than 2 resources to play in her hero deck - and there's no economic support in Wasp's deck at all so she needs all the help she can get from the cards you're going to put with her.

I do think it's notable that a lot of the most recent heroes to be released have fallen into this Powerhouse model of having really high-impact and distinctive effects but none of the resource support to play them.  Looking at some of the things coming in Guardians Most Wanted, like Groot and Rocket, it seems like that trend is likely to continue for a while.  It puts a big burden on players to play a lot of the same resource generators like Quincarrier and Helicarrier in every deck, but it does also mean that the individual flavour and personality of the hero impacts the table a lot more because their hero deck is a centrepiece of your play.


BUILDER

The Builder style of hero is heavily defined by the fact that a lot of their hero cards don't do very much on their own (or anything at all, in some cases), but as you assemble various pieces they build and build in power, often getting to the point where they far exceed what any other hero can achieve in a single turn.  If you've ever experienced the wonder of playing three copies of Wakanda Forever in one turn you'll know exactly what I'm talking about there!

But that late game power to simply brush aside even the greatest threats comes at a price - you have to invest both resources and time into playing several weak turns while you assemble all your toys in one place.  That tends to make the Builders much more passive in the early portion of the game, often preferring to stay in Alter Ego form for a couple of turns just to draw more cards and dig more deeply through their deck.  That passive style of play doesn't sit well with me personally - I want to be out there fighting crime in my spandex straight away - but for other players it's the only way to play.

Each of the builders has their own nuances and they're certainly not the same as one another, but I think they're overall similar enough that if you like one you'd like the others.

  • Black Panther - T'Challa is simultaneously the most all-in on their engine building (9 cards of out his deck do NOTHING if they're not being used in conjunction with each other) and also the most supportive of the rest of your deck.  They can almost function as a hybrid Team Player as their whole Black Panther schtick is just 1-2 resources in cost and they have abundant stores of Vibranium to help you play the rest of your deck.
  • Iron Man - unlike Black Panther each piece of Iron Man's suit does something alone, but because his hand size is tied to how many pieces of Tech he has in play it tends to mean he'll only switch into Hero form and start using those pieces once he's got a few of them out.  Evaluating the cost of Iron Man's cards as a % of his hand size is complicated by this factor - switch to Hero form too early and it can really cramp his style, but when he's up to 6 or 7 cards in hand he can really start swinging twice as hard as a normal hero.
  • Quicksilver - Quicksilver is probably most like Black Panther in that you can get some value from cards like Always Be Running in the early game, but really you're looking to have all your buffs out and be hanging on for multiple copies of Always Be Running to arrive in a single turn to go out in a blaze of speed!  But if Black Panther is a hybrid Team Player then Quicksilver is a hybrid Powerhouse, with a high average cost in his cards and very little economic support.


MUSCLE

The group of heroes that I call Muscle really have one big thing in common: hand size 4 in hero form.

One less card may not sounds like a lot but for the Muscle heroes it means that everybody else is playing with 25% more resource generation every turn and that restriction on how much harder it is to play either one expensive card in a turn, or two cheaper cards, is a huge impact on how you approach deckbuilding with them.  You need to think hard about including any 4 cost card as it needs 5 cards in hand to play it (the card itself plus 4 resources), and even playing a 1-cost and a 2-cost in one turn is going need some extra help from somewhere.  It may mean needing to flip back to Alter-Ego form more often just to see cards and get things into play!

It's not all bad, though.  

Although these heroes have stunted resource generation their hero cards are stacked with higher ATK values and higher health totals, so you're often looking to make the most of their hero cards themselves as much as you are the cards in the hero deck.  You're always going to have that extra restriction in mind when deckbuilding for them, though.

  • Thor - the God of Thunder is an oddity in the Muscle group, because if you play him a certain way he can actually be drowning in resources.  He has permanent resource-generating Supports, his hero ability lets him draw cards and in Alter-Ego form he can happily discard Mjolnir from hand as a resource then retrieve the hammer immediately.  While that's all true the most common uses of Thor do try to keep Mjolnir in play as an ATK buff and he will operate like most Muscle heroes.
  • Hulk - ah Hulk, poor Hulk.  Generally regarded as the worst hero in the game, Hulk labours under the combined struggles of a low hand size and expensive collection of hero cards and it's not even like he's got a great hero ability to make up for it!
  • She-Hulk - if you assume the dreadful Legal Practice is actually going to get played then She-Hulk's hero cards actually have the biggest cost burden of any hero, relative to her hand size of 4 in hero form.  The saving grace for She Hulk is that she's far more comfortable flipping back and forth into Alter-Ego form, and with 6 cards in her Alter-Ego form's hand size there's even more incentive to do so.  That natural release valve from the Muscle group's throttled resource generation really helps She-Hulk find a role.


KNOWLEDGE IS POWER

So let's say you decide to believe me that the heroes can be classified this way.  What can you do with this information?


Well, this *is* how I'm thinking about the game and I've been finding it helps me solve the puzzle of deckbuilding very well.  While I still spend time making sure that I'm fitting to the individual nuances of each hero that I use, the fact that I'm coming into the deckbuilding with a general idea of what I might need those extra 25 cards to do has been incredibly helpful.

I've been on a journey with Protection as I struggled to really understand what the aspect was for.  I started out in Black Widow where a lot of little Protection permanents like Unflappable, Armoured Vest, Electrostatic Armour, Energy Barrier all joined Black Widow's Preparations in play, meaning her deck rapidly became very thin.  But something about that deck wasn't working for me and if I fell behind I stayed there.  I ported more or less the same card pool over to Spider-Man and tried it there but the outcome was pretty similar and I spent too much time hoping I drew a Swinging Web Kick to be able to solve a problem on the table.  I put it into Black Panther where it would fit with his native Retaliate ability, but I found that I was actually doubling down on being passive and waiting for Wakanda Forever because Black Panther was a Builder.

When I finally put those same cards into a Powerhouse hero, Ant-Man, everything suddenly worked much better for me.  The Protection cards were cheap and low-impact and because he was a Powerhouse I knew to bring a healthy dose of economy generation like Team Building Exercise, Quincarrier, Helicarrier and Power of Protection.  A superhero who brought plenty of proactive abilities was exactly what *I* was missing from the Protection card pool previously.  I'm sure other players would have made it work in Black Panther or Spider-Man, but it wasn't working for me.  

And I think it also taught me about the sort of heroes I'll enjoy personally.  I know now that if I'm going to play a passive Builder type of hero I'm going to want to put it with a proactive aspect just so that my ADHD doesn't kick in while I wait for all the pieces to assemble.

Another example is the Go-Go-Goliath deck from my first blog.  I recognised up front that Hawkeye's arrows were very insular so deliberately added 25 cards that were also quite self-contained and had a strong internal theme, without which my deck might be lacking direction.

And I see a lot of comments from players who are used to the old Team Players style of hero, like Captain America or Ms Marvel, and are trying to pick up new Powerhouse style heroes like Scarlet Witch or Wasp by just putting in the same sort of cards that were working for them in their old heroes.  They find themselves struggling to play their hero's cards and come away thinking the hero isn't very good, when actually they need to be adjusting their approach to bring in cheaper Aspect cards and as much supporting economy as possible.  Powerhouses need different support to Team Players, but I don't think that definition is very well understood or widely spoken about.

For me these classes aren't a strait-jacket on how you play your heroes, it was the opposite.  As a new player struggling to grasp all the options available to me starting to think about them like this was the key to unlocking successful decks and playstyles.  I just finished crushing the Rise of the Red Skull campaign with Ant-Man but without thinking about the game this way I'm not sure I would even have tried Protection with him.  

I hope some of this way of thinking about the heroes makes sense to you, too, and if it's helped you understand and unlock a hero or aspect you were struggling with up to now I'd love to hear about it!