Saturday, September 11, 2021

Mad Titan's Shadow: Spoiler-Free Review

It feels like there are not many advantages to being a post-Brexit Brit, but one crumb of comfort in our HGV drought-stricken wasteland is that we've been among the first people to get Mad Titan's Shadow released into stores.  We might not be able to get fruit and vegetables in the supermarket, or have our bins collected on time, but at least we can entertain ourselves by saving the universe while we wallow in our self-inflicted crapulence.

What I'm going to attempt to do today is give you my thoughts and impressions of the Mad Titan's Shadow box but WITHOUT giving the game away and spoiling any of the surprises.  I'm going to talk in general about how the encounters feel and how they're structured - the way they challenge the players and the overall experience of playing them - and hopefully you'll agree that I've succeeded in doing that without talking about any specific cards or effects you have to watch out for.  Other sites have got detailed spoilers if you want to find them, but I'm going to try not to spoil anything myself.

If you're worried about having even the slightest tiny little thing spoiled for you and you want to go into Mad Titan's Shadow completely blind then you can stop reading right after this...

I gave Galaxy's Most Wanted plenty of tries before ultimately deciding that I pretty much hated it.  Mad Titan's Shadow is so creative and enjoyable I find it hard to believe it came out of the same company.

If that's all you needed to know about Mad Titan's Shadow then you can stop reading right here.  Everyone else who wants to know (a little) more... follow me!


We get two new heroes in Mad Titan's Shadow, Adam Warlock and Spectrum (the latest name for Monica Rambeau).

Adam Warlock is another Mystic like Dr Strange and Scarlet Witch and brings a new set of spells for those heroes, but Adam's biggest draw is his unique deckbuilding restriction.  A bit like a 'Spider-Woman 2.0', Adam Warlock lets you bring in cards from all four aspects, it means that any Adam Warlock deck you make was something that was impossible to make up to now, and also that any deck you made up to now is impossible to make with Adam Warlock.  If you're a player who loves exploring new deckbuilding opportunities then that alone makes him a really good addition to your heroes.

Spectrum is less revolutionary and more like an evolution on heroes we've already seen.  Her ability to take on different energy forms lets her pivot between different strength in a similar way to Ant-Man or Wasp but unlike the two existing heroes Spectrum can't change energy form as her '1 per turn' form change she has to wait to play an event that will put her into the form you want.  I've played Spectrum a little bit as I go through the Mad Titan's Shadow scenarios and she has a lot of raw power to unlock but she can also be a frustrating hero if she gets locked in the wrong form and can't do what you need her to do.  She's fun and undeniably satisfying when it all flows the way you want, but I'm not sure she's one of the strongest heroes we've had.

As well as the two heroes we get a bunch of new player cards, a bit for every faction but mainly for Leadership.  There's some really nice cycles of cards in Adam Warlock's deck that function differently to anything we've seen before and open up new strategies, while in Spectrum's deck there's some fantastic new allies that give Leadership decks an even bigger buff than they already had.  It definitely sent my Black Panther deck to a new level!

Most Like: Mutagen Formula

The first villain you face in Mad Titan's Shadow is Ebony Maw, the evil sorceror who is leading an invasion force of Thanos' armies.  I've said that this fight is most like Mutagen Formula and what I mean by that is in Mutagen Formula the times you reveal the Green Goblin you get a wave of encounter cards thrown at you and the game is really about weathering those turns when you're dealing with a big spike in danger and threats being thrown at you.  Ebony Maw's key mechanic is that he's a spellcaster but his spells take time to resolve so they sit out in play as Environment cards with a ticking timer on them for when they'll resolve.

The dangerous moments in fighting Ebony Maw come when several of those spells are going to resolve at the time same so it's a bit like he's organically creating those big spikes of offense that Green Goblin created when his villain forms were revealed.

The rest of the time I don't think Ebony Maw really offers too many problems and I think he's much easier than anything we saw in Galaxy's Most Wanted.  His spells are the danger so he doesn't really attack for lots of damage and he doesn't really have any massively problematic minions to call on, he just delays and delays and waits for his spell packages to unload and push you back.  But I do think that if you face him outside of the Mad Titan's Shadow campaign he could be scaled up in difficulty very easily by switching a tougher module of minions in - his core mechanic of creating spikes in encounter cards hitting you at once is inherently dangerous and if his other cards were just a little bit stronger I think he'd start putting you on the ropes more frequently.

Most Like: Wrecking Crew

With Ebony Maw behind you the next fight you face is not against one member of the Black Order, but two of them at once: Proxima Midnight and Corvus Glaive!

I hands-down love how this encounter plays out, both mechanically and thematically.  Mechanically this is the second time FFG have given us the challenge of facing multiple villains at once and it seems like a lot of lessons from Wrecking Crew have been learned so this plays out much more satisfyingly.  What's changed, primarily, is that you no longer have control over which of the villains is active (it ping-pongs back and forth each turn) and there's also events that specify that the other villain will activate against you, so you can't isolate the villain you want to deal with and pick them off one-by-one.  Like in the Wrecking Crew encounter their main schemes don't end the game when completed but trigger seconary effects towards a shared objective, and that shared objective is where the theme for this encounter really shines...

In Wrecking Crew the villains were working towards breaking out of prison and the heroes were attacking them, trying to break up their plans.  And if you think about it that's how pretty much every scenario runs - the villain is the defender trying to complete their plans and the heroes are the protagonists trying to attack the villain's position.  Tower Defense is the first scenario that decisively flips that on its head and it feels very different - the villains are assaulting Avengers Tower and the heroes have to defend it.  The way that plays out in the game is that a lot of the time you're being asked to put yourself in harm's way or let Avengers Tower take damage and that element of self-sacrifice feels very different... right down to the campaign side quest of having to save the nearby Shawarma place!

I can't overstate how emotionally different this scenario feels.  Somehow it's evoking that feeling of being a hero and protecting innocents (even if it's just innocent real estate) that has been missing from all the scenarios we've had so far.  For the first time you've got a scenario that's about being Spider-Man stopping a runaway train, or the Avengers safely evacuating as many people as possible from Sokovia, rather than everything being assaulting the villain's secret lair and don't worry about the collateral damage.

Most Like: Red Skull

It's the big guy, and make no bones about it: the difficulty takes a big step upwards as soon as Thanos walks onto the scene.  Ebony Maw was pretty easy, Tower Defense was a thematic masterstroke but not especially difficult, but Thanos is hard.  Not Ronan The Accuster hard, but hard... maybe the second most difficult encounter after Ronan.

Somehow, though, it's hard in a much more crowd-pleasing way than Ronan was.  You've got a lot more agency in the matchup than Ronan gave you and Thanos is much more focused on wearing your position down by pummeling you steadily and relentlessly, where Ronan was always looking for the chance to kill you on the spot.  And, thankfully, there's nothing even close to being as completely unpleasant as Fanaticism!

The threats are twofold - firstly, Thanos himself is a titan after all so every attack is powerful and demands to be treated with respect, and as he comes with the Stalwart keyword you can't control him with Stun or Confuse effects to reduce how many blows he's flinging your way.  Every turn is another big blow that drains something from your resources and if you're ever left unable to defend yourself its really going to hurt.

Secondly, he's wielding the Infinity Gauntlet and this is where the scenario takes on elements of Red Skull.  Just as Red Skull has a side scheme deck that reveals a new card every turn Thanos has an Infinity Stone deck that keeps firing nasty control effects at you, wearing you down and trying to open cracks in your defenses for Thanos to exploit.  It takes powerful hero decks to weather than storm of Thanos' fury and get onto the front foot.

Oh, and yes, the 'finger snap' is in the game and it's a shocking moment when it happens.

Most Like: The Lord of the Rings

After defeating Thanos the story takes a left turn and you have to embark on an epic quest across Nifflehim, the realm ruled by Hela the Goddess of Death.  It's a really different style of encounter to anything we've had before with a string of challenges to pass on your journey before you even really make it to the point where fighting Hela herself really matters.

It's such a different encounter that I found the setup for this scenario very confusing first time I played it, and it was really only as I finished my first play through that I appreciated the shape of it properly.  Spoiler-free, I'm going to lay out the structure for you here in hope it makes a bit more sense to you first time you play it.

Firstly, defeating Hela herself is not your primary objective in this fight.  Instead your first task is rescuing Odin, who has been stripped of his throne and armor and is languishing in a dungeon looking like the world's saddest Santa Claus impersonator.  You need to get to Odin before Hela decides she's had enough fun torturing her father and kills him.

However to reach Odin you first have to trek across Hela's realm, and at each stage you'll need to defeat a powerful minion who is guarding the way, which in the game is represented by a see-sawing focus on beating minions and side schemes.  To make it through the caves of Gnipahellir you'll need to defeat the guard dog Garm, to cross the Gjallerbru bridge you must defeat Skurge, then finally to make it through the Halls of Nastrond to Odin's cell you'll need to survive Nidhogg.


Once you've done all that you can finally free Odin, and only then do you move on to defeating Hela and winning the game.  It's an epic journey, and although it's initially confusing to have the villain held so remote from you for so long it does make it feel unlike any of the other scenarios we've had so far.

During the campaign there's also the addition of a nice little side quest called Find the Norn Stones which does mean that you can't ignore Hela entirely while you Hobbit your way across Niffleheim.  Leaving that side scheme in play makes your life a lot harder, but you can't tackle it without dealing with Hera first and spending energy on something that doesn't help you finish the game.  Are the Norn Stones an unnecessary distraction or is the prize worth the extra effort?  In such a sprawling story and encounter finding a clear best route to victory is part of the challenge!

Most Like: Kang

And then finally, there's Loki.  And I'm not going to spoil anything at all... you'll have to find that one out for yourself!


Galaxy's Most Wanted was hard.  It was set up to really hate players and try to punish them - if you had a strategy you liked that worked than Galaxy's Most Wanted had something that was specifically designed to wreck that strategy.  If you were an experienced deckbuilder and you loved rising to a challenge then Galaxy's Most Wanted gave you something to really set yourself against.  But if you weren't one of those types of players then Galaxy's Most Wanted was mostly a brutal and unpleasant experience.  It felt like a design exercise in cranking up the difficulty rather than one in reinventing the game experience.

Mad Titan's Shadow is not like that at all.  Pretty much every scenario feels like a callback to a favourite villain of the past, but also they're an evolution and improvement on them instead of a carbon copy.  I come away from games against Mad Titan's Shadow having enjoyed the experience of being part of that story rather than worrying about how I'm possibly going to change things to give myself a better chance of winning.  Players who thrive on pushing the envelope of the best heroes, best decks, toughest opponents may find Mad Titan's Shadow a bit of a letdown, but I think for anyone else it's a home run of villains and encounters that you're going to be happy to play again and again.

It's a massive thumbs-up from me!

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

What If...? Hybrid Heroes: Captain Carter

My last few blogs have all been about exploring creating new heroes from the existing cards by blending things together, with T'Challa as Star-Lord being my last one.


Here definitely is the last one.  Honest.  Probably.  Maybe.


This final hybrid hero draws direct inspiration from the first What If...? episode on Disney+.  In that episode we are back at the point where Steve Rogers receives the super serum and becomes Captain America, only this time the Hydra agent attacks a little earlier and Steve is wounded.  As the experiment teeters on complete failure only one person can fill Steve's gap in time: Agent Carter.  Peggy receives the full dose of the super serum that was originally meant for the man who would be Captain America and history is changed forever...

I probably wasn't the only person watching that episode and thinking the new amazonian Captain Carter was like a mix of She-Hulk and Captain America, so those are the two heroes I've mixed together with She-Hulk's strength and intelligence complemented by Captain America's shield.  I've used pretty much exactly the same 'shield' set that went into my Mjolnir Cap but the other half of the deck now brings in the two sides of She-Hulk's nature. 


By day Peggy works as Agent Carter, with Superhuman Law Division standing in as her version of Allied intelligence (or S.H.I.E.L.D. HQ in modern day settings) and I used Split Personality to show her versatility in going undercover, but by night she throws a good old-fashioned Nazi-slapping One-Two Punch as Captain Carter.
  • 1x Captain America's Shield
  • 2x Shield Block
  • 2x Shield Toss
  • 2x Super-Soldier Serum
  • 1x Superhuman Law Division
  • 3x One-Two Punch
  • 2x Superhuman Strength
  • 1x Split Personality
  • 1x War Machine
    (15 cards)
One little kicker, which seemed to fit perfectly, was to steal War Machine from the Iron Man hero set to be the prototype Iron Man suit: Hydra Stomper.  We've got to get Steve Rogers into this war somehow!

The final piece of the puzzle was Captain Carter herself.  I based her Captain America's hero card and kept his alter-ego ability unchanged, but I changed the hero ability to Do You Even Lift? from She Hulk.  I really enjoy the constant flipping between hero and alter-ego that you do in She-Hulk and I wanted to bring that to Captain Carter so that she didn't just play like a gender-swapped Captain America on the table.

One thing I did do for Captain Carter that I hadn't done for my other hybrid heroes was I tinkered with the hero card art a little bit more than usual.  My photoshopping skills are virtually nonexistant - mostly I'm just cropping bits of cards and overlaying them over each other in Powerpoint - but I stretched them to breaking point to change the artwork over from Captain America and bring Peggy more to life.

Anybody else could have done a better job, I'm sure, but it was good enough for me to quickly print off and tuck into a sleeve to play with.

That was Captain Carter's hero cards sorted, now I needed the rest of a deck for her.  Looking at her hero pool it was clear what the main weakness was: Superhuman Law Division was the only thing she had that could thwart!  I pushed her into Justice to cover that weakness and started by just bringing over the Justice cards that I'd successfully played with for Black Suit Spidey.  

That was my start point but things quickly changed as Captain Carter immediately she wasn't Spider-Man, and in particular I found that the more I leaned into flipping her into Alter-Ego regularly the better she seemed to flow.  That meant going all-in on Sonic Rifle to confuse the villain and buy Peggy turns in Alter-Ego, it meant taking Lay Down The Law as both fuel for Superhuman Law Division and a great thwart event in its own right, and it also meant swapping out the 2x Endurance that were in Spider-Man's deck to use 2x Crew Quarters instead (also fuel for Superhuman Law Division).  The final piece of the puzzle was adding Lockjaw so I could take better advantage of Peggy's Living Legend ability to play cheap allies.

  • 3x Turn The Tide
  • 3x Clear The Area
  • 2x Lay Down The Law
  • 1x Spycraft
  • 1x Wiccan
  • 1x Quake
  • 1x Heroic Intuition
  • 1x Agent Coulson
  • 3x Sonic Rifle
  • 1x Genius
  • 1x Strength
  • 1x Energy
  • 2x Crew Quarters
  • 1x Ironheart
  • 1x Mockingbird
  • 1x Lockjaw
  • 1x Nick Fury
    (25 cards)
The end result is a deck that loves to flip forms as often as possible and is often just as comfortable playing as Peggy Carter and being an intelligence officer working undercover as it is suiting up and flinging the shield at bad guys.  It certainly felt nothing like a Captain America deck and much closer to She-Hulk, although again with some key differences.  Without She-Hulk's 3ATK the strength of One-Two Punch is less about dealing lots of damage as it is tagging something while readying to be able to thwart as well, and you don't have a Hulk's health pool to fall back on either.  What you *do* have is 5 card hand in hero form, though, which is nice, and some better economy cards from using Super-Solider Serum instead of Focused Rage.

It's more like a more well-rounded She-Hulk deck than anything else, really, with Cap's cards replacing the mediocre ones that sit in She-Hulk's pool like Ground Stomp and Legal Practice.  The one minor disappointment is that defending to benefit from the +1DEF of the shield is a bit of a non-bo with One-Two Punch, but she can't have everything and I think it suits Captain Carter to be more aggressive than sitting back and defending all the time in Protection aspect anyway.  I've had a few games with this deck and really enjoyed them - with Sonic Rifle and Superhuman Strength she's well equipped to control the villain's activations, and she's got plenty of attacks and thwarts to deal with minions and side schemes too.

And finally, I'm going to leave you with this shot of how she defeated Klaw, despite being exhausted by a Sonic Boom...

  1. Play Nick Fury and draw 3 cards, including Split Personality
  2. Play Split Personality to flip into Alter-Ego and draw 6 cards
  3. Flip back to Hero form and deal 2 damage with Do You Even Lift?
  4. Respond with Lay Down The Law to clear the main scheme of threat
  5. Swing 2x Turn The Tide at Klaw's face for the win
That sounds like a good time to me!

PS. Although this has been built as a Captain Carter deck you could easily avoid that reskin and treat it as "What If...?  She-Hulk became the new Captain America?".  If I did it that way I think I would cut War Machine from the hero pool to add She-Hulk's signature Gamma Slam finisher, and I think I would reverse the hero card process - I'd use She-Hulk's stats but then I'd switch BOTH her Alter-Ego and Hero abilities for Cap's, just to shake up how she plays away from a normal She-Hulk.  Having 3ATK and Cap's automatic ready is really good, but having to discard a card to ready hurts a lot more when you only have hand size 4 so I think it would balance off.