Squeezing between the buildings, Natasha spies her objective, a Cosmic Cube Fragment. She moves forward and scoops it up, expecting trouble any moment.
Sure enough, Doctor Octopus drops down from the rooftops and lands deftly next to her. His arms dart forward, swirling around as she tries to escape their clutches. Despite her best efforts they catch her and with a howling laugh he throws her against the building. Dazed, she slumps to the ground; The cube fragment rolling out of her grasp.
Doc Oc’s laugh is cut short, though, as the sound of something moving quickly through the air grabs his attention. The shield takes him neatly under the chin, and then, like a pinball on steroids, it shoots off, ricocheting into Red Skull, who was lurking in the shadows.
Captain America appears from around the corner, a look of satisfaction on his face as bends to retrieve the fragment.
“So, what makes you so special?” Red Skull advances and uses his power to ‘Unleash the Cube’, hitting Cap hard and throwing him against the same building, next to Black Widow.
Captain America doesn’t go down so easy though and he rises to his feet.
Red Skull raises his cube, “Stay down. Final warning!”.
Cap staggers but remains standing, ” I…can…do…this…all…day!”
A player vs player skirmish game that sees squads of our favourite heroes and villains battle it out. Is Marvel: Crisis Protocol the game to capture those cinematic moments of comic and movie alike? Let’s dive in and find out…
Wanna get straight to my thoughts? Then feel free to use your superpowers, and fly to, ‘So, what do I think?‘
- Designer: Will Pagani, Will Shick
- Publisher: Atomic Mass Games
- Year Released: 2019
- Players: 2
- Playing Time: 45 minutes
- Ages: 14+
- Recommended Retail Price: £89.99
What’s in the box?
- 10 Marvel Universe Miniatures
- 1 Daily Bugle Sand
- 2 Cars
- 2 Dumpsters
- 2 Traffic lights
- 2 Lamp posts (These and all the above require assembly and painting)
- 170 Tokens
- 20 Team tactics cards – Standard card game sleeve size
- 3 Map cards – Standard card game sleeve size
- 2 Affiliation cards – Standard card game sleeve size
- 10 Character stat cards – 4″x6″ sleeve size
- 6 Crisis cards – Standard card game sleeve size
- 3 Movement tools
- 4 Range tools
- 1 Learn to play guide
- 10 Dice
This is a condensed overview of the game’s core principles and does not contain everything you need to know.
Each player brings a roster of ten characters, eight Team Tactics cards, three Secure Crisis cards, and three Extraction Crisis cards to the table.
After creating the 3′ x 3′ battlefield and deciding which player has priority, the mission is built by combining an Extraction card and a Secure card. The objective tokens are then placed on the board as required.
There are three types of objective tokens: Civilian tokens, Asset tokens, and Targets of opportunity. Some tokens can be interacted with by being within range 1 of them and spending 1 power, whilst other objectives may be picked up and carried.
Each player then selects a squad from their ten characters to meet the threat level – each character has a threat level, and the combined total of the squad’s threat must be equal to or less than that of the mission. Players also select up to five Team Tactics cards for use in the game.
Players then deploy their characters to the battlefield as per the mission map, starting with the player who has priority and alternating.
A game round consists of three phases.
- Power Phase – Each character gains 1 power and any game effects, player/crisis card, take place.
- Activation Phase – Players alternate turns until all characters have been activated, starting with the player with priority. Each character can take two actions, common examples are:
- Move – A character can advance up to its movement distance using the movement tools. The miniature can move to any point touching the tool.
- Attack – The character can make an attack listed on their card.
- Superpower – Some superpowers require the use of an action.
- Shake – remove one special condition from the character.
- Clean up Phase – Players score victory points as per the Crisis cards. Any effects that resolve during the clean up phase are resolved. Characters that are dazed remove all their damage tokens and flip their card to the injured side. If the player with priority activated the last character, then priority is passed to the other player. The round token advances and a new round begins.
The game ends as soon as a player scores 16 or more victory points. Failing that, at the end of the sixth round the player with the highest amount of points wins the game.
To make an attack:
- The character selects one of their attack actions from their card and the target needs to be in line of sight (unless otherwise stated) and in range (range varies from range 1 to range 5, and some attacks may be beam or area attacks) – some attacks require the character to spend power to use.
- The attacker creates their dice pool dependent on the strength of the attack and any modifiers.
- The defender then does the same based on their defence statistic to that type of attack (Physical, Energy, or Mystic).
- Both players roll their dice pools. For any Critical rolled an additional die is rolled. Dice are modified – Cover, Superpowers, etc.
- The attacker counts up Criticals, hits, and wild symbols. The defender counts up Criticals, blocks, and wild symbols.
- If the attackers total is greater than the defenders, then the difference is applied in damage.
- There may be effects, especially is wilds are rolled, that occurs before or after damage is dealt.
Superpowers fall into three types – Active, reactive, and innate.
Most Superpowers cost power to use and some require an action to be taken.
Unless stated as once per round, Superpowers can be used repeatedly in a single activation providing the cost can be met – Obviously, if the power requires an action then it can only be used twice!
Well, that really is a basic overview of the game, just to give a feel of some of the core rules. Let’s move on to my thoughts…
So, what do I think?
Let’s address the miniatures first. They’re nicely detailed and for the most they’re nicely posed, reflecting their comic book personality; they also paint up really well. There is a but though, and that is in their assembly, which certainly isn’t aimed at the novice.
Some of the characters have such tiny, fiddly parts to assemble, such as Iron-Man’s hand (wait until you start on expansions and have to glue Rocket’s jaw to his face!), which I found a right pain to position properly. The manufacture of some of them seems a little odd to me. Why aren’t certain appendages moulded in one piece, rather than broken down into subsections, such as multiple parts to make one arm, or even a head coming in two pieces? There’s probably a perfectly good reason for it, but I can’t see it myself!
The plastic scenery is a nice addition – again requiring assembly – and is of the same quality as the miniatures.
The movement and range tools are also solid bits of kit and have simply designs on them making them easy to paint – something I’ve yet to get around to.
Tokens are run of the mill, high density greyboard, and there’s enough of them to fulfil the needs of the base game – more come with expansions.
There are a fair number of dice – custom D8’s – but you could do with a few more if you’re playing two players with just a single base game. 10 is more than enough per person though, so it is a good starter box if you intend to play against others who’ve also made the investment.
On to the cards. The character stat cards are a good size for the information they hold, and their presentation is clear and easy to understand. Icons are limited and don’t take long to pick up – most being self-explanatory. There’s a nice image depicting the character, both at full health and on the reverse injured.
The set-up map cards are easy to understand, as are the crisis cards and Team Tactics cards, which feature some nice art on the back that is unique to each card.
All cards have a gloss finish and are quite thin, but this isn’t an issue as they aren’t really handled.
This is the Marvel superhero game I’ve been waiting for. One that makes you feel like you’re acting out the scenes from a comic book, where the characters you play really do feel ‘super’ – they’ve captured the theme marvellously (pun intended!).
Each character’s powers feel relevant to them, in some way capturing the things they got up to in the stories, such as Spider-Man’s Web-a-Pult, where he slings a web to grab hold of an enemy and slam them into the nearest building, or Cap’s shield throw that can ricochet from one enemy to another. Combine this with the Team Tactics cards and it’s like you’re on set of the next Avengers movie!
The game mechanisms really compliment the theme too. For starters they’re kept relatively simple for a skirmish game and so the things proceed quite spritely, building the excitement with the alternative character activation.
Then there’s the way that characters gain power, not only at the start of each turn but each time they’re dealt damage, which feels just right when you think about the comic-book stories, as does the shake action to remove statuses – Image Crossbones been knocked across the battlefield to become stunned, only to rise up, shake himself down, and then plunge back into the fray; it all makes sense.
The exploding dice are spot on with the theme too, as every superhero should be able to pull a few extra points of damage out of the bag or block that seemingly deadly attack with a bit of ducking and diving, and it creates some impressive stand-up moments when it all comes together.
And of course, there are the superpowers, some of which, at first glance, may not appear too ‘super’, but after a few games of figuring out how to use them properly, you suddenly see how they fit with the character and again, it all makes sense.
My only criticism is that the scenarios – the crisis cards – at least the ones that come in the core set, are a bit hit or miss in terms of theme. Some are better than others, and I particularly liked the ‘Skulls Infiltrate World Leadership’ extraction one, but they do what they need to, give you objectives to go for and the story you build is of your own creation.
let’s start with the actual included rulebook, which is a learn to play guide – the full core rules can be downloaded from Atomic Mass (Understandable, as it is in constant flux with the high frequency of expansion releases).
As a learn to play I found it reasonably good, containing lots of examples and pictures, however, I did have one particular issue. I didn’t think it flowed and was a bit disjointed in places, making it particularly difficult to find things mid-game – I always think an index in a game of this ilk is a must.
So, the rulebook is okay and easy enough to learn the game from, but what about the actual rules?
Well, for a skirmish game, things have been kept simple enough. Tools are used for movement, as is working out range; the superpowers are well explained and attacking, and defending are straightforward enough. At first glance, line of sight and cover are also easy to grasp… and then you start playing with lots of terrain!
Line of sight is often a cause for debate within skirmish games and this one is no different. You’ll re-read the LOS and cover rules several times, especially the bit about adding terrain size to the character size if they’re stood on top of it, before concluding that it isn’t always going to work realistically and does throw up some odd results. Personally, I produced a few house rules for determining LOS and characters on terrain.
Range is always measured horizontally (as is movement), no matter the height difference between attacker and defender, which also throws up some weird results, like you can actually attack someone who is physically further away because they are up high whilst another character may be physically closer but is out of range because they are on the same level!
I felt that flying and climbing could have been dealt with better, but when I stopped and though about it, I couldn’t come up with anything that didn’t slow the game down and over complicate things.
The heroes/villains are what, for me, made the game great and fun to play. There are a lot of familiar faces in the core set and the way they play is so thematic. I loved the way they gained power, especially through taking damage, as it meant I was able to strike back immediately, and it never felt like I was playing catch up – it’s a great way to keep the game close.
The variation in the characters’ powers was also a big plus, though it did take some time to become fully acquainted with them all, and I needed to be to get the best from my team. The general strike powers shared some similarities, but most put a twist on things when a ‘wild’ was rolled, such as throwing or placing a condition on the target. The other powers, though, were all quite varied and produced some fantastic cinematic moments, such as Iron-Man’s homing rockets whizzing around the terrain to explode, or Crossbones advancing relentlessly on those who cause him damage.
Most characters don’t change any stats or powers when you flip them over to their injured side, but you must pay attention because one or two do – Iron-Man gains the UniBeam attack. I would have liked to have seen more of this, as I felt it played to the thematics one often sees in the comics – heroes only pulling out the big guns when they’ve taken a beating.
Until I’d learnt how the characters ‘worked’, choosing characters and team tactic cards at the start of play was quite daunting and took some time, but as I became more familiar with my team this became quite an interesting and strategic part of the game. As I became more adept, I could look at the mission, look at the opponent’s roster, and come up with team and a plan that I thought would get the job done – inevitably, the plan didn’t last past the first activation!
The terrain that came with the set was just enough to give me a feel for things, but more terrain was needed to play it at its best. With minimal terrain the missions all felt too similar and most ended up in stand-up brawls. Throwing in more terrain gave the game a better feel, with the missions taking on a new meaning that required more tactical thought.
Deployment became more interesting with extra terrain, as it added an extra depth to the game – I had to think about where best to use flying/climbing characters and how best to support them, as well as who could throw what – lots of smaller terrain, such as lampposts, are fun to add as you can throw them around.
I found movement to be a major consideration when selecting a roster. Being able to zip around the battlefield was extremely useful, but it isn’t always about the size of your tool, movement tool that is! For starters, the base size needs to be taken into consideration, as a larger base in effect gave me a longer move. There were also powers that enabled me to move, such as Crossbones being able to advance when dealt damage, or Black Widow being able to move a short distance after using her Mixed Technique power.
Certainly, having increased movement options made my team more versatile, but there were a few subtle powers that I didn’t fully appreciate until I’d played a few games, and it highlighted that, though the game is fast paced with simple game mechanisms, it didn’t lack depth, at least from a tactical point of view.
As an example, let’s take a look at Black Widow and her Martial Artist and Stealth powers. Stealth meant that an attacker had to be within range three to target her, and her Martial Artist skill enabled her to add blanks to her defensive roll if targeted within range 2 by physical or energy attacks – she also used a long movement tool.
It was only when I played against her that I realised just how useful these powers can make her. The person I was playing against used her to dash across the battlefield and pick up objectives. She then skilfully controlled her in such a way as to use these skills to full effect – it became a right pain trying to pin her down and get her to drop the objectives.
At first I didn’t believe the 3′ x 3′ playing area would be big enough, but once I had it filled with terrain it worked really well. I think had it been any larger then the intensity would have been lost from the game and those long moving characters would have ruled the roost. As it was, it concentrated the action around the objectives and making for tense and exciting game play.
I found that all characters had their uses and I enjoyed putting together different rosters to use in different situations.
As I added expansions, so far an extra 6 characters, the more my options opened up. I wanted to put together the strongest squad I could, which meant putting plenty of though into it and trying things out.
Talking of squad building, I have to mention leadership and team affiliations. I was limited by the core set to Avengers and Cabal affiliations, with Cap America and Red Skull being their leaders. For my squad to be classed as an affiliation at least half of the characters I was using had to share the same affiliation; I could then use that affiliation leader’s leadership power. These were very handy to have – Cap reduced the cost of superpowers and Red Skull enabled power to be gained after attacking. My only problem here was remembering to use them!
I found the pace off the game was excellent and really drove the excitement. Taking it in turns to activate a single character meant I could remain reactive and change my plans to suit the current situation, and again, it really helped to know exactly what each character could do without having to constantly read the cards, which does slow the game down to a drag in the first few games.
The simple game mechanisms helped keep the flow going too. Taking all measurements on the horizontal, whilst not realistic, did make for simplicity – though the climbing rules did bug me. When using tall terrain, I just found it annoying that a non-wall crawler/flyer could get to the top so easily, but it does make sense in order to keep the game moving swiftly.
Attacking and defending was a delight. It was easy to work out any modifiers and we rolled dice simultaneously, which just increased the fun. I like that wilds can do different things depending on the power used, and it was these that often created the most memorable moments of the game, like Doc Oc’s Flurry of Arms having wilds count as two successes. The balance is just right, having a 1 in 8 chance of rolling a wild per die; they didn’t come up too often as to ruin the game by making some characters powers to, er, powerful!
The dice rolling overall gave a good distribution of results and though it did happen, it was rare to be taken out in one hit (when it did, it was like a stand-up moment with lots of cheering from the successful player!), so you’ll often have the chance of retaliating using the power just gained (A crafty player often chooses to hit a character that has already activated to avoid this, and try and take that character out before next turn). This opened another strategy, that of moving a character into a position where they’re likely to be attacked in order to gain power. It seemed strange to do so at first, but it makes sense at the start of a game in order to increase the character’s power and enable them to do something awesome the following turn. Of course, declining to attack for such a reason also became a valued tactic!
The game was limited to 6 turns, unless someone reached 16 Victory Points before then. It doesn’t sound like much, but I found it to be spot on. It gave enough time to come back from a bad opening and wasn’t so long as to drag out an inevitable victory. To be honest, I felt that it was the turn restriction that introduced a lot of the tension. I could work out how many Vps were available and, under current conditions, how many my opponent was likely to score. This often gave me a specific aim, like having to chase down a character and get them to drop an objective in order to win – I really liked that and the excitement it built as the game moved to a climax.
There were several different conditions that could be placed on a character, such as Bleed, Stagger, and Stun (more come through expansions), and whilst these were a hinderance, I never felt they were too restrictive, and I could continue with them or use an action to ‘shake’ one off – Stagger causes you to take this action.
One last thing I’d like to mention, and it’s more of a personal thing really, is that I’d like to have seen, and maybe there will be in the future, some missions that restricted the number of characters to just one or two per side, oh, and throw in a campaign as well, that would be good! I’d love to replay some of the epic, one-on-one battles that I remember from the comics, as well as have some mechanism that enabled scenarios to follow on, carrying over the consequences form mission to mission.
The threat level is what balances the opposing teams, at least that’s the theory. But this is the type of game where you are looking to upset that balance, as you are in any skirmish/wargame where you build a squad/army to a set number of points, you want to beat your opponent and handing out a good thrashing can be somewhat satisfying.
Through all the games I played I found that the threat level worked in that it did create an even balance, giving many nail bitingly close finishes – providing squads were selected wisely, that is!
For instance, playing with just the core box we split the characters randomly for a game and it just so happened that one squad had all short/medium move characters, whilst the other had all medium/long. This made quite a difference to the balance of the game, as one squad could pick up most of the objectives in their very first activations and from then on it was a game of chase!
Obviously, if you’re choosing from a good selection of your own miniatures then you’ll pick ones that work together and are capable of dealing with a variety of situations, but it is something to be mindful of if you’re new to the game and 2-players only have one starter set between them.
Having added several expansions to my roster, I still found the threat level created balanced games, but I’m sure there are some specific squad selections that will prove better than others, it’s usually the case with this type of game. For me, though, not playing competitively, I just enjoyed pulling combos of and having a good time; the closer the game the better – so far, so good.
Even taking just the core set there is bags of replayability here. Not only the mix of Crisis cards, which create different aims for each game, but the multiple ways you can assemble the teams makes each game individual. Throw in the expansions and the variables become never ending.
The fast pace and quick game time also add to the attraction of the game, meaning you can often fit multiple games in during one sitting, and that’s a bonus if you have lots of terrain to set up/put away.
You’ll probably only stop playing this game when you tire of the theme; I’ve been reading the comics for 40 years now and still crave more, so I’d stay it’s got some staying power!
Can I play it… all on my own?
Essentially, this is a two-player game, however, one of the Ultimate Encounters available on the Atomic Mass Website, All Will Be Metal, can be played solo and there are plenty of others popping up on BGG.
So far, the only way I’ve played solo is against myself in order to learn how to get the best from the characters and how they interact with each other. I found this fascinating and, when you suddenly realise how to combine certain powers, quite rewarding.
This is a game, though, that really needs another player to bounce the excitement off – when you pull some awesome move out of the bag or roll some big dice against the odds, it’s so much more fun when there’s someone on the receiving end!
I love this game. I find it exciting and fun to play. The character’s powers really do feel ‘Super’, the dice rolling is thrilling and competitive, and the fast pace builds tension towards a nail biting climax. But it’s the theme that really stands out and how well it has been captured, especially in the way the individual characters are represented. We’ve created some truly memorable moments that wouldn’t have been out of place in an MCU movie and look forward to creating many more.
But, I have to ask exactly who is Marvel: Crisis Protocol aimed at?
Take the game mechanisms for instance, they’re fast paced and, other than a few queries about LOS, are kept simple and easy to use. So, one would think the game is trying to capture those Marvel fans not normally open to skirmish games, luring them in with fast, furious, gameplay and simple rules. But then there are the miniatures, which certainly aren’t aimed at the beginner. They can be right down right fiddly to assemble, even with small dainty fingers – they also beg for a half-decent paint job too.
If you are a Marvel fan in any shape or form, then you will love this game – it generates the excitement and fun of both the comics and movies. If, on the other hand, superheroes don’t float your boat, then well done for reading this far, but the game most likely isn’t going to do it for you.
So, if you love the theme and like the idea of putting together a team of heroes to battle against your buddy, then the deciding factor is going to be those miniatures. If you’re already adept at sticking little bits of plastic together with glue and covering them in colourful acrylics, then what are you waiting for, go get it, however, if you’re not, then the decision isn’t so easy.
You’ll also need some extra terrain in order to get the best from the game, as it increases tactical options and really adds depth (and height!), and of course, if you haven’t already got a load of urban features sitting around, then there’s the added cost to think about. Top this with the cost of the expansions, and let’s face it, you are going to want expansions, then this is a game that will need some investment – those expansions aren’t cheap!
Read my thoughts, One Year On, HERE
Official site – Atomic Mass Games
Recommended video review – Matthew Jude
BoardGameGeek page – HERE