Upper Deck Sending Marvel Comics Into the Deck-Building Card Game Fray

It’s beginning to feel a lot like the late ’90s in here. If you’re not already familiar with the deck-building card game concept, you will be soon, as it is growing with a pace not seen since collectible card games took over hobby stores some 15 years ago. Now the heroes and villains of Marvel comics will be starring in their own deck-building card game come November, when Upper Deck publishes Marvel: Legendary.

Simply put, deck-building card games retain all the enjoyment of CCGs while stripping out the budget-draining “pay to win” aspects of gameplay, accomplished by selling  an entire set of cards at once. With multiple copies of each card included, the gameplay turns the skill-driven task of deck construction, which was prep work in the CCG era, into the actual game itself.

The above description fits a staggering number of games, though. The genre was pioneered by Dominion, which went on to win the 2009 Spiel des Jahres award, but ever since, publishers have been flooding the market with similar titles. A quick look at the mechanic’s category page on BoardGameGeek.com turns up well over a hundred such designs.

These games often struggle to differentiate themselves from Dominion, but there have been several noteworthy successes. So how will Marvel: Legendary carve out its own niche? Upper Deck claims that these other deck-building card games lack the  lack the “name recognition and firepower of beloved characters from the Marvel Universe,” but will that lead to unique gameplay that makes gamers want to run out and buy a copy of Marvel: Legendary? We won’t know until we see the finished game, but Upper Deck has provided some initial detail on how the game works.

One thing we do know is that Upper Deck has brought on Devin Low, former head developer of Magic: The Gathering, to work on Marvel: Legendary. A mind for Magic is definitely a gold star on the resume of any deck-building designer, as was famously proven when Justin Gary and other Magic pros teamed up to create the successful Ascension franchise.

Marvel: Legendary will come stocked with over 500 cards, a fairly standard number for the genre. Gameplay details provided by Upper Deck point to the Marvel heroes doing what they do best: fighting villains. Players will recruit new heroes throughout the game and fight against the game’s villain cards. In what they are calling the “Mastermind” mechanic, there is even the chance for the game itself to defeat the players.

Deck-building games often have two or three main mechanics to help provide variety in deck constructions, and as you can see in the Spider Man and Doctor Octopus cards above, there will also be the occasional bystander rescues as well.

Marvel: Legendary will be previewed at this weekend’s Gen Con in Indianapolis, Indiana, so we should know much more about the game very soon. It’s an uphill climb for Upper Deck, though, as they’ll have to compete with a slew of deck-builders, a competing DC Comics game from Cryptozoic as well as several other similar Marvel games.

Interestingly enough, Cryptozoic was spawned out of Upper Deck when the latter decided to stop publishing the World of Warcraft TCG. Cryptozoic picked up the mantle and has just recently branched out into other areas of the hobby gaming market. It will be interesting to watch the two go head to head and see who can design the better superhero deck-building game!