Join forces with your fellow Heroes to thwart the evil Villains’ Master Plans!
What Is Marvel United?
Marvel United is a cooperative game for 1–4 players, ages 8 and up, and takes approximately 30 minutes to play. I covered the campaign when it was on Kickstarter in February of this year, and the base game is shipping now, with expansions available next year. It’s currently available in retail from Amazon, or from Walmart with a Walmart-exclusive Venom figure, with a retail price of $34.99.
The game is a collaboration between CMON Games and SpinMaster Games, and is designed by Andrea Chiarvesio and Eric M. Lang with art by Edouard Guiton.
Marvel United is GeekDad Approved!
Marvel United Components
Here’s what you’ll get inside the box:
- 7 Hero miniatures
- 3 Villain miniatures
- 8 Locations
- 3 Mission cards
- 1 Mission Guide
- 3 Villain Dashboards
- 18 Threat cards
- 3 Challenge cards
- 84 Hero cards
- 36 Master Plan cards
- 36 Thug/Civilian tokens
- 6 Threat tokens
- 4 Invulnerable tokens
- 57 Action tokens
- 35 Health tokens
- 18 Crisis tokens
- 1 Villain tracker
There is also a nicely-designed plastic insert which holds everything in the box neatly, allowing for quick setup and breakdown of the game.
This is a CMON game, so the first question is usually, “how are the miniatures?” As Marvel United is geared more towards family audiences, the designers chose to go with a chibi style. I’ve been getting CMON games since the very first Zombicide Kickstarter, and I can honestly say that the miniatures in the box are some of the nicest I have seen in any CMON game…or any board game, period. The sculpts are crisp and dynamic, and very evocative of the Marvel Universe characters. Take a look for yourself:
The cardboard tokens are all brightly illustrated with easy to differentiate symbols, which are identical to the symbols pictured on some of the various cards. They are also sized perfectly to fit onto the open slots on those cards.
The many cards in the game are colorfully illustrated with pleasing artwork matching the style of the miniature sculpts. Here are a few of the Hero cards:
Other components, such as the Villain Dashboards, Locations, and Mission Guide, are also pleasantly illustrated with clear, easy to follow text and iconography. They are printed on thick cardstock instead of cardboard, which is mildly disappointing for those of us used to the higher quality in hobby boardgames. However, it’s important to keep in mind that there is a very reasonable price point for this game, and using cardboard instead of cardstock would increase both the weight and the price of the game. Considering that those particular components are placed onto the table during setup and not handled during the game, the use of the lighter cardstock shouldn’t be an issue for most people.
How to Play Marvel United
You can download a copy of the rulebook here.
The goal of Marvel United is to work together to defeat the Villain’s Master Plan.
Start by placing the Mission Guide in the center of the table, with the three Mission cards placed at the bottom in any order.
Next, choose a Villain, placing its Villain Dashboard on the indicated space on the Mission Guide. Place the number of Health tokens on the Dashboard as indicated by the number of players, and place the Villain Tracker cube at the starting spot if there is a track on the Dashboard.
Randomly choose 6 of the Locations and place them in a circle around the Mission Guide. Place Thugs and Civilians in the marked spots on the Locations.
Shuffle the Villain’s Threat cards and place one on each of the Locations, over the area marked END OF TURN. If a Threat card shows a Henchman, place the indicated number of Health tokens onto that card.
Place all remaining tokens in easy reach of the players. Shuffle the Villain’s Master Plan deck, and place it facedown next to a random location. Place the Villain’s miniature at that location.
Each player chooses a hero and places the miniature on the Location opposite the Villain’s. Shuffle the corresponding hero deck, and take the top three cards from the deck as your starting hand.
A game of Marvel United always starts with the Villain turn. Draw the top card of the Master Plan deck, and place the card faceup on the far left of the table. All future Hero and Master Plan cards will be played to the right of this card, creating a “Storyline.”
After placing the Master Plan card, follow the instructions as shown on the card. In the example below, you would first move Taskmaster 2 spaces clockwise from his current Location. Next, if there is a downward arrow symbol on his new Location’s Threat card matching the one on the bottom of the Master Plan card, you would immediately resolve the effect described on the Threat card. Because there is a “Bam!” symbol on this card, you would activate the “Bam!” effect on the Villain Dashboard, as well as any “Bam!” effects on any Threat cards. Then, you would add any indicated Thugs and/or Civilians on the Villain’s new Location and the two adjacent Locations; in this case, one thug on each of those.
Finally, if there is a Special Effect listed on the Master Plan card, it would be resolved last.
Next is the Hero turn. Players choose who will start, and then play proceeds clockwise. Players must complete any two Missions before they can directly damage the Villain.
Hero turn order:
1. Draw a Card
Draw the top card from your Hero deck and add it to your hand. There is no hand limit.
2. Play a Card
Choose a card from your hand and add it to the Storyline, placing it to the right of the last card played.
3. Resolve Actions
In any order, take the actions represented by the symbols on the bottom of both the Hero card you have played, and the Hero card last played. If the card you played has a Special Effect, you may also resolve that, but you may not play the Special Effect of the previous Hero card played.
In the image above, on Black Widow’s turn she would get to move one space, and attack twice in any order. She wouldn’t get to distribute any movement tokens however, as that was solely Iron Man’s Hero card Special Effect.
The four basic actions represented on the Hero cards are:
- Move. Represented by the green arrow. Move one adjacent location, in any direction.
- Attack. Represented by the fist. Deal one damage to an enemy of your choice at your location. Thugs only need 1 damage to eliminate, while doing damage to a Henchman or a Villain removes one of their Health tokens.
- Heroic Action. Represented by the yellow star. You can either rescue one civilian, or place a Heroic Action token on an empty slot of a Threat card at your location.
- Wild. Represented by the blue, yellow, and red boxes. You may perform a Move, Attack, or Heroic action.
4. Location Effect
If the Heroes have cleared the Threat from a player’s current Location, they may take the END OF TURN action listed on the Location. Then the next player in clockwise order takes their turn.
Every time 3 Hero cards have been added to the storyline, it becomes the Villain’s turn again. But once a Mission has been cleared, the Villain is “Under Pressure,” and it now becomes the Villain’s turn after every 2 Hero cards have been played.
Missions are completed by filling the cards with the requisite tokens by rescuing Civilians, defeating Thugs, or clearing Threats. Threats are cleared by either defeating the Henchman on the card, or filling the empty spaces on the Threat card with matching Heroic Action tokens.
Gameplay also changes whenever a Mission is completed. After the first Mission is accomplished, Villains act after every two Hero cards are played. After the second Mission is completed, Heroes can now directly damage the Villain. And if the Third mission is completed, all players can immediately draw one card from their decks.
Whenever a Hero takes damage, they discard one of the cards from their hand to the bottom of their deck. If the Hero discards the last card in their hand, they are KO’d. The player lays their hero miniature on its side, and the Villain’s “Bam!” activates. On that player’s next turn, they place their miniature upright and draw 4 cards into their hand during the “Draw a Card” step.
Heroes win if they defeat the Villain.
Heroes lose if:
- The Villain achieves the condition of their Villainous Plot on their Dashboard.
- The Villain must draw a Master Plan card, but their deck is empty.
- Any Hero starts their turn with no cards in their deck or their hand.
S.H.I.E.L.D. Solo Mode
There are special rules for solo play included in the game, which you can read in the rule book. However, I found that I preferred to play solo by just controlling all the characters by myself and playing as normal.
Marvel United: The Verdict
I’ve never disguised the fact that I’m a big fan of CMON Games. I own many of their games, including several incarnations of Zombicide, A Song of Ice and Fire, and Arcadia Quest. All of these aforementioned games have great miniatures, engaging gameplay, and also take up a lot of space on my shelves. So how does Marvel United compare, which is a relatively small game, and CMON’s first collaboration with SpinMaster Games?
You likely already have a clue to that, as you probably noticed the big “GeekDad Approved” logo earlier in the review. What the designers have given us is a fun, easy to both learn and play game that still has good strategic choices to make. Marvel United is also very family-friendly. The artwork is lighthearted and fun, but that also extends to the gameplay. If you’ve noticed, no one in the game is ever killed. Thugs, Henchmen, and Villains are “defeated,” and Heroes are never eliminated, just “K.O.’d” for a round before they pop back up, good as new.
There is also a deep love of Marvel Comics on display in the game. While most of the basic cards in the different Hero decks are the same, each Hero has a different balance of cards, and also gets some with unique Special Effects. For example, Captain America has more Heroic Actions, and as a Special Effect can give out Wild tokens to other players, while the Hulk is unsurprisingly good at punching, and has an iconic “Hulk Smash!” attack for a Special Effect. But this attention to detail isn’t restricted to the Heroes. You may notice that one of the Red Skull’s henchmen is Bob, a Hydra Agent who was created in the pages of Deadpool and is as easy to defeat as his character in the comics. Sadly, there is no Deadpool in the game, but maybe he’s being saved for a Marvel United sequel.
The closest game in style to Marvel United is Pandemic. With both games, you are having to deal with ever-growing threats in an attempt to vanquish them for good. But there the similarities end. There is much more variety in Marvel United gameplay, just in this single box. Each Villain plays differently, requiring different strategies to defeat them. The Locations all hold varying numbers of Thugs and Civilians, and provide different END OF TURN effects once Threats have been cleared. With the random setup of Locations, each game you’ll never know which ones you’ll have. And the different abilities of each Hero provide different synergies, depending on which Heroes the players choose.
If that isn’t enough variety for you, there will also be a lot of additional content coming its way next year in the form of several expansions to the base game. These will bring new Heroes, Villains, Locations, and gameplay mechanics. If you’d like to see what the future of Marvel United holds, you can take a look at their Kickstarter campaign page. Granted, some of the content shown there was exclusive to backers of the Kickstarter, but the majority will likely see retail release.
Another nice aspect of the game is the speed in which it sets up and plays. Knowing that you’ll lose if either the Villain or a Hero runs out of cards keeps the pressure up on the players, too. It’s definitely a race against time to stop the Villain’s Master Plan. I did find the standard difficulty a little on the easy side for my tastes, but it’s probably about right for families with younger kids. And the included Challenge Cards can easily ramp up the difficulty: not only do they deprive players of some of their Wild actions, but by taking cards out of their Hero decks, there’s even more pressure to stop the bad guy before the Heroes run out of cards.
If you’re a fan of cooperative games, there’s an awful lot to love about Marvel United. From the amazing miniatures, to the rock-solid gameplay, to the deep respect for the source material, this is a game I can heartily recommend to families to pick up. By skipping the “hobby board game” route, CMON and SpinMaster have produced a great game that’s very affordable and will appeal both as a “gateway” game and to more experienced gamers looking to have fun. The promise of even more Marvel Comics characters to come also makes it a great jumping off point for a gaming franchise…I can’t wait to get ahold of the expansions and see what they bring to Marvel United.
And did I mention the amazing miniatures?
For more information, visit the CMON Marvel United page.
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Disclosure: GeekDad received a copy of this game for review purposes.