Although we have no shortage of Marvel themed games (seriously, there are a lot of them), this does not prevent us from receiving new options regularly. And as a die-hard Marvel fan, I agree. I’m willing to check out almost any superhero game that lands on my desktop. But I was very excited to play Marvel: Age of Heroes by WizKids Games. This X-Men themed game was created by one of the co-developers Lords of Waterdeep (Rodney Thompson), a game I still enjoy. He captured the same magic, but in the Marvel Universe? Let’s find out.
In Age of Heroes, each player will control a team of a couple of X-Men (or just Magic, I think she’s a bit lonely). Cyclops and Phoenix, Wolverine and Jubilee or Gambit and Rogue are some of the options at your disposal. Each duo not only has their own unique power (when playing on the advanced side), but also a deck of evolution cards that you can use to customize them as you play.
The game takes place in a series of rounds, each of which is divided into several stages. During Institute phase, players can place any of their heroes in the open at any institute location or on an X-jet for use at a later stage. Most locations will provide the player with either resources (three different ones in total) or the ability to draw/play cards. Cards come in three different types (not including the previously mentioned evolution cards): Event cards for a one-time bonus, Ally cards to grant new locations, and Team Up cards, which also create more hero locations but are only used during the mission phase. When all players have passed or placed all their heroes, the game moves to Mission phase.
During this phase, any hero that was placed on the X-jet during the Institute phase can now be moved to a mission tile or team card. These points allow you to spend resources to damage the villain, earning victory points. When all of the villain’s damage slots are filled, he is defeated. Sometimes this results in a stronger villain coming out, or a game over if it’s the last villain. There are three different scenarios in the game, but mostly you will be focused on defeating the villains.
The game is very different from what I expected when I first read about it. From the art to the theme, I was expecting a co-op game with more of a dice rolling feel. Instead, we get a Euro-y worker placement game that focuses on resource management. That said, I really enjoyed the individual phases of the Institute and the Mission. This required you to plan your moves by gathering what you need in advance to use during the mission phase (where most of your VPs come from). And since the locations operate in turn, you will compete with other heroes for the main places.
Another interesting thing was how the card game translates into worker placements. The game starts with only a few base locations of the institute. But to borrow a page from Lords of Waterdeep, throughout the game, players will be dropping Ally Cards into the Institute and Team Up Cards into the Mission Zone. They create new location options, usually more powerful than the default location. And anyone who played a card can claim ownership, which gives you a nice bonus when another player uses that slot. It’s a nice system that helps create some interaction.
It also helps increase the replay value that Age of Heroes has in abundance. From different ally and team cards that come out each game, to unique character abilities, and even villain boards that are randomly mapped to resource requirement boards, each game will look a little different. This is especially true when you start using the advanced side of hero boards and customizing the evolution cards you take.
While I’ve enjoyed my plays of Age of Heroes, it’s not without its flaws. I would be a bit wary of a game with a larger player count range. The box says 60-90 minutes, but that seems extremely optimistic. Even with two players, the game took us 90 minutes. The three of us took 2.5 hours. I haven’t tried it on five players, but I think you need to buckle up for the long game. In each case, the games started to drag out towards the end. I think the villains are probably too many to beat, or just a few lines on their boards. Cutting the gameplay down by 20-30 minutes would help make it more streamlined and help the game stay fresher on replay. Our scores have regularly been in the 150-200+ range, so there is no shortage of points being handed out.
Another area where the game goes wrong is its thematic integration. While a Marvel theme and worker-employer game are always going to push the boundaries a bit, Age of Heroes feels like it’s in a weird place. In some areas, like the hero evolution cards, there’s a clever use of a theme that ties in with the source material, while in other areas it feels like they’re just tacked on. For example, when teamed up with Psylocke, you can draw a card and play an event card for… reasons? And most hero abilities on advanced boards simply award bonus points for hitting a villain of a certain color. But these colors are never described. It’s just an “orange blob of damage.” It makes it feel like you’re not actually fighting the villain, I’m just spending x colored dice to get y victory points.
Finally, let’s talk about the production quality, which is complete. Some of the artwork is great, especially on some of the allies and team cards. Others felt a little… rough. Rogue and Gambit’s art makes them almost look silly, and Magic comes out of a portal that looks like a dinner plate. But the good news is that the iconography is really well done. It’s easy to understand what each icon means and where it links to. But then you get to the villain boards where there are icons and text actually small. Trying to see what it takes from the other side of the table to beat a lane against a villain is hard enough. Usually, people closer to the board had to tell others what was available, based on what they had at their disposal. The game board also seems very busy, with the score track taking up almost 1/3 of the space. Overall, while the presentation wasn’t terrible, it could definitely be improved in some areas.
I think Marvel: Age of Heroes is a good game, but not great. It has some very clever ideas: two phases per round, playing cards as places to place workers, and unique character evolution cards, but then it starts to feel menacing. Villains have too many lanes, and some of the rewards for villain health are so lucrative that other ways to win are almost irrelevant. Only some Apocalypse hit points will give 49 points. In a game that tries to offer multiple paths to victory, this was an odd design decision.
So for Marvel fans looking for a light to middleweight Euro, this is worth checking out. You get a lot of content in the box, and there’s solid replay value here. But I’d probably stick with fewer players unless you’re looking for 3+ hours of workplace experience.
Final score: 3.5 stars – Unique use of the X-Men theme, but held back by weak thematic integration and production issues.
• The two-phase system was fun
• Playing cards for employee locations were a great design choice
• Evolution cards are themed and provide good variety
• Great reproduction
• The game is too long, especially with a large number of players
• Some art and production issues