I've played a few Marvel card games over the years, but last year when I picked up Sentinels of the Multiverse, I also picked up the DC Deck Building Game and the newest Marvel card game: Legendary. Let's take a look at that one.
WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: Retailing for $60, Legendary is a semi cooperative card game that comes with a game board and 560 cards. Those cards are divided up into a number of much smaller decks, spread out over heroes, villains, henchmen and so forth.
The conditions of victory - indeed, the set-up itself - are dictated by the scenario selected for the game. Is there a Super Hero Civil War going on? Then you have fewer Heroes in play and the ones available to recruit get knocked out with every Scheme Twist. Perhaps a Midtown Bank Robbery is ongoing. In that case, expect lots of hostages. There's also the old standby of a villain unleashing the power of The Cosmic Cube. There's even The Legacy Virus, which piles on the Wounds.
The four Masterminds available in this set are Dr. Doom, Loki, Magneto and Red Skull, hitting the major points of interest. Each Mastermind includes an attack value that must be beaten, an "Always Leads", which indicates the group they always have with them (like Doom and his Doombots or Magneto and his Brotherhood), as well as an effect that takes place with each Master Strike (keep a Tech Hero around for Doom and an X-Man when fighting Magneto...just trust me). They also each have four cards that have different effects when encountered like beating Doom to score the treasure of Latveria (and more cards next turn) or beating Red Skull to score four additional Recruit points. The villains use Villain Groups (like the aforementioned Brotherhood, featuring guys like Sabretooth, Juggernaut, The Blob and Mystique, each with their own attack values and abilities. Others include Spider-Foes like Green Goblin, Venom and Dr. Octopus or Masters of Evil such as Baron Zemo and Ultron, Hydra or The Skrulls). Some villains have an effect that triggers when they come into play, or when they are fought, or if they escape. Many of these are cute thematic nods, like beating Doc Ock to draw a hand of 8 cards. The Skrulls will kidnap and impersonate heroes, and Blob can only be fought and beaten by X-Men.
Villain decks are also supplemented by Henchmen groups, like the aforementioned Doombots, Sentinels and the Savage Land Mutates. Some Henchmen groups will make it much harder (Sentinels KO one of your heroes every fight), while others make it easier (take out a Savage Land Mutate and add an extra card to your hand when you redraw). Villain decks also have Scheme Twists and Master Strikes, whose effects are dictated by the scenarios and Master Villains. Bystanders are also often included, being captured by the nearest villain when drawn.
You have 14 heroes to choose from, each with their own 14 card deck, consisting of two cards with five copies apiece, a third card with three copies and a more expensive, unique card, usually emulating the defining trait/power of the hero. The cards all have a Type (Strength, Instinct, Covert, Tech and Ranged), and most of them have a team affiliation: X-Men, Avengers, SHIELD and Spider-Friends. The heroes included in the base set are:
Each deck has their own unique traits to them, more or less thematically tied to the characters. Spider-Man will let you pick very low powered heroes off the top of your deck and rescue bystanders. Captain America and Cyclops respectively feed off of the number of Avengers and X-Men in your deck. Rogue can copy another card in play. Nick Fury can promote your SHIELD cards and can unleash Hell on Earth on behalf of the SHIELD cards you have lost. Hulk can get stronger for taking Wounds, while Wolverine can remove Wounds from your Deck.
As Deck Building games tend to go, you start off with some basic cards (SHIELD Agents and SHIELD Troopers), which provide you with your basic attack and recruit points. In addition to recruiting heroes, you can recruit SHIELD Officers, which provide you with better recruit bonuses.
The game board tracks the flow of play, with an extended space for the SHIELD Helicarrier which holds five cards that you can recruit (replenishing them if they are recruited or KOed for any reason). There are five City spaces as well: The Sewer, The Bank, The Rooftops, The Streets and The Bridge. Some of the cards interact with spaces differently (Storm is more effective with some attacks on the Rooftops, while you don't want to fight The Lizard in the Sewers). If a villain escapes the City, he KOs a hero from HQ and, if he had a bystander, forces you to discard a card.
The victory conditions for the heroes are pretty much always the same: Take out the master villain by beating them four times. From there, each hero counts up their victory pool (including all the villains they beat and bystanders they rescued) to determine who won among the heroes (the game is semi cooperative after all). If the heroes lose (as dictated by the scenario's losing conditions), then the number of points don't matter so much.
A number of optional rules (including solo rules) are provided, namely providing scaling options for raising and lowering the difficulty.
WHAT WORKS: It's a fun game with some interesting card interactions. The combinations of heroes, villains, villain groups, henchmen and scenarios can make for pretty dramatic swings in play experience from game to game. A steady stream of expansions that provide more options without actually affecting the size of the game.
WHAT DOESN'T WORK: Though fun, the theme still isn't quite on par with a true superhero combat game like Sentinels of the Multiverse. The solo rules aren't so great. The semicooperative can be tough to reconcile thematically ("So we BOTH recruited Nick Fury?")
CONCLUSION: I have actually gotten a ton of fun out of this game using a modified version of these solo rules and a randomizer. It's a great game with strong support from Upper Deck. The initial character selection makes sense when you look at the cast of Avengers and the popularity of Spider-Man and the X-Men. Heck, the SHIELD Agents even use the imagery of Agent Coulson from the comic books and the SHIELD Officers are Maria Hill. Later expansions have blown up the game, adding the Fantastic Four, Carnage, The Kingpin, Daredevil, X-Force, Apocalypse, Galactus and more, with three expansions available (one big box and two smaller ones). While I don't think the Holy Grail of superhero card games has been hit yet (something like Sentinels of the Multiverse but with a story element would be about perfect), Legendary certainly ranks among my top card games, especially for solo play, slightly edging Sentinels in that category due to ease of set-up, play and tracking. Highly recommended if you are a Marvel Zombie.