While there is no shortage of Marvel-themed games available to us (seriously there are a lot), that doesn’t stop us from getting new options to try at a regular pace. And as a die-hard Marvel fan, I’m ok with that. I’m willing to check out pretty much any superhero-themed game that makes its way to my tabletop. But I was keenly interested in playing Marvel: Age of Heroes from WizKids Games. This x-men-themed game is made by one of the co-designers of Lords of Waterdeep (Rodney Thompson), a game I still really enjoy. Did he capture that same magic, but in the Marvel Universe? Let’s find out.
In Age of Heroes, each player will control a team-up of a pair of X-men (or just Magic, she’s a bit of a loner I guess). 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 a deck of Evolution cards you can use to further customize them during the game.
The game takes place over a series of rounds, each of which is broken up into a couple of phases. During the Institute phase, players can place any of their heroes on an open spot in any institute location, or on the X-jet to be used in a later phase. Most locations will grant the player either resources (three different ones in total) or the ability to draw/play cards. Cards come in three different types (not counting the previously mentioned evolution cards): Event cards for a one-time bonus, Ally cards to grant new placement spots, and Team Up cards, which also create more hero placement spots, but are only used during the mission phase. Once all players have either passed or placed all their heroes, the game moves on to the Mission Phase.
During this phase, any hero that was placed on the X-jet during the Institute phase can now be relocated to a mission tile or team-up card. These spots let you spend resources to damage to a villain, earning you victory points. Once all of a villain’s damage locations are filled, they are defeated. Sometimes that results in a tougher villain coming out, or ending the game altogether if it’s the final villain. There are three different scenarios in the game, but for the most part, you’ll be focusing on defeating a series of villains.
The game is very different from what I expected when I first read about it. From the art to the theme, I expected a cooperative game with more of a dice-chucking feel. Instead, we get a Euro-y worker placement game that focuses on resource management. That said, I really enjoyed the separate Institute and Mission phases. It required you to plan out your turns, gathering what you need ahead of time to use during the Mission phase (where the bulk of your VPs come from). And since locations are first come, first served, you’ll be competing with your fellow heroes for the prime spots.
The other cool thing was how the card play turns into worker placement spots. The game starts with only a handful of basic institute locations. But borrowing a page from Lords of Waterdeep, throughout the game players will be dropping Ally cards into the institute and Team Up cards in the missions zone. These create new location options, usually more powerful than the default locations. And whoever played the card gets to claim ownership, which earns you a nice bonus when another player uses that location. It’s a nice system that helps create some interaction.
This also helps add to the replay value of the game, which Age of Heroes has in spades. From the different Ally and Team Up cards that come out each game, to the unique character powers, to even the villain boards which are randomly matched up with resource requirement boards, every game will feel just a little bit different. This is especially true once you start using the advanced side of the hero boards and customizing the evolution cards you take.
While I’ve enjoyed my plays of Age of Heroes, it’s not without its faults. I’d be a little wary about playing the game at the higher player count range. The box says 60-90 minutes, but that feels extremely optimistic. Even at 2 players the game took us 90 minutes. With three we pushed 2.5 hours. I didn’t try it at five players, but I’d imagine you need to buckle up for a long play. In each case, the games started to drag near the end. I think there are probably just one too many villains to defeat or just a few too many lines on their boards. Cutting 20-30 minutes off the gameplay would have helped it to feel a bit more streamlined and helped the game to stay fresher on replay. Our scores were regularly in the 150-200+ range, so there is no shortage of points being handed out.
The other area where the game missteps is its thematic integration. While a Marvel theme and a worker placement game were always going to be stretching the limits a bit, Age of Heroes feels like it’s sitting in an odd place. In some areas, like with the hero evolution cards, there is a clever use of theme that ties back to the source material, yet others areas just feel pasted on. For example, teaming up with Psylocke lets you draw a card and play an event card for… reasons? And most hero powers on the advanced boards just score you bonus points for hitting a villain on a specific color. Yet those colors are never described. It’s just “an orange damage spot”. This leads to the feeling that you are not really battling a villain, I’m just spending x color cubes to receive y victory points.
Finally, let’s talk about the production quality, which is all over the board. Some of the art is great, especially on some of the Ally and Team Up cards. Yet others felt a bit… rough. The art for Rogue and Gambit makes them look almost silly, and Magic is coming out of a portal that kind of looks like a dinner plate. But the good news is that the iconography is really well done. It’s easy to tell what each icon means and where it links up to. But then you get to the villain boards where the icons and text are really small. Trying to see what it takes from across the table to defeat a line on a villain is pretty hard. Usually, the people closer to the board had to tell others what was available based on what they had on their resource tracks. The gameboard also feels really busy, with the score track taking up almost 1/3rd of the space. Overall, the presentation while not terrible could definitely have been improved in some areas.
I think Marvel: Age of Heroes is a good game, but not a great one. It has some really clever ideas: the two phases of each round, playing cards as worker placement spots, and unique character evolution cards, but then it starts to bog itself down. The villains have just a bit too many tracks, and some of the villain health rewards are so lucrative that it makes other avenues for victory almost irrelevant. Some of Apocalypse’s hit locations alone will grant 49 points. In a game that tries to offer multiple paths to victory, that was an odd design decision.
So for the Marvel fan who’s looking for a light-medium weight euro, this could be worth checking out. You get a lot of content in the box, and there is solid replay value here. I’d probably stick to the lower player counts though unless you are looking for a 3+ hour worker placement experience.
Final Score: 3.5 Stars – A unique use of the X-men theme, but held back by its weak thematic integration and production issues.
• Game is a bit too long, especially at the higher player counts
• Some art and production issues