Thursday, May 28, 2015

Game Review: Marvel Dice Masters: Avengers Vs X-Men

Marvel Dice Masters: Avengers Vs X-Men by Eric M. Lang and Michael Elliott

A common trope in comics is to have superheroes fight each other. Whether through an honest misunderstanding or villainous mind-control, whenever two or more heroes come together, there's a good chance they duke it out among themselves before they take out the real bad guy at the end of the book or movie. Marvel Dice Masters lets two players form up teams to fight each other in classic comic fashion.

The game starts with each player choosing among the various heroes and villains. Each character card lists the cost in energy to purchase the character's die, any special abilities, and any team affiliation (Avengers, X-Men, Fantastic Four, Villains). The starter set comes with eight characters who each have three cards and two dice. Players have to choose which card they will use for a chosen character, typically based on the power that character offers (for example, Captain America can either recruit new sidekicks or knock out opponent's sidekicks).

Purchase cost, energy type, and affiliation in upper left, power in middle, die faces on bottom!

After assembling individual teams, four action cards are selected (two by each player). These cards have three dice each and either player can buy these dice on the player's turn. The actions usually have offensive or defensive bonuses.

Similar to Cap, but no specific energy required to buy the die

Each player starts with eight "sidekick" dice and a dice bag. The first player draws four dice from his or her bag and rolls them. The player may reroll any of the dice. Then the player can spend energy rolled to buy dice (characters or actions), field characters (cost from zero to three), or pay for global actions (see Take Cover in picture above). Characters can only be fielded if their particular die was rolled with one of the character faces showing (not one of the energy faces) and the player can afford the Fielding Cost (upper left corner on the die). Used energy and actions go to a used pile.

Some of the dice

Fielded characters have the option of attacking or being held in reserve for use on a later turn, either to gang up with more characters or to block the opponent's characters when they attack on the opponent's turn.

If a character attacks and isn't blocked, that character's attack value is deducted from the opponent's life (players agree on a starting number (usually 15 to 20): if the life number gets to zero, you lose!) and the character die goes into the used pile.

If the character is blocked, the character's attack value (upper right corner on the die) is compared to the blocker's defense value (lower right corner on the die) and if the attack value is equal or greater, the blocker is knocked out and the blocker die goes to the prep area. At the same time, the blocker's attack value is compared to the character's defense value and if the attack value is equal or greater, the character is knocked out and its die goes to the prep area. So the two opposing characters could knock each other out or one could knock out the other. The trick here is that the blocking player may use more than one character to block an attacker, in which case the blockers' attack values are added together, making it easier to knock out the attacker. The attacker decides how to divide his attack value among the blocking characters. The math isn't too tricky, it just makes for interesting decisions with fielded characters.

Beast character dice faces (from one of the Beast cards)

Hulk character dice faces

Professor X character dice faces

Spider-man character dice faces

Any character die who is not knocked out goes back to the field area. The knocked out dice go into a prep area which means on the next turn, those KOed dice are added to the four dice drawn from the bag (thus allowing a player to roll lots of dice). When a player needs to draw from the bag and the it's empty, all the dice in the used pile go in the bag. So another interesting strategy is managing which characters stay in the field and which cycle through the dice bag.

My son and I enjoy the game a lot because of the flexibility and the thematic feel. When we started playing, we used just two actions and had three characters each, making it easier to keep track of abilities and what was going on. As we get better, we add more characters and actions to have interesting combinations. The game plays in about twenty minutes, letting us squeeze in games before dinner or in other times when a longer game would be impossible. The only downsides are (1) the box it comes is not so great for storing the game and (2) using a player mat to keep track of which dice are where is extremely helpful. The rule book has a basic mat in the middle page that could be photocopied or home-designed mats are available on Board Game Geek (or the company sells big mats for $15 to $20 depending on the version purchased).

An early game for us with a printed play mat

I bought the original starter set, Avengers Vs X-Men since it has the characters I and my son are most familiar with--Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, etc. The set only comes with two X-Men (Storm and Beast), which is a little disappointing for fielding an X-Men team against the Avengers. Another set was released, called the Uncanny X-Men, which features lots of popular X-Men like Cyclops, Iceman, Professor X, and Wolverine. A third set is coming out as I write called Avengers: Age of Ultron, which features the characters from the movie. Knowing that now, I probably would have bought Uncanny X-Men and then get the Age of Ultron set to avoid having duplicate Avengers. Having the extra dice for a character is handy (most cards let players field four dice per named character), but having a greater diversity of characters is even better in my opinion. All the sets work together, though certain characters have slight color or symbol changes on their dice.

Avenger Vs X-Men dice on left, Uncanny X-Men dice on right (Storm and Iron Man are the characters)

The way to get extra characters is to buy booster packs, which include two different dice with two matching cards. For example, a pack could have an Ant-Man die with card and a Magneto die with card. Some cards are rarer than others, giving a fun lottery feeling when opening a new pack. We've opened a bunch of Uncanny X-Men packs and have been able to expand our set of X-Men and villains enough to field thematic teams. Packs are only 99 cents, which is a bargain compared to other collectible games. Buying specific characters means shopping second-hand on eBay or online stores. We haven't found other players to trade with but we hope to!

A typical booster pack

Other starter sets are available for Dungeons and Dragons, Yu-Gi-Oh, and DC Justice League, and they are all compatible with each other. We don't plan to mix in DC superheroes or DnD characters though that may appeal to some. The Dice Masters system has a lot of flexibility and can appeal to many different tastes. Highly recommended!

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