The basic pitch on Marvel: Age of Heroes is that you take the bones of Lords of Waterdeep, make it a bit more complicated, and add an X-Men theme. Lords of Waterdeep is great, arguably the best gateway worker placement game. And I love the X-Men. So I was pretty psyched up for this one.
A turn in Age of Heroes is divided in two stages. In the first stage they’re sending their X-Men to the Xavier Institute, mostly to gather resources and play cards. In the second stage they’re sending their X-Men out on the X-Jet to attack the bad guys, scoring points. One noteworthy thing is that each one of the ‘workers’ being assigned is a specific member of the X-Men. Many teams are split between two X-Men (e.g., half the pawns are Cyclops and half are Jean Grey), but this can be more skewed – there’s only a single Lockheed pawn no matter how many Kitty Prides there are, and Magik always works alone. Each team has a power, such as getting benefits when making a certain type of attack on the X-men’s enemies. But additionally each character will gain powers over the course of the game that apply only to that character. Rogue can fly. Gambit likes cards. So the Rogue evolution representing her flight doesn’t apply to Gambit, and the Gambit evolutions that give bonuses for playing Event cards don’t work for Rogue. (The other available teams are Wolverine/Jubilee and Storm/Forge.) Each of the pawns is a 2D acrylic miniature. Those who are familiar with the HeroClix miniatures game (also published by WizKids) may recognize that the double-sided images used for the acrylics use files for the sculpts from HeroClix minis.
In the Xavier Institute, the built-in actions on the board are to gather resources (physical, mental, and willpower as three colors of cubes), play evolution cards, draw cards from the Institute deck, or play two of the three kinds of cards from the Institute deck. Ally cards from the Institute deck are like building in Lords of Waterdeep, adding more actions spaces for the X-Men to assign to. There is, however, a significant difference because the Ally cards are all free and aren’t universally better than the starting actions on the board. So they play a much more significant role in Age of Heroes, and more of that role is just about having options. Also like in Lords of Waterdeep, each Ally is marked by the player who recruited them, and that player gets a bonus whenever another player assigned to that Ally. The bonus is not determined by the Ally card, but by the slot on the board. Bonuses include resources cubes, drawing cards, and student pawns. Students are basically one-shot workers who can only assign to the Institute, not be sent on missions. The other type of Institute card that can be played in the Institute is Event cards. Events are one-shot actions, most of which are fairly weak. The default space that allows play of Event cards is also used to claim spots in the turn order next round.
Works are also partially sent out on missions during the Institute phase by being placed on the X-Jet. The first X-Men to go to the X-Jet gets to play one of the third kind of Institute cards, a Team-Up. Once everything is done at the Institute, the missions phase sees the X-Men leave the X-Jet. The standard thing to do is go to one of the mission tiles, each of which represents a bad guy who needs to be defeated (minions, then lieutenants, then a mastermind). Each mission tile has a certain number of slots where for the villain to be damaged, and each slot has a resource cost, a color, and victory points awarded. When all of the slots have been damaged, the villain has been defeated, typically granting a bonus to the players who pitched in (sometimes based on damaging the villain at all; sometimes based on how many slots the player damaged).
Team-Ups provide an alternate way to damage the villains. A typical Team-Up card allows an X-Man to assign from the X-Jet to the card, pay a resource cost (typically less than the resource costs on the mission tiles), and damage any enemy slot of a particular color. But many Team-Ups have additional effects as well. There’s also an extraction zone where characters on the X-Jet can be assigned when it turns out they don’t have the resources to damage a villain; the character gain a bonus from the extraction zone that gets bigger as the game goes on.
Once enough villains have been defeated, the game ends. There are three scenarios – Fall of the Mutants, Fatal Attractions, and Children of the Atom. Each has some particular parameters that vary from the standard, some different Institute Deck cards, and different villains, although they don’t ultimately feel radically different from each other.
The basics of the game start out well. Unfortunately, there are some flaws to Age of Heroes. Most notably, the game lasts too long. A lot of “Euro” strategy games you start the game and the rules say the game lasts only five rounds and that feels so short at first, but it keeps the tension going and the game fresh until the end. Age of Heroes doesn’t limit itself like that and often overstays its welcome. Our typical games saw four villains defeated (both starting minions, one lieutenant, and the mastermind). But the game often wanted to end after three – by the time the mastermind actually comes out the board is mostly full and everyone mostly has their powers unlocked and the winner is usually apparent well before the game ends. There are also several ‘balance’ issues – between stages of the game, between player counts, between card types. A lot of this revolved around the deck. Events are mostly bad and we rarely wanted to play them (they are mostly weaker than Waterdeep events, and in that game you get to play your card and then later reassign the worker to take an action). Allies are extremely desirable early in the game, but once half the board is full it becomes much less likely to draw one that you’d want to play. This is mostly because of a combination of there already being more action options than there were before plus there being more of a pull towards the X-Jet and the mission phase. But also because a decent number of allies are situational or just weak (for example, there’s one ally that grants six red cubes and another otherwise identical ally that grants three), so the number of useful allies one might draw goes down as the game progresses. Something similar is true for team-ups, which for us filled up almost every game. There comes a point where only the Event cards might possibly be useful … except the Event cards are mostly bad.
Which is a shame, because I love the Lords of Waterdeep foundation and I love seeing all the X-Men characters (and New Mutants, Generation X, etc.) and I love the way that your workers are distinct characters with their own powers. But Age of Heroes just isn’t mechanically polished in the way that Lords of Waterdeep is. If you love the X-Men and aren’t too put off by gameplay that’s a bit uneven, you’ll have a good time with Age of Heroes. But I wish it had executed the concept better.
Promotional consideration was provided in the form of a review copy. Strange Assembly may earn affiliate commissions from links in this article.