Monday, October 20, 2014

Game Stories: Marvel Legendary

Whoa, what's this? The blog is back??? Yes, friends, tremble in fear, for I am posting! I may or may not have nailed down what I want to do with this blog, but at least it's improving. Ultimately, I want to talk about all sorts of ways that games involve story and narrative and plot (yes, those words can mean the same thing, but I also think of them as different things...maybe sometime I'll explain). Not just roleplaying games, either, because in some ways...well, boardgames have the leg up on them, in terms of mechanical storytelling. (I promise not to point fingers.)

That's what I'm doing here. Today, I'm talking about some ways that Marvel Legendary tells you a sort of story as you play the game. It's not always the best story, but that doesn't mean you should overlook it. So let's go!

Legendary is a card game about assembling a deck by recruiting superheroes to fight an evil Mastermind. (The plot doesn't all fit together. Just go with it.) The biggest way that Legendary tells story is by giving each character unique abilities that match up to the way that the character's powers work in the comics. Some characters are better done than others. For this post, I'll pull up two characters from the game's Dark City expansion: the X-Men called Nightcrawler and Angel.

Nightcrawler, the sneaky teleporter
I love Nightcrawler. He's cool, he looks cool, he teleports all over the place, he fences. So, I was excited to try him out, and he was cool! In the game, Nightcrawler's ability revolves around "teleporting" cards into your next turn: instead of using a card, you can save it and add it to your hand when your turn's over. He even has a high-level card that lets you teleport other cards from your hand, even ones that don't normally say "teleport"! What does this mean in the game? Well, the best way to use Nightcrawler is to look for turns where you don't have enough Attack or Recruit to do much: that's when you save cards with the Teleport keyword. If your next turn doesn't look so great either? Keep saving them! To play Nightcrawler well, you have to know when to stay in the shadows, building up until you can BAMF! out and do some damage.

The more I thought about it, the more I liked that mechanic for a teleporter. It might seem a little silly to be "teleporting" your cards into a future turn, but what winds up happening is a very swingy dynamic. It also lets you "save up" cards from mediocre turns, so that you can make your next turn into an awesome turn.

Angel, the dude with wings
Okay, so I don't follow Angel as much. But flying is a pretty straightforward power to understand. It's also a bit weird to conceptualize, especially in a card game where you draw cards, play cards, attack cards, and discard cards. What does it mean to fly? For Angel, the answer seems to be "draw and discard cards". Whether it's drawing cards, discarding cards to do something, or some of both, if you're using Angel as a hero in your deck, you'll be cycling pretty quickly through your deck. You'll also be filtering your hand: if you draw cards and then discard from your hand, it means that you get to adjust your hand to look like what you want it to look like. Keep the new cards? Ditch the new cards? Some of both? It keeps you flexible.

Now think about that. What's one of the biggest advantages of being able to fly? Flexibility, mobility, and the ability to get a birds-eye view of the situation. Instead of telling the story of the "I can get to places other people can't" power, Angel's cards tell the story of the "I can change angles on the problem with a moment's notice" power. Neat, huh?

Putting it together...
Now picture what happens when you combine heroes in a deck. With Nightcrawler and Angel together? You can pretty much get the cards you want most turns, because you're saving cards for later with Nightcrawler and filtering your hand with Angel. You're waiting for the perfect moment and staying flexible at the same time. It's like how they'd work on a team-up: Nightcrawler gets ready, while Angel works to keep resources in the right place at the right time. They thematically complement each other with their mobility.

In a game with well-designed theme, you get all sorts of little story moments like this. The gameplay feels right, because the designer paid attention to what mechanics look and feel like, and used the right ones for the right things. It wouldn't make much sense if Nightcrawler had a card that gave other players Wounds, for example, but that's a card that Hulk gets, because he causes collateral damage. It wouldn't make sense if Angel had a card that copied another card, but that's a card that Rogue gets, because she copies powers. These touches make all the heroes feel unique, and they draw you into the story of the game: a bunch of superheroes with powers fighting against a common enemy.