Legendary Secret Wars Vol. 1 is the fifth expansion of the Marvel Legendary base game, but also only the second big box expansion. Thus far Marvel Legendary has been extremely streamlined, as every expansion has mostly built on the group of characters in the game while also expanding slowly but strategically on the base rules. Inevitably though, anything which is Marvel is going to be compared to DC, and so the comparison to the DC Comics Deck Building Game is going to be discussed as well, and for the first time it would seem as though Upper Deck is taking on Cryptozoic with this new release. What DC Comics Deck Building lacks in a concise gameplay experience, it makes up for in variety. It already features a head-to-head option, as well as a wider variety of characters to play with, both as the main character and as cards to be acquired. Due to the framework of the game, Legendary has always been a bit behind in this regard. Not counting the Villains expansion, this represents the 60th playable character in the series, and even at that, three of those have now been a version of Wolverine.
There are some new rules for this game, some which work and some which don’t. Potentially the most interesting was the Sidekicks group of cards, which could have been thematically different, just with the specialists in Legendary Encounters: Aliens, but they come off as identical versions of themselves. More interesting is the ability to “purchase” Ultimate heroes by defeating them in combat. Among others this includes the first time that Wasp is a playable character in the franchise, though evidently not directly as we might have hoped. There are a couple of other interesting rules changes, including multiclass cards and the ability to bribe your enemies instead of attacking them directly, but the biggest change overall is that of the head-to-head option. This is aided in part by the Ambition deck of cards, but evidently this does not work thematically as much as it should. In this case one player can play as a mastermind and recruit heroes (by corrupting them). This comes off as a bit disingenuous for the series which has tried at all times to keep the game experience as close as possible to the comics experience (as opposed to DC) and seems to be there only so players can have a true player-vs-player experience. While this version of the game does come off as a bit weird, it ends up working pretty well when following the suggested rules for integrating both the Heroes and the Villains game. This is also noteworthy as the cards are not only compatible with both games, but also help to incorporate them together.
The new cards are mostly impressive additions to the mix, though it is evident that Upper Deck is still holding back some of the bigger characters so that there will be interest in future expansions. The biggest names that fans are going to be interested in are Kitty Pryde, Captain Marvel and Black Panther, although there are probably others happy to see Thanos, Doctor Strange, Black Bolt, Lady Thor and Namor. The remainder of the playable heroes is a bit of a mixed bag, featuring another Wolverine, another Spider-Man, another Iron Man, and a few others to tie into the Secret Wars story line from Marvel. Other noteworthy cards are new groups of henchmen, which have been notably absent since the first expansion, and a new bystander card, the banker, with an interesting mechanic.
This expansion also represents a move away from what fans might have though was going to be a closer tie-in to the movies, as last year’s Guardians of the Galaxy coincided closely enough with the movie. For those that were hoping to see Ant-Man and Wasp show up any time, they will be disappointed. At the very least though, Upper Deck seems to have a long terms plan for this series, and while there might be a bit of disappointment among fans for the releases here, it would seem likely that they plan something to coincide with next year’s Captain America movie, which could include Ant-Man, Wasp, Scarlet Witch, Vision and Falcon among others. As well at some point a Secret Wars vol. 2 of the game is presumably coming, which could also help to fill in some gaps. In the meantime, fans will have to be happy with this expansion, which contains a bit of what they wanted, but also a bit more which they did not. It is not a disappointment, as the cards themselves are well conceived for the game experience, but they appeal more to the true gamers, not those who are are also comic fans. It thus ends up being a solid expansion gamewise, but leaving a bit more to be desired thematically.