Marvel Champions Designer Breaks Down How Alter-Egos Work, Why They Decided to Make an LCG, and More!

Fantasy Flight is bringing its Living Card Game expertise to the Marvel Universe with Marvel Champions, a game that looks to bring some of your favorite Marvel heroes to the genre with some creative spins on mechanics you've come to expect from the genre. There are already other Marvel Card Games in the market, but Champions looks to set itself apart from other games in several ways. We recently we had a chance to chat with Marvel Champions designer Caleb Grace all about all the game, including why Champions is a Living Card Game, what makes it unique from others in the genre, and how some of those unique mechanics work, and the design of the game truly originated from a love of the IP.

"Marvel Champions was always going to be a Living Card Game," Grace said. "We began development in early 2018 with a meeting between all three designers: Nate French, Michael Boggs, and myself. We didn’t start by discussing existing Marvel games, or even our game’s place in the FFG catalog. Instead, we began with a conversation about what Marvel comics means to each of us. We talked about things like rich characters, fast-paced action, fun humor, and a feeling of empowerment. Our vision for the game was formed around those ideas, and our goal was to create a game that allowed players to experience all of those things."

One of the persistent challenges of tabletop games involves bringing in new players, as sometimes players less familiar with the genre can look at a game with several layers of mechanics as daunting, and that was definitely something Champions seeks to mitigate.

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(Photo: Fantasy Flight)

"Making Marvel Champions easy to learn was an important part of our design process," Grace said. "Since Marvel Comics are popular with people of all ages and backgrounds, we wanted to design a game that could appeal to all of them. As a result, Marvel Champions is by far our most accessible LCG to date. New players tend to pick it up within minutes of starting a demo."

One of the ways Champions sets itself apart from other games superhero games is its usage of secret identities, a mechanic that is integral to stopping the villain's schemes and keeping you and your team alive. It is a delicate tug of war though as if you decide to switch to your alter ego it will have consequences regarding the villains' choices.

"The game is built around the fact that you don’t just play as a hero but as that hero’s alter-ego as well," Grace said. "It even determines the villain’s behavior during the Villain Phase. When you are in hero form, you are in the action and directly confronting the villain, therefore the villain will attack you on their turn. But when you are in alter-ego form, you are removed from the action and the villain can’t attack you because they don’t know where you are. However, because you are not there to stop the villain on their turn, they scheme instead of attacking. If the villain is allowed to complete their scheme, the players lose game. Of course, if the villain inflicts enough damage to reduce your hit points to 0, then you are defeated as well. So a lot of the tension in the game comes from deciding when to confront the villain in hero form and when to switch to your alter-ego in order to recover hit points and prepare for your next attack."

That's a two-way street though, as while your alter-ego form lets the villains blow pass you, you do have access to unique abilities that help you in the long run.

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(Photo: Fantasy Flight)

"To make the decision even more interesting, we tried to give each hero an ability or card in their set that only work in alter-ego form," Grace said. "For example, Peter Parker is a kid genius so he generates one free Mental resource each round while in alter-ego form. We also gave him an Aunt May support card who can be exhausted to heal four damage from Peter. However, she cannot heal damage from him in hero form because she doesn’t know that Peter is Spider-man."

The Starter Set includes five playable heroes, including Iron man, Captain Marvel, Black Panther, She-Hulk, and Spider-Man, and these were always their first picks for the game, and variations of those heroes could appear later on in other forms.

"We’re very happy with our lineup, especially because they were all our first picks and no one ever requested any changes," Grace said. "Everybody was excited by the diverse cast of characters and play-styles. We can’t really talk about unannounced products, but we can say that you will definitely get to see these heroes appear in different forms in the future, as allies for example."

Marvel-Champions-Captain-America-Hero-Pack
(Photo: Fantasy Flight)

The designers loved all five of these heroes, but there was one who ended up becoming a favorite during playtesting, and that was the Star-Spangled Avenger himself, Captain America.

"I’m a big fan of Captain America, so I was very eager to design his hero pack," Grace said. "I’ve been collecting his comics for years. I never get tired of seeing him throw his shield to knock out several bad guys, or using it to protect himself from enemy attacks. So I had a great time replicating these moments in our game. But of course the biggest moment for any Captain America fan is when he shouts “Avengers assemble!” before leading Earth’s mightiest heroes into battle, and people who purchase his hero pack will get to do that too."

Designing a game like Marvel Champions is no easy task, but the biggest challenge in creating the game ended up also being its most rewarding aspect.

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"The most challenging part of the process is intimately linked to the thing that I am most proud of, and that is Nate, Michael, and myself coming together as a team to design Marvel Champions," Grace said. "It’s not easy to get three designers who are used to being in the lead role on their respective projects to all come together and agree on everything. We had many spirited debates, but the game was refined through each one of them. We set some lofty goals for ourselves at the beginning of the design process: Make a game that was empowering, fast-paced, highly thematic, easy to learn, rich with replay value, and much more. The thing that I am proudest of is how we came together to accomplish all of them. I could not be happier with the game we created together."

You can check out Marvel Champions for yourself when it hits stores later this year, and that's when the Captain America Hero Pack will also hit stores. Let us know what you think of the game so far in the comments, and you can always hit me up on Twitter @MattAguilarCB for all things comics and tabletop!