Expanding the Game - Marvel United: X-Men Dev Diary #1

Hello there! I am Andrea Chiarvesio, one of the designers of Marvel United and Marvel United: X-Men. Like many of you, I’ve been one of Stan Lee’s “true believers” since I was a kid. So, for me, the opportunity to work with the Marvel Universe (THE MARVEL UNIVERSE!!!!!) has been both an incredible journey and the realization of a childhood dream. I hope all of my love for the Marvel Universe and the countless hours I spent reading comics comes through in the game.

I know, I know, you’re not here to read about me or how big of a Marvel fan I am. You are here to get some insight into the creative process that led to Marvel United: X-Men, so let’s start.

The jumping off point, of course, is Marvel United. For that game, we wanted an easily approachable, cooperative game that could be enjoyed by the whole family, but we also wanted it to have enough meat and depth to be exciting for gamers if they opted to raise the challenge bar from the family-friendly version of the game.

The final game ended up beyond our expectations. It’s a game that uses only 3 icons (plus a wild one) to deliver the experience of being a Hero, with an engine solid enough to support unique mechanics, turning every game into a different experience just by changing the Villain, the Heroes, or simply the seating order at the table. I also feel we were able to overcome the biggest challenge of the project - convey the uniqueness, powers, and personality of each different Hero by using only 12 Hero cards for each (actually, just with 10, since two cards must be identical in each Hero deck to scale the game difficulty). It’s kind of easy to cover a character’s backstory and abilities in a 100-page novel. It’s a much more challenging feat to do that with what’s equivalent to barely a 12-line summary.

With the original game wrapped up and arriving to backers, it’s now an honor to be able to introduce the X-Men into the game; I’ve loved these characters since I read all those Chris Claremont stories back in the ‘90s! In addition to introducing one of the most iconic casts of Heroes and Villains, this new expansion gave us the opportunity to bring some exciting changes to the general game structure and experiment with new mechanics, taking into account all the great feedback we got from players of the original game.

One of the challenges we tackled was adding more players to the table. We already knew that simply adding a fifth hero player would not have worked, since we tried that with the original Marvel United. So, the natural choice was to give the fifth player the role of the Villain, following the path partially already explored with the Traitor Challenge in the Tales of Asgard expansion. Given the small size of both the Master Plan and the Hero decks, we felt that the Villain and the Hero players really needed something to surprise each other and make games less predictable. This lead (after several failed attempts, to be honest) to the introduction of Super Villain and Super Hero cards. Their trigger conditions also allowed us to break the strict “I perform my turn with no interferences” structure that works so well for a cooperative game, but less so for a competitive one.

The challenge for the development team has been huge. We needed keep the villains in the classical, full co-op, mode challenging and entertaining without making them near invincible in the hands of a human player. Out of several solutions we tried, assigning the Hero players a few extra action tokens (different in quantity and type based on the Villain they’re about to face) proved to be the cleanest and best solution. It also allowed us to focus more Super Villain and Super Hero cards on tokens management.

Still, searching for the right Hero team and the correct seating order to face a Villain is a big part of the puzzle. We’re confident that players will immensely enjoy trying different solutions and strategies to counter each Villain’s plan in both modes. Also, we wanted to provide the Villain player with strategic and not merely tactical choices by giving most villains more than one strategy to win the game. This plays in with the addition of the Super Villain cards, too. So, a Villain can be played multiple ways, depending on what strategy the player wants to use during the game.

One of the things that captivates readers of the X-Men is that their stories sometimes have no clear distinction between friends and foes. So, from the beginning, we knew that some characters should be allowed the double role of Heroes and Villain, depending on the circumstances. As such, we now have Anti-Hero characters, a new feature for the United games. These characters come with both a Villain Masterplan deck and a Hero deck. We hope players have fun learning how to both utilize these characters as an ally as well as what strategies work best against them as an enemy.

Mutants’ powers have so many little nuances and different ways to express themselves that we felt that the 3-card limit on special ability cards we gave ourselves in Marvel United was going to be too strict for the X-Men. That’s also why one of our very first decisions was to raise the number of special ability cards for each Hero from three to four. Along with this, we decided to assign some Heroes cards/powers as special, having the player start out with them directly in their hand at the start of the game. Some heroes have signature powers that should be featured in every game. While uncommon in our experience, sometimes the randomness of the draw had Hulk playing without ever getting angry or Thor never throwing Mjolnir. We did not want this to happen with Wolverine’s regeneration or Mystique’s polymorphing powers. They should always show up at least once.

Something we also got a lot of feedback about was that players wanted more variety in Location effects. There are some basic effects (drawing cards, moving to another location, etc.) that we needed to have in most of the games for balancing reasons, so these needed to be included in X-Men. However, we still managed to give all the locations in this new version of the game a unique effect that fit with them thematically, too.

There’s so much more I want to say, but this has already gone over my expected word count. So, I’ll save some for next column. Until then, stay tuned and keep following the campaign!

© 2021 Marvel

Expanding the Game - Marvel United: X-Men Dev Diary #1

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