03rd Aug2018

‘Marvel Contest of Champions: Battlerealm’ Board Game Review

by Matthew Smail

battlerealm-box

Marvel Contest of Champions: Battlerealm comes with the kind of ridiculously cumbersome title that can only come with a heavily licensed title filled with a sense of its own self-importance. Thankfully, whilst I might poke fun at the name, Battlerealm (as it shall henceforth be known) is a brand new creation from Upper Deck, who are well known for creating some of the best licensed games out there. Most notable among these is probably the Legendary series of games, which tend to blend popular licenses like Buffy or Marvel with complex card drafting and combat mechanics.

Battlerealm is similar to games like Legendary in that it introduces multiple layers of complexity for the players to deal with, whilst still being relatively straightforward at its core. If you’ve ever played a dice rolling game (and in particular King of Tokyo) then the mechanics in Battlerealm will be instantly familiar to you, although that’s not to say that the game doesn’t very rapidly layer on additional concepts, rules and abilities that relate to the various heroes and locations depicted.

On that note, there are only heroes in this game, and no villains. The story is that everyone has been trapped in a Crystal Prison and must do battle across a number of randomly drawn (battle) realms. This thematic setup conveniently aligns to the way in which the game is actually configured on the table. The Crystal Prison takes centre stage, with a number of realms placed around it equal to the number of players plus one. Heroes may then be placed in any realm the player controlling them wishes, though when choosing it’s a good idea to take note of whatever specific effect that realm imposes upon its occupant(s).

On each turn, the active player rolls all six of the available dice and assesses what she has rolled. Mutant and Science symbols must be kept, but any dice (up to all six) showing different symbols may be re-rolled once or twice. The other symbols include Cosmic, Mystic and Skill, each of which has different effects if kept. The objective of the game is to either eliminate the other players, or to score twenty one PVP points, which are tracked on a hand spinner that depicts each hero and their primary special ability. Almost everything that players will do with their dice rolls affects the PVP points of either them, or the other heroes, as follows:

  • Mutant: rolling three of these will send a hero directly to the Crystal Prison, where they must remain until they roll a triple. In lower numbers mutant symbols enable powerful special attacks
  • Science: rolling three of these will result in an explosion that will damage all enemies in the current location. Additional science symbols add more damage, or again, at one or two science symbols can be used for powers
  • Tech: deals one PVP point to a hero in any other location
  • Skill: deals one PVP point to a hero in the same location
  • Cosmic: allows the player to move, although in order to leave a location with other heroes in, the player will need to roll one symbol for each other hero, as well as the normal one for movement
  • Mystic: as the final symbol, the Mystic face simply allows a player to gain a single PVP point immediately

Now, I’ve mentioned primary abilities and special powers a fair bit, so let’s dive into that a little further. Most characters start with around eight PVP points and tackling them in ones and twos with normal dice wouldn’t be much fun. Rolling set combinations, however, enables the heroes to unleash powerful abilities that can destroy enemies much more quickly. Some of these are compounded by the circumstances of the location being fought in, through additional rerolls, automatic additional die rolls and more. In addition, each character has a number of traits that can materially impact how each dice roll plays out – for example a careful hero only explodes their dice when four science symbols are rolled, not three.

Whilst beating the crap out of each other is certainly one way to win, most locations also provide a points bonus just for entering them. Battlerealms therefore incentivises movement, hit and run combat and places a focus on delivering the most devastating attacks possible. To return to the point I made early on in this review, the structure of Battlerealm is almost identical to that of King of Tokyo, albeit that there is more stuff. More characters, more locations, more powers, more abilities, more rules. Rules, rules, rules. Whilst Battlerealm is often a lot of fun, many turns begin with a die roll and then devolve into a series of checks – what does the location do? Am I careful or cunning? Is Iron Man immune to my attack?

The other issue, of course, is luck. Even with three rolls of the dice, you won’t always get the outcome you want. Sometimes the dice are just not with you and that, in a game that is otherwise so full of rules and serious interactions feels a bit weird. Regardless, the amount of stuff in Battlerealm is impressive – 13 heroes and 40 locations is not stingy. No two games will ever be the same and as long as your play group takes a bit of time to understand their hero, it will run smoothly. I think Battlerealm is probably best played by younger teenagers or serious Marvel fans, whilst I found it harder to keep very casual fans up to speed with the various rules and connotations. Unfortunately then, Battlerealm receives a mixed review from me, but I’m definitely not saying it’s bad. It’s just… niche. If it’s your niche, then I expect you’ll love it!

*** 3/5

Marvel Contest of Champions: Battlerealm is available online at 365Games.co.uk, or at your local games store. Don’t know where yours is? Try this handy games store locator.

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