10th Feb2020

‘Marvel: Crisis Protocol’ Board Game Review

by Matthew Smail

crisis-protocol-box

The idea of a miniatures game is so simple that you’d have thought it would have been done by now, wouldn’t you? Whilst there are numerous games that use Marvel characters in miniaturised form, and even some that have the kind of combat that characterises this genre, Crisis Protocol is the first “proper” miniatures game to use the license. Crisis Protocol is such an accomplished design that the company that designed it – Atomic Mass Games – was actually acquired by Asmodee prior to the launch of the game.

Even though Crisis Protocol has only been out for about three or four months, there are already a string of expansions beginning to land, but today I’ll focus solely on the base game. In the core set, players receive ten miniatures including popular members of both The Avengers and their nemeses, The Cabal. Models include Captain Marvel, Captain America, Iron Man, Red Skull, Crossbones, Dr. Octopus, Spider-man and others of a similar calibre.

Yes, there are a couple of less well known characters, but none are here as pure filler and whilst some are technically weaker, it’s necessary to have them here because of how Crisis Protocol uses variable point values to build teams. Each team will usually comprise of between fifteen and twenty points, depending on the crisis cards being used to drive the special rules and setup for each particular game.

Unusually, and most welcome, is the fact that Crisis Protocol also includes a fair bit of additional scenery in the base game. There’s a small building, a couple of cars and two dumpsters, as well as a number of lamp posts, traffic lights and a trashcan. If you like, you can even paint up a couple of bottles and bits of litter to scatter about your table. Every model here is large and detailed, and I’d suggest that the construction is of a relatively expert level. This isn’t a push fit miniatures game, and you’ll need some patience, a bit of experience and the right tools to make the most of your new heroes.

Crisis Protocol is a very straightforward game in terms of setup and execution, and like most miniatures games, the complexity comes from how each character interacts with the world and, in most cases, changes the rules in some way or other. Each character comes with their own double sided card that details their physical, mystical and energy power levels, as well as their movement speed, size, cost and any special abilities. Some abilities are restricted depending on who leads the group or whether you have affiliation to a particular group (such as The Avengers) but that’s all simple enough to work out.

The characters that will make up your side will bet determined based on the current Crisis Cards, as I mentioned earlier. These cards are drafted and chosen by the two players during setup, and will usually overlay two different scenarios onto the game board. One of these will be a set of objectives – like claiming certain tokens in the game world and either holding them, or taking them somewhere – whilst the other will usually introduce something like a power up location. The number of points shown on the Crisis Card will also determine how many points each team can use to spend on characters.

When it comes to building a team, most characters are three or four points, with outliers being the likes of Black Widow or Crossbones who come in at just two points each. Five point characters are very rare and powerful, with The Incredible Hulk (available as a day one expansion) being the first that I am aware of. Most games will accommodate four characters per side, whilst sometimes you’ll get to five at a pinch. There’s no restriction on mixing bad and good characters, but to gain affiliation with a particular group (let use The Avengers again) then more than half of your team must be members.

Terrain is then placed onto the board in any way the players deem fair, although there are rules to make this process a little bit more prescriptive if you feel you need them. Tokens relating to the specific scenario objectives are then placed based on map quadrants shown on the cards – again, this is quick and simple. Each side them deploys in the zone indicated on the card being used, and the game can begin. The game is played in turns, with each player simply activating one miniature and then passing, until such a point as one player has no remaining characters.

At the end of the round, players score points (if applicable) and add them to the board, then move the round counter onwards. Each game can last for up to six rounds, but will finish early if a player should score twelve points at any time. Points usually relate to the Crisis Cards, with bonuses being awarded for holding the key locations as shown on the card, or for reaching a specific location with some important artefact. It is also fine if you wish to play Crisis Protocol as a straightforward battle system with the aim being to deal damage to your opponents team, but it is a little less thematic that way.

Characters move and attack based on a set of included range rulers, with three distances for movement and four for attacks. The movement rules each include a hinge to allow movement around corners, whilst the attack rulers offer a more general sense of distance. Crisis Protocol is more forgiving than many miniatures games, asking merely for a ruler to “reach” an opposing heroes base in order to count as in range. Line of sight is also simplified based on a system of model height that basically indicates that if an obstruction is the same height or larger than something and it is between you and the opponent, then line of sight is broken.

Aside from the superhero theme (and the superpowers that come with it) there are two unusual features about Crisis Protocol that elevate it above similar miniatures games. Firstly, it’s the ability to throw things – from other characters, to scenery of basically any size, depending on your own character and their listed abilities. In the case of the characters in the base game (all size two) then the largest item you’ll be throwing will also be size two (cars and dumpsters) whilst others, like Hulk, can throw larger objects.

Throwing is a simple matter of working out how far something can be thrown, then rolling defence against that item for whoever it was thrown at. It’s a simple way to add a little bit of additional thematic interaction into the game, and some characters are certainly built to smash up the environment and to deal damage to enemies whilst doing it. On that note, the second unusual feature of Crisis Protocol is the idea of a second wind – basically meaning that all characters (again, except Hulk) have to be defeated twice.

The first time a character has their stamina reduced to zero, they will be considered downed for the rest of the turn, and cannot be attacked or targeted. If they are not healed before the next round, then their card will be flipped over to show their damaged side. A second defeat will then remove them from the game. Don’t despair though, because many characters thrive on being damaged and even gain additional stamina, strength or superpowers. Captain America, for example, gains the “I can do this all day” ability, as well as additional stamina.

I really like this feature of Crisis Protocol, since it completely removes the possibility that characters can be swept off the board before they have chance to act. The second wind concept and the ability to throw large objects are both also very well aligned to the superhero theme, giving the game a great feel. Over and above that, I also like that Crisis Protocol has a relatively simple rule set that is welcoming to miniatures game newcomers (even if the actual build elements are less so.)

With superb miniatures and scenery, a clear and fun scenario building system and a host of cool features that enhance a simple dice rolling combat system, Crisis Protocol has rapidly become my favourite squad based miniatures game. Each match is quick to setup and because every hero has its own clearly detailed information card, it’s easy to manage the in game action. I like that there are no additional weapon or item cards that make hand and table management difficult, and its also great that the relative hero strength is adjusted based on a simple points system.

Overall, if you’re a Marvel fan, or you are looking for a simple and very attractive miniatures game, then Crisis Protocol would be a fantastic choice. It is already being expanded at a rapid rate, and in addition to the miniatures sets, you can already buy extra scenery, play mats and so on that build out the experience nicely. Players more used to miniatures games will still have fun here, since the inclusion of unique features like superpowers, scenery throwing and Crisis Cards also elevate the experience over and above the norm.

**** 4/5

Crisis Protocol 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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