Running Marvel Champions at a Convention – Part II: Teaching the Game

Written by Josh Bailey


This is a follow-up to my previous article about running a demo or teaching game of Marvel Champions in a convention-type setting. That article focused on the preparations like deck building and how to present the hero, aspect, and scenario options to the players. In this article, I will cover how the events actually went and give some tips for teaching the rules at the table.

The Games

I ran two sessions at my local convention. In the first, I was supposed to have a full table but there was a no-show. After a potential fourth player joined and then decided to play Catan instead, we carried on with three players (one of which played two-handed with my help for most of the game). We ended up with Protection She-Hulk, Aggression Iron Man, Leadership Captain America and Justice Captain Marvel against Standard Rhino and the Masters of Evil. They won fairly comfortably, though She-Hulk did flirt with defeat before getting off a Gamma Slam then healing.

In the second session, I had players who wanted a bit more of a challenge so we went with Justice Ms. Marvel, Leadership Captain America, and Protection Spider-Man against Standard Klaw and the Masters of Evil. They narrowly lost to scheming while they had Klaw II down to about half-health. The Ms. Marvel player ended up with multiple Masters of Evil minions engaged with them and had to focus on damage for a turn or two, which let the main scheme (with 3 or 4 acceleration tokens) get out of hand and they couldn’t recover.

Deck Building and Scenario Selection

As I laid out in the first article, I made all heroes available for selection with a standard build for each aspect such that players would choose a hero, choose an aspect, and then combine all chosen cards together to make a deck. I also put descriptive cards next to each hero and aspect with a few bullet points on each regarding play-style and strengths as well as suggested aspect/hero pairings. I also pointed out which ones I thought were good for newer players and which to avoid. Ultimately, this may have still been too much information in front of people all at once but I still think that it would be appreciated by some players, especially those that may be a bit shy about asking me a lot of questions. I think most players just picked a hero they liked and then grabbed one of my suggested aspects for them. In the future, suggested aspect pairings may be all that I write out.

I laid out all the scenarios and gave a quick rundown of the difficulty of each. I did not make any information cards for these. The first group wanted to go for the beginner game and so chose Rhino, and the second group said they wanted a bit more challenge so I suggested Klaw. In both cases, I suggested the Masters of Evil encounter set and the groups went with it. I like that encounter set because it gives you multiple difficult minions that can be spread out around the table rather than a single mini-boss minion.

The Teach

My strategy for teaching Marvel Champions is the same as my strategy for teaching any game: start with the overall goal and win/loss conditions, explain the basic turn/round structure, explain the actions available to players on their turn, then finally point out specific component/card types. I also leave out very situational rules until they come up (like what certain keywords mean, the fact that you can request actions, what a boost card is, etc). The basic idea is to start with larger concepts and work your way down towards more specific concepts. This is in contrast to a pattern that many game teachers understandably fall into which is to explain the game from beginning to end (in the sense of a round of the game) and doing a deep dive on each major rule in the order they come up during the game. An example of this would be “okay so the first phase of the game is the player phase, and during this phase you can attack the villain. Okay so this is how attacking the villain works-” before we’ve even talked about anything else like how to win or lose, or how fundamental the flipping between hero and alter-ego is and how that determines the villain’s behavior. My theory on teaching games, or in communicating nearly anything, is that it’s easier for the new information to find purchase in the mind when there’s some other context already present for it to latch on to. You’ll better learn how upgrades, allies, and supports work if you have already been shown why you need them. This is my road map for presenting the rules of Marvel Champions:

  • Overall goals, fundamental concepts
    • Cooperative game
    • Reduce the villain’s health to 0 to win
      • Show that there are two stages to the villain and that they get stronger
    • All heroes defeated or main scheme completed to lose
    • Hero/Alter-ego and flipping
      • Hero: the only way to interact with the villain, will get attacked by the villain
      • Alter-ego: healing damage, will let the villain advance scheme
  • Flow of a round (put two player aids between players, one on the blue side to the left and one on the red side to the right, this indicates the order of the phases)
    • Player phase
      • Explain the four stats (THW, ATK, DEF, and REC) and explain exhaust/ready
      • Explain card types
        • Allies, Supports, and Upgrades play on the table
          • Allies function like heroes but eventually go away
        • Events do a thing and then go to discard
      • Explain paying for cards and resource generation
        • note different resource types but say not to worry about that yet
    • Mention presence of hero actions and alter-ego actions (my go-to is “Tony Stark can’t shoot a repulsor blast, he has to be wearing the suit to do that)
      • This will be forgotten and need to be reinforced during the game, try to make it intuitive when you do so (e.g. “You have to go home to see Aunt May to heal the damage”)
    • Explain that all cards ready at the end of player phase
      • reinforce the idea with something like “you will always be fully ready to face the villain”
    • Villain Phase
      • Threat placed on main scheme
        • Point out threat required to advance scheme and explain the “per player” symbol
        • Do not point out starting threat or per round threat icons yet (wait for a side scheme)
      • Villain activation
        • explain difference based on alter-ego/hero form of character
          • make intuitive (e.g. “you’re Spider-Man so you’re distracting the villain and he’ll try to punch you, but if you’re Peter Parker at home then the villain is free to work on his scheme”)
          • do not explain Boost cards yet (wait for the actual first villain phase)
        • Encounter cards (just state you draw them, explain treachery/minion/side scheme when you draw them the first time)
    • Draw opening hands, mention mulligan (only point out super obvious things to mulligan like Captain America’s Shield, most players will just keep hand)
    • Start playing
      • Rules to only explain the first time they come up or could be used
        • Boost cards
        • Obligations and Nemesis cards
        • Requesting actions
        • Spending specific resource types
        • Types of encounter cards
        • Behavior of minions during villain phase
        • All keywords (retaliate, guard, surge, aerial, etc)
        • Consequential damage
        • Starting threat on side schemes and per turn threat on main schemes
        • Crisis, Hazard, and Acceleration icons on side schemes
        • Encounter cards for decking out
        • Acceleration tokens for encounter deck running out
        • Optional discarding at end of player phase
        • Change in hand size from Hero to Alter-Ego

There were a couple of things that came up this past weekend that may make me reconsider the way I teach a few things. One was that, since I was running the encounter deck and not playing, I tended to take on too much of the management of the villain phase and did not allow the players to eventually run it themselves. Removing this burden from the players at first seems like a good idea, but not sufficiently explaining things like boost icons can make certain player cards harder to value or understand. I should have endeavored to have the players running their own villain phases by turn 3 or so.

Another issue I struggle with is how to explain the resource icons. I think this is just something that is inherently going to cause a little confusion no matter how you approach it. I tend to say something like “this number in the top left corner is the cost to play the card. If you want to play it, you have to discard that many resources on other cards to play it. This icon in the bottom-left is the resource icon. Most cards have just one but there are some resource cards that have two or three. So if a card costs two, you will usually have to discard two other cards from your hand to play it. There are four different types of resource icons, but that doesn’t matter for playing a card. The resource type only matters if the text of a card tells you that it matters.” That is as accurately and concisely as I can explain that, but it will still invite confusion. I’m tempted to not even mention resource types but then those icons will be confusing the first time a new player sees them, and players will ask anyway when there are clearly different colors but you didn’t mention why that matters. However, even with my explanation people will make assumptions like thinking that they need to discard resources that match the resource icon on the card they’re trying to play. Just know that you are probably going to have to answer more questions on this multiple times.

The final thing I am rethinking in how I teach is that I tend to not emphasize how important it is for players to coordinate their turns and cooperate. The two games could have been much easier for the players had they more often done things like let other players use Avengers Mansion and Helicarrier, defend for other players, attack minions in front of other players, coordinate who was going to end their turn as hero or alter-ego, etc. My original thinking was two-fold: 1) figuring that out is part of the game and something the players should be allowed to discover on their own and 2) new players already have enough to worry about with learning the rules of their own cards and interactions, it’s too much to also confront them with considering everyone else’s board state too. However, I could probably do a little more upfront when someone bemoans being one card short and saying “well you could ask Captain Marvel” or, as the villain prepares to attack “do you want to defend, or does anyone else want to defend for them or use an ally?” In the game that was lost, I should have pointed out more forcefully how close they were to losing on threat when one player decided to flip to alter-ego.

Thoughts for Next Time

If and when I run demos of this game again in a similar setting, I am not sure if I will go the route of making every hero and aspect combination available again. Eventually, there will be so many heroes that it just won’t be practical. When that time comes, I will probably make pre-built decks that are new-player friendly and allow me to construct as many simultaneous decks as possible. I could also see that some heroes could be similar enough that they could share a list like “this aggression decklist works well with either Thor or Captain Marvel, your choice.” It will be even longer before bringing all the scenarios is untenable because the deck construction is much simpler, but that will still happen. I will then pare the choices down to the best teaching scenarios and any that are completely standalone like Wrecking Crew.

I hope that these two articles have given you some ideas on how to run demo events or even just teach the game to your friends. If you find that these methods work or have even better tips to share, please let me know.

Thank you for reading.

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