Written by Josh Bailey
This is the second article in our #HydraRising community crossover event. You can find many articles, videos, podcasts, and more centered on the new The Rise of Red Skull expansion from many different Marvel Champions content creators by searching #HydraRising on Twitter, Facebook, Discord, etc. For I Rebel’s part, we published an article comparing Hawkeye and Spider-Woman, this Why? article on the Hydra theme of the campaign expansion, and a forthcoming Rankings article on the included scenarios that will mostly focus on the standalone experience of those villains. For commentary on the expansion and campaign itself, and all other released product for the game, please check out our Marvel Champions Expansion Guide.
In this article, we will look at the scenario side of the expansion and consider why you may want to play this campaign as opposed to future campaigns or standalone mode, why the theme may or may not work for you, and why you would consider using the modular sets from this expansion in other scenarios. These discussions could be looked at from the perspective of someone who already owns this expansion and is deciding what to play, or as someone who is looking to purchase a campaign expansion and wants to know what all you can get out of this one in particular.
At the time of this writing, The Rise of Red Skull is the only campaign expansion yet released for Marvel Champions. We do know a few details about some of the campaign mechanics of Galaxy’s Most Wanted, but not enough to do a full compare and contrast. Look for an article like that after GMW releases and the notes in our Expansion Guide. If this is the first campaign expansion you’re considering getting for Marvel Champions, let’s talk about what separates that experience from standalone play.
You will be playing five specific scenarios in a prescribed order (Crossbones, Absorbing Man, Taskmaster, Zola, then the final showdown with Red Skull). You must keep the same hero or heroes throughout, but you are free to change the cards in your deck, up to and including the aspect(s), between each scenario. You will be able to acquire a few cards to add to your deck along the way if you meet certain criteria (click here for card images if you don’t mind spoilers). You get an upgrade that has a one-time, powerful effect just for completing the first scenario. After beating Absorbing Man, you will get another upgrade that always starts in play, grants additional hit points, and also boosts a stat of your choice. The Taskmaster scenario features four allies (Moon Knight, White Tiger, Elektra, and Shang-Chi) that have been captured and you are able to add to your deck any of those allies that you manage to rescue during the scenario. Finally, if you are able to clear or keep out of play a certain side scheme from Zola’s deck, you are able to flip your upgrade from scenario 2 to an “improved” side that can draw you a card each turn for performing a certain action or task.
On the negative side, there are a few other conditions from earlier scenarios that can affect future scenarios. Any experimental weapons that come into play during the Crossbones scenario will be included in all future encounter decks. The number of “delay counters” on Absorbing Man (essentially how many rounds it took you to win) will turn into a certain amount of starting threat in the Red Skull scenario. Any player who ended Zola’s scenario engaged with a minion will get an additional encounter card at the start of the Red Skull scenario, and any allies left underneath the Hydra Prison side scheme must be removed from your deck before the final scenario. You can also elect to play “expert campaign mode” that will have you start each scenario with the same number of hit points that you ended the previous scenario with, in addition to playing Stages II and III of the villain instead of Stages I and II. Independent of expert vs. standard campaign mode, you can choose to add the Expert modular set or not into the encounter decks.
Other than those changes the play experience is not any different from standalone mode. There are some comic book pages in the rule book that progress the story in between each scenario, but the depth of the story telling is not that much more than what you are used to from the scenarios in the Core Set. It does make everything feel more like a comic book story, however, and you are always free to house rule additional restrictions on your deck building if you think that should be a part of the experience. Overall, this campaign is only a slight increase in complexity over what was provided in the Core Set. Galaxy’s Most Wanted is going to have some sort of market to “purchase” cards from in between scenarios along with a group resource of a starship that can be upgraded, so it seems like the developers will continue to push the possibilities of campaign mode and The Rise of Red Skull will be the lightest offering.
The story of the Campaign Mode (and I won’t give away any spoilers here that aren’t on the back of the box) is that Red Skull and Hydra are trying to get one of the Infinity Gems. The main through-line of the scenarios that makes them feel like they are connected to a Hydra-centric story are the modular sets, which I will talk about in the next section, but for now it’s enough to know that most of the enemies you will face outside of the villain are Hydra goons. Otherwise, for someone who does not have much exposure to the comics lore, the campaign does not feel like it’s uniquely Hydra-related until the final scenario. Zola and Absorbing Man feel a little shoe-horned in. Crossbones and Taskmaster make sense in the story but both of their scenarios are just pretty basic beat up the villain scenarios that could fit in any campaign. It’s not until Red Skull and his side scheme deck that you feel like you are taking on a vast, shadowy organization. I won’t sit here and say I could have or would have done something differently to change that feeling, but my primary point is that if you were to play one of these scenarios, other than Red Skull in the distant future, you would be hard-pressed to point to anything thematically or mechanically and say “ah, yes, this scenario feels like it came from the Red Skull campaign.” That’s really just limited to the fact that there are Hydra minions, but we have had that option since the Core Set. Both Lord of the Rings and Arkham Horror generally manage to tie certain mechanical or thematic similarities into their scenarios that are a part of the same campaign or cycle such that each grouping of scenarios feels a little bit distinct from the rest. I’m not sure that they have managed that here with this campaign.
There are three-ish modular sets included in The Rise of Red Skull: Hydra Patrol, Hydra Assault, and Weapon Master. There is also a set of four cards titled “Experimental Weapons” that could technically be used like any other modular set, but it’s only four cards, it’s somewhat redundant with Weapon Master, and it’s required for the Crossbones scenario, so I will likely just leave it organized with that scenario and consider it a permanent part of that deck. Of the three traditional modular sets, Hydra Patrol and Hydra Assault seem a little similar to each other on first glance and, perhaps thematically more-so than mechanically. Weapon Master is somewhat similar to Under Attack from the Core Set. To be honest, I was a little disappointed in the selection of modular sets to come out of this expansion. In terms of rounding out your card pool, Green Goblin offers better modular sets but obviously only includes two scenarios as opposed to the five in this expansion.
The two Hydra modular sets do offer a relatively unique option to add to scenarios in that they each add five minions and then a sixth card that accelerates getting them into play. Thor players, rejoice! I would call Hydra Patrol the easier one and Hydra Assault the more difficult set. Your mileage may vary. The Flame-Soldier is a personal favorite of mine for offering a new way for the encounter deck to attack your setup, and the Jet Trooper just looks like he’s having so much fun. Hydra Assault also features a lot of boost abilities which can really mess with how you thought the villain phase was going to go. Hydra Patrol, on the other hand, just has an even split between 1- and 2-boost icon cards. Overall, it is nice to have modular sets that can increase the minion-density of a scenario without having to add Masters of Evil every time.
Weapon Master is an interesting set because the upgrades can potentially mess with your plans if you are depending on Tough statuses (Doctor Strange) or retaliate (Captain America, Black Panther, maybe Hulk), but mostly because the three treacheries are all impactful whenever they are revealed, regardless of if you are in Alter-Ego or Hero form. It is nice that they have a design that isn’t just “if you’re in this other form this card gains Surge.” It is worth noting, though, that most of this set only has one boost icon. I will mostly want to use this set on villains like Crossbones and Taskmaster for thematic reasons but I also intend to try this set with Rhino.
Overall, this examination seems like it’s coming down on the negative side. That is only because I am looking at the campaign and thematic aspect of the expansion, and I don’t think Marvel Champions was ever supposed to be a strong campaign experience or one that tells stories of great depth. It’s a bit unfair to compare this to Arkham Horror, a game built entirely around the campaign experience, or Lord of the Rings, a campaign that is similar mechanically but draws from critically-acclaimed source material. If you are coming from those games don’t expect Marvel Champions, or at least The Rise of the Red Skull, to be a replacement. Really this expansion is just a collection of five scenarios and two heroes, but that’s not a bad thing as new scenarios are nearly invaluable at this point in the game’s life.
Thanks for reading.