Written by Josh Bailey
This is our third and final article for the #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, a Why? article on the Hydra theme and modular sets of the campaign expansion, and this Rankings article. For commentary on the expansion and campaign itself, and all other released product for the game, please check out our Marvel Champions Expansion Guide.
Since the previous article focused so much on the campaign experience, this one will be focused on playing the scenarios as standalone games. They will be ranked in terms of how likely I think I am to come back to them in the future as more and more scenarios are released. It’s going to be based on a combination of mechanics, difficulty, and how different they are from the other released expansions. I own upwards of 100 scenarios for the Lord of the Rings LCG and I probably only play 10 or so regularly unless I am going through the Saga campaign. Once you have that many possible scenarios in a game, you’re probably going to stick with just your favorites due to storage and transportation considerations anyway. At least that’s my experience. So after another year or two of this game I wonder which of these scenarios I will come back to outside of deciding to run through this campaign again. Let’s start with the scenario I think I am going to revisit the least often and end with the scenario most likely to end up in my curated selection of encounters to on trips and to game nights.
Also, obviously, these are just very much my personal, biased opinions. These are not meant to be objective rankings in any way and your mileage will need vary.
#5 – Absorbing Man
When I played this one in campaign mode, I did so well that I actually slowed down and took an extra turn in order to end with both heroes on full health. So it’s not really much of a challenge, but I want to go ahead and state that lack of difficulty is not really a deal-breaker for me. If it’s a fun scenario then it’s a fun scenario, and there are also times when you want to try something out in a deck that’s not top-tier so you probably don’t want to play against a top-tier scenario unless you want to get discouraged. Unfortunately for Absorbing Man, I don’t find it that much fun either. It’s a single-stage scheme and the villain is primarily a damage dealer, so it’s hard not to compare him to Rhino. Compared to Rhino, Absorbing Man just has a little more mechanical complication that adds some variances to his card effects, but not much else. Given that, I really would just prefer Rhino’s simplicity if I’m not going to get much interesting gameplay in exchange for the extra complexity. The primary problem that needs to be fixed is that there is no way to interact with the environment/traits that Absorbing Man gets and they cannot stack. If I had to make decisions to prevent him from gaining traits or take actions to remove the traits once he had them, then Absorbing Man would be more interesting. As it stands, the traits come and go randomly and just provide minor changes to the effects of a few cards. That’s really not any different from the regular encounter card experience. I suppose one could try to complete the scenario with as few delay counters as possible for some sort of competitive experience, but you could do that with any villain if you just count the rounds.
#4 – Zola
I have a feeling I’m in the minority on this one, but I don’t find Zola to be all that fun. Yes, it is more difficult, so if that’s what you’re looking for from the game then you probably rate this scenario highly. However, I think the way the difficulty is ramped up goes a little over the line for me from “a good challenge” to annoying to play against. Starting with a scheme that gives you an extra encounter card until you defeat it, at which point it gives you a minion, is a fine idea. Combining it with already having a minion with Toughness in play is a little much. Plus you’ll get a forced minion every 2-3 turns from the main scheme. Not to mention you’ll probably draw minions from the encounter deck naturally. Also the villain has Retaliate. I just think that there’s a little too much going on here to put pressure on you from turn one such that your options for deck building and play style get reduced too much. It’s hard to stabilize in the early game against Zola’s tempo and you have no choice but to have many answers to minions. And most of those minions are teched against the common minion-control options. Many have Tough and/or enough hit points to put them out of range of single-card effects to remove them. Overall, if you cannot deal with the minions fast enough you will take so much damage that you have to flip and recover, and once you do that the minions contribute so much to the scheme that you will be schemed out. I would have preferred one or more of these avenues of attack for the encounter deck to be toned down a bit such that, if I wanted, I could turn it back up by going into Heroic mode. I can beat Zola, I just don’t find the experience of doing so to be all that fun. I will probably only play this scenario in the future with builds that are meant to take down minion swarms.
#3 – Taskmaster
Once again, I expect a lot from a single-stage scenario to make up for the lack of dynamic game states that a multi-stage scheme allows for. Taskmaster does a few more interesting things than Absorbing Man, though, with card effects like Mimicry and useful allies that you can rescue from underneath side schemes. I also appreciate that stages II and III give you a single extra encounter card. This is a nice uptick in difficulty, but not as insane as Mutagen Formula. I like the idea of putting in interactions with the identity-flipping mechanic and adding an extra cost to just staying in hero form all the time, but it’s still not enough to really deter strategies that are best served by staying in hero. The rescuing allies bit is a pretty cool addition, but it does annoy me just a little to have to worry about having extra sleeves for these cards. Don’t tell anybody, but I’ve actually just been leaving them in their encounter card sleeves and not making them match my player cards once they go into my deck. Of course in campaign mode I got the correct sleeves, but I didn’t feel like knowing if the card on top of my deck was Moon Knight or not really changed my games. Ultimately, I feel like there’s some good things in this scenario, but it could have been pulled off better with multiple main scheme stages. As it is, the captured allies come out randomly whereas you could make it trigger based on the scheme or villain stage. I think if you played Crossbones’ scheme with Taskmaster’s villain card, it’d likely be my favorite scenario.
#2 – Red Skull
I’m putting this here because it manages to be a very unique scenario without having to introduce much in the way of special rules. I like that there is a special side scheme deck unique to the scenario that can still be modified to a small extent based on the modulars you include. Side schemes that grant you a benefit when you defeat them is also a welcome addition to the design space and makes playing Justice a little more interesting and rewarding. The scenario manages to be difficult and pressure you on all fronts, but I think that the tempo curve of the encounter deck is more appropriately calibrated in Red Skull as compared to Zola. This scenario also gets a little bump for being based on an important and well-known villain. I would compare this scenario to Mutagen Formula in that it’s tough but in a satisfying way, so you’ll probably reach for it when you want a challenge and feel like you have a player deck ready to be put to the test. I think many will still prefer Mutagen but at least there is another option for a similar feel. The same could be said for Zola too, I just have a bit of distaste for that scenario.
#1 – Crossbones
This scenario perfectly represents what I personally want out of the game. It has challenge, but it’s not frustrating. The mechanics are not overbearing to keep track of, but it’s also not a static experience. And it’s not single-stage, so you can’t go from 0 threat on the first stage to losing to Advance in one turn in solo. I am here for the deck building side of things but not necessarily to tech against a specific villain like Zola. I just want to try all the hero and aspect combinations and mess around sometimes and not necessarily make “the best deck.” This will join Klaw in my go-to scenario section for playing new decks against because Crossbones is light enough to take a back seat to what I’m trying to accomplish with deck construction, but not so much so that he becomes completely invisible like Absorbing Man. This scenario is like Rhino 2.0, and I am very much here for it.
I think I am going to be playing Crossbones more than any other villain out of this box, primarily because I’m usually playing a new deck idea or a recently-released hero and he is a good fit for that. Red Skull I will play occasionally when I want to play a difficult scenario because I have played the previously available scenarios so much that I need a break. The other three I probably won’t play often at all by the time we have our next campaign expansion. Zola maybe gets an asterisk because I may bring him out whenever I want to play Thor or some new minion-focused hero. I would like to see Taskmaster and Absorbing Man as modulars someday, because I think both have abilities that could thematically be used to either counter player strategies or interact with other encounter decks in interesting ways and I don’t really see myself playing their main scenarios often at all. Disagree with some of my feelings about these scenarios? Please, let me know and give me your rankings.
Thank you for reading.