Written by CaptainAmeriDave
Picture this. It’s Saturday morning, 10am. You just had your favorite sugary cereal and that iconic theme music hits. Bomp Bomp Bomp… It’s time to go to battle with the Master of Magnetism using your amazing mutant power of… …rolling dice?
In X-Men: Mutant Insurrection, you assemble a team of your favorite X-Men, jump on the Blackbird, and head out to complete a variety (well, sort of) of missions while playing through a plot. Complete the right missions to advance the plot and head into a showdown with the main antagonist for that plot. Complete the showdown and you’ve won the game.
The game allows you to choose from sixteen of your favorite X-Men to tackle these missions. The selection is very good, maybe even to Fantasy Flight’s detriment, as there are only a handful of big names left to justify an expansion (the biggest being Nightcrawler and Psylocke in my opinion). I’m a huge X-Men fan, so I’m familiar with every hero included in the game, but if you’ve picked up an X-Men comic in the past 30 years, then you’re probably familiar with 90% of them too. The original five and all of the ones from the 90’s cartoon are showcased along with several others.
During your turn, each hero will start from the Blackbird and deploy to a mission/location of their choice. You’ll then attempt to complete 2-3 lines of roll combinations. If you manage to complete the mission before the end of the turn, you’ll earn a success. If not, then you’ll face a failure that will likely damage your hero or result in raising your threat level.
The game will keep you on your toes with a threat tracker. If you leave any missions or villains uncompleted at the end of your turn, the threat tracker will rise dealing you tougher threat cards and eventually costing you the game. Threat is the main thing you want to manage during the game. Your hero can get knocked out, but if you haven’t reached the showdown yet, then you get to pick another hero to play as and continue the game.
Each hero comes with a main power card, an assist card, and an accompanying standee. Your power card and assist card determine your dice pool for your turn. Each of these cards has an ability on it. The heroes can use their own power, but the assist power only works when you give it to another player to use. Beast’s assist ability and/or dice combination may help Wolverine be more effective at completing his mission, or maybe Gambit’s would work better? These choices make up the heaviest strategy of the game.
Along the way, you may rescue some young mutants that will add additional abilities to your hero. You may also form strong bonds. Bonds are a card type that connects you to another hero. When you draw a bond, you will give the matching one to another hero. These can provide powerful abilities while you are at the same location as that hero. However, if your bond is ever broken, these will become very annoying hindrances to completing your missions, and so you’ll want to avoid partnering with that hero instead.
Once you’ve progressed enough through the story missions, the showdown will begin by adding together all of the story missions you’ve completed during the game. Those missions will connect together in a cinematic art piece that showcases your final battle. Once you’re at the showdown, all other missions are discarded. You’ll have only a handful of turns to finish off the villain as they will hit you with damage and other effects every turn. If you manage to beat the villain, you’ll be treated to nice little conclusion that wraps up your adventure.
The gameplay here is very simple. You pick a mission, grab your dice, and try to ‘yahtzee’ your way to victory. I won’t sugar coat it, that’s the main thing you’re trying to do here. But the game does give you some interesting choices along the way. Choosing which hero to send to which mission and which heroes should partner up makes up a considerable amount of the strategy. The bonds can make those choices more interesting as well and you and your friends can play that up for some extra fun.
I also want to be clear that there is a reasonable amount of luck, because there is a lot of dice rolling. There is adjustable difficulty, and as such, I would only ever play the game on easy or standard, as there can be huge swings on the threat tracker. Also, you may want to heal before you head to the showdown, because there is no consistent way to heal during the showdown. This means your game may only have 2-3 turns left depending on how much health you had going into that phase of the game.
The hero abilities are unique enough to provide strategic options. Some are very thematic, and some stand out as very strong. The standees are bright and colorful. I know some were disappointed that this game didn’t have miniatures, but that would feel overproduced for what this game is.
We need to talk about the Blackbird standee. It looks decent, but it serves no purpose in the game. You could have just as easily placed your character on your power card in between missions. However, one of the things I’ve enjoyed most about this game is making jet noises and dropping off my heroes at different missions. Yes, I’m a nerd.
The plot and story cards reference numbers are found in the bottom right of those cards. They come stacked in order, so keep them that way and they are easy to find when you need them. When you reach the Showdown, the way the story cards fit together to form a picture is very satisfying. It feels like you’re being rewarded for making it to the end of the game.
Where this game really shines for me is in its presentation. When everything is laid out, I feel like I’m going on a mission as the X-Men and playing through a story. It’s not the most challenging game, but it is a satisfying experience that makes me feel like I stepped into the comic book world for a short trip down memory lane.
Every time I’ve sat down to play this game, I’ve enjoyed it. I want to start with that, because I feel like this game gets a bit of a bad rap. It’s usually mentioned in conjunction with Elder Sign, with those who don’t like Elder Sign saying the games are too similar or people who do like Elder Sign saying X-Men is a simpler version and therefore just not as good. Admittedly, I haven’t played Elder Sign, so I can’t tell you how true that is or isn’t. But regardless, this should be taken as its own thing. And, cards on the table, I’m biased. I love X-Men. But if you’re reading this review, there’s a good chance you are too.
This game isn’t a replacement for something like Marvel Champions. It was never meant to be that. It’s a simple, dice-rolling, scenario driven game that made me feel at least for a moment like I was back there in front of the TV on Saturday morning, watching my favorite mutants save the day. If that sounds interesting to you, grab some friends and your favorite sugary cereal and go stop Magneto from destroying the planet. TO ME, MY X-MEN!
A Couple of Component Tips:
There are not enough stands for all the standees, and the ones they give you will really eat up the cardboard if you keep switching them out. I suggest buying more from FFG or different ones all together. Here are some good options at Amazon.
The game mat for this thing is awesome. It is sold separately, so you don’t have to purchase the game. I play Marvel Champions and it’s much larger than the 4-Player mat at 26’ x 36’. Plus it will fit the X-Men great when they are added to that game. Even if you’re not interested in this game, this is worth checking out.