We’re back with our irregular series where Ben and I explore miniatures games beyond the bounds of our usual Games Workshop IPs to see what cool things are out there. Now, I wanted to do a spooky game for October, but we kind of already did that, so instead we played a game that my co-host has been talking about for a while now, and inadvertently continuing our accidental (and now slightly past date) superhero Halloween, with a look at Marvel: Crisis Protocol.
Marvel: Crisis Protocol (or MCP for short) was launched in November 2019 by Atomic Mass Games, itself a subsidiary of Asmodee, and has done amazingly well for itself given that the majority of its life cycle has been a global pandemic and lockdown for many of us. The game has not only survived, but thrived thanks in part to the popularity of the name attached, but also to a devoted online fanbase that have been running Tabletop Simulator Leagues over Discord. With multiple new releases every month, MCP shows no signs of slowing down and that is, in my opinion, a great thing. One of its most recent releases are the dreaded mutant hunting Sentinels, so fans of giant robots everywhere rejoice!
If the name wasn’t already clue enough MCP is played with a roster of heroes and villains taken from across the Marvel Multiverse, with the crisis being played dictating how many of your ten characters you can take to the field. Their are affiliations, groupings of certain characters that gain bonuses if you fill their quota, but really nothing is stopping you from having a wild grab bag of Captain America, Loki, Green Goblin and Thanos if your heart is really set on it. The range of characters is truly staggering, although Ben and I were a little puzzled to see so many deep cuts like M.O.D.O.K, Enchantress and Taskmaster, while missing out on some pretty big names like Doctor Doom, Apocalypse and Professor X. The game is still pretty young though, so I’m less mad about this and more shivering with anticipation. Anyway, on to the dialogue!
KVB: It was my turn to be skeptical about a new game, but we’ll get to my in-depth take in a minute; what was your impression of the game, both before we started and now that we’ve played it?
Ben: I was very excited to play. I’d seen a great game of MCP in 40 minutes from Play On Tabletop and and I’ve been on a Marvel kick recently (thanks to Marvel Snap mostly) so was expecting good things. The strength of the characters and their thematic mechanics make it a great “water cooler” game with every battle having exciting moments to talk about. My X-Men may have been absolutely annihilated for points but at least Rogue got to throw a construction site trailer at someone, and Storm picked herself up off the floor to fling Red Hood into a pile of barrels. I don’t think mechanically the game was as unique as some other things we’ve played but there are a few bits of streamlining that I liked. What were the stand out moments for you?
KVB: My weird team of Dormammu and his possessed wizards felt as magical as I was hoping. Baron Mordo especially was throwing out super powers left and right, and it really did live up to the fantasy of him being a powerful sorcerer. The Hood too, with his mechanic of swapping between his normal human self and his demonically possessed alter ego, was not only magical adept but his demonic form’s ability to charge an enemy that was safely placed before really helps sell the nightmare fuel of his model. And shout out to the head honcho Dormammu himself, even though he didn’t personally do much, just being a terrifying centre piece that commanded fear and attention the whole game (and winning it for me by holding onto the objectives).
You mentioned mechanics and that’s a great segue into the actual tools used to play the game itself. MCP uses proprietary dice and measuring tools for the game: D8’s with special faces for rolling and eight measuring tools for character movement and ability ranges. What are your thoughts about games in general I suppose that use such specific kit as opposed to your standard tape measure and D6’s?
Ben: I’m generally happy to see measuring tape get replaced. I think it will take a while but once you can read the board in terms of short, medium, and long moves, or the 5 range measurers, it’s much clearer than trying to read a board in inches, and it means you interact with tiny picky little measurements a lot less. It does mean more objects on the table and the admin that brings. We also played digitally so didn’t experience what these measuring tools are like to use when they don’t snap to your models base and you have to reach around models and scenery to place them, I can imagine that being a pain but no more painful than the equivalent tape measure operation.
The dice I have mixed feelings about. Proprietary dice with custom symbols on them are fine but these dice have a lot of symbols. It makes rolls very high variance, but also alludes to one of my bigger problems when we played, which is the immediate mountains of complexity. I felt like I understood things by the end of the game but I wouldn’t covet the opportunity to teach this to a friend.
On an 8 sided dice you have 6 different symbols, close to a new symbol for every face.
- There’s basic blanks, which are a miss.
- There’s skull, which are a miss like blanks but are un-modifiable.
- There’s hits and blocks which are successes depending on if you’re rolling attack or defence.
- There’s crits which are always successes and let you roll another dice, unless the crit was already from a die given by a crit.
- There’s wild symbols, which are always a success and sometimes trigger abilities.
The sensible reason to have so many symbols is that each one gives the designers another piece to interact with the mechanics and create interesting characters like Dormamu who benefits from enemy skulls (but not blanks). I think I’d value that as I played more characters and more games, and it certainly helps to make the characters unique, but it’s a lot for new players to remember. I may be reacting to dice rolls that I think were pretty bad, but the blank sides of the dice I particularly grew to dislike as I saw them so often.
KVB: Yeah, your rolls were mostly garbage while I rolled like fire, but with the exception of Malifaux I’ve yet to find a miniatures game that doesn’t use some kind of hedron (if you do know of more, let us know in the comments!). Another important point to add to the above is how often characters change or make exceptions to the rules for dice. Blanks are misses, unless you’re using Hood’s invisibility cloak; crits explode, unless you’re rolling against Domino; skulls are bad, unless you’re attacking with Dormammu. I’d be willing to teach this to someone if I thought they’d enjoy the broader picture, but the climb to reach that vista is one of the largest I’ve ever encountered in a miniatures game.
But don’t let the above fool you into thinking we didn’t enjoy ourselves. Once you understand the rules, you understand how the characters bend and break them, and such granularity ultimately allows for each character to feel unique and on theme. That’s a trade-off I’m more than happy to make. As for the measuring tools, not only are useful for preventing that very annoying “I deployed 9.1 inches away from your dudes” but MCP uses the very broad and ergonomic “within” wording for all its rules, something I greatly appreciate as someone who prefers to play by intent than RAW.
We’ve skirted around them so far, but let’s talk about the miniatures themselves, the meat and potatoes of mini skirmish games. You and I have spent a lot (some might say too much) time looking at the MCP model gallery, what are your thoughts on the range?
Ben: The MCP models are fantastic. This is a game that was always going to benefit from use of the Marvel character roster and there’s already a lot of models of these characters out there, but they’ve gone to a lot of effort to make each character not only look accurate, but also feel accurate. They’re also a far cry from the Games Workshop hero rock power posing every model. Most of them are mid action with explosions, photon blasts, and kung fu kicks all flying and it makes for an exciting looking board.
KVB: They are beautiful, and of a slightly larger scale than GW minis, with a great amount of detail for the artists out there, but they’d also take to simple and vibrant paint jobs as well if that was your preference. Before going into this I was also worried that I’d be compelled to paint the models as-shown if I ever did get one, but having seen some of the paint jobs and community response to them, you can be rest assured that no one’s going to mind if your make your Avengers ‘your dudes’.
One last thing we’d be remiss not to mention is the price. I have some thoughts about this but I’ll let Ben give his two cents first.
Ben: No bones about it, this is an expensive game. The starter set is incredible value (cheaper than it’s Games Workshop alternatives for Kill Team or Warcry) but once you start expanding or even building a new roster from the one and two character packs the costs rack up quickly. This is something that’s improving with the addition of affiliation packs to the range. These are four model boxes where all the models share an affiliation and, in most cases, at least one of them is a leader for that group. Since only half your models need to be in the same affiliation to use the leadership bonus four models should be plenty to run, for example, an Uncanny X-Men team every game and if I buy in I’ll definitely be starting with one of these.
If you’re looking for a cheap alternative miniature game though this isn’t it. What you do get is a fairly unique, character driven, skirmish game with all your favourite characters from comics, films, and TV, and I think that justifies the price, especially as the publishers are continuing to release new products to make the collecting experience better.
KVB: I agree, it’s an expensive game, but I’ve seen a few arguments in its defence so I’ll cover them for the sake of balance. Firstly is that since all of the characters in MCP are named and you can only take one of each alter ego in your team, you’re not expected to buy multiples of each box, so they’re all priced to account for one-off purchases. Secondly, since they’re all characters they should be compared to the value of characters in other games, and on that count they tend to be better value for money.
However we definitely shouldn’t gloss over the fact that outside of the core box and affiliation packs these do represent a significant investment, and if you’re interested in any of the models or affiliations outside of these then your wallet could be in for a rough time. Now, that being said I thoroughly enjoyed my first game of Marvel Crisis Protocol, and I hope to play many more.
That brings our time here to a close. Our journey through the Miniverse continues and who knows where we’ll end up next time. I know Ben has been talking about something involving giant mechs, and I don’t think he means Sentinels. Till next time!