Marvel Universe – Initial Rules Review

Marvel Universe

For some time I’ve wondered why marvel or anyone in comics hasn’t broken into the tabletop gaming market. While quite a small niche it seems like a solid genre and theme to drive sales and generate interest. I think it could be a good gateway game for folks to try mini games. Well, Knight Models has gone and done just that. They’ve previously released A Dark Night Ruleset that I’ve not delved into yet. Knight models makes exquisitely detailed models of Marvel and DC characters that look like they’ve jumped straight from the comic page. The three main ‘affiliations’ fleshed out now are the Avengers, the X-Men and the Guardians of the galaxy. The X-men have villain, hero and neutral models. I’m a vet when it comes to mini games so forgive me if this seems technical and ask questions for clarification. I’m including a good bit of the rules here but you’ll want to skim the 40 or so pages yourself for the details.
The game is d8 based and at the skirmish level using about 5-9 models per side in an average game of Level 50. Play happens on a 36×36 table strewn with as much terrain as possible. This game seems like it will benefit from having buildings ladders, ledges, towers and random climby bits along with plenty of throwable ammo (we’ll get into that later). Distance can be measured all the time and the model activation is an I-go-you-go mechanic after a random draw determines the player that goes first for the round. Several rules and sections hint at multiplayer and I do think a multiplayer experience could here, it’s on the list to try once we get a few two player games under our belts.

Teams are limited to one of each named character and named character alias per team. There can only be one Peter Parker after all. Characters have basic attributes that pertain to actions within the game. Power, speed, strength, attack, size, agility, stamina and willpower. Most represent bench marks for tests. Generic test format for the game is roll 2d8 add them together with mods. Each character has skills which are nifty things that make them unique and change their fighting style, things like resistances, and bonuses to certain types of attacks. Regeneration was the coolest I’ve seen so far. Each character has a level which is essentially its point cost when building your army list. There are four types of attacks and four corresponding damage types.  Characters also have a list of basic powers they can perform and then some special powers as well. The final piece of a character is its endurance track, or its health meter, it determines how the character is doing and grants positive mods when healthy and negative when injured.
When it’s your turn you chose a model on your team to activate. If you have the least amount of models on the table you have a number of passes that can be used to see wait and be more reacitonary. An activated character must spend at least one power, they have a number of Power equal to their power rating that can be spend on the various actions, powers and things within the game. Models can move once and they can jump and climb for double movement. More power spent on movement will let you move farther if the model has the ability to do so. An interesting\thematic way to spend a Power is to ‘jump into the void’ or essentially stand on a ledge and do a controlled jump down to the ground landing and continuing your turn. Could lead to some cinematic type jumping and falling stuff if you ask me. A falling chart is included to determine damage and results of a fall based on the height.

Powers have a power cost as well as a frequency and a type. There are active, passive and reactive powers. Active need to be activated, passive are always active and reactive powers are triggered by some in game event. Each powers frequency is determined by its color. Green powers can be used an unlimited time per round, blue once per round and red once per game. Red are uber powers like Hulks 12 inch jump and Wolverines, combo when he is thrown by a friendly! There are so many little nods toward the universe in here that vets will enjoy, you can tell knight models put their work in here.

Melee attacks are made base to base but some have a range. Ranged attacks have a range (duh, but must be more than 2 inches) and must have LoS. Line of Sight is determined by having an unobscured line between the attacker and its target’s volume. (Each character has a volume associated with its size. This volume is used for in game things like LoS and thrown damage.) Rolling doubles is a crit which adds +1 or does what the character card specifies. Some characters have special things that happen during crits. You can also overload attacks by spending 1 additional power to add extra damage or trigger overload effect specific to the character. There are also Wave attacks that radiate out from the character in all directions and spray attacks that can hit multiple enemies at a time.
Marvel Universe01

To attack you roll 2d8 and add the attack rating this is compared to targets defense with a few possible mods. Models can take an action called defensive improvements to gain defense bonus. If characters are hit they take damage. Characters’ endurance bar is color coded. Grey means they are healthy, and red means they need to make a KO roll at the end of the round. As characters take damage their counter on the endurance track moves to the right. To make a KO test the character rolls 2d8 and tries to get below their stamina rating to get back in the game. A character can keep attempting to revive themselves until their endurance is reduced to zero by damage at which point they are incapacitated and removed from the board. Being in KO is bad news, your knocked down and pretty much a sitting duck, spend one power to stand.

Scenery interaction is huge in this game. It can be thrown, smashed and climbed upon. Every scenery piece has three stats: size, damage absorption and structure points. Scenery rules are pretty basic though because knight models gives us a sweet chart to classify terrain bits quickly. Into one of six different types (terrain template pre-generated size, damage absorption and structure point stats). Scenery can and probably should (to take full advantage of the mechanic) be destroyed and wrecked which again leads me to think that you’ll want a plethora of scenery to muck around in for this game.

The last major aspect of gameplay is grabbing and throwing. To be honest this could be a huge thing because thrown objects do a line of damage equal to their volume. They smash into things for a good few inches doing damage. There are rules for grabbing an enemy and throwing them at terrain or other characters as well as rules for grabbing a friendly character and throwing them too! I can see the allure in including tons of cars and light posts and interesting things to throw here as well as launching people off ledges and into things.

Each match uses a scenario with different deployment zones and board elements like terrain. Three scenarios are included, games are VP based. Different scenarios come in the Level 30 character packs they offer. The common match size is level 50 which is a little hard to attain now with their current selection of models. If you field about everything you can make it. We’re going to try 30 point games before 50.


Overall it’s a quick and easy read with the crunchiest of the rules regarding scenery and throwing. The game is fairly simple, the scenarios and team selections will determine play style quite a bit from what I can tell. I have a hard time really rating a game or knowing how it will be before I’ve actually rolled the dice and gone through it a few times, I’m excited to try it out. I think it will be (like many recent mini games) very much about knowing your opponents models as well as your own. For demo purposes I’ll be using proxies. I do want to order Gambit and Sabretooth to run mini demos for folks (they’re my favorites from back when I was a kid and happen to be the same point cost (level)). I think throwing is going to be an interesting strategy, not many miniature games incorporate that.

I’ll have to find some cool light post or shipping crate kind of models. I’ve also seen papercraft versions that could work well for this. I’m off to teach this game and get a few 30 point matches under my belt before writing the next part of this series ‘the gameplay review’! The rules can be downloaded ‘Here’ as well as each character card. Click on the link under each character or set that says ‘Product Data Sheet’ to view the cards and rulebook.

Follow my antics @VorGames


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