Uh-oh ... a trading card game. That was my first reaction when I saw the box. I like trading card games, and I dislike trading card games. It's like playing Hearts or Patience. I waste a lot of time. Yet, there is something about them that draws me back again and again to waste more time. Marvel Trading Card Game is no different.
Like the big Daddy of all trading card games, Magic: The Gathering, the Marvel Trading Card Game pits you against an opponent, and you pit your characters against each other, drawing on resources to buffer your character or weaken your opponent.
There are four types of cards: Character, Equipment, Plot Twist and Location. Character cards are your attackers. Equipment and Location are used to support your abilities, and Plot Twist can be used to support your abilities or weaken your opponent.
Every card has a cost to play. Characters and Equipment have recruitment costs, which are built up by Resource cards. Plot Twists have threshold costs, which are also built up by the number of Resource cards you have in play, but they do not cost Resource points to use - you just need to have that number of cards.
Each player starts with 50 endurance points and a deck of 60 cards. You start with four cards - and can decide if you want a "Mulligan" that is, to draw another four and to place the first four at the bottom of the deck. Be aware that the second hand you are dealt could be worse. The game begins with the Draw Phase. Both players draw two cards, and the player with the initiative begins the Build Phase by selecting resources.
Each Resource in the Resource row generates a Resource point. These points can be used to recruit characters and equipment. Therefore, to begin, you can select character cards as Resources if only to gain a Resource point.
Next is the formation where you arrange your characters. Logic prevails here: tanks in front, range and weaker characters behind, characters of the same team affiliation close to each other. Once that is complete, the player with initiative begins the Combat Phase, and each player completes their attack step.
Once all combat is resolved, each player can recover one stunned character that they control in the Recovery Phase. All other stunned characters are placed in their owner's KOd pile. All exhausted cards will "un-exhaust" and be ready for play again.
That is the simplistic description. The game is far more involved, as Plot Twists have wide-ranging effects, from simply providing your character attack and defense buffs to negating an attack by an opposing character and from sneaking a peek at your opponent's resource cards to forcing your opponent to move or discard cards. Plot Twists also can be chained for further reaching effects.
Characters with the same team affiliation can participate in a team attack or reinforce an adjacent teammate in defense. Only one unique Character card may be in play at any one time, so if you have the same Character card in your hand, you can power-up an attacker or defender by discarding that duplicate card.
As moves are made in each Phase, the opposing player can respond by playing actions of their own - playing Plot Twists, Reinforcing/Team attacking and power-ups. Priority is passed back and forth as each player passes on an action, until both players pass twice. At that point, resolution begins.
Sounds pretty complicated? Yes. Like all good trading card games, Marvel is easy to learn, difficult to master. On the PSP console, the learning curve seems steeper. Even though three tutorials are provided, the only way you'll really learn the game is to jump in. Read the instruction manual. It helps to learn about the game before playing the tutorials. There's a lot of information crammed onto the screen. Tiny cards with tiny icons, text which you have to scroll to read, reaction chains too difficult to follow and cards you have to highlight to be able to read. The game also "helpfully" highlights cards that can be played but many times should not.
There's a large element of luck in your success, unlike a real deck of cards; you aren't creating a deck but are limited (especially at first) to a 60-card deck, without any way to scan through cards to learn more about the possibilities of the game. Three consecutive draws of high resource point Character cards early in the game can be frustrating, and you have no idea what cards are available or possible. How many duplicates are there, for example? What's the ratio of card types? You don't know. Furthermore, you can't pull out "unloved" cards.
Not counting the multiplayer mode, there are two modes of play in the single-player mode. In the story mode game, you select the Hero or Villain path and play through the world. Each chapter of the story contains several missions you must complete. When you do, you gain points to purchase additional cards to add to your card library.
In the challenge mode, you are playing one-off matches - starting off with three opponents, each with a different deck and different ability level. Additional opponents are unlocked as you defeat opponents in the story mode.
I was very tempted to buy a deck of cards just so I could get a better feel for the game, but I stuck through with the PSP. Once I got the hang of it, I found that I HAD to beat this game - given the loading time of 40 to 50 seconds and the play-through time of about 30 to 40 minutes per game. (It takes a while to whittle 50 points down to nothing.) While trying to learn it (and almost beating it), it ate up many lunch breaks while I muddled through.
Konami seems to be catering to the demographic that already play the card game, since there is a "rare" card packaged with each game. To appeal to the mass audience, though, they would be better served to package a deck of cards with the game. Was it fun? For this veteran Magic: The Gathering player, it was. Despite the steep learning curve, the long play-through times and fussiness of playing a card game on a handheld console, I've always enjoyed table-top strategy games, and Marvel Trading Card Game has quite a bit of depth to it.
For those who enjoy trading card games, this may be a great game to pick up. Those already playing Marvel Trading Card Game may find it totally addictive. However, those new to the genre will have a difficult time with the handheld console version of the game. Having access to a deck of playing cards would have made the jump from the learning aspect to the fun aspect a lot faster. I may yet pick up a deck of cards. Just to get a better handle on the game, you know.