Review: Thanos Rising – Avengers Infinity War

How surprising!

All the IP in the world to waste you say?
A speedy film tie-in, you say?
Big minis and shiny gems – surely style over substance, you say?

And yet they’ve done it. USAopoly has only gone and made a really enjoyable game.

With fabulous flows, fraught action and family-friendly fun your optimism won’t be misplaced, Asgardian. (Or in fact, anyone else. Probably.)

Designer: Andrew Wolf
• Publisher: USAopoly
Number of Players: 2-4
Playing Time: 45 minutes or more

Bestriding the game board like a cross between some crazed Bruce Forsyth and a 70’s Magic Robot, big blue Thanos will stop at nothing to prove he’s not the six-stone weakling you think he is.

Yet you and the other big boys and girls are going to have to bully him into submission to put a stop to his nefarious stone seeking antics. If you’re lucky that is…

Nice to see you, to see you…

Game set-up has the players selecting one of four Teams, alongside their related starting Hero. Whilst all can fight, each Team has an additional specialism in a particular power area (Battle, Tech, Mystic or Cosmic). These colour-coded power areas dictate which mix of power dice each player has to roll on their turn.

For Wakanda? Without question… (Err – Iron Spider??)

Off to one side sits a board for the Infinity Gauntlet, that gradually fills with shiny shiny, used to track Thanos’ progress towards (and possession of,) each Infinity stone.

The main action, however, centres around a nonagon (yes, you heard me, nonagon) representing the deployment zone — with a hefty mini (maxi?) [Editor – What’s wrong with just ‘model’?] of Thanos sat perched in the centre which you’ll either instantly love or hate. Each side of the nonagon receives a card from the asset deck: this will be either a recruitable Hero or dastardly Villain, resulting in three cards per sector.

Cap and Bucky: being best battling buddies

Game action starts with the active Team selecting a sector to go fight and/or recruit in. Thanos then gets to be a naughty boy — a couple of special dice are rolled for his actions.

One is for stone searching, adding a counter to the matching colour stone on the Gauntlet board. (Five counters means Thanos gets his mitts on the stone and adds it to his fancy glove, with extra buffs if that colour is rolled again).

And one is for his focus: he may turn, stay put, or undertake even more stone searching with another roll of the stone dice.

The sector that Thanos ends up in sees damage done to all waiting heroes, alongside potential buffs and effects from any Villains in that sector. Should Thanos turn to the Active player’s sector then all recruited heroes for that Team also take a damage counter. This can be quite brutal.

Okay Okoye, Okay!

With Thanos’ go over, it’s then ‘fight or find’ time for the active player. Each asset in the sector has a ‘template’ of dice faces to be rolled for success. The active player rolls a number of dice according to his or her team and the synergies the squad provides.

There are rules regarding how rolling is done and results allocated, that build tension and force Player decision making – mitigated with some team heroes that can alter and modify rolls in different ways depending on their power.

Once no more dice can be allocated (either through choice or failure), successes then trigger powers (some heroes can heal or interfere with Thanos’ infinity stone search), recruit a hero (removing any damage on the way) – or do damage to a Villain (possibly removing them from the board).

Any damage dealt earns a player a random buff token per point dealt that can be used on any players turn — to add dice, heal or substitute successful results for example. When a Hero or Villain runs out of health they are removed from the board and the process then repeats for the next active player in turn.

The game is won when players have defeated a set number of Villains to win. Thanos wins however if he defeats ten or more Heroes, OR gets all the infinity stones OR removes all the heroes from any one player. The odds are stacked against…

The hardest choices require the strongest wills

My group really enjoyed this game.

There’s nothing new in the Yahtzee-style match-the-dice-facing game mechanism, but that isn’t to say it doesn’t work really well.  The RNG and push-your-luck elements provide bags of anticipation and genuine excitement when the rolls go your way or don’t. Just missing out can be almost as entertaining as hitting that result on the last throw.

There’s a palpable backdrop of peril against which the Players’ dilemmas are set: do I recruit now to build my Team’s dice-rolling engine – or should my focus be on pest control and getting damage done before Thanos starts to realise more and more of the Infinity glove’s powers (getting stronger as the game progresses)?

We found the underlying mechanism was perfect for supporting a story arc within each game: tension builds throughout, each battle or recruitment success of failure adding to the narrative.

It’s also more than just collecting your Team (colour) cards. Having different faction members provides a genuine pleasure when getting your Team’s combos right, enabling your dice engine to achieve your aims. And an even bigger thrill when you finally successfully recruit  <insert your favourite Hero here> into your team.

We have a Hulk

But is it perfectly balanced, as all things should be?…

As with all luck driven games, the initial shuffling of the asset deck and luck on the dice rolls can make or break the pleasure and playability alike. That said, this is not too long a game to make this a big issue – and balancing seems well done, with most of our plays resulting in a tight race to the finish.

Similarly, if a Team struggles to roll recruits or have heroes with that provide synergy, some Players can feel impotent with an increasing imbalance in player power as the game progresses. Good co-operation is key here.

I would also have liked to a bit more on the cards reflecting character powers. The Hulk does do more damage the more he takes, but this bucks the general trend – other cards seem to have combos that prop up the game mechanism rather than reflect each Heroes uniqueness.

Player interaction can also be fairly limited, either to a discussion on approach or whether to add a bonus result token to the mix.

Lastly, appreciation of the artwork divided opinion – you’ll either enjoy the replication of the film crossover  (except Iron spider, anyone?) or feel it’s a missed opportunity given the wealth of resource from the comics. But both that and the aesthetic (boards, chunky dice, gems) seemed perfectly tailored to the target market.

The end is near…

In summary, then, this is a fun gaming blast, that isn’t overlong, overcomplicated nor takes itself too seriously. The IP is well known with familiar characters underpinned by the mechanics providing a great canvas for each game’s story of success or failure.

There’s nothing particularly new here with those mechanics – but what is there plays solidly and is easy to pick up in a matter of moments. As a co-op game it’s all about the team achievement – but also plays well solo.

However, I think any long lasting value and entertainment will depend on how invested in the IP and backstories players are. If accessible, simple, fun co-operative combat games are your bag and Marvel is your thing you’ll enjoy this romp. If it’s not (and/or have more chums), you may well benefit from giving something like Samurai spirit a look.

Easy to understand, accessible and intuitive right from the off
A simple and streamlined experience that’s family friendly
Rolling dice and pushing luck can be fun!
Rolling dice and pushing luck can be frustrating when others are luckier
Not much to do in your brief down turns
Review copy provided by Asmodee UK.
Official Website

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