Games with miniatures and games with the Marvel licence are ten a penny, but back in 2019 the bright sparks at Atomic Mass Games had the idea to put them together. The result was Marvel Crisis Protocol, a skirmish game where teams of super-powered characters duke it out over tactical objectives. It proved a smash hit, and now it’s back in an updated edition, Earth’s Mightiest Core Set (see it at Amazon), with cool new characters and more dynamic figures. Owners of the original can still use their figures, however, as they’re different versions of the same characters, with slightly different stats and powers.
What’s in the Box
Like a lot of miniature game starter boxes, the contents of Marvel: Crisis Protocol – Earth’s Mightiest Core Set isn’t much to look at when you draw the lid off for the first time. It’s mostly a lot of gray plastic sprues. There are no assembly instruction in the game — instead they have to be downloaded from the website of the publisher, Atomic Mass Games. You’ll also need a craft knife, some polystyrene cement and a lot of time and patience to assemble the contents, although the figure poses are clean and obvious. No guessing games are required over whether you’ve got an arm or a leg at the correct angle.
Once you’ve put the time in, the results are spectacular. The 10 figures in this updated box are much more detailed and dynamic than their original counterparts. Doc Ock drips liquid from tentacle to test-tube, while Black Widow is captured in the act of tearing an Ultrabot in two.
In addition to the characters, there’s also a ton of scenery included, mimicking everyday street objects like lamps and cars. Some of the more spectacular pieces are wrecks and damaged buildings, enlivened by bits of crushed Ultrabots crawling out of the debris. Between them, there’s more than enough to start playing.
A pack of custom dice, character and crisis cards, a rules booklet and some sheets of cardboard sprues containing counters round out the box contents. As you can probably imagine given the wealth of comic art at the game’s disposal, everything looks bright and colorful with plenty of pictures to enliven the tiresome task of rules referencing.
Rules and How It Plays
For the most part, Marvel Crisis Protocol plays like a standard modern miniatures game. Characters get two actions which they can use to do things like move, attack or activate particular hero powers. Movement and range are measure with included custom tools to keep things fast and simple. Attacks are resolved by each player rolling a pool of dice and looking for hit or block symbols to attack or defend, with “wild” icons adding additional effects depending on the attack used.
With each character representing a superhero, you can probably imagine that these additional effects, along with their unique attacks and powers, encompass a wild range of wacky results. Spider-Man, for example, can slam enemy characters into the scenery, while Red Skull can warp both himself and other characters around the map. Most of the more powerful abilities require you to pay a resource called power which is in short supply at the beginning of the game.
However, in a twist of considerable genius, characters get extra power when they’re wounded and when they use particular attacks. This is a useful feedback loop that boosts a player taking hits due to unlucky dice, but it also results in an escalating feedback loop whereby the more everyone is punching and throwing each other around, the more options they have to punch and throw each other even harder. Characters also get dazed after accumulating enough wounds, which flips their character cards over and sometimes reveals even more powerful effects to bring into play.
The result is an ever-escalating fist-fight that feels like flipping the panels on your favorite comic. It won’t be long before characters are chaining attacks into other attacks, throwing the scenery around, throwing each other around — sometimes into the paths of incoming attacks — and criss-crossing the battlefield with energy beams or freeze rays and generally doing what superheroes do best: escalating craziness with every punch until someone finally gets hit for six at the climax.
Not only is this the thematic core of Marvel Crisis Protocol, it’s also where a lot of the tactical decisions lie. It all comes down to assessing the situation and trying to choose which heroes and powers will work best together to counter the enemy. While this is always an interesting challenge, the sheer number of different options at your disposal can also be overwhelming, even for experienced players. Most characters have two to three attack options and a further three or four passive powers. When you’re fielding a team of five or so operatives, it quickly gets hard to handle. As does the sheer number of tokens and tracking many powers require.
The remainder of the strategy comes from the game’s objective system. This is a clever concept that removes a lot of the rock-paper-scissors faction match-up issues that plague a lot of other miniatures games. You build a team of 10 models, and support that team with a choice of crisis cards, which determine the scenario, and team tactics cards, one-shot special powers. Each player draws a crisis card at random from their roster, and those two become the scenario objectives — one detailing objectives to hold and one with items or civilians to get off the battlefield. They also mandate a points cap, and players can choose which of their 10 models to use up to that points value.
This is essentially a kind of sideboard system which allows you to strategically prepare sets of cards and figures that work well together and then finalize them when the exact parameters of the mission become clear. In turn, it offers tons of variety and means you can be much more flexible in how you approach your goals each and every game. So you’re reacting to a new tactical challenge each time by making informed decisions rather than just showing up with a list and hoping your picks will be up to doing whatever job turns out to be asked of them, as a lot of these kinds of games do.
While Marvel Crisis Protocol does give you plenty of tactical tools to work with, it’s also a dice-heavy game. The custom dice icons take some getting used to, but they’re fun to use, especially when a power gives you lots of re-rolls or exclamation results give you extra dice for explosively powerful attacks. At the same time, that does make the game very swingy and prone to fate. This seems well-suited to the theme of the game, with fights often taking wildly unexpected turns just as one side thinks they have it in the bag, but those looking for a more in-depth strategic challenge probably won’t be considering a game about comic-book characters having fist-fights in the first place.