MARVEL'S "CONTEST of CHAMPIONS" BATTLEREALM
Designed by Carmen Bellaire for UPPER DECK Publishing 3-6 Players of Ages 12+ Games (are supposed to) take 30-45 minutes but in our experiences this is only possible with 3 players. As soon as you reach full capacity (6 players) there is every possibility that the game will continue well into the hour, and possibly beyond. Four players is the ultimate number if you want a fast, fun, game that lasts around 30 minutes.
Right from the moment you take the shrink-wrap off the box you know you are holding a game of quality. The box is firm and colourful with three of the top Marvel Super-Heroes, Iron Man, Captain America and the Mighty Thor in full-bloodied action as the cover art.
All of the sensational super-heroic backgrounds and character artwork has been specifically created by Kabam.
There are 13 Marvel Super Hero Characters and a 52 card deck of those characters split into 13 sets of 4 identical character face cards, the flipside of each having special abilities specific to each Hero. An unusual aspect of the artwork is that every one of the 13 Heroes are facing to their right (player's left) - is this specific ? on purpose ? accidental ? or is there a hidden, mysterious meaning, such as they are all looking at (or for) something. The thirteen characters are represented by 14 Stand-Up cards in plastic bases (Falcon's Pet, Redwing, is the 14th stand-up) and by Special character boards, each with a rotating wheel on their backs to change the PVP points total. The cut out in the board is where the value of the wheel shows through. The values are "1" to "20" (with a Red start number which may be slightly different according to character) a Red Skull that shows you have died and just before the skull is a jewel-like icon that represents "21" the number of PVPs required to win.
Each character/player board has a character name, a special power specific to the Hero and 3 special abilities that can in some way be attributed to the Hero. There are 10 Special Abilities, each of which assists the Hero in some manner, be it to raise the number of Dice icons required to prevent an event (Explosion or Prison), Extra (or easier) movement, Ignoring a Damage point etc - players do not need to remember what their special abilities can do as there are reference cards, with a flip side of Dice icon Action descriptions. Having these cards is very useful as is the list of Terms and Keywords on page 5 of the rules, these you do need to try to remember as the wording of the actions is very important.
The game 'board' is made up from a number (according to how many players) of randomly selected LOCATION cards (taken from the 40 Locations) set out on the table in a circle, the only constant being the 'CRYSTAL PRISON' which is always placed in the centre of the circle. Characters can move around the locations by rolling at least one Cosmic (light blue ringed planet) as a die face, but can only enter the Crystal Prison by rolling triple 'Mutants' (3 Yellow icons on the dice) never by regular movement. The dice faces are: Mutant - Yellow Strand, Science - Green Lab Flask, Skill - Red Fist, Tech - Blue Connector, Cosmic - Light Blue Planet and Mystic - Purple Crown. Obviously each of these has its own effect in the game. Three Mutants will send a character to the Crystal Prison, Three Science causes an Explosion, each Skill rolled allows the Hero to do one damage to a Hero in the same Location, Tech allows the Hero to do one damage to another Hero in another Location, Cosmic lets the character move to any other Location (only one Cosmic required unless there are other Heroes in with the moving Hero then it requires one additional Cosmic face per extra character. Finally for each Mystic rolled the Hero gains a PVP point. From the games we have played this is the quickest way to get to "21" and win, getting to be 'Last Hero Standing' is quite a lot harder, but doable and ultimately more fun.
BATTLEREALM is MARVEL CHAMPIONS version of WWE's 'ROYAL RUMBLE'. Instead of having wrestlers battling against each other this is a dice-fight game where players decide on the best use of the dice they roll (all 6 dice are rolled and there is the option to roll them all/any again up to twice more before accepting the result). There are sets of dice results required to activate the Heroes secondary action cards but using the dice for them generally means not being able to do something else, thus it is often a 'rock/hard place' choice. Damaging an opponent may mean you cannot heal (add PVPs) to yourself and as other players can see what life you have left it can be discretion to defeat someone and open yourself to defeat by another or leave an opponent alone and live to fight another round.
Players in the GGO groups felt that the Stand-Ups could just as easily be flat coloured counters or in the current production situation of (mostly) Kickstarter games, they could (perhaps should) be 3D models. Of course using plastic or resin miniatures would have put the production cost up and also the retail price (at time of writing this is between £30.00-£35.00 at your local gamestore and/or online) but it may have attracted players who otherwise wouldn't have taken any notice of a Marvel Super-Heroes game, though maybe doubling the production cost. Personally I like the Stand-Ups as in my opinion they are better than simple counters and as they are only markers per se keeping the retail cost down is always a good thing.
Play kicks off with the players choosing their characters and then in player turn placing them on any of the locations except the Crystal Prison, two or more on a location is acceptable. As soon as they have placed their character they gain PVPs to the value of the large number in the top left of the chosen location; naturally the lower the location's value the more (maybe only slightly) advantageous to the Hero it is.
The rules are written as briefly as possible with little 'aside' illustrations and speech bubbles in some of the margins to accentuate those more pertinent and in need of remembering, in fact those 'asides' are often the only place in the rules book where these particular rules can be found. So if you are looking for or trying to remember a specific rule check the margins/asides first.
The straight basics are that each player rolls the dice, decides how they are going to use them (this is called 'finalising') and then resolve the dice face results, attempting to reach 21 PVPs first by any means possible or to eliminate all of the other opponent's heroes. The latter is more likely in a 3 or 4 player game than it is in a 5 or 6 player game, in fact the few times we played 5 and 6 player games the whole affair went on so long we were all hoping that someone was close to 21 PVPs so the game would end. It is a good fun dice and card manipulation game but after 20-30 minutes it begins to wear thin. If you can get it down to 30 minutes that's great, but one of the reasons it is not easy to do this is because there are 40 locations of which 7 are used in a 6 player game. Being in a circle means that any text on them is difficult to read if they are opposite you and upside down. Unless you have a great memory and can remember the power of each location you are cdonstantly either leaning over the table or picking up the location card to read it. Then you have to remember what each character in play (out of 13) has as a special power - one of the heroes can ignore the first point of damage for example so it's no use attacking them if you are only doing one point of damage in your attack.
Note that the dice results must be finalised before any movement or actions are taken - this doesn't include primary or location abilities that affect the dice result. Yellow and Green die results can only be altered by the powers or abilities of certain characters. Three Yellow (or more) results will send the character to the Crystal Prison, three Green (or more) results will cause an explosion but although these results cause a mandatory reaction they must be activated at sometime during the player's turn, not necessarily immediately.
Then there are the conditions for using the special powers. Thor, for example, can re-roll his Yellow and Green results, but only once per turn (you have to find this in the rules as it doesn't mention it on the card). We have argued as to whether he can ignore a roll of 3 Mutant or 3 Science thus escaping going to the Crystal Prison or causing an explosion, and also whether he can ignore either Science or Mutant on his first roll and then ignore the other one on a re-roll. I like to think that as a 'god' Thor can do all of those, but many of the other players didn't think so, and thus we went with majority rule. Then there is the rules (an 'aside') that says "a Hero can never cause damage to themself" but does this count when three Science are rolled and ALL heroes in range are affected ? House rules or definitions are best sorted prior to playing.
One more discussion we had also included Thor - he is a popular hero - but only because he has the 'Survivor' ability (other heroes also have this abiity, not just Thor) - which says that when they go down to zero on their PVP wheel they are not removed from play until the end of their next turn, thus giving them the chance to roll the dice and gain life through rolling Tech, in which case they aren't eliminated. Does the hero that knocked them down to zero still gain the 3 PVP bonus for eliminating them ? This same ability 'Survivor' also says that they are not removed etc provided they are not in the Crystal Prison but as they cannot be attacked in the Crystal Prison they cannot be beaten down to their last PVP. The Survivor rule does clarify that if they are one of the last two heroes in the game then they do not get the extra opportunity to roll the dice but that is one of the few times that actual clarification of a so-so rule can be found.
I think the game is a little ambitious to think that every possible combination of Hero and location has been fully play-tested and thus there are going to be odd occasions when minor questions and queries, such as the couple just entioned, arise. Commonsense and democracy go a long way to resolving these issues and we suggest making notes on a separate sheet every time you come across an anomaly and its house-rule resolution so that at the start of each game everyone is, as they say, on the same page.
The production and artwork throughout is dynamic with the inner mould of the box being excellently designed to keep all the pieces compact and safe for transporting. The rules are colourful, have lost of coloured boxes to ensure you read specifics but are perhaps just a little too brief in more ways than one. I have already mentioned what we consider places where a better or longer explanation may have been better ('asides') plus there are the clarifications for Power cards and the Locations in the rules which only cover 4 of the 40 locations (and the Crystal Prison) and 5 of the Heroes special powers.
The game is for ages 12 and upwards but we played with a 7 year old who is really into Marvel Heroes and although his dad (who was also playing) had to explain some of the possible actions that could be taken on his turn the young lad held his own, quickly understanding the reasons why he should think about saving and re-rolling dice and more to the point which dice to save or re-roll as well as how to use the final results. It is first and foremost an arena style game where the action is controlled by cards and dice, and the fact that it features some of the most memorable super-heroes in the Marvel Universe is a major bonus. At around £30.00 it is very good value for money and even though we consider it to be too long a game with 6 players it is actually good (in some cases) that it can carry six players. Especially good is that every game can have a different mix of heroes and locations so no one can devise an unstoppable winning formula.