GGO readers will already know that I thoroughly enjoy the MARVEL VS SYSTEM card game and possibly through it, as well as my early affliction to comic books and super-hero tales, I was drawn to the television show "AGENTS of S.H.I.E.L.D." Although recent additions to the VS game system have whetted my appetite and served up a host of wondrous characters, heroes and villains alike, this edition sets the scene of that TV series and brings it alive outside of the box (literally outside of the "goggle" box).
Credits for the Design of the game and card set for this version go to Super Awesome Games; Ben Cichoski and Danny Mandel but the spirit of the game is most certainly the introduction of AGENTS of S.H.I.E.L.D. versus H.Y.D.R.A. straight from Joss Whedon's excellent televised entertainment.
S.H.I.E.L.D. is an acronym for Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division. HYDRA, however, is not an acronym, it is the name of a mythical beast, the Lernaean Hydra, which it was said would grow two heads to replace one cut off by a hero (in one story this would be Heracles);' in the world of crime this meant that if one of HYDRA's leaders was killed or captured at least one, possibly more, leaders would take their place.
This edition, which expands the MARVEL Universe for the VS System, is the first to truly let you relive the disappointment of Phil Coulson as his protege Grant Ward flips sides and his, along with all of the S.H.I.E.L.D. Agents, fight against the evil forces known around the universe as HYDRA and their "Supreme Leader" (aka Captain America). For players like myself who enjoy the Marvel Universe and the films and tales etc but don't follow it systematically as if it were reality, finding out that Captain America, the hero who fought as a brave American patriot in WWII, has become the leading face of HYDRA came as a bit of a shock.
Apparently it all began when S.H.I.E.L.D. for reasons I cannot fathom (seeing as they were the "good" guys) decided to use fragments of a Cosmic Cube in an attempt to replicate the Universe's worst Villains. The failed experiment produced a little girl who they named Kobik after the name of the experiment and she was eventually mind-melded (or something somewhat similar) to HYDRA's Red Skull, who had parts of himself in the Cosmic Cube shards, and thus Kobik (which by the way is the Limited Edition card in this pack) was mentally forced to locate the current form of Red Skull. Once this happened Red Skull used Kobik to turn the Best Version of Captain America into a loyal subject of HYDRA, renamed along the way as Supreme Commander.
In S.H.I.E.L.D. versus H.Y.D.R.A. VS System there are two decks of cards, one for S.H.I.E.L.D. the other for HYDRA along with FOUR different Cosmic Cubes, each are "one of a kind" with a different Super-Power and different Power Symbol: Reshape Existence Skill , Reshape the Soul, Might , Reshape the World Energy, and Reshape the Mind Intellect.
Apart from there being two new Teams to add into your Marvel Universe card collection, many of the new S.H.I.E.L.D. cards have the new "Agent" keyword whilst the new HYDRA villains entertain the new keyword of "Soldier". Agents have the opportunity to move cards from the top of your deck to the bottom. This can be very helpful because you only have to move the cards you want to, not every one you look at. HYDRA's Soldiers work together as a unit to take on and defeat stronger opposition.
Speaking of HYDRA Villains, Supreme Leader isn't the only one in the deck, you also meet the (once thought to be immortal but was actually just immoral) Madame Hydra, Helmut Zemo, a Zokovian terrorist and Mastermind (and a main villain I hadn't heard of before - yep! I don't know everyone or everything, sadly) and finally Red Skull - Captain America's nemesis or arch-enemy (that's the good Captain America not the newly discovered bad dude). HYDRA have somehow managed to get their hands on some tasty equipment including the Hydra Speciality Assault Weapon.
HYDRA's supporting characters are also mainly well known: Numbered amongst them: Viper, Doctor Faustus, Hive (aka Grant Ward in the TV series), Fixer, Gorgon, Baron von Strucker, Magneto, Kraken, Madame Hydra, and Red Skull. As the player controlling HYDRA you get the best of the new fun cards. The Nullifier (Immediate negation of a chosen Keyword) Serpent Crown (removes an opponent's supporter), Darkhold (equipped to an evil character only) and Book of the Vishanti (Equip to Good character only). This one of a kind equipment can only be used if the character has the Marvel logo on the bottom of its card.
On the side of good we have S.H.I.E.L.D. and like the HYDRA cards these are easily identified by the symbol in the top right corner of each card - the Eagle of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Octopus of HYDRA. Leading theheroes into battle is Nick Fury, followed by Captain America (the good one), Black Widow and Quake. These are ably supported by Plasma Beam Handguns, Quinjets, plus the supporting characters: Phil Coulson, Melinda May (the Cavalry), Grant Ward (Grant has two symbols in the corner of his card as he bats for both sides), FitzSimmons (one card 2 characters), Iron Man, Hawkeye, Slingshot, Captain America etc.....
So have the rules changed ? To be fair the VS SYSTEM rules rarely change but they are regularly added to as each new boxed set has a double-sided information sheet. In the S.H.I.E.L.D. vs HYDRA the games we have had have been quite close each time, which is weird when you consider that HYDRA has the majority of additional assists; not just Soldiers, Specialised Equipment and Cosmic Cubes, but also The Spear in the East (Gorgon's power) and Doctor Faustus's super-power - he can persuade a supporting character to mleave the good guys and come over to the dark side. Otherwise the game plays the same way as you always play it - you only add in the "new" rules, or at least the majority of them, when you are using cards from different box sets; for example S.H.I.E.L.D. versus DEADPOOL you would need the rules that cover the S.H.I.E.L.D. cards in use and the rules from the DEADPOOL set - it's a good idea to keep all your rules books and sheets (you should have mostly sheets) in one place.
Normally I would by now have played one or both of these Teams against other Teams from sets I already own, but the card set design is so good that they are very well balanced. Like all card games there is an element of luck as far as getting the card or cards you really want at the right time not the next turn when the opportunity has passed, but luck is only one part of the playing, knowing which cards are going to be helpful and those which may be helpful (if the right card combo comes along) is also very important. To bring cards into play you need Resources and Resources are face-down cards played just behind your second or back row. You need Resources and you can gain one Resource each turn by taking a card from your hand and placing it in the Resource Row face down, remembering that whatever the face side of this card was it is gone for the remainder of this game.
In a review I did of another VS SYSTEM boxed set last year (2017) I said that the cards from the old VS System were compatible with the cards from the newest version of VS SYSTEM. Now I haven't got any of the old cards here and I cannot find a picture or photograph of the flip side of an old card on the internet (there must be one but I have probably been looking in the wrong places) so I cannot state categorically that the backs are the same (I have a mental image of the old card's backs being black bordered and silver with a black VS in the centre, but I may have mixed them up with another card game) so I cannot say there is no noticeable difference. There are differences, apart from the pictures and artwork on the cards, the way the cards are designed visually is very different. The title, the art, the power/info etc are all there, but the card type is swirled down one side rather than the more subtle, artistic newer cards. So if the backs are different and you use them you will know when they are about to appear whether they are face up or face down they are identifiable immediately; but you CAN use them. That is you can use them EXCEPT in official tournaments.
The new VS SYSTEM is also setup for 2 players but it is still possible to play multi-player. If you do it is best to play teams, like 2 Good Teams versus 2 Bad Teams, but it can also be fun to play characters against characters so a four-player game could be (actually it is) chaotic fun by having Good guys versus Bad guys versus Bad guys versus Good guys etc etc.... Tournaments are still setup for two-player games. Therefore although it is great fun, as well as being totally chaotic, to play multi-player games, I would suggestthat you make sure you know the 2-player rules very well first. Once you have a working knowledge of the basic rules plus the rules of any specific decks you are using, then go crazy!