One of the hottest franchises for games is Marvel; in no small part thanks to the MCU. With Game of Thrones over and both Star Wars and Lord of the Rings being staples of pop culture, it’s only natural that superheroes would be the next major theme in tabletop games.
We already talked about one of the best games of 2019, FFG’s Marvel Champions, a fantastic cooperative LCG. This Tabletop Tuesday, I want to highlight another game from 2019 that’s just as enjoyable: Atomic Mass Games‘ Marvel: Crisis Protocol.
Unlike Champions, Crisis Protocol is a competitive skirmish wargame, pitting two players against each other with teams of superheroes or villains (or both!). Players create their squad based on the missions and their models.
Will your team prove victorious in their mission to secure or extract dangerous items from the streets? Do you win by strategy, combat, or pure destruction?
What rag-tag group of heroes and villains might win when there’s a crisis?
Like most wargames, Crisis Protocol is played on a tabletop full of terrain and markers. Models are essential, not only for your team but also for objects, from lamp posts to cars to newsstands.
After setting up the table, players then decide on Missions for that game. Missions provide goals for the game as well as guides on objective markers and other special rules.
Once Missions are decided, the players create a team of models within the Maximum Threat Value (i.e., point level). Teams can consist of any combination of heroes or villains, although Affiliations (e.g., Avengers) and Leadership abilities (e.g., Captain America) play a significant role.
Each player also receives a set of Team Tactics cards, usually limited by Affiliation. These one-shot cards allow characters to perform special attacks, extra activations, or other unique actions.
Crisis Protocol takes place over Rounds, divided into three Phases: Power, Activation, and Cleanup.
The Power Phase starts with characters gaining Power tokens, which are necessary for specific Attacks, Superpowers, Team Tactics, etc. Various effects may also happen, depending on the models and Missions.
The Activation Phase is when characters take Actions, with each player alternating as they activate a hero or villain. During Activation, the model chosen can perform two Actions, usually focusing on Move, Attack, use Superpowers, Shaking off Conditions, or Interacting with Objectives.
Moving is performed using one of three Movement Tools based on the Speed of the character. Although Terrain may limit some models to slower movement, those with Flight, Wall Crawling, etc. can often move faster and onto the Terrain.
Each character has a list of Attacks on their sheet, some of which require Power tokens.
Attacks resolve through rolling dice (depending on the Attack), with the defender also rolling dice and trying to cancel the opponents’ results. Dice faces might also cause special effects, like pushing an opponent or affecting Terrain, depending on the model.
Some Superpowers also take Actions (and possibly Power) and resolve like Attacks, although others are Innate or Reactive. Similar to Attacks, Superpowers might move characters, throw Terrain, or a wide variety of effects.
Characters will take Damage during the game, whether through direct attacks or special effects. Once a hero or villain takes a Damage equal to their Stamina, they are Dazed for the Round, changing to their Injured side afterward.
In Crisis Protocol, taking Damage isn’t the end-all, however, as it provides benefits. Characters receive Energy for each Damage they receive, and their Injured side can have more powerful Attacks or Superpowers.
Like a comic book, the more beating the heroes and villains receive, the more powerful they become, until they can stand no more.
After every character has had one Activation, the Round moves to the Cleanup Phase.
During this phase, Victory Points are earned, and various effects resolved, including turning wounded characters over to their Injured side. The first player (also known as Priority) may also change hands, depending on who took the last Activation.
A game of Crisis Protocol is played to 16 Victory Points or six Rounds, whichever comes first. Victory Points are earned based on the Missions, usually focusing on securing, holding, or controlling objectives.
Players can also win by merely Knocking Out (KO) all of their opponent’s models, but given the fast-paced nature of the game, it’s far easier to win through Mission objectives.
The best things about Crisis Protocol are the fast gameplay, Power mechanics, and the use of Terrain.
First, once you understand the rules, you can finish a game in under an hour. This wargame is on par with X-Wing for the number of plays per hour (or dollar!), which makes it more accessible for casual and time-restricted gamers.
Second, gaining Power from Damage and better abilities once Injured is a neat mechanic that mirrors superhero stories. The tables can turn when a character who’s been beaten up suddenly unleashes on those surrounding them, dishing out far worse than they took.
Third, the use of Terrain as something to interact with or throw (or be thrown into), adds to the flavor and tactics. We’re so used to terrain merely hindering movement or line-of-sight (LOS), that having it a significant part of the conflict pushes the game to new heights.
Two problems with Crisis Protocol focus on its wargame nature and its rulebook.
The first is a problem of any wargame: time and money. Average gamers may be turned off by having to build models (let alone paint them), not to mention doing the same for the terrain, collecting new models, and purchasing carrying cases for it all.
The second concern is the rulebook, which is very poorly laid out and can be confusing. Several questions were unanswered, and it took multiple readings (and checking online updates) for full clarification, something that should have been done during editing.
Crisis Protocol may be relatively easy to play once learned, but the barrier to get there may be intimidating to casual or novice players.
While Marvel: Crisis Protocol does have some barriers, as most wargames do, it’s possibly one of the more accessible model-based skirmish games in production. The gameplay itself is fast and fun and uses unique mechanics that mirror the superhero story and experience.
For those who love Marvel (or superheroes) and are interested in wargames, Crisis Protocol is possibly one of the best introductions. Even if you’re only into one or the other, Atomic Mass Games may convert wargamers into comic fans or vice versa, with this product.
I know there’s nothing more satisfying than Captain America getting up from a beating, only to ricochet his shield into multiple enemies. That is until Ultron suddenly throws a car at him, and he miraculously dodges it, like something straight out of the comics (or movies).
Marvel: Crisis Protocol is on shelves now. 2 players, 45 minutes, Ages 14+.
I give Crisis Protocol a heroic 5 thrown dumpsters out of 5.
(We’d like to thank Gamers-Corps in Ellicott City for providing us the space to play and demo this game!)