If there’s two things in this world that I love, it’s the Marvel Cinematic Universe and tabletop gaming.
You hear that, close family and friends? Why can’t YOU be a multi-billion dollar media franchise!?
If you’ve made it to this part of the internet, I’m going to assume you have a basic understanding of the MCU. Twenty-four films, four TV series, and several other TV series with nebulous standing within the main timeline. What you might not be familiar with is Legendary, a deck-building game designed by Devin Low. You and up to four of your friends team up to recruit classic heroes from the Marvel comics, punch bad guys in the face and defeat a given Mastermind before they have an opportunity to unleash their scheme upon civilization. The base game comes with fifteen key heroes and four main villains, but a plethora of expansions since the game’s launch in 2012 have added hundreds of characters from the comics. Like with many obsessions of mine, I started out intending to only buy what immediately leaped out at me, before my OCD quickly warped me, and now I have all the expansions.
What’s the point of buying thousands of dollars worth of paper if you can’t do anything fun with it? Recently, on an MCU binge leading up to WandaVision earlier this year, I thought it would be a fun idea to play out the storylines from the MCU by myself and up to four of my friends. After weeks of brainstorming ways to make this a reality, I then remembered I owned Legendary. I quickly began picking apart the characters and events from the films to see how easy it would be to recreate the stories we all know and love in board game form. The answer to that question falls anywhere on a sliding scale from pathetically easy to nigh on impossible, just the way I like it.
I’m going to be showing you all my findings, detailing how you at home can also play the MCU in Legendary assuming you have as much time and disposable income as I do, aka not much. I’ll be making my way through the MCU chronologically in order of release, starting with the first Iron Man film in 2008. I also thought I’d include the TV shows, including the ‘canon status pending’ ABC, Netflix, and Hulu shows, because I hadn’t seen any of those yet, and this was the perfect way to motivate myself into doing so. A couple of notes before I begin:
- The Legendary game and expansions take the characters and stories from the comics, from which Marvel Studios tend to take a lot of creative liberties in adapting. Not everything is going to be one-to-one. Getting this out of the way early to minimize the angry emails.
- Not every character in the films, or even the comics, has made it to Legendary yet. Some key figures from the MCU are conspicuously absent from the games, and in those instances, I’ll be picking characters that I feel best represent who they’re standing in for, either in appearance or power-set.
- There are still expansions being released for Legendary, so it’s entirely possible that any decision I make for any film could be overridden by the next expansion that comes out. If and when that happens, I’ll update my findings accordingly.
- I’ll be giving my findings assuming I’m playing a 4-player game of Legendary, which WILL affect the numbers of characters I put in certain decks. I will also briefly outline a few possible substitutions if you disagree with me on anything for some unknown reason.
- Spoilers for any and all properties in the MCU, which of course goes without saying.
Alright, admin out of the way, let’s recreate Iron Man (2008) in Legendary.
In Legendary, the ‘Scheme’ represents the victory conditions for the Mastermind. Basically, the players are trying to defeat the Mastermind enough times before the conditions of the Scheme are met, and everyone around the table loses. In Legendary, it is typically a combination of the Scheme and Mastermind that determine the game’s general difficulty.
Unfortunately for me, since Legendary adapts the storylines from the comics, it was kind of difficult to come up with a Scheme for Iron Man, since it’s such a grounded film. There’s no ‘Become CEO’ Scheme, for example. The scheme I’ve chosen to represent Iron Man is ‘Hidden Heart of Darkness’ from the Noir expansion.
In Hidden Heart of Darkness, you shuffle the Mastermind’s Tactics into the Villain Deck at the start of the game. Typically, a Mastermind’s Tactics serve as its health bar, and every time you successfully attack the Mastermind, you take one of its Tactics, resolve the effect, and keep playing until all the Tactics are gone. In this Scheme, you can only attack the Mastermind if there are no Tactics revealed by the Villain Deck, and you only have to attack them once to win the whole game. Unfortunately, they’re constantly being reshuffled into the Villain Deck over the course of the game.
The reason I’ve chosen this Scheme is due to Obadiah Stane’s secret agenda to kill Tony and seize control of Stark Industries. Stane is one of those villains where in the second half of the film, he’s constantly being revealed as more and more evil, with filing an injunction against Tony to selling weapons to terrorists to mass murder. It gets to the point where even after Tony knows Stane tried to remove him from the company, he’s still not expecting it when Obadiah tries to kill him.
A nice alternative is ‘Secret Empire of Betrayal’ from the S.H.I.E.L.D. expansion. The ‘Vicious Betrayal’ component also fits Obadiah’s behavior nicely. Also, if you own the Secret Wars Vol. 2 expansion, ‘Sinister Ambitions’ is generally a Scheme that fits any of the movies, as long as you pick appropriate Ambitions to use with it, which I have never tried since I’m not clear on how that deck works.
The Mastermind in Legendary serves as the main target everyone is trying to punch. Each Mastermind has a different amount of attack power you need to attack them, different effects that happen when certain cards come out of the Villain Deck, and sometimes special rules that apply only to them, passively. Once again, there is no Iron Monger Mastermind in Legendary, unless you count the Marvel Studios expansion which, again, I don’t.
My Mastermind of choice to represent Obadiah Stane / Iron Monger is, well, ‘Iron Monger’ from the Marvel Studios Phase One expansion. This kind of feels like cheating, but, hey, if you’ve got it, use it. The Phase One expansion is largely a re-skin of components and characters from the core set but reworded slightly to better suit the first 6 MCU films. I’m going to try and avoid using it in these recreations for the most part, and only really use the handful of cards and components that are 100% new, and fortunately, Iron Monger is one of them. It is a rare event when a Mastermind perfectly matches the character used for the film, and to not use it when it happens seems like a waste.
If you don’t own the Marvel Studios expansion, which is fair enough as some people actively avoid it, I would recommend ‘The Red King’, hailing from the World War Hulk expansion. Red King is one of the rare Masterminds that can swap between two different forms over the course of the game, one where he’s just himself, and one where he’s in a big set of armor. It should now be apparent why I’m choosing this guy to stand in for Iron Monger. His passive ability even compliments what we’ve got so far since while he’s not armored up, he can’t be attacked at all if there are any Villains in play. This turns our Scheme rules from pretty simple to a little more complicated. You can no longer just ignore the other Villains to attack Stane, which would be your assumption. In his armored form, he obviously requires more damage to kill, so I feel it matches the film quite nicely since Iron Monger takes forever to kill in the final fight, while I feel anyone weapon in Tony’s arsenal would be enough for mere Obadiah’s squishy skin.
If, for some reason, you want to save Red King for a little later down the line when they adapt that character to the films despite the fact they’ve kind of already done Planet Hulk and that’s where Red King lives, by all means, feel free to use ‘Nimrod, Super Sentinel’ from Secret Wars Vol. 1. It’s a big metal dude who requires Recruit points and Tech Heroes to more easily kill. It’s like he was made for Iron Man to take on.
Speaking of Iron Man, let’s talk about which Heroes you’ll need for your Hero Deck. In a 4-player game, you’ll need 5 different Heroes in that deck, and adding a fifth player will boost that number up by one. Each different set of Heroes typically come with their own gimmick distinguishing them from the others and adding differing strategies when paired with basically any other Hero in the game. Here’s which five Heroes you’ll need for Iron Man.
- ‘Iron Man’ from the Base set. Sort of goes without saying. With cards that let you draw more cards then gain additional attack for each of those cards you’ve played, it’s a power-set that reflects the narcissism of the man himself.
- ‘Iron Man Noir’ from the Noir set. The lack of additional characters in the standalone films, especially early in the MCU, means we already have to take some liberties. Luckily, this one is easy. The steam-powered heavy artillery of Iron Man Noir reflects the Mk 1 armor built by Tony to escape the cave. No other real point to use this Hero anywhere else, so it’s a good fit here.
- … Um… ah…
Alright, I’m already struggling. It’s getting really difficult to choose other Heroes to put in the Hero Deck since the point of Tony’s narcissism is that he’s really the only ‘superhero’ in this first film. James Rhodes is there, of course, but he hasn’t ‘War Machine’d up yet, so it doesn’t feel appropriate to put him in this deck yet. Now, I know you’d say “Well, just use Pepper Potts, right? I mean, she’s the one who deals the final blow to Iron Monger in the end, it only makes sense to put her in there.” You’d think so, but Pepper Potts actually doesn’t appear in any Legendary expansion (except Marvel Studios Phase One, but just as a Bystander), not even in Rescue form. Legendary is known at times to pick expansions and heroes to include based on the characters that are popular from the films, so we might see her eventually, but for now, we’re stuck. It’s time to take a few creative liberties for the rest of these Heroes.
- ‘Iron Man’ from the Base set.
- ‘Iron Man Noir’ from the Noir set.
- ‘Agent Phil Coulson’ from the S.H.I.E.L.D. set. Okay, he doesn’t do a whole lot in this film, but it is his introduction, and he does assist Pepper in tracking down Stane before the final showdown. That, and his impending death in The Avengers means I want to get a lot of mileage out of him before he’s removed from the timeline forever, depending on how you feel about Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
- ‘Superior Iron Man’ from the Secret Wars Vol. 1 set. I’m once again choosing a suit of Tony’s, and this silver one closely resembles the Mk 2. That’s… that’s it, that’s my reasoning. He never even really fights anyone in this suit, it’s purely a prototype, but whatever. It’s here.
- ‘Tony Stark’ from the Spider-Man: Homecoming set. The only other expansion so far to include stills from the movies as the card art. At least this expansion’s cards are all unique, so this expansion makes a little more sense for you to get if you’re that sort of a person. But, yeah, it should be obvious why Tony Stark is included here. He is Iron Man, after all. He told us so himself.
What a way to start this series. A whole lot of garbage. That being said, these Heroes do compliment each other nicely. All three Iron Man heroes have a nice interaction with Tech Heroes and drawing additional cards, and if that’s not your style, Coulson works well with the standard S.H.I.E.L.D. heroes. You might want to make that S.H.I.E.L.D. synergy stronger, in which case you could replace one of the five I’ve highlighted with ‘Nick Fury’ from the core set. He’s only really in the post-credits scene, but you could always interpret it as Fury calling the shots from behind the scenes. If you’re desperate to include Pepper Potts, you might want to include ‘Elsa Bloodstone’ from Secret Wars Vol. 2, given the visual similarities to Gwyneth Paltrow, but there’s too much magic and mysticism involved with Bloodstone for me to include her in this movie in good conscience.
Now we need to build out our Villain Deck. Along with cards that make the bad stuff happen to aid the Mastermind, and Bystanders to rescue, there are two main types of cards that typically go in the Villain Deck: Villains and Henchmen. We’ll get to Henchmen in a second, but for now, let’s focus on regular Villains. Each Villain group consists of eight cards, usually, two per character, all of which fit into some clan or alliance suited to each other, such as the Brotherhood of Mutants or HYDRA. This, of course, means that though the name of a Villain group may sometimes seem perfect for a movie adaptation, there will often be one or two characters in the said group that just don’t fit. This is the category where we’ll be taking the most creative liberties across the board, so just be ready for that. A traditional four-player game of Legendary will include three Villain groups in the Villain Deck, though depending on the Scheme or Mastermind, that can be adjusted. Here’s who I’ve picked:
- ‘K’un-Lun’ from the Secret Wars Vol. 2 set. These characters stand in for the Ten Rings terrorists as seen in the first act of this movie. There are cards labelled ‘Ten Rings’ in the game, but those cards are the Mandarin’s literal rings from the comics, so not a great choice here. Granted, the K’un-Lun have more of a martial-arts element than we see in Iron Man, but whatever. It’s the best I could do.
- ‘Wasteland’ from the Secret Wars Vol. 1 set. This is by far the most surreal I get in this series, but for want of better ideas, I thought it would be interesting for a Villain group to stand in for Tony’s attempts to survive in the desert while awaiting rescue, as well as his own internal monsters he’s attempting to overcome. Is it a little pretentious? Sure. Am I standing by this choice? Of course.
- ‘Masters of Evil (WWII)’ from the Captain America 75th Anniversary set. This one obviously looks like it should have no place here, especially when it includes characters like Melter and Radioactive Man. My thought process for including these guys revolves around the ‘Savior’ ability attached to them, which gives the player bonuses for having rescued a certain number of Bystanders. This represents the second act of the film quite nicely, given Tony’s salvation of Gulmira. Also, the more mechanized villains in this group evoke the Iron Monger armor, as well as the Ten Rings’ efforts to restore the Mk 1.
You can see why I mentioned creative liberties before, huh? It’s actually to the point where I legitimately have no idea who you’d substitute in instead of this lot, so you’re sort of stuck with these Villains.
Henchmen Villains are the final cards to be included in the Villain Deck. Unlike regular Villains, Henchmen groups consist of 10 cards, all of which are exactly the same. These are used to represent collective villains such as Hand Ninjas or Sentinels. Traditional games of Legendary include 2 Henchmen groups per game, though, like with Villains, this can vary depending on the Scheme. Here’s what I’ve got for you:
- ‘Cape-Killers’ from the Civil War set. These are used to represent underlings of Obadiah Stane, particularly those that accompany him to Afghanistan; the ones who kill all of the Ten Rings enthusiasts. Granted, Tony Stark never actually fights one at any point, but if you’ve read all the nonsense I’ve used to justify much more outlandish inclusions before this point, why are you still pointing out these inconsistencies by now?
- ‘Ten Rings Fanatics’ from the Marvel Studios Phase One set. I’ve listed this lot second even though they’re an obvious inclusion largely because of the ‘Marvel Studios Phase One expansion’ of it all. They have the exact same card effect as the Doombot Legion from the core set, so they’re not exactly new, but whatever.
So, yeah, those are the Henchmen I’m including. If you’re boycotting that one expansion which from this point forward shall remain nameless, you could throw in the ‘Shi’ar Death Commandos’ from the X-Men set, as I think they achieve the same effect. Other than that, you’re pretty much out of luck for other substitutions.
This one is sort of optional as far as I’m concerned, but some Legendary expansions introduce special bystanders with their own unique abilities which activate upon rescue. These are not so important to include since regular bystanders will do, but if you wanna be super pedantic, which I do, here’s a shortlist of Bystanders to include, with no real meaty explanations because it should all be obvious:
- ‘Engineer’ from the Villains set. Standing in for Yinsen.
- ‘Computer Hacker’ from the Villains set. My best approximation for Pepper Potts, given how she steals info from Stane’s computer.
- ‘News Reporter’ from the Dark City set. Christine Everheart. She never needs rescuing, but she’s in the movie, and that’s good enough for me.
- ‘Heartless Computer Scientist’ from the X-Men set. Representing Tony Stark himself. Rescued by Rhodey at the end of the first act, then again by Pepper at the end of the third.
- ‘Pepper Potts’ from the Marvel Studios Phase One set. I don’t think anyone ever actually rescues her in this film, but for the most part I just throw in bystanders for any appearance through the movie.
- ‘Happy Hogan’ from the Marvel Studios Phase One set. Same rationale as with Potts.
- ‘Stan Lee’ from the 3D promo cards. Hugh Hefner. I don’t think a single Stan Lee cameo has ever been saved by a hero, but we include him where we can in case he gets the chance to cameo in your game.
Also for optional rules, here’s a quick list of all the other pedantic little things to include with other card groups to make this as painstakingly “accurate” as possible.
- Starter Cards: Use the standard S.H.I.E.L.D. cards from the core set.
- Officers: Just the standard Maria Hills from the core set. She’s not in the movie, obviously, but neither were any of the other cards you could potentially use for this category, and that’s going to be a common trend.
- Wounds: Use the standard Wounds from the core set. Also, throw in the ‘Blunt Force Trauma’ Wound from the Civil War set. Feels like the best way to describe what would happen if you were shot out of the sky by a tank. Without dying.
- Sidekicks: None. What are you complaining about? It’s not my fault Tony hasn’t figured out how to work with others yet.
- Horrors: If you want to raise the difficulty of your game, I’ll always be including a short list of Horrors from the X-Men set you could add to the Villain Deck before the game.
- ‘Growing Threat’ because of how Stane gets more and more angry and villainous as the runtime goes.
- ‘Endless Hatred’ for Stane’s clear dislike for Tony.
- ‘Surprise Assault’ for the genuine jumpscare you get when Stane paralyses Tony.
- ‘Enraged Mastermind’ for the “BOX OF SCRAPS” outburst.
- ‘The Plot Thickens’ as Tony and Pepper learn more about Obadiah’s involvement with the Ten Rings, so it’s a good fit too.
And there you have it. My totally accurate recreation of Iron Man (2008) in Legendary. Look, Legendary is designed more to emulate the big crossover comics more than the standalone issues, so it makes sense that a film like Iron Man would require a few tweaks. Having played this set me, it’s surprisingly challenging. You always feel like you’re so close to victory before something or other pulls the rug out from under you, and you’ve got your back against the wall again. Kind of like how the final fight against Iron Monger goes, so that’s appropriate, at least.
In order to play my version of Iron Man at home, here’s what you’ll need: the Base game, Dark City, Villains, Secret Wars Vol. 1, Secret Wars Vol. 2, Captain America 75th Anniversary, Civil War, Noir, X-Men, Spider-Man: Homecoming, World War Hulk, Marvel Studios Phase One and S.H.I.E.L.D.
Next time, I’ll be trying my darndest to recreate The Incredible Hulk (2008), an underrated film which I now hate purely due to how difficult it is to emulate… and win, as it turns out. ‘Cause yeah… I may have accidentally made the hardest Legendary combo ever.