Third Time Charms: Marvel Remix review

I’m going to invoke a new rule I’ve created today, that I like to call the “Convention Plays Don’t Count” rule. But before I explain it, let me give a little backstory.

My buddy, Alex Goldsmith, used to work for Grey Fox Games, and I would volunteer at conventions at his booth. It was one part loving GFG’s games, one part getting a free ticket to the con, and the rest getting to hang with Alex and play All. The. Games.

So, at Dice Tower 2019, we had closed up the booth and wandered over to the main gaming hall, where we met with up with two of his friends and started teaching each other games. One of those was a game called Fantasy Realms, an ‘older’ game (by today’s microwave board gaming hobby standards), from Z-Man Games that was kind of an underground hit. We’d see it played at conventions, and it seemed fairly popular, but the bland art had never attracted me that much.

Alex did a great job teaching the game. All four of us laughed, the game was over quickly….but I was a little underwhelmed by the game. I did enjoy watching people put together giant combos, or get burned trying to shoot the moon, but the game never excited me enough to purchase a copy.

And then along came Red Rising, a game that was sort of an homage to Fantasy Realms. My sons were fans of the book series, so I dove into that game and found that I really liked the combination of a giant deck of cards, a limited amount of time to manage them, and the spatial aspects of the board play. (Plus, I got to throw in some references to Matt Nathanson lyrics, always a plus when I’m reviewing a game.)

And then Fantasy Realms won this big giant award in Germany, and everything changed.

I promised you an invocation to a new rule, and here’s the teaser. Z-Man Games sent us a copy of Marvel Remix, their new update to Fantasy Realms with a comic book theme, and we’ve played it a ton, both on and off the stream.

So what is Marvel Remix? It’s a card game designed by Bruce Glassco, the original designer of Fantasy Realms. Fresh off a Spiel des Jahres 2021 win, Fantasy Realms gets new life and a new skin in the Marvel universe. It plays from two to six players in about 20 minutes according to the box cover, and that’s pretty accurate from our experience.

The game play is actually dead simple and easy to teach. Each player starts out with seven cards, and on their turn, draws a card from either the face up market (basically the discard pile from other players) or from one of two decks on the side. Then comes the tough choice, which sometimes feels like you are trying to decide between saving Mary Jane or a train full of orphans bound for upstate New York. One of the cards in your hand MUST be discarded.

The game ending is equally as simple. When there are ten cards in the discard pile, the game ends immediately, and players score the points shown on their hand of cards. The points will come either as a straight points listed on the card, and/or cards can combo off of each other looking for comic book symbols that can double or triple the score. The game doesn’t end in ten turns, of course, because some rounds players are adding cards from the decks (which advances the timer) and some rounds they are scooping up a piece of Thor’s equipment that fits perfectly with their strategy (extending the game).

Fantasy Realms fans are astutely noticing right now one major change found in Remix — yes, in the original, there was only one deck with all the cards in it. In Remix, there are two decks: one with villains and one with everything else. Let’s talk about those baddies, first.

Villains are for the most part terrible for your score, but you are required to have at least one at the end of the game in your hand or it’s an auto loss for you. But, getting the right villain can make all the difference as some of them have actions that can actually help you, or at least your hand strategy can mitigate their damage and score points anyway.

The other deck contains heroes and equipment and location cards, most of which have one or more symbols on them. The symbols by themselves don’t do anything but represent aspects of hero traits in comic books; what’s intriguing is that there are tons of card text that look for those symbols to ramp up the scoring.

So at the same time, players are trying to figure out which cards in their hands potentially synergize well with each other; which cards block each other from scoring points; the potential for drawing the perfect card at random from one of the decks; the known badness of the villain in hand rather than the unknown strengths and weaknesses of the villains in the deck; and keep an eye out for what other players are doing. All in the space of about 15 minutes!

Our plays went about like you would expect from a game that has thematic card play, quick pace, and tons of luck. But here’s where I invoke the CPDC rule, because as I get older, it seems to happen more and more that late night plays of games at a convention sometimes are not good representations of the game’s game play.

I realize that Marvel Remix isn’t a straight up port of Fantasy Realms — the additional decks, requirement that you have to have a villain and at least one hero or sidekick in your hand when you finish or you can’t win, and comic book card play all are significantly different than the generic fantasy themed original. But the play itself feels the same. Identify what’s good and what’s crap in your hand at the start, chase a few random cards from the draw deck, and then try to bluff your opponent into dropping the exact card you need to complete your combo. It’s all there from Fantasy Realms, yet I’ve not only enjoyed my plays of Remix, we keep playing it.

How much of my desire to play is because I like comic book themed games, even if I don’t have the breadth of comic book experience to know a lot of the characters in the game, I don’t know. Or, the fact that the designer seems to have softened up the wackadoodle combos from the original, you know the ones that could give you 100+ points. Yes, those are gone from the game, so scores are a lot closer and tighter.

But honestly, I don’t think it’s any of that. Marvel Remix is a pretty simple card game, you know, and I think it’s just a fact of life that playing a game once late at a convention isn’t the best way to solidify a first impression. (I”m looking at you Zapotec and Tabanusi). Fantasy Realms deserved better from me, probably.

So no more gut feelings about late night game sessions. I’m going to give ’em second and third chances, if necessary. Playing and enjoying Marvel Remix has taught that lesson well.

I still like Red Rising better, but I like both Rising and Remix for different reasons. Red Rising is the game I want on the table when I’m looking for a meaty, hour long board game. Remix is the game I’m going to throw down at the start or end of the game night, a quick palate cleanser that’s guaranteed to make the group laugh. It’s a really well done, fast playing game that leverages its comic book theme deliciously. If your group is looking for a a “last call” card game, like we are always searching to add to the mix, you should check out Marvel Remix.

But if you play it at Origins for the first time around midnight, give it a second chance when you get home. Sorry, them’s the rules.

Until next time, laissez les bon temps rouler!

— BJ

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