Before Tabletop Gaming News, I managed a comics and tabletop games store for ten years. So I’m sure you’re not surprised when I tell you I’m a comic fan. And, obviously, I’m a fan of games as well. So when WizKids combined those two hobbies in X-Men: Mutant Revolution, I was more than willing to be the one that reviewed it. (Cue the 90’s X-Men animated series music.)
Starting a Revolution
X-Men: Mutant Revolution is a new game from WizKids for 3-4 players. Each player takes charge of a school, its Heroes, and its Students in hopes of making their vision of the future a reality. The four schools are run by some recognizable mutants: Wolverine, Cyclops, Storm, and Magneto. A fairly nice miniature is included for each School Leader. The paint job on the miniatures are above HeroClix level of quality, to give you a reference point.
To see your school’s ideologies shape mutantkind’s future, you must accumulate six Revolution Points. These points are both gained and lost during the four phases of the game: Upkeep, Plot, Recruit, and Mission. Each phase is almost its own game unto itself and most players take their actions simultaneously, which is nice because you never have time to let your mind drift off during someone else’s drawn out turn.
The Upkeep Phase is where all the number adjusting happens after Missions and Events from the last round. The Plot Phase is where Event Cards are acquired and played to either hinder another school or help yours. The Recruit Phase is arguably the most interesting phase (more on why in a moment). In this phase, schools acquire new Heroes, Students, and Training Cards. School Leaders can go into battle, but, unless the threat is huge (i.e. Apocalypse), you’ll more than likely send one of the Heroes or Students you’ve recruited during this phase.
The Mission Phase is where the current Mission Commander chooses schools for whatever Mission has been revealed. Players then take part (or don’t) in the Mission for rewards. Most Missions involve combat, which is dice driven. All Students, Heroes, and Leaders have stats that correlate to the face of a D6, and as they take damage, those stats are rotated down with players choosing which stats to decrease. If any stat hits 0, the Character is defeated. Once the Mission ends, rewards are given, and Revolution Points are checked for a winner. If no one has won, the phases begin again.
As with any private school, recruitment is important. More Students equals more funds. And more teachers are a drain on those funds, but they are necessary. In the case of Mutant Revolution, the same holds true, except classes are replaced with highly dangerous missions where a lot of butt is kicked. Students are fairly equipped to do said butt kicking, but the Heroes are a bit more powerful. The act of recruiting these people to your school is actually one of the coolest parts of the game.
First, I want to give you a little history behind Mutant Revolution. WizKids actually licensed the game engine for Gale Force Nine’s Spartacus: A Game of Blood and Treachery where players vied to have the most powerful house in Rome through backstabbing, tenuous alliances, and arena combat. In Spartacus, players would go to a market and secretly bid on new gladiators for their house, increasing their stable of fighters. This feature (well, a lot of features really) carried over to Mutant Revolution and is handled much the same way.
Throughout the game, players earn Hope Coins from Students at the school, Missions, and selling unwanted cards. During the Recruit Phase, those coins are put to use when a lineup of four cards are revealed. These cards can either be Training, Student, or Hero Cards. Going down the line, one card at a time, players use a secret bidding dial to say how much they’re willing to pay for the current card on the block.
Once the bids are locked in, players all reveal their dials, and the highest bidder wins. Ties result in another round of bidding, adding to the previous bid. This whole process is a lot of fun and made for a highly energetic atmosphere around the table. And even if you don’t want a specific card but know a rival school does, you can purposely bid them up, making them spend those precious Hope Coins. While this is my favorite part of the game, it is also the one that makes me stop and think…
What’s in a Name?
As much fun as the bidding process is, it’s where the game’s X-Men license starts to crack for me. Throughout the game, I found myself justifying a lot of different things. For example, at first it is weird to think an intangible feeling like hope has been turned into a very tangible currency, Hope Coins. But I wrote that off as, one, a necessity for the game and, two, there’s a character named Hope in the comics.
However, when it comes to essentially buying Students or Heroes from an auction block, it feels a bit weird. Obviously this worked much better in Spartacus, but again, I explained this away as Cerebro finding potential candidates and the schools using “hope” to win those Students and Heroes over to their side. As these moments of “that’s weird for an X-Men game” came up from the group, we continued to justify them. Then the Mission Phase really sealed the deal.
Missions are dictated by a Mission Card. One of the first Missions we received was “Tournament.” The Mission Commander (a title that can again be bid on and infers a Revolution Point bonus at the end of this phase) must choose two schools to send one Student into the arena. Then, every school chooses who they think will win the fight, gaining Hope Coins if their chosen fighter wins. Essentially, one school demands combat between kids and everyone else cheers them on for fun and profit. This is right at home in Spartacus, but makes no sense in Mutant Revolution. Maybe if they would have called it “Mojo Mayhem” or something like that. The whole Mission was distracting for the group.
Ultimately, this disconnect between the X-Men license and Spartacus game mechanics doesn’t ruin the experience. A good game is a good game no matter how you wrap it, and Mutant Revolution is a good game. But it did takes us out of the experience. Of course, not all Missions are like that example. A later one had the schools uniting to fight Onslaught, which felt right at home.
WizKids’ X-Men: Mutant Revolution is a solid game, which makes sense when you know it’s built on the back of Spartacus, a highly praised game already. I would’ve loved to have more miniatures for the Students and Heroes, but the amount of Characters makes that option prohibitive while still keeping the price at a reasonable $49.99. If you really want minis instead of the included tokens, you could always track down the HeroClix figures for each Character. Speaking of tokens, the box has a great insert, with slots for all the cards and tokens, which is always a big plus for me.
Some people might assume a licensed game is a cash grab with little depth, but Mutant Revolution defies that assumption. It is a complex, fun, and challenging experience sure to please veteran gamers. However, the complexity of the game might prove a problem to those who bought it because of the X-Men branding, especially if it was for a younger gamer. The rulebook does a fantastic job of breaking every phase and step down in detail, but it isn’t for beginners or those looking for something quick (as an average game is usually around two hours). Overall, I highly recommend the game, despite my comic guy side sneaking out here and there during play.
A copy of X:Men: Mutant Revolution was provided by WizKids for purposes of this review.