Electrocute enemies with Thor’s lightning, stun enemies senseless with Spider-Man’s web-shooters and halve the population with Thanos’ snap of his fingers.
Marvel Duels is the latest free-to-play Marvel mobile game that lets you control Marvel supers in what is the first auto chess cum card battling game. It combines two genres - card battlers such as Hearthstone, Legends of Runeterra and Magic The Gathering with the new auto chess genre found in Dota Underlords and Teamfight Tactics.
One part card battler
Like card battlers, the game essentially requires you to collect and build battle decks. There are seven main heroes and villains to choose from – Star-Lord, Thor, Captain Marvel, Iron Man, Spider-Man, Hela and Elektra. Each of the main heroes/villains has his or her own set of cards. Star-Lord for instance will have cards of himself as well as that of Rocket, Nebula, Mantis, Groot, Drax, Yondu, Gamora and even Cosmo the dog. When you choose Thor, you will also be able to control Sif, Odin, Heimdall, Balder the Brave and even his girlfriend Jane Foster.
Apart from character cards, you also have access to spells and weapon cards to buff up your combat party. In addition to the seven main characters, there is also a neutral group of cards which has cards such as Wasp, Hawkeye, Black Panther and Thanos.
Each hero group has its own set of 29 different cards, each card having a different summoning cost that ranges from 2 to 6. When the game starts, you will have to choose between your first two heroes – Thor and Spider-Man. Thor is easier for beginners as you can accumulate a lot of armour to protect your heroes while Spider-Man requires more strategic play through stunning and summoning symbiotes to overwhelm your enemy.
Your other two heroes will be Star-Lord and Iron Man. Regardless of whether you chose Thor or Spider-Man, you will need Star-Lord and Iron Man because a battle deck is actually a combination of 40 customised cards – 10 from each hero group and another 10 from a neutral group of cards.
To complicate matters, there is a mandatory group of 21 cards called the Locked group of cards which are always added to every deck by default. That means every deck will have a total of 61 different cards (40 customisable and 21 mandatory), and each card can have 1-4 copies each, depending on your strategy.
Just like Magic and Hearthstone, you start with a small number of cards and must pay or fight your way through to earn more cards. There are four rarity levels for the cards – white, blue, purple and gold. It’s tough to get the purple and gold cards and the game makes you keep playing and playing to unlock the best cards for your decks. There are various ways to earn virtual currencies and card packs but there is also always the option to pay your way through with real moolah by paying for card packs. And if you are particular about how your heroes look in battle, there are also cosmetic items and skins.
The other part auto chess
The game can be tough to figure out at first as it uses a different approach to deck building. But with patience, I found the game to be quite addictive. Once you have set up your deck, you can launch into the six-player Ladder Mode duel where you have to compete against five other online players in a fight to be the last player standing, just like auto chess games. You start the duel with 25 life and after every loss, you will lose life depending on the size of the opponent’s surviving heroes and the level of his shop (more on the shop later). Lose all your life and you are eliminated. During every battle, you are randomly matched against another opponent, just like any other auto chess game.
Unlike Hearthstone and Magic, you cannot choose the actions of your characters at every turn. The battle is closer to auto chess where the AI randomizes your attacks. However, there are some rules that you need to learn to improve the chance of winning every round. First, there are three different classes of characters – attack, support and guardians Attack class heroes such as Drax and Blade are strong in attack and have access to weapons that amplify attacks such as the Silver Centurion Blade which ignores the armour of opponents during attacks. Dr Octopus has multiple attacks per turn, so equipping him with the Silver Sword lets him heal in between strikes.
Support characters usually add buffs to your other heroes. Star-Lord for instance increases the Power of all your other frontline characters whenever a Guardian of The Galaxy (GotG) character defeats another opponent character. Spider-Man 2099 is a support character that automatically stuns enemies whenever another Spider-Verse character is attacked. While weapons for the attack class enhances their attacks, weapons for the support class usually have its own firepower, so you use the weapon to damage enemies instead of the standard melee attack (where the character can lose armour and life) to preserve the life of the support class.
Guardian characters are the protectors, and usually have high armour to tank the attacks. More importantly, many guardian cards have the Guard keyword, which is akin to Taunt which forces the opponent to attack them first before other characters.
Since the characters take their actions from left to right, the typical strategy is to place the Attack characters on the left side and the Guardian characters on the right. Support characters are usually placed in the middle.
Deep strategy needed to win
As you win battles, you will move up the tiers. You start from Bronze then proceed to Silver, Gold, Platinum, Black Gold, Master and Conqueror. It was easy to win at first when I focused on playing a GotG frontline that maximises on attack damage. But it got harder and harder once I got into Black Gold tier as my opponents are really strong.
To win, you need to make many strategic choices and the first is in the customization of your battle deck. Because you need to choose three main heroes for each deck, you end up with a lot of cards that do not have synergies with each other. Lady Sif’s buff to the armour of adjacent heroes only works on Asgardians while the Silver Centurion’s +7 increase to other characters only applies to those from Stark Industries. Also, you can upgrade or “star-burst” the same card to a more powerful card if you have two copies of the same. When you star-burst a 1-star card, it becomes a more powerful 2-star card. And if you can find another 2-star card, you can upgrade it to a really powerful 4-star card.
The goal, therefore, is to achieve your optimal frontline of six characters that work well with each other.
These factors mean that you have to make a decision right at the beginning - do you want to have four copies of every card in your deck (offering more flexibility since the cards you get every turn is random) or to thin your deck by having four copies of key cards only and one copy of the non-key cards (to maximise your chances of getting the exact cards that you want). You cannot take every card to battle, so you have to pick and choose the cards you want when building your deck.
At the start of your game, your shop is at level 2, which means you can only get cards with a summoning cost of 2 gems. Whenever you upgrade your shop, you can get more powerful cards but they also cost more gems to buy. Some players delay upgrading their shops to increase the chances of star-bursting their 2-cost cards but if the opponent gets powerful 4-cost cards, the player may end up being outplayed because 4-cost characters are significantly more powerful than the 2-cost and 3-cost ones. The cost upgrade of each shop reduces by two gems every turn, so if you upgrade early, you pay a premium. If you wait too long, you may end up getting out-teched by opponents.
Having spent over 50 hours in the game, I have to say the game is very addictive as you will keep playing to unlock better cards to compete at the higher levels. Discovering your favourite deck strategy is thought-provoking and winning battles are absolutely a joy. You don’t have to pay to win, but you have to be a really good player to win at the higher tiers without sufficient legendary cards. The learning curve can be steep at first, but once you get the hang of it, this is a fantastic card strategy game for fans of Hearthstone and Dota Underlords.