Publisher: Upper Deck Entertainment
Release Date: Summer, 2018
Game Designer: Carmen Bellaire
Format: Board Game
Number of Players: 3 to 6
Playing Time: 45 minutes
Age Rating: 12 and up
ICv2 Rating: 3 Stars out of 5
Board games and video games have had an interesting relationship for a long time. It’s almost as if all board games secretly wish to be video games, while video games dream of being board games. Over the years, many attempts have been made to make the switch in one direction or the other, with varying degrees of success. Now Upper Deck steps into that arena with Marvel Contest of Champions: Battlerealm, inspired by Kabam’s popular mobile game.
Summary: Like the mobile game, the players are "summoners" who have been given control of a superhero from the Marvel universe. 13 characters are packed into the box, including top favorites like Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor. Each hero has their own unique set of powers they can call on to lay out some hurt on each other (or protect themselves, as the case may be). They duke it out on a constellation of battlefields, represented in the game by cards, each offering its own unique advantage to anyone who is standing there.
The use of powers, as well as other actions like movement and basic attacks, is controlled through a set of six custom dice: if a player can roll the right combination of symbols after three rolls they can use the power. Victory can be achieved in two ways: by knocking out the rest of the competition, or by collecting 21 "PVP Points." To achieve a KO, one simply has to pound on an opponent until their PVP Points reach zero—much easier if you can convince a friend or two to pile on the same target.
Originality: The mobile version is a real-time side-scrolling fighting game, which the board game version does not try to recreate. Instead, it zooms out a bit and tries to reproduce the campaign element of the app. Instead of a single duel between heroes, they move from location to location trying to get an edge as they blast each other with their powers. I think this was a good choice by the designer, not only since recreating real-time duels is notoriously difficult in a board game, but also because this allows for more than two players to play. Envisioning the contest as a dice game was a nice touch also, as it adds a "push your luck" element and a lot of dramatic tension to the game: Get the right combo of symbols and you can unleash a powerful attack, but if you get the wrong combo along the way you’ll get tossed into the Crystal Prison or trigger a massive explosion that hurts everybody in your location, including you.
Presentation: The game uses artwork in the same style as the mobile game, and the quality is quite good. The characters are crisp and look just like their on-line counterparts. On the front of the box, a trio of heroes charges towards the viewer, with the title erupting between them, giving the cover a strong, dynamic feel. Other heroes adorn the sides (though oddly most of these aren’t actually in the game). The back has a beautiful component shot and a brief description of play. Inside the box, each of the 40 location cards sports end-to-end artwork that is quite attractive, though disappointingly the character power cards do not show the awesome attacks they describe. Ah well, at least the character standees capture their likeness very well.
Quality: Most of the components in the game are quite excellent. The cards are good stock, the box is strong, the rulebook is colorful and glossy and covers the game well, though it would benefit from more examples of play. The character standees are nice and sturdy, but some of them are a bit hard to center on their bases because of their gorgeous dynamic poses, which sometimes they tend to tip over. The character boards, each with a mounted scoring wheel, are excellent. My one big concern, though, is the dice. As they are printed, rather than molded, I worry that the symbols will wear off under heavy play.
Marketability: It would be redundant to say that everything Marvel is hot right now, and by all appearances the Marvel Contest of Champions app has an extensive following. Dice games have a nice low entry bar as they play quick and they’re always exciting, so there are a lot of positives here. On the other hand, the different style of play may mean that fans of the app might not be willing to set down their phones long enough to play. So there’s a mixed bag here.
Overall: I must confess: I had never played Marvel Contest of Champions before I saw Battlerealm. I have now, after playing the board game, so I can see the similarities and differences. But coming at it from that perspective, I have to say that the board game was a lot of fun. With small groups particularly, it was surprisingly hard to KO an opponent, giving the game a "king of the hill" vibe that kept it more competitive than I feared it would be. I’m not a huge fan of player elimination games, and for that reason I like this one better with smaller groups. On the other hand, I am a sucker for dice games because of their inherent suspense and the feeling that if I can just get the "right roll" I’ll get back into it no matter how grim things look, and that feature plays nicely in this title.
I'm not convinced that the board game is going to attract a ton of attention from fans of the app because of the very different style of game that each presents, and I think that’s a shame, because the board game is fun, quick and light, and has enough strategy to make you think you control your fate until the dice play their tricks on you. It would make a nice "filler" game, but I fear the price point makes it a tough sell for that niche. That’s why I’m giving this game 3 out of 5.
-- William Niebling