Battle Bros is an ongoing biweekly column where, usually, Drew (PantsOptional) teaches his brother Chris (head58) how to play Warhammer 40,000. I mean, that was the plan anyway. Then 2020 happened. Catch up on their past adventures here.
Meet the Battle Bros
The older of the two brothers, but newer to the game.
Learning to play Iron Hands teaching Drew about the joys of comics miniatures games.
The younger brother,
holding his brother’s hand through this terrible ordeal being dragged kicking and screaming.
CHRIS: Welcome back, True Believers!
DREW: No. No no no. You are not allowed to take that phrase from Grandpa Stan. Do like every other comics company did in the 90s and rip off the catch phrase.
CHRIS: To me, my X-Bro? Age of Brotron? Secret Bro? Infinity Bros? No? Alright, I’ll keep working on it.
Normally I would be wandering around in a stupor asking dumb questions and displaying my complete ignorance about 40k, but this week we have something different. We’re going to turn the tables – I’m going to explain to Drew how to play Atomic Mass Games’ Marvel: Crisis Protocol!
DREW: Friends, let me be uncharacteristically honest with you at this moment. I love 40k a lot, but as of right now (June 6 as I start to write this) it’s really hard for me to get excited about space fascism for some pretty obvious reasons. I’m very glad that we have a home here at Goonhammer where we are united in terms of that message and while we have a long way to go I’m proud of this dumb comedy site about space Barbies for being a place that at least wants to do better.
So as we planned, instead we’re jumping into abject escapism with our other favorite hobby: comic books. Both of us are well and truly mired in that world; Chucklefuck here left for college when I was seven and left hell of longboxes behind and our parents didn’t supervise me even a little bit about reading them. Just sayin’, man: maybe don’t leave Watchmen with a second-grader.
CHRIS: It certainly explains why you can’t finish without a mask on. Now, I know you’ve bought the core set and read through the rules, but for readers who haven’t MCP is a skirmish-level game where you throw down a handful of Marvel comics characters against an opponent’s 4-6 characters and THEY FIGHT! It’s from Atomic Mass Games, which was formed when a bunch of folks left Privateer Press, and is part of the Asmodee family. It plays like the beautiful love child of Guild Ball and Star Wars Legion, both games I also love. It’s like Guild Ball in that you come to the table with a roster of 10 characters and choose which ones you are going to field once you see what the mission is. It’s like Legion because it uses proprietary dice with funky symbols and its own special movement tools instead of a regular tape measure. One of the key things about the game is (unlike Guild Ball) you don’t get any points for taking out enemies so you HAVE TO play to the missions. Considering this is a superhero game that’s kind of unexpected, but welcome. We’ll get more into the actual rules and gameplay next time, but today we’ll go over the basics, what I like and don’t like about the game, and most importantly the characters.
MCP has been out for less than a year but they already have a nice slate of characters to choose from. The starter box comes with 5 heroes (Captain America, Spider-Man, Iron Man, Black Widow, and Captain Marvel) and 5 villains (Red Skull, Ultron, Doctor Octopus, Baron Zemo, and, uh, Crossbones? Okay, sure). You can buy other characters in singles or two-packs: Black Panther and a bunch of Wakandans, Thor and a bunch of Asgardians, the Guardians of the Galaxy, Hulk, Thanos’s flunkies that nobody knows the names of, Venom, and the greatest character in the Marvel Universe: M.O.D.O.K.!!!
DREW: I’ve always wanted to have a Patton Oswalt miniature! This core set is kind of wild to me: it’s pretty clearly meant to add in the main bad guys for a bunch of the MCU movies, and then Doc Ock for absolutely no reason. At least Crossbones was in 1.1 movies, although it is a shame that this list is one Avengers enemy, one Spider-Man enemy, and three Cap enemies. Maybe they didn’t get the rights to the eminently punchable bad guy from the Captain Marvel movie, Jude Law? I guess he theoretically had a character as well, but all I saw was Jude Law.
CHRIS: Technically Zemo was in one of the movies as well, but if you’re not wearing a purple mask stuck to your face by ADHESIVE-X you’re no Zemo to me. And you’re right, the collection of villains is bizarre. Other than Red Skull and Ultron they’re not as iconic as the heroes. Even the villain Affiliation, the Cabal, is just a made up mishmosh. Characters are grouped into Affiliations (Avengers, Cabal, Wakanda, Asgardians, Guardians of the Galaxy, Webbed Warriors, Black Order) and if more than half your characters are from the same Affiliation you get a special power. But here’s the thing: you can mix heroes and villains all you want. Captain America on the same team as Red Skull? Sure! And if more than half the characters are Cabal members, then Cap gets that villain group bonus. Some people really dislike this aspect but it’s comics, these things happen. Cap was actually literally a Nazi for a while a few years back. It didn’t take, but there you go. Comics, everybody!
DREW: He’s also been a werewolf, a time-traveler, a barbarian, a spider-dude, the Red Skull, and a Hulk. Dude loves transforming almost as much as Scott Summers loves whining, so it was only a matter of time before he found the most tone-deaf change possible. But hold the phone here. Webbed Warriors? I’m looking at the list of figures and unless you count Venom as part of his team there’s literally no one else who could be on that team. It’s also downright criminal that he isn’t on the Avengers. Did the last sixteen years not happen for this company?
CHRIS: I have no idea on that one. Spidey and Doc Ock not being on the two starting Affiliations is frankly just weird. Webbed Warriors were announced but they’re not out yet. They showed Miles and Spider-Gwen with the initial release at GenCon last year. Three’s a pretty small Affiliation though, I’d bet on more coming. GIVE ME LEOPARDON, YOU COWARDS!!!
You’ll notice I didn’t mention any characters belonging to any groups involving the letter X or the number 4. Nerds have speculated this is related to the movie licensing, but it’s pretty clear that Atomic Mass only has the license for the comics versions of these characters, not the movie versions (despite the characters released so far being heavily drawn from the films. It’s almost like this company likes making money or something) so I don’t think that’s it. I’d wager a second starter box featuring the X-Men coming down the line, especially now that the Avengers movies have slowed down. And nobody who was born after Welcome Back, Kotter was on the air gives a fuck about the Fantastic Four.
DREW: Pull up, man! No one reading this remembers Welcome Back, Kotter! You have to use topical references that the younger generations understand, like the latest memes or oh dear god I’m almost forty I have no idea about kids these days.
CHRIS: Imagine how that makes me feel. I clearly remember bringing a stack of “Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider Man” comics with me to the hospital the day you were born. That book hasn’t been published in decades!
Like I said above MCP feels like a hybrid of two of my favorite tabletop games and while I really like this game a lot, I wish I liked it just a little more. The core rules are very simple and abstracted, and it pushes a lot of the more fiddly and interesting things onto the individual character cards. But there are a handful of things that keep this from being the best game ever. First are the missions. This is a place where the designers really show their Warmahordes roots. There are a bunch of mission cards, and you combine two each time you play, but it’s always one “stand on these objectives” mission and one “pick up these objectives” mission, and they get kind of samey after a handful of games. Some of them have extra little frills about the edges, like a bonus to damage or some extra power or actually harming the person carrying the objective but to me it’s not enough to do much more than make them confusing.
DREW: I can’t lie; after seeing the 9th edition mission previews these are really lackluster. I do like the combination factor as it blends randomization and stability in a pleasing way, but these cards are the rules equivalent of tapioca pudding. Just an entire mouthful of all-purpose flour.
CHRIS: It’s neat because each player chooses one of the two mission cards so it’s not completely random. You always have a say in 50% of what the objectives are going to be. Also you don’t choose which characters you’re going to field until after the missions have been determined – you show up with a roster of ten and then choose which ones to use as a squad for that mission, usually four or five characters per side. So if you bring a fairly generalist roster you can swing either tanky or fast or whatever as you see what you need. Nice.
But something not so nice are the elevation and line of sight rules; it’s just fucking ponderous how they could possibly have made it out of testing. All characters and terrain have a Size attribute; most models are size 2, Venom is size 3, Hulk is size 4, a large building is size 5. When a character is standing on top of something you add the character and the terrain’s size, so Iron Man on top of that large building is a 7. There would need to be something larger than size 7 (maybe two Hulks in a trenchcoat?) between a model and Iron Man to block LoS. So far so good, right?
But A) the building Iron Man is on does not itself block LoS, meaning he can’t move back from the edge and hide; and B) all ranges are measured horizontally, as if the terrain were two dimensional. So Spider-Man, who has a normal punch range of 2, can walk up to the edge of that building and as long as Iron Man isn’t more than range 2 away from the edge Spidey can punch him, even though Tony is like four stories up. Ponderous.
DREW: I get why they did that – you don’t want someone to just fly Iron Man up to the top of a building and rain down death on everyone below. Not only is the concept of a rich white arms dealer shitting all over everyone beneath him way too close to reality, you want to give everyone on the ground a chance to fight back. Look at how much time GW spent fixing, breaking, and trying to fix again the elevation/assault rules interactions and you’ll understand why they said “fuck it, you have a five-story punch.”
CHRIS: The elevation rules in Warmachine were so bad that they just eliminated them in a FAQ. No more hills, gone, boom. So yeah, I get it too but the overall effect is nobody puts tall buildings on their boards because nobody wants to deal with it.
DREW: Can I just take a minute, though, and talk about these minis? Oh. My. God. I put together the terrain first, then Spider-Man, and thought “these are pretty good, the moldline situation is fine, the pieces seem intuitive enough.” The next few were okay enough, with a few questionable multi-piece arm setups, but overall nothing egregious. They’ve all got a lot of flavor to them, the heroes are almost all doing some extremely sassy hand work, and the folded arms on Doc Ock perfectly convey “um, actually” online energy that I have now decided will be his persona henceforward.
And then I got to Zemo. Mother. Fucking. Zemo. Anyone who’s put together these models knew I was leading up to this. This dude has a separate fur piece that attaches to his jacket for no discernible reason, a sword arm that really didn’t need to be two pieces at all, and elbow pads that were designed by an absolute sadist. There’s no reason for them to be separate from the arms, they’re incredibly tiny (so dropping one was a special kind of joy), and best of all the assembly instructions aren’t even labeled in the booklet and you have to go online to see the labeled version anyway and the online version is mislabeled.
CHRIS: YES! HA HA HA HA! YES! MY REVENGE IS COMPLETE! Seriously though these models are gorgeous and being 40mm makes them big enough for some really great detail. But the multiple pieces for everything can go to fuck. Shuri is a goddamn nightmare – her hair is I think 3 pieces and her panther gauntlets have a separate piece for the jaw. It’s a running joke at this point in the community – they’re releasing Ant-Man and the Wasp soon, which have both regular sized and teeny tiny versions, and everyone assumes the tiny models will be 85,437 pieces.
You mentioned the terrain that comes in the starter. There’s actually a decent amount of that even if it’s not all that exciting. A couple cars, a couple dumpsters, a newsstand, and four lamp posts. Oh, and a tiny garbage can. But the coolest thing about the terrain is it’s all throwable and destructible. It doesn’t do a huge amount of damage compared to other attacks but there is very little more satisfying than throwing dumpsters at Iron Man. I do wish being hit by a dumpster or a whole building knocked characters back but there’s a ton of board control and movement shenanigan powers in the game, which is really key seeing how much is dependent on holding certain positions.
DREW: Just from cursory inspection it’s obvious so much of this game is about zone control. I was going to teach-taunt you in the regularly scheduled 40k portion of our program to “play the goddamn objectives and stop having unnecessary slapfights with the enemy” but this game just drops that lesson right out in the open and dares you to do something about it.
CHRIS: Exactly, and I had that come into play a while back. The normal mode of the game is two players’ squads struggling for control over the selected mission objectives but there are some fun alternate play modes available, called “Ultimate Encounters.” These are three person games, two players with full squads of characters facing off against one seriously beefed up baddie. So far they have ones against Ultron and Hulk, with a Thanos one on the way soon. They balance out the sides pretty well by having three “heroes” go, then the big bad, then 3 more heroes, then the big bad again, etc. We played the Ultron one and it didn’t go great, but our experience seems to be the exception. It’s weird, one of the victory conditions is for Ultron to flip all four objectives on the board to your control so I just went straight for that and didn’t bother attacking anybody. Ultron is super mobile in this version and the objectives are just close enough together that I was able to win in two activations, which was completely unsatisfying and made my wife flip the table hard. Every battle report for the scenario I found online had Ultron get bogged down in attacking enemies and I can’t figure why you’d do that other than “comics, everybody!”
DREW: What you’re telling me here that they went from boring design to outright terrible design? I am shocked, shocked I tell you. I don’t think it’s as bad as all that, though – the non-Ultron players should be able to camp and lock down objectives pretty easily, which forces Ultron to stop scanning the Internet for shaved Wookiee porn and start beating ass. It seems like he’s mildly nasty in this version but it also seems like it takes him a while to get up to his “genocide an entire country in alphabetical order” levels that you see in the comics.
CHRIS: Believe me, we spent like half an hour looking at rules and trying to find how they could have stopped me. We even re-racked and played it again with them knowing exactly what I was going to do, and it took me 4 activations that time. I think the design team is learning because the Hulk scenario doesn’t have an auto-win condition.These Ultimate Encounters are up for free on the Atomic Mass site and don’t force you to buy anything extra to run them, so they’re an interesting change of pace – although if we played the Ultron one again I’d space out the objectives more and I think that would balance it better.
DREW: I’ve got a Hulk rampaging its way to me as we speak, so I’d like to give that a try soon-ish. There’s just something appealing about the notion of a bunch of super-people having their big climactic fight when suddenly the Hulk Kool-Aids through the wall and starts beating on people because Ant-Man used up all the hot water by taking a one hour power shower. Or maybe he ate Hulk’s Hostess Fruit Pie, despite the fact that Hulk clearly labeled it and planned to enjoy the light, flaky crust and real fruit filling after yoga. Whatever it was, it’s a pretty safe bet it’s Hank Pym’s fault. Fuck that guy.
CHRIS: On this we are in agreement. Fuck to all Avengers named Hank. And yet neither of them are as bad as Starfox.
So now that we have the models and terrain and some a basic overview of the game, next time we’ll get into details about the workings of the game and how to make your superheroes
kiss fight. Tune in next time, same Bat-time, same Bat-channel! Or something!
DREW: Wrong company! Do you want us to get sued?
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