Every year Canberra hosts CanCon, Australia’s largest gaming convention and host to Australia’s largest Warhammer 40,000 tournament, and the world’s largest Age of Sigmar singles event. After missing last year due to All This General Unpleasantness (and the fact that the venue was turned into a drive-through PCR testing facility) and with case numbers dropping rapidly, it was looking like this year would have CanCon back at it’s old glory. And then, well… the unpleasantness returned. 40k moved to Adelaide, and AoS was in Sydney (but has been delayed again), and Marvel Crisis Protocol decided to do its own thing in case the whole convention was put in the bin. Amidst all this madness emerged I, armed with dreams of mutant supremacy and my own version of NYC to destroy, totally unprepared for my first ever real games of Marvel Crisis Protocol.
In line with government requirements masks were worn by all attendees at all times, and the venue provided rapid antigen tests on both days before entry. Some players who had registered found this onerous, and dropped, which I think was probably in everyone’s best interest.
My choice of roster was decided during my first ever game of MCP. Barely stumbling my way through the rulebook, I yeeted a car into Spiderman with Doc Ock and the choice was made. Sure, some affiliations are better at killing, or better at objectives, but none are so badass as the Brotherhood of Mutants when it comes to the sheer levels of collateral damage and insurance fraud they can toss out.
Characters: Magneto, Mystique, Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver, Toad, Vision, Ebony Maw, Hulk, Miles Morales, Baron Zemo
Extractions: Fear Grips World as “Worthy” Terrorize Cities, Research Station Attacked!, Mutant Extremists Target U.S. Senators
Secures: Gamma Wave Sweeps Across Midwest, Deadly Meteors Mutate Civilians, Infinity Formula Goes Missing!
Tactics Cards: Asteroid M, No More Mutants, Deception, Marked for Death, Patch Up, Field Dressing, Shh…, Disarm, Whims of Chaos, Difficult to Please
Playing in person meant a lot of the tactics I’d learned from the excellent online MCP community were less than useful, relying as they were on either complete access to all characters and cards on Tabletop Simulator (where season seven of the MCP league is about to begin), or at least a much larger array of purchases. I’d impulse bought a bunch of random boxes, of course, grabbing characters I loved here and there, like Miles Morales and Vision, but supply chain issues meant that even had I wanted to Australian MCP stock is sparse, and there’s a long, long list of heroes I’d love that simply don’t exist in the country. And so, while I love Magneto and all his wholesome schemes, I really really wanted to play Juggernaut and Ms Marvel, but it was not to be.
My plan was… Okay, there was no plan. This was my first event, and I walked in without much of a clue of what I was meant to be doing. I had my various Brotherhood characters to fill out the affiliation requirements, and then just sort of packed in other cool friends who could throw things to benefit from Magneto’s leadership ability, or just be a bit of a pain to my opponent. I figured that if I could bury my opponent under coffee stands and dumpsters, I’d buy myself enough time to work out how to play the scenario. My tactics cards choices largely reflected this; on top of the traditional Brotherhood picks like Asteroid M and Deception, I brought in all the healing I had access to, along with both Shh… and No More Mutants, a combination I was politely informed may be a tad impolite, but really helped me compensate for my own failures as a tactician.
The five Brotherhood characters were there as my core, obviously, with me not intending to use Mystique’s leadership regardless of the scenario. This paid off; not in victories, but in simplicity. I strongly believe that it is better to lose in order to learn to use a game piece well than jump around to ‘optimise’; I have far too many 40k armies and can’t use any of them to the level they deserve, so I was determined to try and focus a bit more in MCP. Taking Magneto and Scarlet Witch as my starting two characters every game really limited my choices, but it meant that by the end of the event I started to really get to know those two and how to best use them. It didn’t necessarily help, particularly in the last game, but I was getting there.
As for out of affiliation characters, Ebony Maw was my first splash character, and he made it in whenever I could – a 16 threat team of the Maw, metal daddy and SWitch, with both Shh… and No More Mutants is a fairly nasty list on the right maps, with the ability to deal heinous damage to anyone brave enough to come to the point while still maintaining the ability to reach out and touch people. Hulk was almost the opposite, with the plan just sort of bowling the big green boy up the middle of the field and daring anyone to come at me. It worked well, when I remembered his right rules.Vision was included as a good four threat character who could throw terrain to start the Brotherhood train rolling, but Miles and Zemo were honestly just me having run out of ideas. When he finally gets released in Australia I’ll be swapping one out for Juggernaut and probably another for Sabertooth, so I can run the whole Brotherhood and start experimenting with both leaderships. If I were to add another 4 threat I’m strongly thinking about Lizard; he’s a real pain with his throws and healing, and probably the most dynamic model MCP has out there!
A table of terrain for any Warhammer game can be expensive as all get out and take dozens and dozens of hours to paint to a decent standard. As a skirmish game, MCP doesn’t have that problem, so two terrain packs and the core box later I had a brightly coloured, heavily packed table suitable to be destroyed by only the finest heroes and villains. A couple of trees and a few fire effects later and I somehow came away with the prize for best table; something I’m now very, very proud of, but my mind is already scheming about how to go one up next time. Disney Infinity toys as statues? Don’t mind if I do!
MCP has some pretty clear and concise terrain guidelines (conveniently covered by head58 here), and I decided pretty early on to go as heavy as I could. I didn’t manage to get an apartment building or Sanctum Sanctorum before the event (thanks, Australian shipping times!), so I did go a little overboard if I’m honest. Zone Mortalis is my favourite way to play 30k, and I love having too much terrain to be able to just move around without having to think about it. It adds just an extra level of gaming interest to have to to move around and hide from your opponent. It just makes the world feel lived in! Plus, its great to feel like you’re really destroying someone’s home when you bury Iron Man under a coffee shop.
Game 1: vs. Midnight Sons
Opponent: Adam F, playing Midnight Sons
Scenarios: Mutant Extremists Target US Senators + Demons Downtown! Has Our Commuppence Come Due? at 19 threat
Result: 9-1 Victory
My first ever real game of Marvel Crisis Protocol! Adam was a wonderful opponent for a complete newcomer to the game, and he even had the grace to make it so he blocked almost no damage the entire game. I’m told the man is famous for his terrible dice, but it was truly something special to see me do 8 damage off of 6 dice with my first attack with Scarlet Witch and see Ghost Rider block none of them. Adam’s dice aside, the big takeaway from this game was learning that interacting with objectives didn’t cost an action. So, uh. That’s something I probably should have worked out in my practice games. Toad was the one that made the discovery for me, flipping the Senator token on his first turn before spending the rest of the gaming hopping around cowering behind various bits of urban detritus.
With the extract mine from the first turn and Hulk and Scarlet Witch turning the middle Demon point into the part of the map where bad comic book characters go to die (sorry Moon Knight), there was only one way this battle could go. The fact that the battle was on my own terrain packed table crammed to the gunnels with large terrain for my Brotherhood to yeet was entirely coincidental, I assure you.
Game 2: vs. X-Men
Opponent: Matt H playing X-Men
Scenarios: Infinity Formula Goes Missing! + Struggle for the Cube Continues at 17 threat
Result: 15-19 Loss
Look, the internet doesn’t think X-Men are very good. There’s an ongoing narrative that Cyclops in particular is a very below par leader, that the affiliation is lacking the really keystone tactics cards it needs, and that maybe Wolverine isn’t quite where he needs to be for a 4 threat character. Matt did a damn fine job of arguing the point, using a combination of Storm’s leadership ability and To Me, My X-Men! to put two extracts on Wolverine and move him back into the middle of his pack of mutants on the very first turn, putting me on a significant back foot with my low model count, high threat Brotherhood team.
Some decent play with Scarlet Witch (by which I mean her ability to delete multiple characters a turn) put me back in the game, right up until the final turn of the game where some truly terrible rolls caused Wolverine to survive a point blank Scarlet Witch to the face with one health remaining before he double Berserker Barrage’d both Wanda and Max in a single turn. If taking out 11 threat with a 4 threat wasn’t enough, their deaths dropped three Cube fragments for Cyclops to pick up, leading to a six point swing – three more points gained by Matt, three less by me. I know you shouldn’t blame your dice, but one point of damage more and there’s a damn strong chance this could have gone the other way.
Game 3: vs. The Guardians of the Galaxy
Opponent: Adam M playing Guardians of the Galaxy
Scenarios: Research Station Attacked! + Infinity Formula Goes Missing at… 16 threat? Need to take better notes.
Result: 4-15 Loss
This game was, more than anything else, a demonstration of how a score does not always represent how close a game can be. On the one hand, I got hammered 4-15, in a game where scoring 16 is an automatic victory. On the other hand, in a single round Ebony Maw dazed both Corvus Glaive and Proxima Midnight, Scarlet Witch Hex Bolt’d Starlord down, and to top it all off Magneto contemptuously dazed Groot by wrapping him between a garbage truck and a light post. The lesson for this game was really ‘what is priority, and how does losing it do terrible things to your team?’
Taking out four opponents sounds good, but having dazed so many Guardians in one turn lead to Adam taking priority away from be. Normally (with Magneto and Scarlet Witch taking up 11 threat all by themselves) I acted first in every game, but being unable to go first meant that the Guardians systematically dismantled Magneto, Wanda and Ebony Maw before I had a chance to strike back, and my fate was sealed from that point; the Guardians had more secures, and I didn’t have the time to keep the Researcher moving to take her to the extraction point and even the score. I have absolutely no idea what to do with this lesson, but at least I learned it!
This is the game where I started looking at other teams, however. I picked Brotherhood and Magneto just for the sheer joy of ramming a Prius down some idiot hero’s neck, but we were playing on a remarkably clear board. It still complied with the recommended terrain, barely, but compared to the heaven that was my own packed table it was remarkably sparse, meaning Magneto and my other wizards had one hand tied behind their back the whole game. The idea that the strength of my team could be almost randomly determined by table setup is not one that brings me great joy.
Break time! Symbiotes attack
After day one’s games had finished we experienced the sheer carnage (see what I did there) of the Separation Anxiety event, where four players run 11 threat, three card teams in a bid to collect symbiotes and murk the other teams. The gimmick here is that every ‘secure’ point grants your character a random symbiote with powers that would be obnoxiously overpowered in any other game, but since everyone has access to it all is well. You score points for each symbiote thing you hold, and more for each symbiote attached to your characters.
The extract doubles points scored by symbiotes attached to your characters, so if a three character team holds three symbiotes, the extract and two points that’s 8 points in a single turn, so you’re really incentivised to gang up on the person winning. The highlight for me was probably the sheer, hilarious overkill of using Magnetic Crush on Quicksilver to delete the speediest of bois with a 14 dice attack to reclaim the objective; that, or the raw terror in everyone else’s faces as the first symbiote drawn gave Magneto an extra power per turn and a long move. The game ended with watching one of the players comprehensively refuse in his tiredness to target the character holding the extract, letting the other Brotherhood player steal the win.
Game 4: vs. Brotherhood
Opponent: Markus with Brotherhood
Scenarios: Research Station Attacked! + Mayor Fisk Vows To Find Missing Witnesses at 16 threat
Result: 8-12 Win by KO (yes, I had the lower points score)
Brotherhood versus Brotherhood! Mutant versus mutant! Who will emerge victorious as the truest of our kind? Well, uh. It was me. Turns out that even when both sides have their very own Scarlet Witch, the one that wins is the one that can double Shrapnel Blast to take out the other guy’s Mystique, Scarlet Witch and Lizard in a single double activation.
This was my second game of Research Station Attacked! and I felt I was getting the hang of it already – focus on the Researcher, ignore the other extracts, and hope your opponent has split their party to leave you able to dominate the point. Four points per round once capped is pretty tasty, and you’ll likely have been able to take out most of your opponent’s split team on the way in. I did get very lucky being able to take out Scarlet Witch before she was able to do to me what I’d been doing to everyone else, but the triple threat of Magneto, Scarlet Witch and Ebony Maw once maw/more showed the power of mind over matter.
Game 5: vs. Avengers
Opponent: Nick G (FastNick) with Avengers
Scenarios: Demons Downtown! Has Our Comeuppance Come Due + Mutant Extremists Target US Senators at 19 threat
Result: 2-12 Loss by KO in round three. Ouch.
Having spent the whole event being punished for not bringing his boy Cyclops, Nick decided to vent some of his mutant frustration on my poor exhausted team in the final game of the event. Nick was a very lovely fellow who received my vote for best opponent, but my notes for this match just read “Double Hulk :(” Turns out, two Captains America, Hulk and She-Hulk can run a real number on, well, me.
My cunning plan of finally using Deception to lure a Senator carrying Sam Wilson into range of my heavy hitters was foiled by an immediate counter play of Avengers Assemble, allowing the perfidious milksop to cower in fear behind a garbage truck, rather than bravely face down 16 threat of wizards alone. I really don’t think I had a game into two Hulks with my team, but if I learned one thing it was about order of activation; moving Magneto last would mean that he had unrestricted access to the enemy with much reduced threat of retaliation. Instead, I moved him up and Hulk moved him back down again – six feet down.
Again I saw how quickly a Brotherhood team’s power can swing when someone else is throwing the terrain; Nick was a lovely guy, and I learned a lot from him and the game, but it did feel a bit rough for a final game. I can neither confirm nor deny that I’m painting up that exact team, however.
What I learned/wrapping it all up
Marvel Crisis Protocol is the tabletop wargame that more than any almost any other captures the real vibe and theme of the setting. Too much of the time 40k just feels like a game of who has the bigger numbers, Necromunda somehow lost its soul in the the move from hard scrambling gangers barely surviving to paramilitary death squads better equipped than space marines and Titanicus… okay, Adeptus Titanicus is still the best game Games Workshop has made in both form and function. But there’s something really special about how MCP works, where almost every character does what they feel like they should be doing, from Cap’s I Can Do This All Day, to Ebony Maw’s Telekinetic Deflection to the traumatising moment that is a fully powered up Penance Stare. It’s a game with a real low buy in and the ability to just take the characters you know and love from comics, movies and games (I barely managed to resist buying a fully Guardians team after the recent, superb videogame…).
I’m glad I picked this as my first event after the pandemic – a skirmish game, where you sit down all day? Love it. 8 games of 40k standing over the table, I’d have been dead at the end of day one. Instead, I got to play a game where you’re encouraged to do the narrative thing and that’s what gets you the win – no daemons of Khorne falling back to contest an objective in this game, nosiree. I walked into the event knowing I’d get hammered (honestly, 2-3 is better than I was expecting!) but just wanting to learn and experience the game in its natural setting. This was the perfect game to come back to after a long break; the event was well run, the games were great, the people were lovely, and you know what?
Magneto was right all along, Ebony Maw is great, Scarlet Witch is heinous, and I loved my twisted little wizard family.
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