In this series for newer or casual players we introduce the various Affiliations in Marvel Crisis Protocol, dip into their comic book history, and talk about building a roster around them. This week we look at the scum of the underworld – the Criminal Syndicate!
Note: Updated 06/11/2021 to include Kraven.
The Criminal Syndicate isn’t a group that exists per se in the comics – they’re just a bunch of crooks, thugs, gangsters, and mercenaries who more or less do street-level crimes as opposed to taking over/destroying the world/galaxy. Some of them have worked together before, some haven’t. Let’s find out who they are:
- Wilson Fisk aka Kingpin is the big crime boss of the Marvel Universe. He worked (killed) his way up through the ranks of the New York mob to the top of the heap. Fisk relies on his wealth and connections to pull the strings, but as a trained combatant he’s not above getting his own hands dirty if need be.
- Black Cat is a master thief. A former paramour of Spider-Man sometimes she’s with the good guys, sometimes the bad guys. All depends on the profit to be made and that pesky conscious that pops up awkwardly now and then.
- Bullseye is an assassin with nearly superhuman aim. He butts heads with Daredevil mostly, often being hired by Wilson fisk. Killed Daredevil’s girlfriend Elektra once, but she got better. Also killed Karen Page, but she didn’t.
- Everybody’s favorite MCP core box character, Crossbones is a mercenary but is usually hanging out with the Red Skull and dating the boss’s daughter, Sin. He was trained by Taskmaster and was the one who killed Captain America a few years back (he got better too. It’s a comics thing).
- Green Goblin we’ll talk about more in a few weeks when we cover Spider-Foes but he’s a big time Spider-Man enemy, and other than hiring thugs to work for him now and then doesn’t really fit the whole “Criminal Syndicate” vibe, I don’t think. As Norman Osborn he has been a very wealthy businessman, the director of a military agency for hunting down superhumans, and the leader of a team of replacement Avengers which included Bullseye masquerading as Hawkeye. This guy’s been around.
- Killmonger (“Don’t call me Erik, mom!!”) we’ve met before. A mercenary who was exiled from Wakanda. He’s butted heads with Fisk and Bullseye in the past but hey, who hasn’t?
- If you don’t know (and love) M.O.D.O.K. I don’t know what you’re doing reading this column. Again not really a crime boss kind of guy but he does love to hire mercenaries and supervillains.
- Mysterio is a master of illusions, and usually a Spider-Man enemy. He doesn’t have any actual powers himself but relies on gadgets and stagecraft. Criss Angel in a fishbowl helmet.
- Sin is Red Skull’s daughter and a chip off the old fascist block. She’s teamed up with Baron Zemo now and then, and sometimes leads Hydra when dad’s away. Sin is like Harley Quinn but far less annoying, but she’s a Nazi so that’s a trade-off.
- Taskmaster’s power is photographic reflexes; anything he sees someone do – live or on video, he can replicate immediately, allowing him to copy the fighting style or other physical abilities of heroes, such as Zemo’s swordsmanship, Bullseye’s throwing accuracy, or Captain America’s ability to use a shield. He most often puts his talents to work as a mercenary, although he has worked as an instructor for the Avengers farm league, for S.H.I.E.L.D., and the US government. Also, great costume or GREATEST costume, amiright? Rob’s Note: You are absolutely right, though I also don’t hate the more modern take on it.
Just last week I was singing the praises of the Born Again storyline in Daredevil (Daredevil vol 1 (1964) #227-231) and that’s a great Kingpin story. You really can’t swing a cat in Frank Miller’s/Brain Bendis’/Ed Brubaker’s Daredevil without hitting a great Kingpin story honestly. Also, there’s no way to directly link to them but you should try to track down some of the Newspaper Spider-Man strips involving Kingpin, especially one where he locks the web-slinger in a greased up room to beat him to death. Go ahead, treat yourself.
- Grand Theft Marvel (Black Cat vol 1 (2019) #1-6) is a really fun caper book written by rising star Jed McKay where Black Cat has to rob Dr Strange and the Fantastic Four (and later in the series Iron Fist and Tony Stark, among others).
- The Elektra Saga (Daredevil vol 1 (1964), #168-182) is probably the best Bullseye arc out there, although don’t miss out on issue 191 where Daredevil confronts a paralyzed Bullseye for some amazing work on both characters.
- Captain America: Winter Soldier (Captain America vol 5 (2005) #1-8) shows Crossbones and Sin on a Natural Born Killers-esque rampage.
- Taskmaster had a great recent series (volume 3) also written by Jed McKay in 2020-2021 that ran 5 issues. In it Taskmaster is being hunted by S.H.I.E.L.D. for the murder of Maria Hill. His fight against Hyperion (basically Superman) is done really well and shows the versatility of the character. His earlier 2002 self-titled series reinvented the character as more of a gun-for-hire and did a great job with the character; it would later get a decent follow-up with Taskmaster showing up as a major character in Gail Simone’s Agent X.
Criminal Syndicate in Marvel Crisis Protocol
The Criminal Syndicate is an affiliation that has a slightly higher skill-floor than many others. There are a lot of moving parts and compared to say Asgard it doesn’t rely on beating your enemies senseless as much as it does in playing to scenario.
Kingpin’s leadership ability is maybe the best in the game. Characters can spend 2 Power to hand off an Asset or Civilian to an allied character within Range 3. Okay, great, so you can pass the token around and keep it safely away from enemies, great. BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE! Each Healthy character contesting an objective counts as two characters. So the leadership gives you a great advantage on both the secure and extract scenarios, which is how you win the game. Super nice. Grade: A
All According to Plan is a very good Tactics card, and should probably be in your eight. All the characters with the actual CS affiliation pitch in toward 10 Power and you can take the Priority token. Which can be devastating in the right situation but 10 Power is a LOT and your non-affiliated characters can’t contribute. You need to plan ahead for it and bank up that Power, and your opponent will probably see it coming if they know their stuff. If you can pull it off and get back to back M.O.D.O.K. activations, that may clinch the game right there. Grade: B+
Cruelty can be used when one of your CS characters has damaged an enemy with an attack. For 2 Power your character gets to make an additional attack specified on the card. It’s 5 dice and Mystical, but your dice can’t be modified other than by Crits. This is very useful because there aren’t a lot of Mystical attacks on the affiliated characters and a free attack is always good. Grade: B+
Shadow Organization lets any CS members pay 2 Power to gain super-Stealth (can’t be attacked from outside of Range 2). This can be very helpful for keeping your characters alive when they are squatting on objectives or running for their lives and your opponent has someone like Hawkeye sitting on the back line picking you off. Grade: B
Illicit Tech is a special attack for Crossbones or Sin. It only costs 1 Power and gives a range 5 Strength 6 Energy attack that also splashes Incinerate onto enemies within range 2 of the target. If you’re bringing either one of them this is definitely worth considering, as they don’t have any really long range attacks and this can be very useful at just the right moment. Grade: A-
Those wacky lovebirds Crossbones and Sin also have To Ash and Cinder, which puts down a Demolition token that goes off in the Cleanup phase. A great way to keep your opponent away from a good chunk of the board, but keep in mind the card just says “all characters” gain Stun and take damage, not “enemy characters.” Not so useful for clearing enemies away from an objective so you can score it, unless you don’t mind getting blowed up. Grade: B
You know Usurp the Throne, right? You know that if you have Killmonger in your roster you put this in your eight, and if he’s in your squad you put it in your five, right? Good. Nuff said. Grade: A
M.O.D.O.K. has a Tactics card that allows him to control his A.I.M. Lackeys, giving an ally an extra move. If you have the Power available this can be key in getting slow movers like Crossbones into a key position. M.O.D.O.K. often has more pressing uses for that Power though. Grade: B
Psychic Fortress is another M.O.D.O.K. card that gives him and allies within Range 4 cover this round. Extra protection is good but again M.O.D.O.K. tends to play by the rule of “you don’t need defense against a KO’ed enemy” and would rather use the 3 Power on his Doomsday Chair attack. It’s right there in the name: Mobile Organism Designed Only for Killing, not for Kover! Grade: C+
Building Your Roster
The Syndicate has a decent number of affiliated characters, most of whom are going to be hard as heck to shift off objectives, as well as some really hard hitters for a little offensive oomph.
Kingpin leads off the parade of tough as nails characters. He’s got slightly better than average physical defense but a truckload of Stamina, and he can spend Power to reduce damage by 1 without the usual “to a minimum of 1” clause. Fisk is no slouch offensively either, and has two different throws available to him. He only moves Short but is on a 50mm base to mitigate that a little. It’s going to take Kingpin a couple rounds to get where he’s going but once he’s there as long as he has Power to spend on reducing damage he’s not going anywhere. Grade: A-
Black Cat fits in purr-fectly with Criminal Syndicate. She’s your hyper-mobile character who can grab Assets and Characters away from enemies. She will frustrate your opponent if they try to get it back from her with a combination of Stealth, Bad Luck (so they can’t modify attack rolls) and a lot of movement options to stay out of reach. Grade: A-
Bullseye may be the new Crossbones. He has a couple ways of doing autodamage but his attacks are fairly low Strength, so he needs those as backup. But because his builder attack is only Strength 4 Bullseye may not be doing enough damage to gain the Power he needs to use his superpowers. There’s just nothing to really recommend Bullseye, especially here in CS. Grade: D
Meanwhile, Criminal Syndicate and more recently Sin have breathed new life into Crossbones himself. Sure, he’s still slow as molasses uphill in January but that molasses he will wreck everything in his path and stick around (ehh? EHH?!). He has the same limitless damage reduction and decent physical defense as Kingpin to keep him on his Healthy side and taking advantage of the leadership power to double-squat objectives. His new synergy with Sin (see below) is also fairly ridiculous. Grade: B (in Criminal Syndicate), B+ (in CS with Sin), C+ (in other affiliations without Sin. I mean really, what are you thinking?)
While Kingpin and Crossbones are holding down objectives I guess you could take Green Goblin to run away with extract objectives that Black Cat hasn’t already grabbed. He’s only got a Medium move but he’s on a 50mm base so that’s going to cover more ground, and he’s the only character with Fly in the affiliation. Goblin’s got the usual 4 Physical defense on his Healthy side, although he drops to 3 when he is Injured and his Mystic defense goes up to 5. But you don’t really want him on the Injured side because he can’t interact with objectives. And unfortunately, like Bullseye, his builder is only Strength 4 so it may be tough for Goblin to build up Power. Overall he’s not the best fit here in CS. Grade: B- (in Criminal Syndicate)
Killmonger doesn’t have terrific defensive tech other than his 4 Physical defense, so he’s probably not the one to leave holding an objective by himself or to throw into the middle of a cluster of enemies. But if you want a lethal character to pick off enemies who stray away by themselves he’s good for that. Or for keeping your opponent from getting too close to an objective that he’s holding with someone else. Or to pass an asset token to and dare anybody to come and grab it. Grade: B+
Kraven the Hunter adds more damage output to the Syndicate, primarily via his Expert Tracker power. Choose an enemy and everybody in the squad gets an additional attack die this round? Nice! He’s also fairly mobile due to the advances on both his attacks (both are builders) – and give him Climbing Gear to really light up his Spear Thrust. He’s also got some control utility in his Corner the Beast but the Power to activate it is usually better spent on Expert Tracker. Grade: B
M.O.D.O.K. is another very killy character (again, it’s right there in the name) and with a Mystic builder attack he fills a niche that CS sorely lacks. Yes, he’s 5 Threat, but you get a LOT for that price. The attacks are great, his throw is great, he can advance enemies Short, and he changes Wilds in attacks against him to blanks. This last one makes up for his rather inadequate defensive stats by changing the odds of a hit on each die from 50% to 37.5% and also turning off any extra abilities that trigger on Wilds like Rapid Fire or special conditions. M.O.D.O.K. has 10 stamina on his Healthy side, and you want to keep him there because boy howdy his Injured side isn’t great (he loses Psychic Forcefield and only has 4 Stamina. Time to run away!). Grade: B+
Mysterio is a challenge to put on the table to be sure. The first thing you notice about him are his 1s in Physical and Energy defense. Yikes! But he has 5 Mystic defense, forces attacks to target that unless the attacker spends 2 Power, and Stealth so position him very carefully to keep anybody with a pile of Power at a distance. Fortunately Tricks and Traps may keep enemies from wanting to get too close. He only has a Short move but he gets to move the attacker Short if his builder attack does any damage – and it’s Mystic so there’s a fair chance as many characters have lower defense there – hopefully out of range to attack again (or move the attacker within 3 to trigger Tricks and Traps). All that together and Mysterio can hold an objective fairly well – he may not want to be on a central secure objective where he gets dogpiled but hand him an extract and move him away a little bit and he can be fairly safe. Grade: B
Sin has the potential to make up to four attacks per activation, which is nuts even if her builder is only Strength 4. If I learned anything from playing Orks in 40k it’s that large piles of dice can sometimes make miracles happen. If she gets off her second Make It Personal attack it’s Mystic rather than Physical so that’s even better. Sin is fairly fragile although her Mystic defense is better than average, so play to keep her safe. The best thing about her though is her combo with Crossbones, allowing for these two to activate right in a row. Or if you can combo this with All According to Plan to finish out the prior round and start the new one with four activations in a row to really pull off your master plan. Grade: B (B+ with Crossbones)
Taskmaster is another tough character you can rely on to hold a secure objective, and his Photographic Reflexes may dissuade anyone from even trying. He only has average defensive stats but gets to count blanks if the attack came from within Range 2 (great synergy with Shadow Organization there for a key round) and add extra dice if an enemy attacks him twice in the same turn. Taskmaster isn’t a fast or tricky character but he is a solid one. Grade: B
Criminal Syndicate wants to play an objective game, and they have characters tough enough to squat on objectives (Kingpin, Crossbones, Taskmaster, maybe M.O.D.O.K.) but they could use some help in running around and grabbing the extracts. Miles Morales would be almost perfect here, especially with his ability to make enemies drop objectives. Add him in and suddenly you’re playing Guild Ball (RIP to a real one)! Enchantress can similarly make things very frustrating for your opponent. And Quicksilver will be a nightmare to deal with, especially with his Can I Borrow That? Tactics card.
You may want a couple 2 Threat characters as always for rounding out your squads, and Toad fits in perfectly here as well. His ability to take an asset or civilian from an ally combined with Illicit Network letting him then hand it off to someone else can move an objective Range 5 plus Range 2 plus a Medium move in one activation.
But to get a little weird here, and hear me out, I’m going to suggest Doctor Strange as an add-on to your Criminal Syndicate. He can buff defense rolls or heal characters, making your already tough ones nigh-invulnerable,
and with Pentagrams he can get your slow movers into position very nicely (NOTE: no, dummy, Pentagrams is Defenders only). He’s costly for Threat and he’s fairly Power hungry like many of the CS members but he brings a lot of utility to their play.
If you’re looking to do a double affiliation roster almost all the Criminal Syndicate members are also in Cabal so you’re most of the way there with Sin or you could take Red Skull. Since Taskmaster is a Rogue Agent he can help you toward any other affiliation too – maybe with Black Cat and Miles for Web Warriors or Green Goblin and Kingpin for Spider-Foes
So Are They Any Good?
Criminal Syndicate are very good but fairly complex. If you’re the kind of player who likes thinking a number of moves ahead you may excel with them. Most of the characters in the affiliation are 3 or 4 Threat so you can shoot for a 5 or maybe even 6 character squad for most games, and that can let you spread out to cover B, D or F maps well. Mirror matches or Webs are going to be tough because they’re playing the same game that you want to play but you have the tools, both offensive and defensive, to hold your own.
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