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’re looking at MCP’s own legion of Super-Villains – The Cabal!
So this one is kind of weird, because while there is a group in the Marvel Comics called “The Cabal” it’s nothing at all like the affiliation in MCP. The comics’ version of The Cabal was formed as a reaction to “The Illuminati” – a group of “super smart” heroes like Reed Richards, Tony Stark, Stephen Strange, and Charles Xavier who had great ideas like “let’s just shoot the Hulk off into space” that could never possibly come back to bite them in the ass. The Cabal was the villain equivalent of this – Doctor Doom, Norman Osborn, Prince Namor, Emma Frost, Loki, and The Hood. As villainous groups with huge egos are wont to do, they almost immediately set to infighting and the group fell apart.
What we have in MCP’s Cabal is really just a mish-mash of villains. A lot of it may be based on who AMG were allowed to use in the Core Set. It’s kind of Hydra (Red Skull, Crossbones, Syn, Viper) but then you get Ultron, Sabretooth, Killmonger, M.O.D.O.K., and Magneto (who would never be caught dead teaming up with Red Skull, on account of the whole Nazi thing). I guess it’s a villainous Avengers? Who can say?
If there’s no specific Cabal comics to point you toward, we’ll throw out some great runs featuring three of the bad guys you probably won’t see covered in other affiliations. If you want the anti-Illuminati group mentioned above check out the Dark Reign and Dark Avengers runs from 2008-2010 mostly.
Red Skull: If you want to see where the whole Cosmic Cube stuff comes from look to Captain America vol 1 #115-119. Red Skull uses the Cube to really break Cap down psychologically. They even switch bodies! And that run introduces The Falcon! For a more modern run check out the 2005 Captain America (vol 5) #1-14. Incredible action thriller stuff written by Ed Brubaker. This is also where we see the return of Bucky as the Winter Soldier (uh, spoilers, I guess) and there’s a lot of good Syn and Crossbones in here too.
We already mentioned a couple excellent Ultron stories – “Ultron Unlimited” in Avengers vol 3 #19-22 and Annihilation Conquest. You should also check out Avengers vol 1 #54-55 to see how this genocidal robot was built by Hank Pym, who somehow is still only the second worst Hank in the Marvel Universe.
Last but not least is M.O.D.O.K., that lovable giant head in a floaty chair. Why is he in MCP when he hasn’t been in any movies or popular media? Because he’s awesome, that’s why! (Editor’s Note: He’s also going to be the star of his own upcoming cartoon on Hulu). He tends to be played for comic relief and that’s okay, but there’s definitely some deep body horror stuff going on with him that I wish someone would explore. For M.O.D.O.K.’s origin check out Tales of Suspense #93-94. In recent times he recruited a bunch of really C- and D-list villains for a convoluted caper in Super-Villain Team-Up: M.O.D.O.K.’s 11. Lastly, there’s a bunch of Elvis Presley-themed M.O.D.O.K.s in Nextwave, but you knew that because you already read Nextwave, right?
The Cabal in Marvel Crisis Protocol
Boy, do we have a lot of options here. In MCP terms, the Cabal blasted out of the traps with a great group of characters in the Core Set, and they have kept on receiving regular updates ever since.
If you main Cabal, you can expect to have a string of pleasant surprises in your life as new releases get the Cabal affiliation as well as their “own”. Quality of life is very high here.
MCP didn’t mess about, throwing a lot of Marvel’s hottest properties straight into the game with the Core Set. They also got serious with the Leadership abilities from Day One, with Cabal and Avengers both enjoying affiliation abilities that have well and truly stood the test of time.
Smack someone upsides the head. Get extra Power. Sounds good? Sounds good.
Red Skull himself isn’t often seen outside of Cabal, so you could consider him a Cabal tax to a certain extent, but he’s not awful either. A net influx of Power is always welcome, and this affiliation tells you exactly what it wants you to do. Grade: B+
The Cabal recently got a second leader, Red Skull’s daughter Sin. Her Leadership ability plays more to playing the scenario game. During the Cleanup phase after VPs are scored you roll a die for each objective contested by an enemy and for each Extract held by an enemy within Range 2 of one of your allies. For each one you have a 50% chance to push the enemy away from the objective or make them drop it respectively. It’s not going to help you score points in the current round but it’s going to mess up any longer-term plans your opponent may be trying to pull off. Grade: B
Let’s start off with a good ‘un. Cosmic Invigoration allows Red Skull and an allied character within Range 2 to spend 2 Power each, and remove the Activated token from the latter.
In a game of activation economy this, my friends, is quite a big deal. Even in the Core Set days when you were doing it with Zemo or Ultron it almost felt like cheating; the first time you get to double-tap with M.O.D.O.K. or Killmonger you’ll be muttering insincere apologies and trying to hide your grin before you know it. There’s a minor payoff with the damage your ally takes, but that’s a sacrifice Red Skull is willing to make. Grade: A
The second card explicitly locked to Cabal is Dark Reign, and it’s another modern classic. Any Cabal character spends 3 Power, and then all Cabal characters can reroll attack dice against a given enemy character for the whole round. When you absolutely, positively got to kill one specific superhero in the room, accept no substitutes. Grade: B+
Moving on to the character cards, Age of Ultron is an immensely powerful ability tethered to a character who is not immensely powerful. The beauty of this one is that you resurrect all the way back up to Healthy; the downside is that your capacity to get there while holding 8 Power can be severely hampered by effects like Stun, and what’s even worse, you have to take Ultron. Grade: A in theory, C in practice
You remember how we said that Cabal likes whacking people? Well Killmonger’s Usurp the Throne helps you do just that…and then gives you a little pat on the head for doing so. Not only do you get some help in taking down your opponent’s centrepiece, you get 2 VPs as a kicker, and in a race to 16 that can really move the needle. You don’t even need to wait until the Cleanup Phase, so you might just jump over the line and insta-win. Grade: A
As you’ll see below, ya boy M.O.D.O.K. is Mr Everything, and that extends to his solid tactics cards. A.I.M. Lackeys gives you an extra Move action on an allied character, which is great for changing gears, while Psychic Fortress turns him into Sue Storm by kicking out a Range 4 bubble of Cover. Grade: Both B
On similar lines to Psychic Fortress, Magneto’s Magnetic Refraction does the same thing but in a smaller bubble and for a lower cost. It might feel bad that you’re getting the strictly-worse version because you’re not running Brotherhood, but if you can get over that, it’s still fine. Grade: B-
Magneto’s Magnetic Crush meanwhile is a straight-up damage dealer. You could have some fun teeing this up with his Metal Constructs, but it will take a lot of set-up and costs a whole lot of Power, for a pay-off that Cabal lists should be able to achieve more easily by just smashing face. This card has its place in casual games, but it’s not something I see making the cut on a regular basis. Grade: C
Staying with Brotherhood, the ever-popular Mystique can bring Deception with her. A free, guaranteed Advance with an enemy character? Don’t mind if I do! Grade: A-
And wrapping us up is Sabretooth’s Weapon X Programme, which allows you to pounce on an enemy and therefore slam down some collision damage. This card has the explosive potential to spring a surprise on your opponent by closing the gap and allowing Sabretooth to whale on his opponent with two Attack actions. Also worth noting is that Sabretooth is Size 3, meaning you’ll deliver 4 impact hits, but it is limited by only being Short distance. Grade: B-
If that seems like a lot of cards to consider – and that you will struggle to get it down to 8 once you include your universals – you are not wrong. Remember too, though, that most of these are character-locked and you won’t see every character in every roster.
Building Your Roster
Cabal’s win condition is clear: they came here today to layeth the smacketh down. Expect to see plenty of hard hitters making the cut.
There are a lot of characters to consider here, and due largely to a chronic lack of imagination on my part, we’ll take a look at Red Skull and then rattle through the rest in alphabetic order. Note that these Grades are specifically in the context of Cabal, and some characters (looking at you, Magneto) may be significantly stronger in other Affiliations.
Ready? Let’s go.
Red Skull is exactly the kind of asshole who would happily grab one of his lackeys and use them as a meatshield. His Hail Hydra ability is therefore super thematic, especially in the context of the Core Set coming with Captain America who instead jumps in front of bullets for his team mates. Quite the juxtaposition.
As mentioned above, Johan is a perfectly reasonable 4 Threat character, but not one you’ll see taken outside of his own affiliation very often. He is compulsory for the excellent Cabal Leadership ability, but as a character on his own merits, perhaps a little bit behind the curve. Grade: C+ (in his own right), A- (taking into account his Leadership)
The preview of Sin’s card is weird, in that I think she’s the only character in the game without a zero Power attack. A typo maybe? Surely? She gains extra Power from taking damage, but with Stealth she may not be getting hit that often and with only 4/6 for Stamina you may not want her getting hit that much. Assuming she can get Power though she has the potential to both move and 4 attacks on her activation, which is pretty great. Lastly she even makes Crossbones worth taking so that has to be something right? Activating two characters in a row can really throw a wrench into your opponent’s plans, and it’s free! Grade: C by herself, B for her Leadership (raise to B/B+ if her Automatic Pistol attack turns out to cost 0 Power)
Baron Zemo was the darling of the starter set, and still stands up today. He zips around the board with his Long move, dishes out Bleed for fun, and does so much for his team. When I’m an old man, sitting on my porch and looking back on my life, I believe that “Zemo reroll” will be the phrase that echoes through my memories. Look out too for the Zemo Driveby: Charge in and attack, then Steel Rush and fade away again. Now you see me, now you don’t. Grade: A
Bullseye was, sadly, a swing and a miss (ironically enough). His niche is precision-delivering a tiny amount of guaranteed damage, which is cool and all, but he just does so much less than the other 3-Threat characters you could choose from, meaning that Bullseye ends up being an interesting thought experiment moreso than a character you’ll want to run regularly. Sick model, though. Grade: D
Why include Bob, Agent of Hydra in your Cabal list? Well, he’s only 2 Threat and it’s pretty darn hard to remove him from the table. His defensive stats are very not great and he only has 3 Stamina on each side. But if he hasn’t activated this round he doesn’t get KO’d, only Dazed again. So park him on an objective and for the love of God, save him for last, preferably after all your opponent’s characters have activated. If he’s still standing, shoot something! You get one free shot with his Strength 9 rocket launcher thing and odds are you’re not going to have the 8 Power you need to reload it, so make that one shot count. Grade: B+
Hands up who loves Crossbones? Anybody? The inclusion of his random ass really set the tone for the MCP release schedule: AMG are not holding back on the A-List megastars, but there’s also a regular dose of oddball inclusions to keep things spicy. Somebody somewhere would have been surprised and delighted to see Their Dude rubbing shoulders with Iron Man and Captain America in the starter set, but I’ve got no idea who that person was. Brock’s main contribution to the first year of MCP was giving hipsters somebody to pretend they liked; he’s since found a better home in Criminal Syndicate, but would have been hard pressed to include him in a Cabal roster for anything more than novelty value. Then Sin came along, and being able to use them like an edgy teen Corvus/Proxima suddenly makes him useful maybe if he’s already crawled his way up the table to engagement range. Just be careful you’re not handing your opponent the ability to go twice in a row later in the round. Grade: C
Remember what we said about the constant drip-drip of new releases into Cabal? Enchantress is the poster girl for the positive impact they can have. She fights. She slams down conditions. She moves people around. She drains Power from your opponent. She steals objectives. She wins you games, and she might just be the best 4 Threat character in Marvel Crisis Protocol. Grade: A+
When Killmonger first dropped, he caused quite a stir, because he could be jacked up to one-shot Hulk. A banger through and through, his weakness has always been his lack of defensive tech, but in Cabal you want to smash stuff up and that’s what N’Jadaka does best. Grade: B
Kingpin is one of my personal favourite minis in the game, oozing menace while looking very dapper. It does feel a little sad to be running him without using his own (excellent) Leadership ability, but it’s still a legitimate option, because he doesn’t seem to pay a premium for that: standalone Wilson Fisk is a solid 4-Threat character by any standards. He’s a Slow mover, but Red Skull can help there with Master of the Cube, and Kingpin loves to plant his feet in the middle of the table and start swinging those arms. Grade: B
Loki would be an interesting wildcard option: he won’t enjoy trading blows, but his troll value is unsurpassed. For maximum impact he needs the Mind Gem, which will be hard to fit; and it’s a lot of Threat locked up in someone who isn’t directly contributing to your win condition of outlasting your opponent by killing their key pieces. Nonetheless, everything he contributes is useful, and amongst high skill-ceiling characters Loki remains the connoisseur’s choice. Grade: C+
Magneto is another one who might find himself squeezed out by your list composition moreso than any weaknesses of his own. With a 4-Threat Leader and (as we are about to see) a 5-Threat juggernaut that demands your attention, all to often this 6-Threat behemoth simply won’t fit in your line-up. There might be a niche build with a very small number of characters at low Threat values, clutching Priority close to its chest and clinically removing key pieces every Round, but there are more obvious routes to success with Cabal. Grade: C+
M.O.D.O.K. was one of the very first expansions to this game, bursting into the world at the same time as Hulk and emphasizing the twin-tailed release strategy of big names and random weirdos. I love using this guy. Everyone loves using this guy.
Bow to the will of P.E.T.E.R.!
Imbecile! All the world is a weapon to P.E.T.E.R.!
Pea-brain! P.E.T.E.R.’s genius is infinite!
It’s easy to miss the importance of his Psionic Force-field: switching off Wilds often means switching off attack bonuses, since so many have a Wild trigger. Once he’s flipped he loses that (and only has 4 health), but if you want to instantly feel like you’re good at this game, put M.O.D.O.K. on the table and start taking names. Grade: A+
Mystique is pretty tricksy. Notably, her Shapeshifter ability means that Bodyguard-style moves can’t be used against her; if she decides somebody is wearing 16 pistol rounds to the face, it’s happening. Along with Raven’s Long move and the guaranteed pull from her Deception card, this combos with Doomed Prophecy and All You’ve Got for a Widow-Bomb style tactical nuke that is pretty hard to avoid.
For anyone unfamiliar with the combo, Doomed Prophecy will give you 7 dice on each attack, meaning 14 per attack action (assuming you trigger Rapid Fire), meaning 28 per activation. This in turn gives you the Power to pop All You’ve Got (and / or Cosmic Invigoration) and do it all again for a 56-dice turn. Widow throws more dice at it, but she’s also far easier to avoid, and it’s safe to say that 56 attack dice will generally be ample. Add in the fact that Cabal Affiliation is potentially giving Mystique extra Power on every round of Pistol fire (with or without card combo support), and this makes a great home for her. Grade: A
Sabretooth rounds off our Mutant ring-ins in some style. This classy and underrated 4-Threat character can operate independently to chase down lonely Objective holders, or get stuck into the scrum in the middle. A Long move, healing and naked aggression: what’s not to love? Grade: B+
Ultron is simultaneously an epic fail and a low-key triumph. On the one hand, he soaks up 4 Threat in your roster and does so precious little to help you win games; on the other, if he’s the worst character in the game (he is), then that’s a huge testament to the balance of Marvel Crisis Protocol, because he’s not that bad. A great player with Ultron will still beat an average player without him, and you certainly can’t say that about every game system out there.
The fact remains, however, that of the 168 players who entered TTS Season 4, a grand total of two people took Ultron in their 10-man roster; in a game with 67 characters, he barely makes the top 1,680. Have you tried switching him off and back on again? Grade: D
Finally, Viper is kind of an evil original Black Widow. Sure she’s one more Threat but she has a couple of great extra movement tricks up her lack of sleeves to make up for it. And she’s handing out special conditions like they’re going out of style. Viper is going to be fairly tricksy and easy to underestimate, especially under Sin’s leadership. Grade: B+
Cabal has huge overlaps with both Criminal Syndicate and the Mutant Brotherhood, and to a lesser extent Asgard and Wakanda. Given how quickly your tactics cards will get squeezed, it could be advisable to avoid the temptation to go triple affiliation, and pick one of those first two.
In Criminal Syndicate’s favour is
my wild bias towards Kingpin the duality of playstyles on offer: Criminals for capping objectives, and Cabal for fightin’. An opponent looking at your Roster will largely be guessing which way you’ll go, so they’re on the back foot before a dice is rolled. Mutants meanwhile have a very high-class roster of characters which is hard to overlook, and can dominate on favourable Crises.
Whether you go down that path, or just go mono-affiliation with Cabal (perfectly viable given their breadth of options), our old friend Valkyrie stands out as a great option to bring in. You’re here for the killings, and there aren’t many who do it better than Brunhilde.
So Are They Any Good?
Strong Leadership ability? Tick.
Broad range of great characters? Tick.
Excellent Tactics cards? Tick.
It’s no accident that Cabal have endured as a popular competitive option: in fact at time of writing, with four seasons of TTS under our belts, they are the only affiliation to have broken Wakanda’s stranglehold on the big prize.
Red Skull and chums are a force to be reckoned with, make no mistake.
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