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 covering the hottest new team of the 1990s – X-FORCE!
Updated 02/03/2020 to add Colossus, Honey Badger, and X-23
OK, get some popcorn and settle in.
In the late 80’s, illustrator Rob Liefeld took over penciling duties on Marvel’s New Mutants series. The series was originally written by Chris Claremont and illustrated by Bob McLeod, but both creators would eventually leave the series about halfway into its 100-issue run. In 1989 sales for the series were slumping but sharply improved when Liefeld took over on pencils and eventually was handed the plotting reigns as well, forcing then-writer Louise Simonson out. Liefeld introduced a mysterious new mentor to the series, Cable, a stern, time-traveling cyborg, as well as several other hard-edged characters, including Domino, Shatterstar, and Warpath.
In 1991 the New Mutants’ series ended with issue 100 and they were folded into a new series/team, X-Force. Still under the helm of Liefeld for plotting and pencils, Fabian Nicieza was brought on board to write dialogue that would make Rob’s plots make sense. The initial team was a stark, more militant contrast to Professor Xavier’s X-Men, consisting of Boom-Boom, Cannonball, Domino, Feral, Shatterstar, Warpath, and Siryn. They were led by Cable, who was later revealed to be the son of Cyclops and Madelyne Pryor (a clone of Jean Grey created by Mr. Sinister) from a bleak future where Apocalypse rules and is fought by the Askani tribe, who raised Cable to be their champion after he was infected with a techno-organic virus as an infant and sent to the future by Scott and Jean. This wasn’t something that was really planned at the outset – Liefeld always insisted Cable was a time traveler from the future but had originally intended for his nemesis, Stryfe, to be Cable but from a different point in his timeline, but ended up becoming the character’s backstory after Liefeld and several other prominent X-series creators left to form Image Comics in the early 90s. Comics, everyone.
The X-Force have changed dramatically over the last 30 years, rotating rosters and function and flirting with cancellation on more than one occasion. Over that time they’ve served as a more covert, tactical force dedicated to taking out threats to mutantkind. They’ve changed rosters many times, though Cable and Domino are the big mainstays and Deadpool was on the team for a while there. Shatterstar, Black Tom Cassidy, Caliban, and Wolfsbane have also been regular fixtures. More recent iterations of the team have seen the inclusion of more prominent X-Men such as Wolverine, Beast, Jean Grey, Cyclops, X-23, and Kid Omega (Quentin Quire).
The early run of X-Force is about as ’90s as comics get, but you don’t run for as long as X-Force does without having some solid storylines to follow.
- If you want to get into where things all started, the 100-issue run of New Mutants is pretty solid. Liefeld’s introduction of Cable happens in issue #87, so you can also start there and read through the first issue of X-Force if you want the abridged version. The formative run of that series – including the big confrontation with Stryfe – runs up through issue 15, which then kicked off the X-Cutioner’s Song crossover event that ran in X-Force issues 16-19 as well as X-Men, Uncanny X-Men, and X-Factor.
- The current version of X-Force basically started in 2008, when Cyclops decided that simply reacting to threats was maybe not working out for the X-Men and it was time to get proactive in handling them (this was part of the more Magneto-like take on Cyclops that largely worked, in this author’s opinion). The team, led by Wolverine, took on a variety of threats. The first storyline here is worth your time – Angels and Demons.
- Once the X-Men found out, Cyclops disbanded the group but Wolverine was still all about that strike first lifestyle and so he formed his own team with
blackjack and hookersdifferent mutants, including Deadpool, Psylocke, Angel, and Fantomex. The best story from this group is probably The Apocalypse Solution (collected in Uncanny X-Force, Vol. 1), which sees the team attempting to take out Apocalypse before he can become a threat, only to be faced with a moral challenge they weren’t expecting. The Dark Angel saga follows shortly after and is also OK.
X-Force in Marvel Crisis Protocol
At this point a lot about the X-Force affiliation is assumption and guesswork. We know Cable is the leader and that Domino and Deadpool are in the affiliation. Looking at who has been on the team in the comics and who is also in the game, Wolverine seems like a sure thing
and Cyclops is fairly likely. Beast and Jean Grey are on the current version of the team but Beast is the worst character in Marvel comics and we don’t have Jean’s stats so we’re not going to include them. We’ll assume those five members for the time being and when the lineup is officially announced we’ll edit this document so any evidence that we were ever wrong is lost, like tears in rain.
Welp, looks like I was super wrong in a whole bunch of ways. Who saw Sabretooth coming, when he’s never actually been part of the team in the comics? Sneaky, AMG, very sneaky. So I got Cable, Domino, Deadpool and Wolverine right but no Cyclops. Instead there’s the aforementioned Sabretooth and the unreleased and as yet completely unspoiled Colossus. He’ll have a Fastball Special card with Wolverine, you can bet your bippy on that, but beyond that who knows!
Cable’s Leadership Ability is Wetwork is the mirror of the Web Warriors – allies can reroll one attack die per turn, no Power cost or range requirement. This is a great perk for a heavily offensive team as X-Force appears to be. But the Web Warriors also get the ability to reroll Failures and that kind of add-on is missing here. You could argue that a player doesn’t have control over when they roll defense dice so that ability needed a little boost, but it feels like it could have been a little more interesting. Also the once per turn limit is really a bummer. Grade: B-
There are three affiliation-specific Team Tactics cards known at this time. The first is Pretty Sneaky, Sis, and as a child of the ‘70s I greatly appreciate the name. This allows X-Force members to spend 2 Power to gain a stealth-like ability, but the attacker has to be within Range 2. FOR THE ENTIRE ROUND! You need to play it in the Power phase so your opponent knows what’s up and can try to move in close, but there are plenty of times when that’s just not practical. And 2 Power is a steal for this ability. Grade: A-
Dirty Work is similar to Usurp the Throne but a) it allows any allied X-Force member to dogpile on rather than just one specific character, b) it doesn’t give the bonus dice, and c) it awards everybody 2 Power rather than giving 2 VP. Okay, so maybe AMG decided Usurp was a little too good and giving everybody bonus dice would be kind of broken, but 2 Power? Really? Grade: C
Cat and Mouse could be useful, but I’d bet my bottom dollar nearly everybody is going to use it to advance straight ahead rather than to reposition laterally from their deployed location. A Range 2 move isn’t going to let you reposition to the other side of your deployment zone or do much more than positioning the movement tool diagonally on your first turn would help you out with. The restriction that you can’t do more than one move on that character’s first turn is odd, I guess they don’t want you to use it to go too far. It’s okay with Cable’s large base, and it’s free at least. Grade: B-
Deadpool himself has two other cards that have been revealed. Chimichangas introduces a chimichanga token into play. Whoever is holding the token (Deadpool starts with it) gains one Power and removes either one Wound or or one special condition each turn. It’s basically transferable Asgardian status. The token counts as an asset so if you’re carrying it you may not be able to pick up one of the crisis extract objectives, but it can be dropped and picked up (hopefully by allies). Grade: A-
The other card for Deadpool is Yoink!, and this one has different effects depending on who else is on the table. It can let Deadpool place himself within Range 2 if an allied Cable is nearby, use one of an allied Domino’s attacks as an extra free attack, take an objective token from an allied Wolverine, or remove Loaded tokens from an enemy Bob, Agent of HYDRA. If you’re playing Deadpool in X-Force then at least a couple of those options are possible. If he’s splashing into another affiliation it’s less useful. Grade: B
Jonathan the Unstoppable is Honey Badger’s pet/sidekick. She can spend 2 Power to put a Jonathan token into play , and he can contest objectives. Jonathan will pop if an enemy ends within Range 1 of him, but that’s not terrible because if he’s not on the board during the cleanup phase you get to take the card back into your hand and use it again. Grade: B+
Wolverines allows Logan and Laura to team up and form Murder Voltron. If they stay within Range 2 of each other they get to reroll any number of attack dice, which Logan really loves. They also deal a wound to anyone attacking them as long as it doesn’t Daze or KO them, and they can’t be pushed or thrown. A more stabby Til The End of the Line. It costs each character 3 Power to play this card but at the right time they can really ruin your opponent’s day. Grade: B+
Building Your Roster
Cable, your mandatory affiliation leader, starts off with a solid Range 5 Strength 5 builder with Incinerate on a Wild. Not messing around here. His only other attack is a 6 Power AoE2 Strength 7 which also heals him (and on Cable’s Injured side can also give Stagger). The good news is that he gets an extra Power at the start of each round so he may eventually be able to use that attack. Cable also has a Range 2 teleport and can give himself or an ally within Range 3 two extra defense dice. To go with that defensive superpower he has 13 Stamina and a 3-3-4 defensive statline, so he’s fairly beefy. The big question is how does he stack up against other Threat 5 characters, and the answer is okay, I guess? He’s good, but not Angela or Modok good. Not even Dr Strange or Thor good if we’re talking other affiliation leaders. He’s versatile and would probably be undercosted at a 4, but I don’t feel very compelled to take him out of affiliation, where I’m required to do so. Grade: B
Colossus is a decent 4 Threat tank – he can bodyguard a nearby character and add 2 dice to his defense against Physical or Energy (which switches to counting blanks as successes when Injured, and doesn’t cost any Power), and he reduces damage by 1. Colossus may have some trouble having enough Power to do all that with only his Strength 5 builder so be careful not to get too ambitious with his tanking. Grade: B+
Domino is not an offensive powerhouse but she promises to be incredibly frustrating on the table. Her builder only generates 1 Power (or maybe 2 if Rapid Fire triggers) and she has some fairly cheap but not very strong spender attacks. Her signature ability is her Probability Manipulation superpower, which lets her count Failures as Crits for one Power each, on attack, defense, or dodge rolls. Very good at swinging from one extreme to the other but it isn’t going to help her much with blanks or Blocks/Hits (whichever she doesn’t want for her current roll). All this with the reroll from Wetworks is going to really help those attacks punch above their weight class.
But that’s not all! Domino also prevents enemies from rolling additional dice for Crits! So she’s flattening the curve on her opponent’s roll and spiking the high end on her own. Oh, and if she uses her Lucky Shot attack the opponent doesn’t gain Power for the Wounds they receive. Super Annoying! How well she does on or how long she survives is going to be very much dependent on die rolls, with a heavy finger on the scale in her favor, but she looks like a lot of fun to play. Grade: B+
Sometimes I think I’m the only nerd alive who can’t stand Deadpool. I’m really not looking forward to seeing him in the game. But the editors at Goonhammer say they will only let me see my family again if I finish this column, so I guess I have to talk about Deadpool. Fine. He’s got two builders, Range 2 and a little boring and a longer range one that has the potential to proc three total attacks. Sounds great on paper but with a pool of only 4 dice (even with 2 rerolls from Wetworks and his own superpower that gives him a reroll on attack and defense) getting the two/three Wilds needed is going to be tricky.
Deadpool has fairly average defensive stats but he has that reroll as noted above, and he has a Healing Factor that removes two Wounds at the end of each activation. So his 10 Stamina is reality effectively 22! He also is immune to mystic attack-based movement shenanigans and when he’s on his Injured side he counts as being on his Healthy. And if he has that Chimichanga token from his Team tactics card, well, that’s just rude levels of survivability. So I guess we know who’s going to be squatting on secure objectives and punishing anybody who gets close. It is therefore with a heavy heart that I give Deadpool Grade: A-
Honey Badger is the only 2 Threat character currently available to X-Force, and she’s one of the better ones in the game. She’s very durable for her threat and has perfectly fine attacks. Her Hamstring spender costs 3 Power, which is a bit high but it hands out Slow and Bleed if it does damage, and it has a chance to let her move Medium after the attack is resolved to keep her safe. And it’s not like you’re going to spend that Power on her bodyguard too often – she’s durable for a 2 Threat but she’s no Grampa Logan. Gabby’s biggest drawback is that she can’t contest, hold, or interact with objective tokens, but that’s what Jonathan is for. Keep Gabby moving and harassing enemies – if she’s within Range 1 they roll 1 fewer defense die against any of Honey Badger’s allies. Grade: B+
Sabretooth is a 4 Threat sack of knives, much like Wolverine. He’s more mobile between his Long move and Aggressive, but maybe not as durable with a lower Healing Factor. Still If you want someone in affiliation who can get across the board and murder whatever they encounter there Sabretooth is your guy! Grade: B+
X-23 is another solid damage dealer in an affiliation not short on them. She’s more mobile than she might appear at first, as she has a bunch of different ways to advance in addition to her regular Medium movement. Her builder is fairly standard but gives both Bleed and Pierce on a Wild, and her spender is only 2 Threat, also with Pierce. Laura can also innately reroll 1 die in her attack and defense pools, with no cost and no once per turn limit. Give her the killing (or Dazing/KO’ing) blow and X-23 can advance short and use her builder again. Defensively X-23 isn’t great – 3/3/2 and 10 Stamina is pretty average although that Mystic defense is unfortunate – but her Healing Factor will help out a lot there. Note that you can’t use Fastball Special with her because this version is not a Wolverine, which is totally unfair. But she’s a very good 3 Threat beatstick. Grade: A-
Who you add in to your roster depends on the direction you want to take your squads, of course. X-Force is a strongly offensive team with little board control. So you could lean into building a murder tornado team by putting in Valkyrie or Ronan. Or you could try to shore up your board control and objective manipulation with Toad, Miles Morales or Enchantress. More dice manipulation can never hurt either, and Baron Zemo would fit right in. Given you already have one required 5 Threat anchor you probably want to be looking for lower Threat characters to round things out but M.O.D.O.K. would really love that reroll and brings a very good Mystical attack with him. Lastly, a lot of these characters look pretty Power-hungry so if you’re looking for a 2 Threat character don’t forget Wong.
So Are They Any Good?
It’s possible that other Team Tactics cards or other members of the affiliation will be revealed in the future but at the moment X-Force doesn’t feel very compelling. Many of the characters are very good but the affiliation itself doesn’t have a lot to offer them. They honestly might be better off elsewhere, with a stronger leadership ability to rely on. Deadpool in Web Warriors or Asgard would be disgusting, and Domino would love having the extra Power from A-Force. Cabal generally gives a better benefit to a strongly offensive team. And that’s really what you’ve got here – an offensive team with not many other tricks or strengths. That offense really falls heavily on shorter ranges as well, so you’ll need to be in close, but doesn’t give you much help in getting there. I still say they should have had Cyclops.
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