Let's get the acronym out of the way at the outset. D.A.G.G.E.R. stands for Defense Alliance for Global and Galactic Emergency Response. If you think it sounds overly contrived, you're in good company, but that shouldn't prevent you from enjoying this Marvel beat-em-up from Fantasy Flight Games. The success of the Marvel movie franchises has meant that many now see the various Marvel superheroes as movie characters. As is very evident from the artwork, however, Marvel D.A.G.G.E.R. takes us back to the characters' comic book roots.
Designed by Dane Bertrami, Marvel D.A.G.G.E.R. is a fully cooperative game for 1-5 players where the players each control one of the 20 Marvel super-heroes in the box (two if you're playing solo: the solitaire version plays exactly like the two-player game). Having selected your hero, each of course with their own unique special powers and abilities, you pair their hero sheet with an 'aspect' sheet which add further abilities, and you'll have access to several cards which also give you potentially enhanced options. By combining your choice of hero with an aspect, you're generating your character for the game with their very specific abilities; and with 20 characters and six aspects to choose between, you could play Marvel D.A.G.G.E.R. 120 times without duplicating the same hero! Because each hero and aspect give particular strengths, you'll want to set up each game so that your team of two or more heroes have skillsets that complement each other. Without this, you'll struggle to achieve a cooperative win.
This is an action selection game where each turn players will be spending action points to trigger actions on their character/aspect sheets and/or on the board. You'll be up against one of four Big Boss 'nemesis' super-villains (Loki, Red Skull, Ultron or Thanos), plus their minions. With their own nemesis sheet and 'mission cards', it's the game that controls your nemesis - players all control only heroes. But with limited actions at your disposal, a punishing Event deck and nemesis minions overrunning uncontested locations, this is a tough game where you'll need to do a lot of firefighting to avoid one of the many lose conditions before you can directly take on and defeat the nemesis super-villain.
Gameplay mostly involves rolling the custom eight-sided dice to try to get the requisite icons needed for a successful attack or mission attempt. Players may also use an action to rest, which will at minimum restore them either one health or earn them a 'progress' token (used to activate a special power card) but you level up the effect of a rest action by rolling the right icons. Dependence on dice rolls and Event card draws inevitably means there's a degree of luck in the game, tho' some hero abilities offer scope for mitigation; Sorcerer Supreme Doctor Strange, for example, can 'Bend Time' to allow any hero to re-roll any number of dice. Players always have a wide choice of actions, and you'll need to actively plan together to maximise your effectiveness, so, even allowing for the luck factor, this is a game where you rarely feel merely at the mercy of the dice.
Success or failure in 'defying' missions affects subsequent gameplay. A 'team up' track gives potential access to extra team-up abilities but players need also to keep a weather eye on the track that represents the nemesis 'threat' level. If the threat level exceeds that on a mission, then the heroes will fail it, and if the threat level ever reaches 20 then it's game over, as that 's one of the lose conditions. Other triggers for losing are having all five bases on the board overrun by nemesis minions and exhausting the Events deck. If your hero's health is reduced to zero, they are considered defeated but you're not out of the game. The 20 heroes are on 10 double-sided hero sheets, and if your hero is defeated, you just flip the hero sheet and your aspect sheet to its 'shattered' side and your new hero takes over. If all the heroes are defeated with their aspect sheet on its 'shattered' side, then that's another lose condition.
With all the missions and firefighting to tackle before you really get to take on your nemesis, there's a lot to do in Marvel D.A.G.G.E.R. and it can be a long game. You can expect a four- or five-player game to run to three hours, and we topped two hours even with just two players. Players are all engrossed throughout tho' and because it's fully cooperative, you can expect players to get involved in each other's turns. In most circumstances that's great in a cooperative game; our only caveat being that it could be tedious if you have an 'alpha player' who just wants to boss everyone else about and take over everyone's turn. Avoid such players and you'll have a great time trying to save the Marvel universe together. It's a tough game. If you're experience is like ours at Board's Eye View then more often than not you will collectively fail, but that means you'll savour all the more those relatively rare games where you achieve a win.
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