This week I played X-Men: Mutant Insurrection, a superhero cooperative dice matching game. You'll fly around the world in your Blackbird X-Jet, managing crises while recruiting new mutants and forming bonds with your fellow mutants. Although it says 1-6 players on the box, the solo game has you playing two characters cooperatively, exactly like the two player game. So it should be advertised as 2-6 player. Not that I mind, I love playing co-ops solitaire.
I am a huge fan of Elder Sign, and with Fantasy Flight publishing a new dice allocation game by Richard Launius, I think that series has come to an end. So I was curious if this game could scratch the same itch. I found out pretty soon that the differences exceed the similarities. But is this a good thing?
First of all, the game has been modernised. No minis (yet) but there are eight stories included. Instead of a game that is setting an atmosphere by adding flavour text to random events, we now have a narrative on rails. It's what the people want. Of course the Omens-expansions to Elder Sign had already gone partly this way by having a preparation phase and a harder phase in which you'd collect the signs. But this time, in every play you'll pick a plot card with accompanying briefings, story missions and the showdown. Of which there are eight in the box. Replayability comes from assembling different teams (there are 16 heroes to choose from) the generic mission cards you'll encounter (of which there are 25, you'll see about half every play) and setting a harder difficulty level.
X-Men: Mutant Insurrection has several ways to set the difficulty level. First of all, you start the game with the threat level ranging from 2 to 8 (your choice). Then, the eight plots all have a challenge level ranking. Last, and unfortunately, it matters a lot how many heroes you choose to play with. While learning the game I had the most success while handling four heroes. When you play with three, about the same amount of missions will come up, and you'll be unable to split up and still assist. So it's harder. You get a small headstart when playing two-handed, but not enough to make up for the increased difficulty.
This isn't necessarily bad news, as you're able to make fine-grained adjustments to the difficulty level by varying threat level, plot and amount of heroes. I also play Eldritch Horror with four investigators to have some chance of winning. But it took some getting used to.
Once you've set a difficulty level, chosen a plot card to start your story and assembled a team, you're ready for your first mission. You pick a card from one of the continents, and decide which heroes will try to avert the crisis there. There are also cards for locations in Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters, where you can heal and do some planning or lower the threat level.
The threat level functions as a timer of the game. Mission cards can have threat icons on them, and at the end of the round the threat level rises as many steps as there are threat icons visible. Once it passes 15, the game's lost. The threat track is divided in green, yellow and red sections. Each level will make fulfilling missions harder and the event cards you'll draw at the end of the day more lethal.
So you'll try to complete and remove these missions, by rolling custom dice. Each mission card has a few of objectives, rows you can complete with dice faces and/or the loss of some health. The dice faces symbolize teamwork, special powers and fighting skills. Every hero will have their own strong and weak points, but also an "assist" ability that they can't use themselves - but a teammate on the same mission can. This means you'll try to send the best team members for a mission, and preferably two or even three at a time. If you succeed in a mission you will be rewarded by a "bond" ability (a bonus you and another hero will share), an new mutant (ally) or a training token (a single use dice face). If you fail, you can suffer damage, a bond may be broken (the bonus will turn into a hindrance) etc. And of course, the threat level may rise again at the end of the round.
The special missions of the plot are harder and needed to progress the story. The showdown is the big end fight, with no healing and nasty effects at the end of each round.
I think I should stop comparing this with Elder Sign, then let it grow on me. I am a little afraid I'll get bored by playing the same stories and seeing the same continent missions over and over, but let's face it, this is Fantasy Flight Games. You've got to hope a game is successful, as it always needs that first expansion to feel complete. And I'm pretty sure it has the potential to keep me entertained for 20-30 plays.