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That naughty ol’ Thanos is up to his usual tricks, trying to collect all six infinity stones and wipe out half of life in the universe with a snap of his fingers. Can you gather a gang of super-friends and prevent the purple peril’s plans before he hears the one song* that gets his fingers snapping? And will you have fun doing so? Let’s take a look at Thanos Rising: Avengers Infinity War and find out.

*I like to imagine Thanos clicking away to Carly Rae Jepsen’s ‘Call Me Maybe’ but let us know your suggestions in the comments below.

Overview

Thanos Rising: Avengers Infinity War from USAopoly (hereafter just Thanos Rising) is a dice rolling co-operative game for 2-4 players, based on the Marvel film Avengers: Infinity War. Players start with a single hero and associated HQ and spend the game rolling dice to recruit more heroes to their team and defeat Thanos’ minions (players win by defeating seven or more minions depending on difficulty setting). Each turn, however, Thanos edges closer to gaining all six infinity stones and victory. What’s more, if en route to the stones Thanos defeats ten heroes or all the heroes of a single player then he wins as well. We’re in classic co-operative board game territory here: one way for the players to win and multiple ways for the players to lose. WHAMM!**

Play revolves around two circular stages: Thanos’ gauntlet and something that looks remarkably like a Thanos-themed fountain.

The gauntlet has six infinity stone discs around its edge. If Thanos manages to add five counters to one of these discs then he gains that stone and flips the disc to reveal additional punishments for the players. KLONK! You’re a step closer to defeat!

The fountain is actually a nonagonal market of nine cards – hero cards to recruit and minion cards to defeat, each with some symbols, a special ability and a health bar. Roll the appropriate number of matching symbols and you can recruit the hero or add damage to the minion. Fill a minion’s health bar with damage counters and you’ve defeated them. BAMF! You’re a step closer to victory!

The card market is divided into three sectors. On your turn you pick a sector, wait whilst Thanos does his stuff, and then attempt to roll the specific symbols required to recruit/attack any of the three heroes/minions in that sector. You can roll the dice as many times as you like but must always assign at least one die to a card after every roll. Your HQ provides 4 dice, heroes you’ve recruited provide extra dice and other useful tricks, whilst bonus tokens can be gained to provide additional one-off abilities.

Thanos ‘doing his stuff’ involves rolling the two chunky dice to add a counter to an infinity stone disc and then either turn Thanos to face a different sector or make him do something especially mean. The sector is important: Thanos triggers minion abilities and damages heroes (including yours if you chose that sector) in the sector that he’s facing. THWAP!. What’s important here is that heroes can be defeated whether you have recruited them or not so you can’t only be thinking about your own teams.

And that’s about it. Simple rules, straight forward gameplay and a surprising amount of fun.

**I could using more exclamation marks for the superhero soundbites but I’ve already maxed out my quota for the year. We wouldn’t want to upset DrCaptain PunctuationManSpidey***.

***As if footnotes aren’t self-indulgent enough, this footnote to a footnote is because ‘spideymen’ are what my two year old son calls spiders, whether they are spiders plural or singular. He’s freaking cute!

Subtlety? With This Face?

There’s a nice bit of push your luck going on here, with the four dice varieties specialising in the four different symbols. With the right team it’s possible to recruit/wound all three available cards in the sector you’ve chosen but you can just as easily come away having achieved nothing at all. The decisions around which sector to visit, which dice to roll, which cards to try for and how to split your dice aren’t taxing but can feel very rewarding. As you recruit additional heroes you’re able to achieve more, providing a satisfying increase in ability across the game that’s nicely countered by your heroes being wounded or defeated.

The whole arc of the game is surprisingly elegant^. At the start Thanos seems unstoppable – each turn he’s guaranteed to place at least one counter on an infinity stone disc. You’ll often find that he’s got a couple of the stones before you’ve got into the swing of things. But once he’s got a stone, he can’t then continue to get it and his rate of advance slows. The pressure becomes more manageable whilst never letting you forget that Thanos is always close to victory. It’s a lovely bit of game design.

The simplicity of the rule set and the clarity of four types of dice and four symbols means that unlucky rolls never feel unfair, you knew the odds going in. Yet there’s enough meat here that success feels satisfying, the result of the decisions you made.

Whilst there’s scope for mitigating dice rolls, you’re frequently at the mercy of the colourful cubes. But the best moments in the game come when Thanos gets lucky with the rolling. One turn you can be feeling confident and then a couple of poor rolls later and two of your heroes are destined for the defeated pile and the rest are looking peaky. It’s genuinely thrilling, as if Thanos is turning his attention towards you and effortlessly showing you who’s boss.

Where luck can be frustrating is with the way that cards come out of the deck. Perhaps none of Thanos’ minions show up until later, dragging the game out. Or perhaps they all show up in quick succession, ramping the difficulty right up. Whilst this can sometimes feel a bit too random, it’s a rare occurrence and certainly not a deal breaker.

^Not something you’d expect from the box cover.

Plastic Fantastic

As in the films, Thanos is remarkably imposing. Sure, you could do the same mechanistically with a cardboard token or standee but the level of immersion wouldn’t be the same. The figurine gives players a focal point to play against that’s absent in a lot of cooperative board games^^.

Groot works just as well mechanistically but it doesn’t feel the same!

It’s a lovely game to look at all over really, the quality of the pieces adding to the experience. The HQ cards feel a little flimsy but otherwise everything’s top notch. Just look at those infinity stones:

The dice themselves are a good weight and size, the symbols easy to distinguish, and the hefty Thanos dice are particularly satisfying to roll. Sadly, a limited supply of dice means you’ll be working out which dice you need from scratch each turn. It would be nice to have your own personal set of dice to avoid this issue but given that you may want to roll different symbols each turn and some heroes give you a choice of dice it’s not as big an irritation as it sounds.

^^I will not admit the number of times I’ve stuck my finger up at that purple git.

Ooh, Check Out That Theme!

Whilst I’m a fan of the Marvel films, you don’t need to be one to enjoy Thanos Rising – the premise is engaging enough even if you’ve never encountered a single Avenger. You’d just be collecting random folk to combat an angry man but there are plenty of decent stories with worse plots (or consider the Harry Potter and Star Wars implementations of the game if the thought of gathering assorted folk to combat angry men appeals^^^).

As a fan though there’s pleasure to be had in embracing the theme. In our first game my wife set her heart on recruiting Hulk whilst I collected Guardians of the Galaxy characters because I wanted Drax The Destroyer^* and then didn’t want him to get lonely. Thanos, of course, snaffled up the infinity stones like a kid stuffing his cheeks with marshmallows and flattened us, but it didn’t matter – we were having tremendous fun trying to stop him.

The curious things about Thanos Rising is that for many turns Thanos will be facing another sector – you’re never actually fighting him directly. When you win, all you’ve really done is defeat some of his minions and delay his progress. You’ve thwarted his immediate plans but Thanos will just keep trying for the stones (a story for your next game).

And yet…

Thanos Rising is almost perfect thematically – Thanos doesn’t care about ‘defeating the heroes’. If they’re in the way then he’ll swat them aside but it’s not on his to-do-list. It’s this indifference that gives his character the sense of scale and power that balances out the previous 18 films worth of heroics. It’s the same in the game: the players are frantically trying to stop Thanos but most of the time he’s got his back to them, unconcerned about the scurryings of the various ‘men. When he does turn to face you it can be genuinely painful, red damage counters splattering all over your hero cards like beads of blood.

So whilst as a player it’s slightly dissatisfying that you can’t directly engage and defeat Thanos, it’s thematically appropriate. It’s the trouble with the game being based around Avengers Infinity War. You never know, USAopoly might produce an Endgame expansion that allows you to reclaim the stones and then defeat Thanos himself. I would buy it in a heartbeat.

^^^I’m hoping USAopoly release a cross-over. I’d love to see Ron Weasley and C-3PO take down Thanos.

^*Who doesn’t?

Please Thanos, May I Have Some More?

With its gorgeous components and engaging gameplay it feels churlish to be asking for more… but I can’t help it. After a few plays in quick succession the game becomes a little samey. It would have been nice to have a few more HQ cards, for instance. The stack of hero cards contains all sorts of familiar faces but you’ll see pretty much all of them in a single game and many of them do very similar things, just focussing on different dice symbols. 

More than just more stuff though, I also found myself looking for a little more ambition from the game. Some of the heroes are wonderfully thematic – Nebula for instance thwarts Thanos by removing cubes from the infinity stone discs, but at a cost to herself, replicating her conflicted mind-set in the series. I would have loved to have seen just a little more of this sort of mechanical-thematic interlinking. The four ships/spacecraft, for instance, are pretty much identical and when all four are out in the market at once the limitations are apparent.  Meanwhile the hero Vision also feels like a missed opportunity. He’s sustained by the Mind Stone, yet when Thanos gains the stone in the game Vision remains a usable hero. Imagine the fun to be had with a powerful Vision hero that also had increased vulnerabilities.

“Fun isn’t something one considers when balancing the universe. But this… does put a smile on my face.”

As the purple menace himself says, Thanos Rising puts a smile on my face each time I play it. Yes, I want more variety and invention. Yes, some of the colours are a little too similar (yellow and orange are not as clear as they could be). And yes, occasionally an unlucky card shuffle can cause the game to end too soon or go on too long. But let’s face it, with a game that’s as fun as this none of these grumblings matter.

You can set up Thanos Rising and teach it in under 10 minutes.  It feels genuinely exciting when things go well and, more importantly, even when they don’t. The circular card market means that everyone around the table can see some of the cards more clearly than others, increasing communication and reducing the chances of one player taking over despite all the information being open. What’s more, the game makes a slightly absurd large plastic figurine work for it, a mechanistic maelstrom that draws you in as it spins around.

So there we go. Thanos Rising is a simple but effective game design dressed up to the nines, a thrilling romp of rolling dice, recruiting your favourite characters and battling the bad guys. All Rise.

This copy of Thanos Rising was provided by AsmodeeUK in exchange for a fair and impartial review.

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Andrew Holmes

Andrew Holmes is a husband, father, scientist, poet and, of course, gamer who lives in Wales, works in England and owns a Scottish rugby shirt. He has never passed up a challenge to play Carcassonne.

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