We’d been looking forward to playing X-Men: Mutant Insurrection for a while. Our local game shop had to order it in for us, we’re pretty big Marvel fans (as you might guess from the amount of Marvel Champions that we play), and there’s not many dice-rolling coop games that are regularly released. It was with some disappointment, then, that we rapidly came to realise that X-Men: Mutant Insurrection is not actually a new game.
Yep. Don’t get me wrong, there are new gameplay elements that are interesting and well thought-out, but at its core, X-Men: Mutant Insurrection is… Elder Sign. It’s an easier, more forgiving, less annoying Elder Sign (I’ll share my annoyed thoughts on that game some other time…), but Elder Sign nonetheless. The core gameplay of solving the problem is the same series of “roll some dice and hope you get the results on the card, keep some of them and roll some more, and honestly, that’s the most disappointing part of the game. While Elder Sign is probably a fine game that’s sold a lot of copies, X-Men: Mutant Insurrection could’ve been so much more. It’s another game by Richard Launius, the designer behind Elder Sign and honestly it really feels like he’s phoned it in for the sweet merchandising money.
Let me explain why the core of the game disappoints me so much. Where the game shines is in the diversity of its characters. In the base game box you get a frankly huge range of iconic characters that I honestly didn’t expect for the base game:
These characters have two parts to them, their hero cards and their assist cards. The hero card tends to do something iconic to the character, for example Rogue’s whole shtick is that she copies the powers of whoever she deploys with, while the assist cards lend their power to someone they’re on a mission with.
You deploy characters around the world (represented by continent decks) and complete missions by rolling the required dice to fill all the boxes on the cards. For those not familiar with Elder Sign, it’s a bit like Yahtzee – you roll the dice, and try to keep the results you need while rerolling the ones you don’t. Different dice have different odds of rolling one of the three symbols that you need, and if all characters deployed to a mission fail to complete it, you suffer whatever negative effects are present on the card.
So why are you disappointed?
It’s because all of that diversity of characters, potential team up options and powers… effectively amount to almost nothing exciting. Here’s a random example to show you what I mean.
Magik and Storm go to a mission together. Storm has a dice pool of one red die (which has more “fight” results”), two yellow dice (which have more “power” results) and one blue die (which has more “teamwork” results). Magik, on the other hand, has one red die, one yellow die and two blue dice. As they’re working together, they can trade assist cards, hooray! This means Storm gives Magik an extra yellow die, and an extra blue die, while Magik gives Storm a Red and a Yellow. They each have access to each others’ assist powers – neat!
But let’s look how different these dice pools really are and what that means. Comparing the two, Storm has 1 more yellow die and 1 more red, while Magik has two more blue dice. This weights their pools in favour of the three different results those dice are good at. But it does so in a very generic way. Here’s how the dice are weighted:
|Fight 1||Fight 2||Fight 3||Teamwork||Villainy
So if you roll 3 dice, one of each colour, you’ve effectively got a 1 in 6 chance of rolling Teamwork on your red die, 1 in 6 on your yellow die and 1 in 3 chance on your blue die. The difference is actually… not that huge in practice. Fight results are more interesting – those you can add up to meet a target number on the mission. But the problem is, most of the time a result of 1 is simply not useful. You end up burning two dice to achieve pretty much anything because the most common requirement is for 2 Fight, not 1. This, in our experience gave yellow dice the edge over pretty much anything else apart from in very specific missions – you get consistent 2 fight results, you get extra power results (which are commonly used by characters for abilities like Magik’s), and your odds of rolling teamwork are lower than blue but better than red, and Blue’s fight results… suck.
The difference between the dice pools is fairly insignificant. I’m not going to go deep on the maths, but essentially, in their dice pools in our example, Magik and Storm have the following totals when assisting each other (which you almost always want to do, characters can’t assist themselves, only access their full dice pool):
- Magik: 11 Fight symbols (23 total Fight added across all faces of all dice), 8 Power symbols, 9 Teamwork symbols
- Storm: 14 Fight symbols (26 total Fight across all faces), 8 Power symbols, 7 Teamwork symbols
That’s… almost identical. Storm comes out with the better pool in almost every situation, apart from where you need a LOT of teamwork results urgently. To make Assist abilities and the basic hero powers are useful and slant the dice pools slightly, but essentially the issue is that the game is robbed of a lot of its replay value. You end up with a diverse cast of characters who have very similar dice pools, very similar odds of completing tasks and very similar powers.
And that’s why I’m ultimately disappointed. The experience feels incredibly samey. Every mission you uncover requires you to take the same characters with almost identical dice pools and abilities to resolve almost identical challenges with different symbols on them. And then you repeat, over and over until you either win or get unlucky and don’t uncover enough missions that have the rewards you need. There aren’t many different missions, and the big showdowns with major villains are… almost identical to the other missions. To add on to the monotony, the missions have no flavour to them other than a title, which means you can’t even read a short piece of descriptive text in a silly voice to liven things up. The story cards that make up whatever main mission you’re playing have some, but they skip key story beats and it’s generally an extremely disjointed experience.
OK, but it can’t be all bad, can it?
No you’re right, voice in my head, it’s not all bad. The variety in mutants that you can recruit (little optional side characters that function like items or allies in other games) is as surprising as the breadth of major characters available right out of the box, and there are some really pleasing deep-cuts for X-Men fans. The production quality is, as you’d expect from Fantasy Flight Games, extremely impressive, with vibrant, colourful cards and a little cardboard Blackbird as your deployment area that I’m completely in love with.
The bond system, which I’ve not touched on at all here, is interesting at least, and changes up the dynamic of the game, but your characters just don’t establish bonds often enough, nor do they stick around for long with a lot of triggers to break the bonds.
I wouldn’t want to play it with less than 4 characters in play (we went with two per player), and, unlike some games, this didn’t feel slow or clunky to play that way at all. On that note, it supports play with up to 6 players, which is great because the number of coop games that support that many players without bogging down is… not high. It’s simply to grasp after your first few rolls where you realise “oh, it’s just this?”, which makes it good for extremely casual “Hey want to play a board game?” play, and I’m pretty sure that with experience, you could crack out a game of this in around 30 minutes. It’s one of the few games where the 1-2 hours on the box actually feels conservative, because our first ever game where we stopped to read the rules every few seconds took us 2 hours. Then we were able to complete a full game in around 55 minutes our second time through. It’s really not that slow. If you want to catch those games and our very first unboxing of the game, you can check out the VOD on Twitch.
We’ll likely play again at some point in the future because while I’ve been hard on it here… I paid something like £50 for this. So we’ve got to get some more play time out of it sometime. For die-hard X-Men fans, families who want to play with their superhero-obsessed kids, and people who loved Elder Sign but found it way too challenging, X-Men: Mutant Insurrection is definitely still worth giving a go. But if you don’t identify with two or more of those groups, there are much better options out there.
- Supports up to 6 players
- Quick to play
- Easy to learn
- Wide range of characters for X-Men fans
- Not much depth
- A bit of a lazy-feeling cash grab
- Too easy in places, and the rare losses are just bad luck