Top Of The Table – Thanos Rising – Avengers: Infinity War

by Matt Miller on May 04, 2018 at 03:00 PM

Even when I was a kid, I’d see a great movie, captivating cartoon, or read a gripping book, and long for opportunities to revisit the worlds of those fantasies in new ways. If done right, a licensed board game taps into the characters and conflicts of the story that inspired it and gives its players novel interactions to engage with the fiction. It’s this trait that most intrigues me about Thanos Rising, the new two- to four-player cooperative game that reimagines the events of Avengers: Infinity War. Through a unique mixture of dice assignment, engine building, and the growing threat of an exponentially powerful villain, the game reminds me of many of the things that I loved the most about the recently released film, while also offering a brisk play experience that is friendly to almost any player group. 

Thanos Rising isn’t an especially complex or lengthy game. The rules are easy to grasp, and a full game can be played in about an hour. That’s par for the course for many licensed board games, which frequently value accessible play over deeper mechanics. This Avengers game distinguishes itself through some innovative twists on familiar gameplay concepts, some evocative components, and an element of genuine cooperation that I really love. 

Players each take on the role of a team of heroes, led by a familiar character like Captain America or Doctor Strange. You’re all working together to defeat a designated number of villains before Thanos acquires all the Infinity Stones. Players must acquire new ally heroes and defeat villains by rolling dice and applying the results onto designated cards that require specific rolled symbols. The strategy lies in balancing your acquisition of new allies with the need to chip away at the bad guys before Thanos becomes too powerful. That’s because with each passing turn, Thanos has his own dice (rolled by every player on their turn) that indicate his progress toward acquiring the Infinity Stones. 

I really dig these competing objectives; your growing team of allies (what tabletop enthusiasts might call an engine) must be recruited and built up to sufficient power if you ever hope to survive, but dedicating dice to recruitment means that it’s one more turn that a dangerous foe stays in play, and defeating those opponents is the only path to winning.

The game relies on dice placement , selecting results from your rolls which apply to either recruiting allies or defeating villains

The table setup is unusual, with two separate small boards dictating the progress of the game. In one area, a towering Thanos figure looms over the deployment zone, and new ally and enemy cards are played out surrounding him. The Thanos figure rotates back and forth to face new cards and attack the allied hero cards that are displayed there on each turn, so you’re always hoping that he doesn’t turn your way. 

The second small board shows off the Infinity Gauntlet, with designated spots for each of the six universe-altering Infinity Stones. On each player’s turn, Thanos gets a little closer to collecting one of the stones, represented by a growing number of counters on cards showcasing each Stone. Once five counters go into place on a card, it flips, and Thanos gains a powerful new ability, like the ability to block hero healing. Taken together, the two boards do a great job of communicating the progress of the game, letting each player know at a glance what options can be played that round in terms of cards to acquire or enemies to defeat, as well as exactly how close Thanos has come to victory. 

My favorite element of Thanos Rising are the bonus tokens that are acquired for damaging enemies. Bonus tokens have various symbols on them, each allowing a player to aid either themselves or other players in their efforts. One token might show off a particular die symbol, which might be the last one needed for your buddy to pick up that powerful Hulk ally. Another token might let you roll an extra power die in the hopes of taking out Proxima Midnight before she can do any more damage to Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. And still another might let you heal a desperately injured Captain America before he goes down for the count. This simple mechanic encourages constant cooperation between the players, as everyone chips in to win the day. 

The Thanos figure rotates left and right to indicate where he will next attack

Thanos Rising is straightforward and easy to understand, sometimes to a fault. Placing dice and choosing when to deploy bonus tokens is fun, but it’s rarely an excessively complicated tactical decision. That’s generally okay with me, as the game is far easier to pick up for the broad swath of potential players who might come to it purely through love of the movie. The photo-realistic art does a good job of recalling the characters from the film, even if I would have liked to see a bit more original action art depicted, rather than statuesque posing. 

I’d also caution that the game is best played if everyone at the table commits to making quick choices on their dice assignments, rather than agonizing over each placement. The short playtime can be unnaturally extended if players get too cautious, and turns can take too long later in the game as many dice, bonus tokens, and Infinity Stone effects come into play. Be especially careful of this drag issue when playing with a full four-person group. 

Those concerns don’t hold me back from an enthusiastic recommendation of this fun take on Avengers: Infinity War. While there’s mass-market appeal here, I suspect more than a few dedicated hobbyists will find a lot to like in Thanos Rising. The abstractions of Thanos’ growing power and the unique powers of more than 40 hero and villains do a great job of selling the strengths of the film – a cavalcade of explosive characters and powers working in concert to present fun battles, even as the tension escalates toward a desperate conclusion. 

Thanos Rising is a blast for a quick injection of superhero fun, but it’s certainly not going to do much for you if you’re not a Marvel fan. If you’re looking for something else to try with a different theme, you might want to peruse the backlog of Top of the Table articles, where I’ve got a ton of engaging experiences to consider for your gaming group. If you’d like a personal recommendation, let me know via email or Twitter, and I’ll help you find a game that’s the right fit.