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Marvel Max Top Trumps is a pack of 30 cards featuring characters from Marvel comics. They include such famous names as Spider Man, Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk and Captain America and there is a good mix of heroes and villains. The cards contain a set of six values, which are Comic debut, TV series, Movies, Superhuman Powers, Arch Enemies and Marvel Max. (I was not completely clear what was meant by 'Marvel Max' at first and there wasn't anything in the rules to enlighten me, but my daughters assume that it is a measure of how well known the character is, which is why the likes of Spiderman, Incredible Hulk and Wolverine score highly in this category. ) This game is suitable for any number of players. How to Play (Please feel free to skip this paragraph if you already know how to play Top Trumps.) All 30 cards are dealt out and each player holds their cards so they can see just the top card. The first player chooses a value, for example 'Superhuman powers 74'. Each of the other players must then read out the corresponding value from their top card. The player with the highest value wins all the other cards in that round and places them at the bottom of his/her pile. That player then chooses the next value. If at any time two or more cards share the same value, another round can be played to decide who wins the cards. The winner is the player who has all the cards at the end. Top Trumps are generally recommended for children from around age 6 and upwards. It is not a complicated game to grasp and does not require a great amount of skill, although it provides an opportunity for youngsters to study and compare numerical data and to a certain extent it tests memory skills, as players try to recall which cards have the highest scores in particular categories. However, some parents might not feel that this particular version of Top Trumps is appropriate for very young children as some of the characters are really quite dark - assassins, serials killers and recovering alcoholics, to name but a few. There is a limited amount of reading involved. In addition to a picture of the character, each card contains a short paragraph of information which allows you to find out a bit more about the character and its place in Marvel comic history. The cards are shiny in appearance with attractive silver borders and original looking comic artwork which my children found rather cool. The cards are quite sturdy, unlikely to tear and would probably only bend if handled roughly. One criticism I have is that the information about each character is in rather small print and I had to strain my eyes to read it. The cards come in a neat little plastic container, which makes them portable. They take up very little space and are ideal for taking on car journeys or on holiday. It is certainly an advantage that there is no limit to the number of people who can join in with this game, so nobody has to feel left out. Our experience of the game Although my children love Top Trumps and love super heroes, they found this set a little disappointing in some respects. The categories are a bit boring, compared to other Top Trumps sets. Whilst dedicated comic book fans would no doubt be interested in statistics which reveal when a particular character made his/her debut, how many TV appearances that character has made, etc, my children are more interested in the personality traits and abilities of the characters themselves. They would have enjoyed the game more if it had included such values as physical strength, intelligence, courage, agility, speed, etc. My youngest daughter summed it up quite well when she said that looking at the stats in these cards was like reading a character's CV rather than getting to know the character properly. At least the information printed on each card reveals a little about what makes each character tick. For example, how Wolverine was once a shy child with a traumatic childhood, how Human Torch has had his heart broken many times and how Spiderman has feelings of adolescent inadequacy. It is the flaws and vulnerabilities of the characters that intrigue my daughters, rather than their debut dates and movie stats, but those who do enjoy Marvel comic trivia can pick up a few interesting bits of info here too, such as the fact that due to a printing error the Incredible Hulk had grey skin on his debut. One of the things my daughters liked about the cards is that they give each characters real name in addition to their superhero/villain name, which is a nice touch. Another problem with having a category for the number of movies a character has appeared in is that the cards will date fairly quickly. This set of Top Trumps came out in 2007 which is why Captain America scores zero for movies despite now having two to his name. At the time of writing, Iron Man has three movie appearances yet he too had none in 2007. The 'Marvel Max' value is also likely to change with time. Iron Man's score of 3 seems very low considering how well known he is these days. My daughters felt that the 'Superhuman powers' category was a bit subjective and vague. For example, they questioned why Iron Man should have a higher superhuman powers score than Mystique. Mystique has a natural ability to transform into other people, whereas Iron Man's powers come from his suit! In my daughters' opinion, Mystique should have scored higher. Similarly, Professor X can control minds and freeze time but has a surprisingly low score, no doubt because his powers are mental rather than physical. How do you interpret the term 'superhuman powers'? Is it about physical ability? Mental ability? Is it about the range of powers that you have? Or should you get a higher score for superhuman powers depending on how useful they are? My daughters questioned how useful Cyclops' ability was to shoot lasers from his eyes in comparison to Mystique's ability to apply her powers to many life situations and they disagreed with Cyclops' higher score in this category. The problem with having such a subjective category is that it can lead to a few disagreements and frustrations amongst players. We felt that it would have been better to split the Superhuman powers up into physical strength, mental strength, etc. However, not all the superhuman powers scores are questionable. Few could argue with Phoenix's superhuman powers score, for instance, which is one of the highest in the pack. Another problem when playing the game is that out of the eight X-Men characters found in the pack, seven of them have been in the same number of movies, so if you select 'Movies' as your value, it is likely that there will be quite a few rounds ending in a draw, which can get a bit tedious. It states in the rules that for the 'comic debut' category the most recent year wins. I couldn't understand this rule at all, as I would have thought that the character who had been around for longest would be the winner. I don't suppose it matters too much if you want to bend that particularly rule though. Creative Possibilities In addition to playing by the conventional rules, these cards can be enjoyed in other ways. Here are just a few ideas from our experience: Group story-telling activities The first person in the group selects a card at random and begins a story about that character. The next person then takes over the story, incorporating another character selected at random. Each person has to listen to what the previous person has said in order to follow the events of the story and add to it. It's a good way to encourage concentration skills in children as well as imagination and creative flow. The stories can be as weird and wonderful as your imagination allows. Matching pairs Put all the cards face down on the table, pick up two at random and then try to see if you can think of a link between those two cards. It could be that they are from the same comic, or it could be a link in the sense that they share similar powers, have had a similar life experience, have similar personalities, etc. If you can think of a link between them, you win both cards. If you can't link them, you replace them on the table, face down. The player with the most cards at the end is the winner. Sorting Once you have got the knack of sorting the pack into linked pairs, try to sort them into sets of three and even five. This isn't easy but it's a challenging way to test your knowledge of the different characters. Not only is this fun but sorting into sets and learning to categorise information is a useful mathematical activity for young children. Hedbanz We have played a homemade version of 'Hedbanz' with these cards, where each player puts a card in their head band (in our case a pair of tights wrapped round our heads!) and has to guess which character they are by asking questions of the other players, which can only be answered 'yes' or 'no.' Marvel Max Top Trumps can be obtained used from Amazon for £0.01. Even though some of the stats are now out of date, you can still enjoy comparing the arch enemies and superhuman powers of the different characters, because that information doesn't really change with time. It's a shame that the categories in this game are not compatible with other Top Trumps in the Marvel series (and indeed the DC comics) because it might have been fun to put more than one set together for an epic game. One positive thing about this set is that, although the Marvel Universe is obviously quite male-dominated, there are some impressive female characters included such as Phoenix and Mystique, so there is no reason why this game shouldn't be enjoyed by both sexes. This is not my daughters' favourite Top Trumps game. They much prefer the Harry Potter series, mainly because the values in those cards are more imaginative and focus on the personalities of the characters, rather than just providing "stats for nerds" which is how they describe the data categories in this set. Despite these reservations, Marvel Max is still a good way to pass the time and the artwork is great. Sometimes just looking through the cards, admiring the pictures, reading the blurb about your favourite character and having a discussion is as enjoyable as actually playing the game. My daughters spent a lot of time doing that.