The mid-90s was a golden age of collectible card games (CCGs). That’s not to say that all of the games were amazing – they weren’t – but there were certainly a lot of games to play. I dabbled in quite a few of them, most notably Star Trek CCG. But one game that is near and dear to my heart for different reasons is Marvel’s OverPower CCG.
I don’t remember when exactly OverPower first wiggled its way into my life, but it was an obvious fit. It combined my love of cards and my love of Marvel comics into one glorious package. That package was a starter deck, most likely the Clobberin’ Time deck if I’m remembering correctly.
There was a big difference between how I approached Star Trek CCG and OverPower. Building a Star Trek deck was like solving a puzzle while reliving your favorite episodes. How do you make the best deck to race your opponent to the finish? OverPower, on the other hand, was more like… well… how do you even play this fucking game?
It’s clear you had a team of characters from the comics – heroes, villains, or some combination of the two. And you fought against your opponent’s team. But how exactly that was accomplished was a mystery to me and my friends. Yes, starter decks came with rulebooks, but those were a little cumbersome for us. Instead, we made it up as we went along using our favorite cards.
OverPower has an odd mix of grand powers from the Marvel Universe and simple everyday objects. Even at the time, it was funny that your deck could contain something like the Power Cosmic itself to attack your opponent, while also utilizing a Lamp Post. Oh, you have a Hand Grenade? Well I’m going to throw a Hot Dog cart at you. And how could anyone forget Manhole Cover?
I mean, if there is one image that can quantify the absurdity of OverPower, Manhole Cover is the one. Why would Spider-Woman of all characters be using a manhole cover? And the art, my god. It looks like she is summoning the weapon instead of actually throwing it. I would be remiss if I didn’t at least mention the absurdity of her proportions as well, a hallmark of the 90s.
The art of OverPower is questionable, to say the least. There are some nice looking cards, don’t get me wrong, but looking back I’m not sure exactly what was happening behind the scenes. I’m no expert, but a lot of the cards seem to be using early digital artwork and the results are mixed. Or perhaps Fleer/Skybox just wanted to pump something out as quickly as possible to hop onto the CCG bandwagon? It’s hard to say.
But artwork be damned, I ate these cards up. More so than actually playing any games, I collected cards of my favorite characters. At the time, these were characters from the Spider-Man family like Venom and Carnage. But you know, the X-Men were cool as well. Honestly, I was happy with pretty much any character that wasn’t Jubilee.
How I actually acquired cards was a bit of an anomaly, reliant more on availability and the mood of my parents. In fact, I remember most of my OverPower cards came from Media Play, sort of a Best Buy/Barnes & Noble hybrid back in the 90s. For whatever reason, they stocked OverPower cards and it was the perfect opportunity to con my parents into buying me packs.
Another oddity was that Media Play heavily stocked the second OverPower expansion Mission Control. The first expansion, Power Surge, is like a lost relic in time for me. Yes, I have a few cards from the set, but seeing them in the wild just didn’t happen to me. Mission Control, on the other hand, was plentiful and usually what I ended up buying solely due to availability.
Perhaps one indicator that OverPower didn’t have the highest quality control was that the expansions looked and felt different from the base set. The original OverPower cards were smooth and shiny, but the expansions used a matte base for their cards. This meant it was fairly easy to tell from the back (!) of the cards what set it came from. I don’t see how this would have ever been conducive to official tournament play, but that wasn’t anything on my mind at the time. I just wanted those sweet sweet OverPower cards.
Like many things in childhood, OverPower faded away into obscurity as my other hobbies took center stage. But I never forgot how cool I found the game. I specifically remember in high school buying old packs for cheap in bulk, just for the hell of it. It was like breaking down the barrier of youth and diving into the deep end that was never possible. All of a sudden I had everything. All the heroes, all the villains, and it was… fine.
Looking back, as with most things in youth, it wasn’t just the cards themselves that I loved, but OverPower being a centerpiece of hanging out with friends. We would sit on the floor and theorize how to actually play the game. We would show off our new acquisitions and trade for our favorites. It didn’t matter that we never learned how to play or that the art was a bit goofy. It was a shared experience over a shared love of comics and games. That is impossible to replicate and what I appreciate most about OverPower.