Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Marvel Heroic RPG: A Review

Marvel Heroic by Margaret Weis
I got a chance this last weekend to play the new Marvel Heroic RPG from Margaret Weis with two different groups, my home group and at my FLGS. I wanted to take a couple days before writing this to really make sure that I had a chance to think over my impressions of the game and now I can safely say that its great. I had a great time playing and was really impressed by the Cortex Plus system.

Cortex (Gets an A) Plus:
The Cortex Plus system is a dice pool mechanic, which means that you add dice to your pile based on what action you're trying to take and your characters data file (example: Captain America). Each character has stats for affiliation (whether they're alone, with one other hero or on a team), distinction (personal idioms and viewpoints), lists of their power sets and any specialties. Using Captain America as an example, say he is leading the New Avengers and going to throw his shield at the Grey Gargoyle.

He would get a d10 for being in a team environment, a d8 for leading by example, a d8 for using his super strength to throw, another d8 for using the shield as a weapon and finally a d10 for being a combat master. In total he would roll 3d8+2d10. After rolling, the player adds 2 of the dice to get a total and uses a third die as the effect die (the number rolled has no effect, just the size).

This system can take a couple rolls to really get the hang of, but once you've got that under your belt it becomes very fast to read down the page and add dice as you go. I also really like how it opens up the characters and power sets for interpretation and creative uses. If you want to use Cap's shield to deflect bullets, just use its durability instead, if you want to use it as a sled to go down the side of a building, use the durability and Captain America's acrobatic expert. The stats and power sets really become a toolbox and let the player decide how to use them.

A Story Telling Game:
My favorite thing about this game is that they really designed it to feel like you're playing out a comic book. Players rounds are compared to a panel in a book, so if it could fit in a panel, you can do it. This eliminates worry about timing details such as character speed that I feel can slow down other games.

For example, in one game, Matt Murdock (played by me) needed to run to the security room to retrieve his briefcase that contained his Daredevil costume. In other games, this could have easily kept me out of the action for multiple rounds, but it just took me saying what I needed to do and it was done. my actions could easily fit into a panel or two and thus I didn't need to worry about slowing the story down.

The initiative system also reflects the emphasis the game places on story. Essentially, after one character performs his actions, he gets to choose who goes next. This keeps the action focused on where the players want. Do you want to see how Carnage responds to Spider-Man jump kicking him? Or would you rather go and see how Iron Man is doing with the security system? This can also keep everyone alert to what's going on, as you never know when it will be your turn to roll.

Extreme Opposition
Every dice roll in MHRPG is an opposed roll, meaning that two players roll their dice and compare the outcome. If the attacking character gets a higher total, then the attack is a success. If the defender wins, then the attack misses and the defender has a chance to counter-attack. Everything flows, actions can lead into other actions. The game feels very organic and smooth as play proceeds around the table.

Never Split The Party (Unless You Want To)
In most games I've seen, it really behooves the players to stick together at all costs. MHRPG is designed so that sometimes it may be in your best interest to split up into teams of 2 or even go it alone. This leads to difference scenes being played simultaneously across a larger set piece.

I played the same event in both of the games I played in, the Breakout story included in the Basis Manual. What was really cool though, was that the story played out completely differently based on the characters that were chosen. In the first game, Iron Fist and Luke Cage were escorting Foggy Nelson to the lower levels while Iron Man and Human Torch were above ground when the event started. This caused the game to be broken into the two scenes. In my second game, all three characters (Spider-Man, Daredevil and Luke Cage) started together which had the majority of the battles to occur in the same area, although characters did split off from time to time to do their own thing. It was fantastic not to feel boxed in by what was written or by what the game master had planned for us.

What's Not Too Love
I'm trying not to lavish too much praise so I don't come across as a paid stooge (although I'd gladly become one), but I can't really think of anything I didn't like about the game. The only thing I can think of is just to make sure this is right for your group. If you want a more structured game where every conceivable possibility has a (mostly) clearly defined rule, then this may not be for you. This game rewards free play and open interpretation of the datafiles and rules.

I look forward to playing this some more and for more events and character to be made available. Especially the upcoming Annihilation book. I loves me some Marvel Cosmic.

Have you had the chance to play yet? Did you like it as much as I did?

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