Monday, December 8, 2003

Looking To The Stars: Gaming For Comic Geeks

With the holidays fast approaching, I’m sure that some of you out there are looking for gift ideas. Since I’m in a generous mood and there’s no major crises in the comic industry demanding sarcastic commentary this week, I’d like to take some time to tell you all about a game that has quickly become one of my favorites; HeroClix.

HeroClix is a miniatures-based combat game based upon our favorite comic book heroes. At present there are three versions of the game; Marvel, DC and Indy. Marvel and DC feature the heroes of their respective companies with Indy collecting a spattering of heroes from CrossGen, Top Cow, 2000 AD, Dark Horse and other companies outside of the big Two.

The game is played on a flat map, laid out on a square grid. There are a variety of locations; inside an office-building, inside a museum, a city park, a martial arts dojo. Indeed, a recent set introduced location maps based on specific locations such as the lawn of the X-Mansion, the JLA Watchtower, The Avenger’s mansion and the streets of Metropolis.

The game pieces are plastic, painted miniature figures, modeled off the many comic characters. Players form a team out of their own collection of game pieces, building to a specified point limit. 300 is the maximum amount of points in sanctioned tournaments, but it is not unheard of for larger teams to be used for the fun of it. Players get a number of actions per turn equal to 1 turn for every 100 points on their team.

Each character is worth a certain amount of points, based upon their level of experience and power. There are three levels of experience; Rookie, Experienced and Veteran, denoted by a yellow, blue or red circle on the base of the figure. The more experienced or powerful a character is, the more points they are worth. A veteran Superman, for example, is worth a considerable amount more than a rookie Metropolis Special Crimes Unit officer.

There are two other levels of experience; Unique and Limited Edition. Uniques are rare, hard to find figures that either depict an exceptionally powerful character (Martian Manhunter and Adam Warlock are uniques) or a regular character that is in a different costume than usual. There is a unique Spider-Man, for example, where he is in the black costume. Likewise, while the regular Professor X figure is depicted in an ordinary wheelchair, the Unique Professor X is shown in his hover-chair from the 90’s comics. These are marked with a silver circle around the base. Limited Edition figures, by contrast, have a gold circle around the base and can only be found by winning a sanctioned tournament. They look much the same as a regular figure, but have better statistics than even their Veteran counterparts and are marked with the secret identy of the character. The Limited Edition Green Arrow, for example, is named Oliver Queen.

This brings us to the question of statistics. All of a characters “stats” are written on the base of the figure. There are five statistics; speed, attack, defense, range and damage. Speed shows how many squares a character may move on one term. Range shows how far away a character may make an attack. Attack and Defense denote how well a character may, respectively, attack and defend themselves. Damage shows how much damage the character does upon making a successful attack.

A color code around each number is used to denote the various superpowers and abilities that each character has. Spider-Man, for example, has light blue on his Attack value. This represents the Incapacitate ability, in which a character makes an attack that does no damage to his opponent but does make them unable to move for one turn. Incapacitate is a general blanket for a variety of powers that can stop an opponent in their tracks, such as Spider-Man’s webbing or Black Canary’s sonic scream.

Some figures also have a team symbol, which gives them special abilities. JLA members, for instance, can move without it taking up one of the player’s action points on that turn. 2000 AD team members have the ability to chose another team as their “enemy” and get an attack bonus against any member of that team.

One thing that impresses me the most about HeroClix is how it was obviously created by fans of the comics and very well researched. The rookie and veteran Mangeto figures, for example, are members of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. But the experienced Magneto has the X-Men symbol, noting the time when Magneto took up the role of a teacher at Xavier’s school. Similarly, the rookie version of Rogue is a member of the Brotherhood but her experienced and veteran versions have the X-Men team ability.

All this is a bit dry, of course. To give you all an idea of the game play, here follows a quick textual description of a battle between two characters; a rookie Spider-Man and rookie Dr. Octopus. All the dice rolls of the game are made with a pair of six-sided dice.

The first step is to roll for initiation, to see who goes first. In this case, Spider-Man rolled a 7 while Doc Ock rolled a 5. Spider-Man gets to make the first move.

After checking to make sure that Doc is with his range of 4, Spidey rolls to make an Incapacitate attack. In comic book terms, Spidey is about to try and web down the Doctor, hoping to keep him pinned down long enough to get in a better attack.

Attacks are made by rolling the dice and adding the number rolled to the Attack stat of the attacker. This number is then compared to the Defense stat of the defender. If the attack total is equal to or higher than the Defense stat, it counts as a hit and the damage number of the attacker is consulted. The defending figure is then “clicked” to denote the damage done. Each figure has a dial on the bottom, which spins around, automatically lowering the statistics of the character as it takes damage.

In this case, Spidey rolled a 6, which is added to his Attack value of 10. This equals 16, which is higher than Doc Ock’s defense of 15. Instead of taking damage, Doctor Ock gets a note that he has one move action upon him.

In other words, the webbing connected and Doc is all tangled up and having trouble moving. Some of the webbing may even have hit his sunglasses, making it hard for him to see.

This might stop a lesser opponent… one who does not possess Doc Ock’s immense willpower. Indeed, Doc has an ability called Willpower (Purple on Defense). Willpower allows any character with it to “push” themselves without taking damage. Usually a character whom has just taken an action or has been incapacitated cannot move until their player’s next turn, without taking a “click” of damage for exerting themselves. A character with Willpower can take action in two consecutive turns, but cannot move for one turn immediately after.

In our comic scenario, Doc Ock strains his tentacles, trying not only to break the webbing’s hold on him, but to lash out at Spider-Man, who is within HIS attack range of 4 as well.

Doc Ock rolls double ones, or what is known as a Critical Failure. When a character rolls a Critical Failure, they take a click of damage; in effect, they hit themselves trying to make an attack.

So in our scenario, Doc is fighting blind and somehow knocks himself for a loop. This has stunned him for just long enough for Spider-Man to try and launch another attack, again from a safe distance.

Spidey rolls a 9, which added to his 10 Attack value gives him a total of 19. Spidey is on a roll and easily manages to get a blow in against the dazed Doctor and his decreased defense of 15. Checking Spidey’s damage rating (2 points) we click the Doctor’s base and find that he has lost his Willpower ability, having been angered by Spider-Man’s attack. He has, however, actually gained the Deflection power. Deflection gives a 2 point bonus to the defense of a character when they are attacked with a ranged attack. In effect, the Doctor has a collective defense of 15 against ranged attacks and a mere 13 defense against up-close fighting.

Imagine the tentacles breaking free, now whipping around the Doctor creating a buffer zone that no projectile can get through. Truly angered now, the Doctor launches another tentacle assault on Spider-Man.

Doc rolls an 8 which adds to his Attack Bonus of 7. Too bad for him that 15 isn’t quite enough to defeat Spider-Man’s defense of 16.

The good ol’ Spider-Agility is just enough to get Puny Parker out of the way of hurting. Knowing that he can’t keep wasting his webbing keeping Octavius pinned down, Spider-Man moves in to finish it.

Spider-Man moves the four squares between him and Octavius, ready to go toe-to-toe with one of his greatest enemies. Unless they have a power that allows it, such as Running Shot or Charge, a character cannot move and attack on the same turn. This gives Doc Ock a change to get a free shot at Spider-Man.

Doc Ock rolls a 5, which added to his Attack of 7 equals 12. Woefully inadequate to stop Spidey, who so far hasn’t taken one hit.

Dodging all way, Spidey manages to get right next to Doc Ock and readies a one-two punch to the glass jaw. He rolls a 7, which added to his Attack of 10 gives him a 17. Even if his Deflection power were active at close range, that still wouldn’t be enough to save Otto Octavius. The punch proves to be the last straw, as the second click of damage knocks him unconscious.

For more information on HeroClix, visit their website at

Tune in next week. Same Matt Time. Same Matt Website.

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