Wednesday, March 5, 2014

With great power comes increasing complexity...

Heroclix is a tabletop miniatures game of superhero combat. It evolved from Mage Knight, using that game's ingenious click-dial and a simplified version of its rules, eliminating its tape measure guided movement and randomly placed terrain in favor of maps with printed terrain and a grid for movement.

One of the major selling points of both Mage Knight and Heroclix was that they were much simpler than the more involved fantasy miniatures games such as Warhammer, with each figure's game information printed right on the base (color-coded and read with the aid of a simple reference card), which could be clicked down to keep track of damage and changes to the character's abilities over the course of the game.

What really set Heroclix apart from Mage Knight was the fact that it featured recognizable characters, first from the Marvel Comics universe, with DC Comics following soon after. Finally, players could answer age-old questions like "who would win in a fight between Superman and the Hulk?"

Hundreds of collectible figures were released, with frequent new versions of popular characters such as Spider-Man, Wolverine and Batman, and a brief foray into the world of independent comics brought more obscure characters such as Hellboy, Judge Dredd, and even the cast of the City of Heroes online computer game to the table.

Heroclix is a great game. It's fast paced, and has a lot of strategic depth. There are a lot of tactical decisions to make during a game, and games are seldom predictable due to the random element of rolling dice when your figure makes an attack. The collectible aspect of the game is a turn-off for some: figures are released in random booster packs, with rare figures usually being more powerful. But for others, collecting the figures is half the fun. Most of the fun for me is pitting different groups of heroes against each other, such as Marvel's Nextwave (from the comic by Warren Ellis and Stuart Immonen) vs. the Avengers from the recent movie.

Even though it is one of my favorite games, I don't play Heroclix very often. While it started out as a refreshingly simple game, over the years it has gotten gradually more complicated, as the game's designers struggle to add new elements in order to keep longtime players interested, a phenomenon known in the world of collectible gaming as "power creep." Because of that it has become difficult to teach, and its current complexity makes it difficult to pick up and play every once in a while, much like any collectible game.

Many local game stores offer weekly tournaments, where players can get together and play in structured events, but that offers its own set of challenges. In order to stay competitive, tournament players need to keep up with the most recent figures released for the game, and there is just too much new product coming out on a regular basis. The only way to really enjoy Heroclix at the store tournament level is to focus on it to the exclusion of all else, and quite honestly I just haven't got the financial resources or attention span to do that.

I don't keep up with the game any more, but it still catches my eye when I see a new Heroclix product at the game store. The game's publisher has released figures from Lord of the Rings and even spaceships from Star Trek that use the same rules but are closed off from the more high-powered superheroes of the regular Heroclix universe (with Star Trek it is a question of scale as much as anything else). They've also started releasing fixed sets of figures with no randomness or rarity, and every once in a while I'll pick one of those up and convince my wife or one of our friends to spend the afternoon playing.

Rating: 4 (out of 5) Heroclix is a very immersive game that drives me to distraction. It would rate a 5 if not for two major barriers to playing regularly: somewhat overly complex rules, and a flood of product that is impossible to keep up with.

Date played: February 2, 2014

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