Thursday, September 30, 2010

WoS figure review: WOLVERINE


There's a saying that goes: when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. In terms of strategy, hammers are all some people (Norman Osborn?) know how to play with - aggressively swinging that mallet, they wildly rush in hoping to kill everything. Normally, this sounds like Wolverine's style, but here the game designers gave us a different take. This is tactical Logan, the stealthy X-Force leader, and it takes a thoughtful mind to make the best of him.

I had the luck of playing this figure in a Battle Royal, and he proved his chops time and again. I purposely positioned so that he wouldn't get swarmed, and after the rest of my team pinged away at the opponents Wolvie'd go in for the kill. Most players lacked move and attack, and no one wanted to base the 11 AV - Snikt-ster for fear of swift and brutal retalliation.

This Wolverine is a bully.

He's best served as a mop up piece, or when picking on figures that can't dish back much damage, and don't require much effort to KO. One on one, this X-Man will rarely get KO'd by simple 2-3 damage figures, healing up constantly, reducing damage with Toughness. Enemies already worn down by the fight will have a hard time dealing with Wolverine, who is never afraid to push to attack.

Wolverine's healing trait enabled me to move into position and attack, or even push just to base certain figures, knowing that the most damage they'd deal wouldn't KO him. I had to keep reminding myself though, that I shouldn't rush into battle, and at one point fell back and regrouped rather than exposing myself to the possibility of getting surrounded by heavy hitters.

Wolverine is going to do well when he's facing figures that can't afford to push, or don't have Willpower, Indomitable or otherwise don't take pushing damage. He'll shine when he's not faced with the threat of someone dealing 4+ damage in a single attack.

Sure, some players have complained about his short dial, although the Trait makes it infinitely long. Other's complain he's too easy to one-shot - but then so are most figures in the Modern Age era where a base 4+ damage value is not uncommon. Yes, Outwit wrecks him - just like it wrecks almost EVERYONE ELSE (and really, Stealth and clever positioning should protect him from LoF). Bottom line:

If you're throwing him into a battle where he's outnumbered and expecting him to survive you're playing him wrong.

In terms of a HeroClix toolbox, WoS Wolverine is NOT a hammer. My advice? If this figure doesn't work out for you - put Logan away, and stick to using Thor - he has plenty of hammer swinging experience.

Monday, September 27, 2010

How I broke into professional game design...

Short answer: I didn't. I've always wanted to get involved with one of the big names in the industry, and dreamed for a long time that I might some day see my name on a product package, inside the cover of Dungeon magazine (I still mourn the death of the printed version) or on the cover of a rulebook. I came close though...

Years ago, before I discovered Heroclix, back when I just graduated college with my creative writing degree hot in hand, I looked to the west, seeking employment in the city of Seattle with the Wizards of the Coast. I had little to no actual paid writing experience, but I was determined to not let it stop me from applying for a position that had recently opened with the Magic the Gathering team, a job responsible for churning out the colorful "flavor text" for expansion sets, among other things.

Part of the application process demanded a one page exercise of my creative writing abilities. Instead of submitting a piece of short fiction, I decided to assault them with a mock-up of a tabloid, featuring fictional stories, news, and content from the core M:TG worlds. I wanted to convey to their team that I could write in snippets, top ten lists and blurbs, keeping a simple style that was simultaneously entertaining, and hopefully humorous.

I thought I'd share the end result, which (outside of WotC's HR dept.) no one has ever seen:

I don't recall a lot of feedback on the process, but do remember getting notice that I had advanced to a high level among the finalists, perhaps even in the top 5 considered for the position. Sadly, I think my biggest drawback was the fact that I was located halfway across country and thus unable to easily meet for a face to face interview. At least, I hope that was it.

For all I know the mere mention of the insidious Groinclamp could have scared them off.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Which side do you play for...

or rather,

Which side of the map do you play on?

I played a sanctioned tournament game last week on the new WoS Bridge map, and when my opponent won the honor of going first he decided to HIDE instead of moving across the map to FIGHT. Right from the start he marched his troops up to the top of the middle of the bridge towers sending me a message...

Come and Get it!

There's nothing quite as frustrating as facing an opponent who immediately backs into a corner. In the past I've actually gotten into debates with players who try this sort of stalling. Turn one - they do nothing, waiting for me to move. Turn two - I mirror their move, telling them I can wait just as long as they can. Usually calling people out on a stalling (or turtling) strategy forces them into action.

This ain't the Girl Scouts son - NO CAMPING!

Unfortunately verbally disagreeing makes you look like an ass because you're openly dismissing their tactics. In my case last week, I understood his strategy, so while I may have viewed his positioning as unsporting I said nothing. His rooftop jamboree might not have been so odd if he had snipers, or really anyone with respectable range, but Daken and Symbiote were just sitting there sharpening their claws, waiting for Nightcrawler to deliver them a meal. In essence, wasting actions.

We didn't need a whole map to play our game.
We didn't even need half a map.

The majority of the battle took place on the first 8 squares of his side, which got me thinking about all the other games I've played where I've backed people into a corner.

In chess, when you can force an opponent to move, you force them to react to your battle plan, putting them on the defense, keeping them moving according to how you want them to move. Starting the game by backing into a corner is effectively reacting to a move the player hasn't made yet, putting power in their hands freely. Reaction strategy in my opinion is a poor one, because it leaves you no room for maneuverability.

I've played a lot of HeroClix matches, enough to know that there's a few unspoken rules regarding map positioning. Often:

  • When the battle takes place on the opponent's side, the advantage is yours.
  • When the battle unfolds in the middle of the map it's usually an even fight.
  • When an opponent's army is on your doorstep is one you may have trouble.

Now lots of other factors go into determining wins and losses, but in my experience you can generally tell who's going to win by where the figures are on the map.

In the game mentioned above Nightcrawler zipped around the map punching my troops, while I kept them far enough away from being kidnapped and delivered to his wrecking crew. He was forced to reposition, while I forced myself to push turn after turn to catch up to and attack the fuzzy blue elf.

I had to sacrifice two figures before he made a mistake, teleporting my Solo next to his Daken. Daken attacked with his Murosama blade, but rolled a 2 on damage, a mere paper cut after Toughness reduced the damage. The next turn Solo pushed to shoot the X-Man in the face. Game over.

Actions are the gasoline that fuels attacks. Attacks deliver damage that KO figures. HeroClix games are won by knocking people out and earning Victory Points. No one earns Victory Points by hiding in a corner and conserving actions.

Finally, I encourage the use of the term "Girl Scout" describing a figure or team that CAMPS on their side of the map waiting for you to come and buy cookies.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

With Great Power...

Spider-fans are familiar with saying:

With Great Power comes great responsibility.

It's too bad that so many HeroClix players don't understand this type of responsibility, and have been thinking up nasty tactics and ways to exploit Cosmic Spider-Man that make SIF complaints look petty in comparison.

Don't get me wrong, I love the character and the concept. The sculpt is amazing. It's also based on one of my favorite story arcs from before the Spider-Clone madness that nearly killed the title in the 90's. In fact, it's my love of the character that's driven me to disdain the HeroClix point bloat.

See, I'm familiar with the storyline that spawned Cosmic Spidey. It all started during the Acts of Vengeance, when Loki came up with the concept of having the villains trade foes. For example, instead of having Magneto fight the X-Men, and lose like usual, he suggests pitting the master of magnetism against Spider-Man.

The tale starts out with Spidey fighting minor league villain Trapster, but quickly escalates as Dr. Doom notices Peter's increasing power levels (which are due to a research laboratory accident - what else?). Doom sends all sorts of high-powered players against Spider-Man, including Titania, Goliath, Magneto, to test the Wall-crawler's strength levels.

It all culminates when Sebastian Shaw (X-Men villain, Black King of Hellfire Club fame, and manufacturer of mutant hunting Sentinels) pits the gray skinned Hulk against Pete. As Pete is giving the Hulk a solid pounding Loki magically activates and merges Shaw's Sentinels (into the Tri-Sentinel) to attack a nuclear power plant.

One of the best parts of the story arc happens when the uber powerful Graviton ambushes Spider-Man as he's heading to intercept the Tri-Sentinel. Graviton, a being of immense power had tangled with Spidey weeks earlier, ripping the entire Daily Bugle building up from its Manhattan foundation and sending it into the sky. Parker overcame the foe, and returned everything to status quo, except of course Graviton now held a grudge.

So, it's with some satisfaction when without breaking a sweat Peter one-shot KO's Graviton (who's faced the combined might of the Avengers in the past) and continues on his way, leaving the powerful master of gravity reeling.

Is the HeroClix Cosmic Spider-Man too powerful?

Maybe. I can't really judge it on those merits. I could easily argue it's not powerful enough. No, my rejection of the figure is it's overall lack of comic accuracy.

See, when Spider-Man gained his powers it wasn't just extra strength, durability and heightened senses. Suddenly he could transmute matter at will (a'la Firestorm), and his webs took on the shapes of constructs. Like a Green Lantern with light, Spidey could make fists, pillows, and other objects out of webs.

No where on the current HeroClix dial is this facet of his power even remotely explored. Rather, the game designer opted to stick the figure with an ability to see and shoot through walls. While it's true Spider-Man could tune his senses to an extreme degree at the height of his cosmic-ness, he never really made a point of shooting through walls and around corners to get the bad guys.

I like the figure, I want to play the character, but feel dirty given the power set. I was hoping for something along the lines of free Barrier, Probability Control, and Super Strength... something like this:

Because while Spider-Man had cosmic power, he still fought most of his battles like Spider-Man would. He was uncomfortable with flight, and had some very big fears about hitting people too hard and applying too much force. He never would have blown a hole in the middle of a tank and then hid inside sniping at enemies while they tried to figure out ways to get at him. It's just not the Parker way.

I'm saddened that game design couldn't see the abuse built into this character. As far as HeroClix are concerned game design is kingmaker - the creator. The ability to build dials from the bottom up is the closest thing to having Cosmic Power in real life. And, as any Spider-fan knows

with Cosmic Power comes Cosmic Responsibility,

Unfortunately game design failed to see that many players who use Cosmic Spider-Man don't even have the "great responsibility" tenet covered, making this figure a Spider-Fail.

Newsflash: Cosmic Spider-Man is Overrated

Playing Cosmic Spider-Man is like playing any video game in god-mode. It's fun to beat down the opposition for a little bit, but it really doesn't take much skill.

Power players are obsessed because he's the most expensive single figure, and with the Power Cosmic TA is all but unstoppable. Add to it that he can Wild Card (Mystics, Bat-Ally), and SHOOT THROUGH WALLS and it's a no-brainer why the Min-Max, "gotta win" set is all over this figure like fat kid on bacon.

Speaking of deep fried fatty foods, Spidey's a cheese curd festival waiting to happen, the deep fried Twinkie at the State Fair that you know isn't good for you but can't resist the temptation to try. Just once. Or twice. "For fun."

The 319 point Goliath appeals to the type of people that liked kicking over sandcastles when they were young, and playing mailbox baseball when they were teens just for the destructive aspect.

To coin a new phrase, Cosmic Spider-Man is a bully's piece - you don't play him when you want a real challenge.

You play him when you want to grind an opponent's figures to dust.

You play him backed up with TAs to copy (Stealth! Mystics!) and a solid strategy to exploit (Shoot through the walls of the Sinister Prison! Hide in the Avengers Airbase tank!) that opponents all but give up out of the sheer frustration of fighting the figure. You play him for one reason - TO WIN. And Cosmic Spider-Man is pure win.

But is he fun?

Is cosmic Spider-Man fun to play against? For that's the true measure of a good figure and a great team. Sadly, Cosmic Spidey falls into the "no fun to play against" category more often than not. Likewise, more often than not the mere threat of his presence is enough to invite hardcore escalation to the battlefield as people:
  • a.) start changing their teams in order to beat him,
  • b.) build the same teams they always did and lose gracefully or
  • c.) stop showing up to play.
Often, the influx of a's eventually turn the b's into c's.

Can you win with Cosmic Spidey? Sure. No problem. That's why he's overrated.Can you win with X-Force? How about the U-Foes? Now that is a challenge.

Winning with Uber-Pete tells me nothing about your level of skill as a player. It tells me a LOT about your character. Especially the third week in a row that you field him.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Team building with a twist - Paging Dr. Jackal!

One of the best things about a new set is the life it breathes into older figures. With each expansion the sheer number of exciting and different force builds increases, and Web of Spider-Man is no exception.

In addition to the prepackaged modular keyword teams like U-Foes, X-Force, HAMMER, and the Dark Avengers there's the other type of team building - the ones that eschew the Keyword bonus to exploit a power combination for the Min-Max players.

Finally, there's teams that are just plain silly and fun. Take the Jackal for instance. The villain responsible for creating the Spider-Clones makes his debut in Web of Spider-Man with an interesting set of powers that benefit duplicates.

What's interesting to note is his power taps into names, not figures, which allows for some loose interpretations on the battle map, and clever exploitation as we'll see below.

One of the things that always intrigued me as a comic reader is the way character names were compartmentalized into separate universes. DC had Wonder Woman, Wonder Girl, and the Boy Wonder, but not Wonder Man - that character belonged to Marvel. Obviously trademark issues were at stake preventing the big two from overlapping... except for where they DID overlap.

For instance, I find it hilarious that DC owns a character named Captain Marvel (which must be a sticking point to this day between the big two) and it's no surprise that Marvel in turn created their Captain Mar-vel in a thinly veiled retaliation, and eventually won the rights to the name in court.

Aside from the flagship characters, the big two blend together on a few other names as well. In some cases it's a simple "same name spelled different" as is the case with Sersi and Circe. Much of the double dipping comes from mythology as well - it's hard to justify a trademark on Norse mythology if you didn't invent it, which is why DC has a Thor and Loki, in addition to Hercules.

Finally each company has rights to a Chameleon, Sandman, and Enchantress. In HeroClix, there's a few places where these names overlap which lead me to create a Same Name Different Universe team, featuring Jackal as a linchpin.

72 WS046 Jackal
101 WS055 Sandman
59 OR086 Sandman
40 AA103 Henchman
13 IC018 Henchman
66 WS019 Chameleon
30 UN037 Chameleon
141 HA011 Enchantress
75 LG009 Enchantress

The not-a-clone team throws the Keyword bonus out the window, but picks up some surprising synergy. Three Wild Card TAs share Sinister Syndicate attack values and JSA defense values. The Mystics TA hands out some feedback damage, while the Suicide Squad TA extends the life of a few.

Aside from TAs, there's a good variety of support powers - TK, Perplex, PC, and Outwit are all present. Chameleon (DC) & Enchantress (DC) make for fine taxis, while both Henchman serve Jackal as Mastermind fodder. Positioned well everyone that needs to can use the Jackal's special power granting even a lowly Henchman some Shape Change.

I'll admit it's not the most competitive team, but played well it could win a few fights, should turn a few heads and may just earn fellowship.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

300: a Spartan way to play

This is... Sparta? It's somewhat fitting that the Iron Man and War Machine duo is 300 points on the nose - a one man army (two man duo?) unto themselves, like the Spartans of old, almost always outnumbered in a fight but definitely not outgunned.

In a sealed event at 300 points the Armored Avengers have a good chance of taking the enemy by surprise, dominating with the Duo Attack ability and their All Out Assault sp. It's a shame they can't combine All Out Assault with Adaptive Response Armor (which only activates when the pair make a duo attack) but regardless the two make for a formidable force.

What really sells Team Iron-Pants as a one man army, is a combination of the Indomitable ability, the outstanding combat values, the damage reducing defenses, and a wide variety of powers (Outwit, PB, RCE, etc.) that they can use with the Duo Attack.

If you're lucky enough, I highly recommend giving them a try in sealed, because I'm afraid the two just won't hold up in constructed - where pre-formatted 300 point teams will wreck them with Outwit, TK, and other strategies.

The thought of a fully functional 300 point figure gets me excited like a kid on Christmas Eve, or a nerd on Free Comic Book Day, and I'm looking forward to seeing more 300 figures in upcoming sets.

Next up is DC's 75th Anniversary set, and who better to work as a one man army than the original super-hero:


I admit, I'm not a fan of him carrying around the shield and eagle everywhere, but if there was ever a figure that should be worth 300 points, Clark is that guy. Other 300 point figures could include heroes like Jean Grey as the Phoenix, and the Incredible Hulk.

Heroes need powerful villains, and there's plenty available like Amazo (the one man Justice League), the Orange Lantern Larfleeze, Thanos, Darkseid and last but not least: this guy...


In fact, the thought of a 300 point Superman facing off against a 300 point Doomsday in DC 75th anniversary sealed events brings out the 6 year old in me - which is really a big part of what HeroClix is about for older players: recapturing our youth in colorful 3-D battles.

I'm hopefull Wizkids continues delivering a few effective 300 point dials per set, to bring out that one versus many, all or nothing adrenaline rush on the battle maps.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Misadventures in Babysitting!

Web of Spider-Man has hit the streets, allowing for fun, new, provocative team building. I've always been a distant fan of Deadpool since he popped up in Marvel Ultimate Alliance, and while I have yet to pull any SRs...

If I had a Deadpool, this is what I’d run in "Golden Age".

158 WS057 Deadpool
40 SI012 Gee
25 SI013 Lightspeed
43 HA041 Molly Hayes
30 Mass Master
3 HAF103 Runaways

A Marvel-Inappropriate-Team-Up.

It’s got some comedic value - with Wade wrangling 4 kiddies on a field trip to the big city. It’s got some competitive value, with TK, a great Taxi, Molly Hayes as a secondary attacker/clean up piece, and Mass Master for Tie-Up. Deadpool should, Push, push, push, throwing the FF TA kids to the wolves for some added healing.

Make it weirder:

For a 400 point build, I’d add a Bombastic Bag-man on upgrading Mass Master to Howard the Duck for giggles (and Perplex). It is a Deadpool team after all.

Of course I don’t have a Deadpool, so I’ll have to wait until I can pay for Wade's services to run this, and other fun, exciting Deadpool teams like Deadpool & Hercules, seen here in Deadpool team-up #899, and a perfect 300 points:

Finally, I'd like to try an assassins team from the aforementioned MUA game:

Veteran Blade 41
Rare Elektra (Human) 80
Rare Wolverine (X-Force) 105
SR Deadpool 158
Total = 394

I think there's some good synergy here between Wild Card and other TAs. Hopefully we'll get an X-Force ATA soon. Finally, we really need an updated Blade. Let's hope he, and Ghostrider make it into a Marvel set soon.