Minneapolis Marvel

Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Launch Party

I’ll be running a Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Launch Party on Saturday, March 3, 2012, at Imagine Games and Hobbies, starting at 1:00 pm. If you’re interested in trying the game, you can sign up at the store.

It may have escaped your notice ((This is sarcasm.)), but I’m a bit of an enthusiast when it comes to games ((My group has coined the phrase “game-whore” specifically to describe me.)). So, when Cam Banks announced that he was going to be running a launch party for Marvel Heroic Roleplaying at The Source in Minneapolis, it seemed like a good idea to plan a road trip ((I’ll be honest. The launch party was more an excuse for a road trip than a reason for it. I’d been meaning to head down to Minneapolis for a weekend for some time, mainly to visit The Source, which is an amazing comic and game shop.)). I pestered my friends until one agreed to come with me, and off we went.

We left in the mid-afternoon on Friday, and made it down to Minneapolis around 11:00. Next morning, we started with breakfast at Hell’s Kitchen ((Food was very good. Home-made peanut butter was amazing.)), then walked around the downtown area ((It was very cold. But downtown Minneapolis has some very attractive buildings.)), hung out in Barnes & Noble, grabbed some lunch, and headed out to The Source to be there early.

The launch party started at 2:00, so we had about an hour to browse the dense and tempting shelves of the store. I have to say, this is THE place to go for hard-to-find, out-of-print games. And their graphic novel selection is overwhelming.

So, game time rolled around, and we wound up with two tables of gamers. I was at Cam’s table with my friend, three local gamers, and Cam’s nine-year-old son ((I have to say, the nine-year-old’s unbridled excitement and enjoyment was really pretty cool to have at the table. It’s also a good indication that, while the system has some neat complexities hidden in it, it’s not a complicated system to play.)). Our team wound up being Black Widow, Iron Man, Ms. Marvel, Captain America, Daredevil, and Spider-Man ((That was me.)).

I’m not going to talk too much about the adventure – it’s the first act of the Breakout mini-event included in the basic game, and is being sent out with the launch party packages, so I want to avoid spoilers. That said, here are some interesting moments from the game:

  • Cap gathering up a team of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents to help him out, then losing most of them to something nasty in the dark.
  • Black Widow quelling a mob with a little creative threatening.
  • Ms. Marvel saving a helicopter from crashing into the river, then using it as a weapon.
  • Daredevil and a villain in a tug-of-war over Foggy Nelson, with Daredevil taking emotional stress.
  • Iron Man and a villain trading energy blasts back and forth.
  • Spider-Man making a bad roll, getting in trouble, and gaining a fistful of Plot Points, because that’s how Spider-Man’s life goes.

The game was fun. It went kind of slow, because Cam was the only one at the table familiar with the rules, but I can see it moving quickly and, more importantly, flowing well after a bit of a learning curve. The action scene was full of interesting things going on, and not all of them were staged by the Watcher ((Which is what the GM is called in this game.)).

The core mechanic is familiar to people who have played other Cortex Plus games, like Smallville or Leverage. You assemble a dice pool and roll against someone else’s ((Usually the Watcher.)) dice pool. There are a few little quirks to the system, like choosing an effect die and using your Plot Points, that add a bit of tactical thinking to the mechanics, but it’s all pretty straightforward.

The thing that really stood out in my mind – and afterwards in conversation with my friend – was that the game is built to create the kinds of superhero moments that you see in comics almost automatically. This is because, in assembling your dice pool, you are making decisions about how your character is trying to achieve his or her intent, bringing in different aspects of character, different powers, and different skills. So, mechanically, it makes a difference whether Spidey is sling-shotting himself at a villain with his webs or just straight-up punching the bad guy. And, narratively, the dice you pick to roll give you a good idea of what exactly you’re doing in the scene.

What it comes down to is that playing Spider-Man feels like playing Spider-Man, both from a mechanics and a flavour point of view. And this, I think, is a huge strength for the game.

There’s a lot of smart design work that underlays that feeling ((I’m not going to get into a lot of specifics, here. I’ve only played one session, and haven’t actually had a chance to read the rules, yet, so all I can do is talk about the little bit I’ve seen. A lot of that is lacking context, so I’m going for generalities to avoid giving the wrong impression of things.)). The way dice categories are broken down, for example, are exceedingly clever, modeling different types of characters very well using a single system, and providing a clear, sensible structure for assembling dice pools. The experience point system encourages character arcs over defeating villains. The turn sequence favours thinking of the team and planning the next move and using team-up, fastball-special-style tactics. The ability to add and remove things from the environment through either Plot Points or character actions makes for fluid, creative, exciting combats.

All in all, it may ((I only say “may” because it was a small taste of the game, and without having read the rules, I can’t be sure how much of the good stuff is in the game, and how much was the result of Cam’s GMing.)) be the best super-hero system I’ve played in.

After the game, we managed to get a table at Solera for tapas ((The food was very good. The dates were amazing. The service was absolutely phenomenal.)). Then back to the hotel for sleep, and into the car for the trip home.

So, that’s the story of our road trip to Minneapolis to play Marvel Heroic Roleplaying. I’m really looking forward to getting a chance to read the complete game, and to run my own launch party on March 3.

Thanks to Cam for the great time playing this game, and thanks to the rest of the players in Minneapolis for being so friendly and welcoming.


I forgot to mention that I also got a chance to meet Jeremy Keller there, art director for Marvel Heroic Roleplaying and author of Technoir (among other things), and tell him how much I liked his game. He, in turn, said some nice things about my blog. So, thanks, Jeremy!

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9 Responses to Minneapolis Marvel

  1. Adam Minnie says:

    Hey, it was great to meet you. Good luck with your Launch Party in March!

    Top notch write-up. I always love hearing about stunts and highlights from other games using the same base elements. I was running using the same material less than 5 feet away and had a completely different story with our own uproarious laughter and classic highlights. I love it. Thanks for sharing, and for making the trek down here to visit.

    The Twin Cities are even more beautiful in the summer and fall!

  2. Mr Sleep says:

    Honestly Rick, a lot of what you describe sounds like elements from Dresden/Fate.

    How different are Plot Points from Fate Points and how does adding/removing things from the environment differ from Decelerations?

  3. Rick Neal says:

    @Adam: It was great to meet you, too.

    @Mr Sleep: There are similarities, which is no surprise seeing as Cortex had such things even way back in the Serenity RPG, and one of the folks working on the Marvel RPG was Rob Donoghue. As for the differences, well, the best way I can describe it is that in FATE, Fate points are sort of a meta-system that stacks on top of the regular system. In Marvel – and other Cortex Plus games – the Plot Points are more tightly integrated, mechanically speaking, and there are solid mechanical rules for when you earn one and when you spend one.

  4. Krisztian says:

    Great return, Rick! And by the way, let me congratulate you for your 401st blog post. I hope we will hear more personal experiences regarding the Marvel Heroes RPG, because I had some doubts about the game before, but after reading your first impressions I’m pretty sure I’ll pre-order it. Thanks again!

  5. Mr Sleep says:

    Ah. Sadly, I am not familiar with the Cortex stuff (more the pity). As for Marvel, well, the game sounds fun and interesting. I hope I’ll get to indulge when it finally makes it to market. I’m hoping, but for god’s sake I still haven’t gotten to play Fiasco. So much to do . . .

    By the by, thanks again for the Atomic Robo tip off. I’ve read and re-read the first three books several times now and am waiting for the March release to order the next three. “Shadow from Beyond Time” is by far my favorite.

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