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Reviews - Marvel Heroscape
by Lee Valentine

Marvel Heroscape boxMarvel Heroscape: The Conflict Begins
Published by Hasbro
10 miniature figures, 39 tiles (1-7 hexes each), 2 yellow glyphs, 12 combat dice, a d20, 8 order markers, 23 wound markers, 1 round marker, 1 warehouse ruin with a breakaway wall and detachable floor, and 11 army and terrain feature game cards

Marvel Heroscape: The Conflict Begins ("Marvel Heroscape") is the newest addition to the Heroscape wargaming line by Hasbro. Heroscape is an expandable, customizable miniatures game. However, it is not collectible (i.e., the components are not randomized). Heroscape products feature pre-painted miniatures and terrain objects.

The terrain objects really make Heroscape unique. In most other wargames, wargamers are stuck building their own terrain and bringing out strings and rulers to measure movement. Or alternately, they are played on 2D maps. Heroscape, by contrast, comes with a variety of plastic hex tiles that snap together at the edges. The terrain hexes are also stackable, so that they can create terrain of different heights. In addition to terrain hexes, Marvel Heroscape contains a building face with a removable/destructible wall.

In Marvel Heroscape each character has a point value, and players are alloted a specific number of points to build their team with. Players draft characters to fill out their teams, drawing from a selection of popular Marvel Comics characters. This set comes with 10 characters, including 5 heroes and 5 villains: Hulk, Spider-Man, Captain America, Iron Man, Silver Surfer, Doctor Doom, Red Skull, Venom, Abomination, and Thanos.

Unlike Wizkids' HeroClix games, the miniatures in Heroscape contain no game data printed on the figures. Instead, game data is printed on a separate character card associated with each miniature. The character card presents the character's relative size and attributes, rating the character's normal attack power, defensive power, movement speed, and attack range. In addition to these standard measures, each character has one or more special attacks or special abilities printed on the card.

Marvel Heroscape figuresMovement is easily handled. A figure can move up to it's movement range (measured in hexes) across a chain of adjacent hexes. Characters cannot end on the same hex as another character, but can pass through hexes containing friendly figures. When a character moves to a hex that's adjacent to an enemy figure his movement typically stops unless the moving character was using flight or some other special movement power which allows a character to choose when to stop and engage an enemy.

Attacking and defending is also quite simple in Heroscape. The game includes 12 custom six-sided dice, each with a blank face, two faces with blue shields, and three faces with red skulls. The attacker rolls a number of dice equal to his Attack value and counts the resulting skulls. The defender rolls a number of dice equal to his Defense value and counts the number of shields. If more skulls than shields are rolled, the excess skulls each do one wound to the defending character. Each character has a number of Life Points printed on its character card, and the character is removed from play when its wounds equal or exceed its Life Points.

In addition to the custom six-sided dice, each Heroscape Master Set includes a twenty-sided die which is used to roll for initiative every turn and for checks associated with various special abilities.

The turn sequencing in Heroscape is really outstanding compared to many other skirmish wargames. In wargames like HeroClix, if one player is playing a small army of characters and the other player is playing a single behemoth of a character, the army acts much more frequently than the behemoth. For example, HeroClix damages characters who take actions on consecutive turns and eventually forces them to stop taking consecutive actions. Heroscape gives the whole team an action pool which can be applied as the player sees fit, applying them all to one character or spreading them out over several characters.

To explain more fully, Heroscape players are each alloted four order markers labeled "1", "2", "3", and "X". Each round of play is made up of three turns where each player attacks and defends with a character. At the start of each round of play, each player assigns each of his order markers to one of his characters. The "X" is a decoy and does nothing. The other numbers represent which turn the character will attack on. Given that you can assign all your order markers to one character, you aren't automatically in a death spiral doing nothing when you are down to one character. Initiative is rolled with the d20 and the high roller goes first during each turn of a given round. This may not sound very innovative, but it really is. I have hated playing other wargames and choosing a large, expensive unit and going once while my opponent goes many times in a row. This method keeps both players really in the game from start to finish.

It is theoretically possible with other Heroscape sets to have more than one character attack during a given turn. These multiple attacks are possible with Squads (groups of weaker characters, with one life point each, associated with a single character card). There are no Squads that come with Marvel Heroscape.

All Heroscape games are played out in scenarios. Each scenario has a specific terrain map, specific objectives, and often has specific rules to add flavor to the scenario. Marvel Heroscape has a variety of interesting scenarios that have a lot of comic book flavor and which really make for some interesting tactical and strategic decisions.

To take advantage of Heroscape's special terrain movement rules and to fully build a nice 3D set you'll really want to buy some other Heroscape sets such as the Rise of the Valkyrie Master Set. That will give you a lot of terrain to click together.

Heroscape has a lot of fan support on Heroscapers.com, and they have detailed discussions about terrain and props that you can print on cardstock to supplement your plastic hex tiles. There's also a PDF fan 'zine called HSCodex, Issue #8 of which contains information on throwing objects, a staple element of supers battles, and one that I was sort of disappointed to see left out of the Marvel Heroscape rulebook itself. The upside of this is that the Heroscape rules represent a really solid core which makes it very easy to design custom scenarios and rules around, encouraging fan created support materials.

For a while I was a serious Heroclix player, but both myself and my friend who played a couple of Heroscape games with me preferred Heroscape to Heroclix. Heroclix is a more strategic game, but Heroclix doesn't play as smoothly the first time out and doesn't have quite the same supers feel that Marvel Heroscape has managed to capture.

Components & Rules
Marvel Heroscape is a "Master Set" for Heroscape, meaning that it contains rules, miniatures, character cards, terrain, dice, and a few other bits sufficient to make it a stand alone set, playable right out of the box. Non-Master sets are merely expandable add-ons to Master sets, containing more characters or more terrain objects. Marvel Heroscape is fully compatible with other Heroscape products. This set adds 39 new plastic terrain tiles of various sizes, including gray "concrete" tiles and black "asphalt" tiles, plus a two-story warehouse wall with a breakaway section.

Theoretically Heroscape can be played in a "basic" game mode where each character has no special abilities and can take only one wound each before being removed from the board, but, as a practical matter, the Master Game is easy enough to play that I can't see anyone playing the basic game except with small children. For gamers with kids, though, it's nice to have a simpler learning option to break the kids into the game.

Marvel Heroscape terrainThe terrain objects are really interesting and useful, but do take some time to snap together into a custom scenario map. The miniatures are of high quality, but the packaging can leave some of the figures leaning a little bit forward on a couple of the miniature bases. The building face with the breakaway/destructible wall is a really interesting feature.

The set comes with a large 20 page full-color booklet. The booklet features basic game rules, Master game rules, and a variety of scenarios. The rulebook is well-written, clear, and supplemented with lots of photo examples.

For Retailers
If you are a speciality hobby game or comic book retailer, you'll be glad to hear that Marvel Heroscape shows well and will help to sell itself if you have the space to setup a nice table display. Unfortunately, some hobby game distributors give reduced discounts on Hasbro products, and so you may find it very tough to compete with big box stores like Target if you don't display and demo the game - that's your sole advantage on this sort of product.

Later in 2008, Hasbro's subsidiary Wizards of the Coast will release Marvel Heroscape: The Reinforcements Arrive. That expansion will feature 10 more characters: Doctor Octopus, Black Panther, Bullseye, Punisher, Invisible Woman, Human Torch, Thing, Super Skrull, Beast, and Sandman. These 10 characters will be sold in two different 5 character boosters retailing for $12.99 per pack.

I really enjoyed playing Marvel Heroscape. It has a fast resolution system, interesting scenarios, interesting character powers, and an action system that will keep each player in the fight until his last character is KO'd. However, given that this set comes with substantially fewer characters and terrain objects than the Rise of the Valkyrie Master Set, I think this game has somewhat less bang for your buck ($32.99) than the slightly more expensive Rise of the Valkyrie Master Set ($39.99). That said, it's a great introduction to the Heroscape line, and is a really fun stand-alone game in its own right.

If you are looking for a new superhero game, and particularly if you like light war or strategy games, then this is definitely one to look at. I think it's simple enough to get started fast, and deep enough to have replay value. The scenarios concept really is where the replay value is outstanding. When you are ready for more advanced games, pick up the Rise of the Valkyrie Master Set, where there are more rules on terrain and combat and many highly varied types of figures. I think Marvel Heroscape is a good purchase, and I'm happy I made it. If you are a comic fan, be sure to pick up this game.

Lee's Ratings:

Overall Score: B+ (A- if you already own another Master set)
Rules: B+
Component Appearance: B+
Component Quality: B+
Ease of Learning: B+
Time to Learn: 15 minutes
Time to Play: 30 to 60 minutes (plus setup)



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