Friday, September 5, 2014

Review: Heroes Wanted

Seriously. Asgardian fashion is essentially
technicolor vomit.
When I was younger, I liked the Marvel Universe for my superhero comics. You see, they were gritty and had flaws. DC heroes are demi-gods among men, but the Marvel heroes are "regular joes" who had superpowers thrust upon them, dealing with "real-people problems" on top of fighting supervillains. The X-Men dealt with prejudice. Iron Man dealt with alcoholism. Thor had a dialect problem and a family with terrible fashion sense. These were things that made the comics and the heroes darker and edgier. It made them more grounded.

At least that was what awkward teenage me thought I could defend reading superhero comic books with if I was discovered and called out on it.

But then I grew up. I didn't care what most people thought of me anymore. I had bypassed the first and largest hurdle of a teen comic book reader--I had a girlfriend. This liberated me. My comic books didn't have to be dark, angst-pieces for reasons of self-defense. They could be cheesy and fun.

So, secured that I was getting laid, I ventured into the DC Universe. I fell in love with the cheesiness of the Flash. Superman was even more of a goofball than Captain America and I could appreciate him, even if he didn't take the easy route and throw everything he encountered into the sun. Who the hell cares if Green Lantern makes a giant green catcher's glove to catch someone falling from a building? That's his embarrassment to live with, not mine.

Comics could be silly and fun. And despite all of the hundreds of millions of dollars spent on superhero movies, Mystery Men still remains one of my all-time favorites because I can embrace the inherent silliness of what superheroes really are now. Seriously, I have a wife and get laid regularly. I don't have to act cool anymore.

And that is what I like about Heroes Wanted. They're not your classic heroes. They're the other guys.

Heroes Wanted is a competitive game where each player takes on the role of a second-rate, up and coming superhero trying to gain enough fame to be adopted into the ranks of a real superhero group, the Champions of Zeta City.

Players choose a scenario (the game comes with four scenarios, each with its own board) and set it up accordingly, seeding it with Henchmen and Underlings (meeples representing the weaker minions aiding the Villain). Now, since you are wannabe heroes, your crime fighting goals are still rather low. Scenarios include things such as stopping littering and jaywalking in the city and ending a bootleg DVD ring before moving onto scenarios that are a little more traditional.

Next, players create their characters. They do this by being drawing three Hero A cards and three Hero B cards and then choosing one of each to use. This combination of cards will determine what type of hero the player is (Mutant, Vigilante, Tech, or Cosmic) and what their Superpowers and extra abilities are. Each player then takes a hand of cards for their hero, and any special cards given to them by their hero type. Finally, players draw a Quirk card which determines a personality trait that the PLAYER (not the character) must exhibit throughout the game--more on this later.

Who should I be? So many possibilities...
Well, technically, nine.
The Villain for the game is created in a similar manner as the Heroes. One Villain A card is drawn and added to one Villain B card. This determines the Villain for the game and its abilities and strength.

The game then begins.

Game play is really simple and is divided into two phases. During the Hero Phase each player, in player order, either plays a single action card from their hand or rests.

If a player plays an action card, they resolve it. Cards will describe what the player may do and, when played, are laid in the player's discard pile. They let the player move up to a number of spaces or offer an attack, stating how much damage is done, or they may allow the player to use their Superpower or pick up another card from their discard pile.

That's right. American King. He fights for
truth, justice, and a return to the monarchy.
Attack cards state how much damage that they do and can be used to inflict some damage onto the Villain (who often has a lot of health, but can be taken out by group efforts), or a Henchman or Underling (who have much less health, but are usually worth fame for defeating), or even other heroes (they are your rivals for the position in the Champions of Zeta City--and it just might look better if they got knocked out a couple of times and you didn't).

Each scenario has different actions that can reward fame. Some are set and some are Headlines which are drawn at random at the start of the scenario. For example, you may receive bonus points for defeating six Underlings, or for doing at least 10 points of damage to the Villain. Whenever a player first accomplishes one of these tasks, he takes a marker and places it on the headline--the first players to accomplish it get more points and later ones get fewer. However, whenever a player places their marker onto the Headline, they may trigger an ability on their Hero Type card, which allows them a one-time bonus action or ability, or lets them take another special card up into their hand for the rest of the game.
Alternatively, the Hero can Rest instead of playing a card. If a Hero rests, all they do is to pick up their entire discard pile and bring it back into their hand.

The Villain's turn is simple as well. The Threat Track, which determines the number of rounds in the scenario and also triggers certain events, is advances. The Villain usually will then move along a preprogrammed route. And then the Villain and the minions attack. The Villain does damage to all of the players equal to the amount of damage listed on his Villain A card. And each Henchman does 2 damage to a Hero within one space and each Underling does 1 damage to a Hero within one space.

Villain B cards are added to...
The Heroes must now defend against the damage. Each card in a player's hand has an action as well as a Stamina Value on it. The Hero must discard cards equal to or greater than the total damage inflicted upon them. If they do not, they are Knocked Out and discards their entire hand of cards. A player who is Knocked Out takes an Injury Marker and places it on their sheet. Injury Marker cost fame at the end of the game and also mean you take additional damage for each one that you have. Any player who can discard enough Stamina Value in cards avoids the damage, however, getting Knocked Out and playing a lot of cards to defend with cause a player to have to Rest more often.

The game ends when either a Villain is Knocked Out or when the Threat Track reaches the last turn and the Villain escapes. Fame is added up from accomplishments and from the Headlines and is added to the values that players gained throughout the game. Players also receive fame based on how well they stayed true to their Quirks (still more on that later). Whoever has the most fame at the end of the game gets the prestigious rookie slot on the Champions of Zeta City team.

Villain A cards.
Heroes Wanted is both a fun and funny game. It does not take itself too seriously, which is exactly how a superhero game should be. Players create their heroes from a combination of two cards, which not only define your Hero's powers and type, but also gives your name. The B cards represent the lower half of your body, while the A cards represent your upper body and head. The B cards have the start of your name, while the A cards have the end of it. So, you could have a choice between B cards of "Captain", "Teen", and "American" and a choice between A cards of "Millionaire", "Cop", and "Giraffe". From these cards, you could make your Hero "Captain Millionaire", or "American Giraffe", or "Teen Cop", or "Captain Giraffe" or however you want to break down the names. The combination also defines your powers--but, honestly, that is a much less fun way to play. You should always go for the most awesome Hero name.

Best Villain ever.
Villains are also created in the same way, but by just drawing one Villain A card and applying it to one Villain B card. You can end up with just as funny and amusing Villains, though there is more chance on getting a very funny one here since it is pure luck of the draw. Unfortunately, for our very first game we drew the absolute best combination for a Villain and so no game since has a chance of being as awesome as that first one where our enemy was Baron von Caveman.

Players are also dealt a Quirk card before the game begins. Each card gives the player a specific behavior that they are supposed to exhibit as part of their Hero's persona. Quirks are silly things, such as, "Overly Apologetic" where the player must sincerely apologize after Knocking Out a character, or "Inflated Ego" where the player cannot say the words I, me, or my and must only refer to themselves by using their Superhero Name in the third person, or "Former Sidekick" where after a Hero to your left or right Knocks Out a minion, you must offer them a high five. Each Quirk starts by giving you 10 points and each time that you forget to perform your Quirk and another player calls you out on it, you lose 2 points from your track.

Quirks are silly and optional. However, if you are a Very Serious Gamer who cannot be bothered with such frivolity, then this game probably isn't for you anyhow. This is not a Very Serious Game.

I mean that in both theme and in mechanisms.

Each scenario has its own scoring.
The game is silly and simple. There is a little strategy and tactics to be employed, but it is a fairly simple undertaking. There really isn't much deep game play there and the game relies upon its theme and humor to carry it past the simple (and sometimes odd) mechanisms.

Does it succeed in carrying the weight of simple mechanisms with its humor? Yes. And no. But mostly yes.

Most of the humor of the game comes from revealing your Hero and the Villain and laughing about what your Quirk is. Less humor comes from actually having to come up with a taunt comprising of alliteration each turn than the idea of having to do it.

But because most of the humor comes from the reveal, a good 90% of the humor is front-loaded in this game. Once the reveals are finished, there is nothing really new to create that fun and laughter as you delve into a light, convoluted hex battle game with little in the way of deep strategy or tactical surprises.

It isn't all bad though, since playing as "Teen Yeti", or "Brunch Foot", or "American Giraffe" is still amusing enough to carry some levity throughout the game. But if you have a poor draw of Hero cards, your amusement is short-lived and the game play isn't strong enough to make up for it.

Game play is also hinges on mechanisms over theme, which is a little disappointing. The first scenario fills the board with 28 Underlings and 16 Henchmen. Every space on the hex map is filled with a bad guy. Since the Villain's crime is jaywalking and littering, it hardly seems worth dragging out 44 minions to aid you.

Look at all of those villains and minions
littering. Seriously, there hasn't been this
many people group littering since
Woodstock '94.
But the map is covered in minions not because it is thematic, but because it makes the mechanisms of movement and card play easier. This is a bit disappointing. I see how it moves the game forward, but it does not more the theme or narrative forward.

Essentially each of the scenarios have the Threat Track setting a very predictable event release and a very predictable and easily trackable Villain movement. There are no surprises in the game play. Surprises end once the laughter is over at the character reveal.

That doesn't mean that Heroes Wanted isn't fun. It isn't a great game, but it is still silly enough to be fun. My eight year old daughter loves it (her first game allowed her to be "Princess Hedgehog--combining two of her favorite things). Some strategy is a little forward for her still (such as realizing sometimes it is worth it to let yourself get Knocked Out and take an Injury because the net point gain is better).

So it is a wonderful family game that she requests often. For my Very Serious Gamer friends--well, it's a fun game to introduce them to for the laughs, but it will unlikely get many repeat plays with them unless we get to bring in a new player to see their reaction to everything as well.

I probably sound more negative than I really am on the game. I like it. It is fun. It is silly and it will stay in my collection. I am just disappointed at the missed opportunities to make it stand out with deeper strategy and more complex mechanisms and more theme in the design decisions.

And I also regret that there is no B Hero card of "Blue" and no A Hero card of "Raja". That is the biggest mistake in design.

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