So this review is a flashback to 1984 and 1986. Back in 1984 TSR published the first licensed superhero RPG, Marvel Super Heroes. Well it is the first as far as I know. DC Heroes from Mayfair came out in 1985 and Palladium Books published their Justice Machine book (for Heroes Unlimited) the same year. I cannot find any others that came out at the same time. Superhero 2044 was the first in super hero games overall (1977). So while Champions (Iron Crown Enterprises/Hero Games 1981) and Villains and Vigilantes (Fantasy Games Unlimited 1979) also had comics associated with them, those comics were spin-offs of the game and not what inspired the game in the first place.
Now then over the years there have been other Marvel RPGs. Heck TSR even did another game using their SAGA system for Marvel Super Heroes Adventure Game in 1998. (Articles on numbers 3 and 4 are in the links on the numbers) And then there was the 250 Point Project (now defunct and only remnants and links remain on the original Tripod web page – visit and follow at your own risk) which was an effort to convert famous characters in comic books into starter characters in Champions which makes it an unofficial Marvel RPG.
All of which tells me that folks really want to play RPG’s in the Marvel Comics Universe. And likely, regardless of a published system just for the setting or not, those folks will continue to find a way.
Now then for myself, I got into the game in the first edition in 1984. Drug a good friend into playing it with me, and while there were some things that made no sense what so ever (the use of Areas to measure distance and an Area was very irregular on the maps, and that base speed is never mentioned, oh and lest I forget the fact that you can loose more Karma [the exp system] for missing a charity event that you could gain by stopping a crime in progress) made for some pretty messy game sessions when we first started out. The second big hit came when we realized that no mater what you did you could never make a character that would be equal to any of your favorite characters, it kinda got shelved for a while. When I got my hands on the 1986 Advance version of the game, it had a lot more options. Strangely the Karma and Area issues were still there (to be honest the Area issue was reduced by having some standardized spacing on most of the new maps but it was still not a grid or the like), but they were softened by having a lot more options for building characters and the chance to actually make something that could go toe to toe with many of your personal favorites. No one could take on Galactus on their own, but hey, you have to have limits.
Something that made the game a lot of fun for me other than being able to make so many characters was the overall mechanic for action resolution. When I was playing regularly I would always call it the FASERIP (acronym of sorts for the game stats) chart.
The chart shown here is from the advanced game. The basic one had less to it. Overall the idea is to roll high on a percentile die. You want to be in the red. Green and Yellow are ok. And White is bad. And you get the number you need to roll by looking at the value you have… smeg ok let me just give you a sample. Hero has Monstrous Strength and is trying to lift something heavy. The object has a weight that is above Monstrous so his roll to lift it will move down two columns. So now he has to roll on the Incredible column. Hero wants to lift it over his head and throw it. GM says that means he needs a Yellow roll if he is going to throw it right away, Red if he wants to hold it and actually aim before he throws. Green means he can pick it up but wont be able to toss it, and White means he strains something. So when rolling a d100 player for Hero needs to roll a 61 or higher to do what he wants. And if he rolls a 30 or less then he will hurt himself.
This same type of game engine was used for action resolution in the 3rd edition of Gamma World (TSR 1986) and the overall mechanic looks like it might currently be held by Ronin Arts, for use in their Four Color RPG. However Ronin Arts has not published anything since 2015 and there are several other publishers putting out their material, so I am unsure what is really going on there.
Now then the reason I wanted to work this review with the Advanced version of the game is because it offered so many more details and options than in the Basic set. Even to the number of prepackaged characters there were more. Bigger better stronger. All of the above and then some. The Advanced version really did level up the game.
So was it fun to play, yeah it was, and if you wanted to roll up a character just make sure you have expectations that you would not make someone equal to Thor right off the bat and you will be fine.
They published a lot of additional books that expanded on.. well… everything. And they did modules for two of the biggest events in Marvel history up to that point, the original Secret Wars, and Secret Wars 2. Overall you really only needed one additional book to take character creation over the top. And if you were happy running your favorite characters from the comics you would not even need to do that. Especially given how many characters they published in modules, supplements, and even in Dragon Magazine. You could be perfectly happy without ever getting a rules expansion.
So given the breakdowns above and the fact that I still collect the game and would love to find a group to play it with again, how do I rack up the numbers?
Overall Fluff 2/5 – Really there was very little fluff to it. The art was wicked cool, but everything was written from the perspective that you had read a lot of Marvel comics well before playing. At least in the core game. Supplements had more flavor and feel to them, but the core set relied heavily on the art for its fluff. And there was not really enough art to make up for that lack.
Overall Crunch 4/5 – The rules are surprisingly solid. Even with the flaws in things like Karma, and Areas and Movement, with some creativity they could all be worked around or ignored easily.
Overall Mod 3/5 – It was not easy to mod this system in to other genres. It could be done but it was not easy at all. You also had to mod the rules to make the EXP system something that would work well. And anyone who had played 1st edition knew that up front.
Overall Fun 4/5 – Ya know it is actually really fun for me to get my favorite heroes and villains to fight it out. And to be able to put them into impossible situations and get them out, or even fail on purpose so I can see characters I hate burn to ash… yeahhhh. And in the end I like the engine. Even if I have to tweak it a little to make it work completely.
Total Score 13/20 – Another one that does not get a mind blowingly high score. But also another game that with all its flaws and need for home brew adds that I would play again in a heartbeat. I cant be alone in that with the number of web sites you can find with people posting up to date versions of the characters, and expanding the material in the books. I mean if nothing else look at this versions longevity compared to anything else done for Marvel Comics in an RPG.
All right so in the end… YOU reader needs to take a look at this and see if it is right for you. If it is not then dont worry. Just move along and be happy.
All righty, so gimme the dice, I need to make a Feeble (see chart) attempt to think about dinner.
Have fun out there gaming all 🙂