Game Review #43 – Marvel Super Heroes Official Handbook to the Marvel Universe (S)

So a while back I did a review for the main rules for this game on this post here. Since that post has tons of links to things about Marvel Comics and TSR I did not want to over do the links and repeat myself a lot so I only will be adding new links to this post. If readers think that approach sucks just let me know and I can copy over older links again later. For the moment this article will only have new links that are part of this products story.

To tell that story we need to look back to 1983 to get things started. Marvel Comics started up a series of comics book guides called The Official Handbook to the Marvel Universe.


Yeah I know you are wondering why this is going to be important to a licensed RPG product that shares the same name. Just run with it I am giving you a history lesson… a little one…

In 1985 DC Comics followed up with their own version of this kind of guide book called Who’s Who.


Also in 1985 Marvel started to publish the Deluxe Edition version of the Official Handbooks.


Ok so here is where we tie it all together. In 1986 Marvel and TSR had gotten together to print up the Advanced version of the Marvel Super Heroes role playing game. And to that point in time the adventures that had been published for the games basic version usually had all the characters the adventure was written for included inside. But what about everyone else in the Marvel Universe… So in 1988 using the format of the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe Deluxe Edition, TSR started publishing a complete set of the Handbook Characters. It was a truly epic idea. And they worked rather hard to keep not only the feel of the Deluxe Edition handbook, but make everything they could game relevant.


Ok do you get it now… see where I was going with the pics and stuff…. heh… see I even kept things all around the same issues so that I could use Cap… sigh… ok yeah its obvious…

The main competition in the Mayfair Games DC Heroes game did not try anything this epic to keep people interested in the game, but later licenses did try to put at least rouges galleries together.

The books that were published by TSR had a large number of characters per book. They were also designed (look closely at the pic of Cap’s character sheet above) to be placed in binders. You did have to tear the book apart to be able to put everything in binders. But there was a reason behind their method of doing things that way. It was because as Updates came out to the Handbook in Marvel, TSR would be putting out updates at the same time. The game updates were designed so that if you did pull everything apart and put the sheets together in binders you could keep every character in alphabetical order and keep updated characters together so you would have different versions in the same place and not have to go hunting.

The anal retentive part of me thought that this was a great idea and so when I did finally start to collect the books I was right into binders with them. That was when I found the first down side. The holes for the binder clasps did not match up from book to book. And some of the perforations to break the books down into their pages are so close to the binder holes you cannot expect the holes to actually be intact enough to work all the time. Now then I have seen this change book to book and not all copies of the same issue have the same problem. So you will be really hit or miss.

The second flaw that I have with the books is that they really pushed to get all of this material out as soon as they could and so converting characters from one medium to another can leave some pretty serious issues in translation. Considering the original handbooks listed things like strength levels with statements like “Has the strength of a human who engages in moderate regular exercise” how do you translate that into game stats. And with the FASERIP (see the other article on this game system for a better look at that acronym) system for stats that statement can give you a fairly broad range of physical strength. That combined with other challenges in translation means that there will be a percentage of characters that do not match up with someones point of view. A few characters I really like just seem so wrong in their stats, but their powers work well, or the other way around. But I have found no character that I would say is 100% wrong.

Anyone taking a look at this product today will also have to remember that these are stats for the characters at the time of publication. Many of them have changed and grown, so you cannot really reference todays characters as being 100% the same as they were when these were published, but they should give you a great start.

So lets take a look at the numbers…

Overall Fluff 4/5 – In some ways these books can be seen as all fluff. Backgrounds and art along with character sheets to get you in the game with your favorite Marvel characters. My biggest issue with the fluff is that I would have loved to see even a little more art.

Overall Crunch 4/5 – The biggest benefit that I got from these books was how to combine some of the more… poorly defined powers in the game together to create effects that really fit the characters. For me that insight into the rules really helped me play the game better.

Overall Mod 3/5 – I am giving this a 3 because I promise you there will be characters you have to mod to fit your view of them. Cant make everyone happy I know. So just taking that into account.

Overall Fun 4/5 – Ok so only a four on the score here because of the physical flaws in the books I got and for the number of characters I have to mod up to fit my view of them. Still it is a fun system, and I think it is really cool that they took the handbooks and converted them like this as directly as possible.

Total Score 15/20 – I think my reasons stand for themselves. If you take a look at the original product I scored this supplement higher. Maybe it is the geek nostalgia but who can tell. 🙂

Hope everyone out there is having a great time and playing hard.

Now gimme the dice, I need to see which version of Cap had the best shield….

  1. #1 by dantherpgman on March 11, 2019 - 5:32 am

    Wow, memories. I don’t think I ever saw the original Marvel Universe ones, that cover doesn’t look familiar at all. I definitely remember the deluxe one though. And of course Who’s Who…I had totally forgotten about those. I think that’s a totally fair score for these, nice writeup!


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