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Dial H For Hours of Play: HeroClix Reviewed
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Night falls over Gotham City.

Inside the Natural History museum, two members of Gotham's finest crouch tensely behind a suspiciously familiar green dinosaur. On a terrace just above them, two identically red and green clad youths stand ready with their staffs, and if they were smart, they brought a medic with them from the government agency Checkmate.

Though neither lad can stand up to much punishment, one looks ready to fold like a house of cards. Clearly, it will only take two or three blows before he has to retreat.

Just then, a fiery figure soars over the giant lizard. As he lifts his flaming staff to strike at the hapless police, two giant dice tumble across the hall.

Wait a minute - isn't that fiery figure a herald of Galactus? He's in the completely wrong universe. Never mind the giant dice…

Welcome to HeroClix, the hot game from WizKids. After launching figure-based games like Mage Knight and Mechwarrior, the Washington-based company set their sites on such stuff as fanboy dreams are made on: superheroes. Not thinly disguised variations on the characters you love, either. They got the big guns.

Initially released in May of last year with the Marvel Comics: Infinity Challenge set, the game quickly caught the attention of fanboys from a variety of directions. Combining the strategy of collectible card games, the imagination of role-playing games, encyclopedic knowledge of comic books and of course, the out and out coolness of having little action figures, HeroClix deserves the attention.

Forget Origin; forget The Truth. For our money, HeroClix is the product that most rocked our world in 2002. It's fun to both play and display.

With it, of course, has hit tremendous secondary market speculation. Normally, we're against such things (because we can't afford them), but somehow it takes the sting out of buying a booster pack if you end up with a valuable rare figure.

Were it apparent from looking at the box how much fun this game is, we would have bought a heck of a lot of booster packs when we first met the folks from WizKids at the San Diego Comic-Con. As it was, we stared uncomprehendingly at the boxes and the convention-goers massed around gaming tables.

When confronted with a $4 price tag for something called a "veteran Plastic Man," we chose to follow the siren call of nude models signing nearby. (Except for Mish'al - he wanted to join some sort of imperial stormtrooper union. And no, we don't have pictures. That he knows about. Shhhh.)

Upon returning to Northern California, the staff soon realized its mistake. Even me, who had long equated role-playing games with being home on prom night with only an elf for company, got sucked in. I had successfully avoided D&D; Magic: The Gathering held no charms. But throw in action figures? Why not? My wife won't wear the elf ears anyway.

It took me a while to get this piece together because every time I thought I had a handle on the game, I found some new variation that I had to try. Within weeks a humble starter kit had grown to a large box of jumbled figures. A Sentinel lurked nearby. And then came the outdoor adventure kit.

The Game

WizKids boasts that HeroClix takes just a few minutes to learn. That may be true, but those few minutes don't quite cover how to win it. The game is deceptively simple, and those without much gaming experience (i.e., me) may at first find themselves feigning merriment to their brethren. And then they get their first kill.

Using the patented WizKids combat dial, players keep track of characters' speed, attack ability, defense, and possible damage to inflict. Every time a character suffers damage of his own, he takes a click (hence the name of the game) that reduces his strengths unto death.

Okay, the game refers to it as "three k.o.'s," but some of us are more bloodthirsty.

Luckily, WizKids makes it fairly easy to have notes nearby. Every bit of paperwork is downloadable from their site, though every starter set also includes the same set of rules and a chart that defines special individual abilities (marked by colors over the numbers on the combat dial) and team abilities.

Both Marvel and DC sets have affiliations that closely resemble the way the characters might be used in comic book continuity. Often it's tied in to the level of experience your figure might have, rookie, expert, or veteran, defined by a colored band on its base.

For example, a rookie Superman figure pretty much flies solo, but later on in his career Supes gathered some allies. An expert Superman then finds himself part of "Team Superman," and finally the veteran figure is akin to the character we know today, a cornerstone of the JLA. And no, the rookie Superman does not look like John Byrne drew him.

How do you know which Man of Tomorrow to use? The combat dials also have a point value after the character's name. Games are organized in multiples of 100 points, and so you have to assemble a team whose sum is less than whatever number players have agreed to use.

Official tournament play defaults at 200, but you can go to 300, 400, even 1,000. For every hundred points you can make one move on your turn, so beware 1,000. That means ten moves. Out of pity, WizKids has also put a time limit of fifty minutes on the game, so with ten moves a turn, that could add up to just two or three turns per player.

Unless you play the Fanboy Planet way, which tends to be just a bloody chaotic free-for-all mess, in which the game only ends with your map littered with little plastic corpses, or another player sitting in a corner alternately sobbing and humming.

Oh, yes, and dice rolls determine if your attacks (and some of your defenses) are successful. It will become clearer once the game sucks you in.

We should also note that the rules imply that the two universes should not meet, but we all know that one's out the window in private games. Tournaments, however, apparently respect the corporate licensors, and until WizKids introduces an Access figure, you may have to keep them separate.


Derek McCaw

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