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    Review of Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Basic Game by Margaret Weis Productions

    So here we are in the wake of the weekend of the release of The Avengers Movie - and by all accounts, the movie has broken more box-office records than Hulk has smashed New York City landmarks! As a side note, if you haven’t gone to see the The Avengers Movie yet because you can’t believe the hype, trust me, believe the hype! And go see it on the IMAX screen if you’ve got one near you, because that much action needs to be viewed on a HUGE SCREEN!

    And as it turns out, not long before The Avengers Movie was released, a role-playing game was published by Margaret Weis Productions with the license from Marvel Comics under its belt. The Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Basic Game offers players to portray superheroes from the Marvel Universe, battling against super-villains and other threats to mankind, and hopefully making the world a safer place! And with great movies like The Avengers, Ironman, The Fantastic Four, and Thor to envision, who doesn’t want to play a superhero?!

    Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Basic Game

    • Design: Cam Banks (lead), Rob Donoghue, Matt Forbeck, Will Hindmarch, Phillippe-Antoine, Ménard, Jesse Scoble
    • Publisher: Margaret Weis Productions
    • Year: 2012
    • Media: PDF package:Rulebook + 3 Support Books (302 total pages) + 2 Reference Sheets
    • Retail Cost: $19.99 ($12.99 from

    The Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Basic Game is a role-playing game, using the Cortex Plus game engine, of portraying famous superheroes from the Marvel Comics Universe. The PDF package includes six four booklets – MHR Basic Game, MHR Datafiles, MHR Example of Play, and MHR Random Datafiles – and two Reference Sheets – one for Players and one for the Watcher (Gamemaster). The MHR Basic Game book also includes a Mini-Event (adventure) called Breakout, based upon a comic book series of The New Avengers.

    Production Quality

    The production quality of the Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Basic Game has a great layout and a gorgeous appearance, but had some problems conveying the information about the game system. The main rulebook has both a table of contents and bookmarks for ease of navigation, but the material was not always conveyed in an easy to understand format. The designers did offer examples along the way in blue text to draw the eye, but there needed to be better transition between chapters in order to understand the nuances of the Cortex System, the character sheets (datafiles), and how it all fit together.

    The illustrations in the Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Basic Game were drawn from a variety of Marvel Comics, and as such, made awesome eye-candy while reading the rules. While they might not have always been illustrative of a rules concept or mechanic, it’s hard as a fan-boy not to enjoy the comic panels and single shots of superheroes splashed liberally throughout the book.

    The Contents

    As previously mentioned, the Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Basic Game contains all the rules necessary to understand and use the Cortex Plus game engine, as well as a sample adventure or Event called Breakout. There is a nine page booklet offering a sample of playing the game, an eleven page booklet for generating random datafiles on new superheroes and super-villains, as well as two Reference Sheets – one for the Watcher (gamemaster) and one for the Players, which can be printed out and used at the table. Unfortunately, despite the massive amount of material and page length, there are some fairly big gaps in this Basic Game.

    For starters, the Cortex Plus game engine is quite different than anything I’ve run into before, and I must admit that it’s quite innovative and unique. It uses polyhedral dice to represent the various Powers (with Special Effects or SFX) and Specialties (Skills/Skillsets) of the superheroes, as well as dice to represent their Affiliations (whether they are better Solo, with a Buddy, or on a Team), and Distinctions (such as catch-phrases, origin plot elements, and attitudes). Dice pools are assembled to represent the actions and reactions a superhero takes during a wide range of situations, whether in combat or non-combat, and the results of the dice thrown are compared to a counter-action from their opponents. The system seems well-geared to handling superhero actions, and provides a structure to interpret role-playing into game mechanics fairly well.

    But on the downside, I felt that the Cortex Plus engine gave the game a steep learning curve, and I had to end up reading through the rules twice and reference the 9-page Example of Play booklet a couple times before I felt I had a handle on the Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Game. Perhaps if the rules had been written a bit differently, or if I had played the game with an already experienced Watcher, I might have picked up the conventions of the Cortex Plus system a bit faster.

    And because of the use of dice pools, involving sometimes up to 6 or more dice, it’s hard to determine a comparison of the overall power level between superheroes and villains. It’s hard to compare one power against another, or against a skill set, when a single action or defensive reaction might involve two, four, or even eight dice to determine an outcome.

    On the plus side, Cortex Plus comes across as a speedy and narrative focused system, both in and out of combat, and completely user-friendly for gamers who prefer “Theatre of the Mind” style of play. It’s cinematic, and offers the players a freedom to try out all sorts of superheroic antics without worrying about rules minutiae. I should mention that the Cortex Plus system has been used before in the Battlestar Galactica RPG and the Serenity RPG (aka Joss Whedon’s Firefly setting) with success, as it conforms well to player-driven action, and an Act/Scene/Action style of adventure scripting from the gamemaster.

    The game also includes a selection of superhero character sheets – the MHR Datafiles booklet – for 23 well known heroes from the Marvel Universe. For superheroes, you’ve got a good chunk of the X-men to choose from, along with some of The Avengers, The Fantastic Four, The Heroes for Hire, and a sprinkling of independent heroes like Daredevil, Spiderman, and Black Panther. The design team did not offer much in the way of villains for the Watcher to use, although the Mini-Event: Breakout (adventures are called Events here) offers stats for opponents that can be used by Watchers creating their own Events. In addition to pulling in superheroes as “villains”, such as Black Widow, other opponents include S.H.I.E.L.D agents, Electro, Count Nefaria, and an assortment of other mutants and mutates from the Savage Lands.

    Of course, the designers did include a random character generation booklet – the MHR Random Datafiles book – which can be used to create both new villains as well as new superheroes alike. A blank Datafile sheet can be found in both the main MHR Basic Game Book and the MHR Datafiles booklet. The downside of this is that there are no real rules for crafting one’s own superhero as in Champions or GURPs, and the game feels geared more toward playing out the escapades of an existing Marvel Superhero, or an entire superhero team. While some gamers might thrill to role-play Wolverine or Ironman in a Marvel Universe setting, others will undoubtedly mourn the feeling of being too confined by the lack of a character creation system.

    Additionally, the Experience Point system seems more geared to offering bonuses during a single Event rather than allowing a superhero to change and grow over time. Many of the benefits one can gain from experience points spent are immediate, or limited to the current Event, and make no lasting changes to the character. In fact, a sidebar discussion suggests that it’s okay for players to play new superheroes on each new Event, starting with a fresh datafile from the stock. Again, this might sit werll with some gamers, but most RPGs are based upon characters growing and advancing over time and with experience, and not being forever held in a static basic form.

    One major downside to the MHR Basic Game is the lack of a selection of villains, threats, and overall “world mechanics” to create further home-brewed Events. It’s a bit perturbing that the designers fail to offer a nascent Watcher anything in the way of resources to create his or her own Events, which leaves the game in stasis once the players finish with the Breakout Mini-Event included in the rulebook. And for those fanboys and fangirls who have read and enjoyed Marvel Comics The New Avengers series #1 to #6, the Acts and Scenes in the Breakout Mini-Event are going to seem maybe a bit too familiar, and lack the spontaneity of truly new material.

    In fact, the structure of MHR Basic Game seems more geared for Watchers to run future releases of “Event” products, rather than taking material and running their own Event Series in the Marvel Universe. Lacking basic Event building materials, such as villain and monster datafiles, real-world threats like speeding cars, crashing buildings, and other resources really hampers a Watchers’ ability to make the game their own.

    Overall Score: 2.8 out of 5.0


    Ive always been a huge fan of Marvel comics, and that made me really want to like the Marvel Superhero Roleplaying Basic Game, but I simply could not due to what the game actually offers to the comic book fan/roleplaying game enthusiast. While the Cortex Plus system is interesting and innovative, it is not an easy system to pick up, and it makes comparing superheroes to supervillains, or to each other, not an easy task. The lack of a character generation system essentially forces players to adopt one of the heroes from the Marvel Universe, and only 23 of the thousands of heroes were offered, and some were frankly non-iconic compared to others that could have been included. And while there are some rules for Watchers to create their own Events, there are practically no resources whatsoever for villain stats and scene material, other than what can be cannibalized from the included Mini-Event: Breakout – which was also adapted from an existing Marvel comic series that many fans have probably read.

    So in essence, the Marvel Superhero Roleplaying Basic Game ends up being a couple hundred pages of rules and pre-made character sheets, just so a Watcher and his (or her) players can re-enact an adventure based upon a seven year old Marvel comic series of The New Avengers. Without considerable additional material, or further releases of Event products, Marvel Superhero Roleplaying Basic Game ends up being a pretty package, but a very limited one-shot adventure for a few super-heroes in a tiny corner of the Marvel Universe.

    So until next review… I wish you Happy Gaming!

    Author’s Note: This author received a complimentary advanced copy of this product for use in writing the review above.

    Grade Card (Ratings 1 to 5)

    • Presentation: 3.0
    • - Design: 2.5 (Rulebook was adequate, but system still difficult to learn from the writing)
    • - Illustrations: 3.5 (Awesome illustrations from actual Marvel Comics, but not really illustrating the rules)
    • Content: 3.0
    • - Crunch: 2.5 (Cortex innovative, but no character generation, and no Watcher resources)
    • - Fluff: 3.5 (Plenty of fluff for the superheroes included, but little beyond that for the Marvel Universe)
    • Value: 2.5 (A lot of cool material, but basically nothing more but a one-shot pre-made adventure)
    Attached Files Attached Files  
    Last edited by Morrus; Friday, 8th June, 2012 at 02:57 PM.

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