Saturday, October 13, 2007

You're Special to Me!

In our previous chats about Heroclix, we've explored some of the standard powers you might find on a figure's dial. But you may have heard about "special powers" that some figures have; what's that about?

For many characters, standard powers are all that's needed to represent fairly well what it is they can do. After all, there are 40 standard powers (and that's not counting stuff like flight, the aquatic ability, multiple targeting, and Team Abilities), and combining them with different combat values makes for lots of possibilities.

But for some characters, the standard powers seem too limiting or are just "off". In the sets it released this year, Wizkids (the makers of Heroclix) took a simple but huge step that allows them to represent such characters better: special powers.

Special powers basically do one of these things:
  1. Give a figure a modified form of an existing power.
  2. Allow a figure to have two or more powers that would otherwise be mutually exclusive.
  3. Grant a figure a unique gameplay mechanic.

  • Give a figure a modified form of an existing power.

Sometimes a standard power is kind of what a character does, but is too weak, too strong, or just needs tweaked. Special powers can get around that by granting a version of the standard power that’s modified by having different conditions. Take, for example, “Perplex”; that’s the standard power that allows a figure to modify any one of its combat values (speed, attack, defense, damage, or range) by 1, or to do the same to any figure it can see that’s within 10 squares. That’s a fairly broad power, and open to lots of modifiers that make it the basis for many special powers.

Saturn Girl, Aquaman, Batzarro, Lex Luthor, Parasite, Merlyn, Aztek, Power Ring-- all have special powers that are, in essence, modified versions of Perplex. Saturn Girl can alter combat value by 2 instead of 1; Aquaman can "perplex" the combat values of any and all visible aquatic characters at the same time; Batzarro can only alter combat values by -1; you get the idea!

Perplex is not the only standard power used as a basis for some special powers. For example,, some special powers are modified versions of Mastermind (Lex Luthor, Superman) and Probability Control (Hourman, Time Trapper, Chronos).

The appropriate reaction to such powers: "Okay, that makes sense. Pretty cool."

  • Allow a figure to have two or more powers that would otherwise be mutually exclusive.
For each type of combat value, a figure can only have one standard power at a time. For example, Barrier and Deflection are both powers that attach to Defense Values, so a figure can only have one of those powers at a time. That's a problem when you feel a character should be able to have recourse to either one. We talked about this when you were disturbed that a Green Lantern didn't have Willpower, because it clashed with another Defense power.

Special powers can get around this limitation very handily. Either they can specifically grant both powers (as when the special power "Vibration" gives Flash both Phasing and Hypersonic Speed, or when "Psychic Powers" lets Hector Hammond use either Psychic Blast or Telekinesis), or move one of the powers to a different Combat Value (Mento's special speed power, Mental Hold, grants him Incapacitate, which is ordinarily an attack value power). Other figures that have such special powers include Icicle (Mastermind and a Defense Special Power), Black Canary (Energy Explosion and Incapacitate), Parasite (Steal Energy and an Attack Special Power), John Fox (Charge and Flurry).

The appropriate reaction to such powers: "Well, of course. Finally!"

  • Grant a figure a unique mechanic that represents what they do better than the standard powers can.

For some characters, Wizkids pulls out all the stops are creates a power that allows them a special way of doing thing in the game. Deadman, instead of just having Mind Control, can take "Possession" of an opponent's figure, and refuse to give it up (although he takes Damage for doing so, or might get ejected by a bad die roll). With "Disruption", Phantom Girl can remove objects from the board because she's destroying them from the inside. With "Kltpzxym!", Mxyzptlk can "pop" around the board, but each time he does, he runs the risk of being returned to the starting area.

The most popular of these powers belongs (naturally) to Batman, who can leap "Out of the Shadows" from one spot of hindering terrain to another nearby and then hit someone with his fist (close combat) or a batarang (ranged combat). Other figures with such "extra special" powers included Parasite, Firestorm, Bouncing Boy, Doomsday, Captain Boomerang, and Granny Goodness.

The appropriate reaction to such powers: "Yes; THAT is what they do. That is so awesome!"

Special powers have made Heroclix feel much more "comic book-y" than before and, on the whole, comic book lovers who play the game consider them an enormous improvement on the game, one that's helped increase its popularity among people who do not traditionally play such games.

Although some players were concerned that the Special powers would be too complicating or too hard to remember, my friends and I have not found that to be the case, because special powers are either (1) slight modifications of standard power (2) combo versions of standard powers or (3) the kind of thing that we always wanted that character to do anyway.


Theron said...

Special Powers, along with the "Flavor Text" accompanying the powers breakdown on the cards are the big reasons why I got enthused about HeroClix again.

Anonymous said...

Agreed on all points. I only buy DC Clix, but every single special power (except Mento, since it's just a usual power in a different slot) is a ton of fun and changes the game up a whole lot.

My favorite character to play for fun is now Emperor Joker, since it's such an unpredictable battle with his special powers. Luthor's also a force to be reckoned with thanks to his fancy version of Mastermind. And as for forgetting the powers, just use the cards. I thought I'd hate those things, but they're really good for those occasional "It's Pulse Wave / No it's Quake" type of arguments.

Derek said...

Special powers are fantastic.

Very few of them are confusing (Deadman and Parasite). And if you ever find yourself confuzzled, each figure comes with a card that explains every power.

This posts inspired me to finally post in my blog, so thanks for that, Scipio.

Anonymous said...

Hey nice explanation. I look forward to the next JLA fight reenacted by heroclix.

Anonymous said...

Howdy man, I was reading one of your older posts, and you wrote that you hoped to see an Aqualad or Aquagirl heroclix in the next set. Since that hasn't happened, I wondered if you might tell us how you'd set up their dials.

I'm working on an Aquaman mod for a game called Freedom Force, and I could use some ideas for designing the kids' powers. Plus, I just think it'd be awesome to have the Aqua family clixified.

Anonymous said...

Back when HeroClix was at its peak, many HC fans offered similar suggestions about expanding the powers to better reflect the superheroes (and superhero battles) as we know them. WizKids response was basically "it's just a game" and "we want to keep it simple."

I guess now that HC is on the decline, they've changed their tune. Too bad, because my region has abandoned HC almost entirely. I couldn't get back into it if I wanted to.

Scipio said...

That's the spirit!

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a fun game. Nobody in my area plays it, is there an online or just computer equavilant?

Scipio said...

It is, Putney.

There is a fan-made on-line Heroclix game, but you have to have other people to play it with.

No one played it around here when I started either; I just taught it to people... .