Downsizing DC Comics: DC HeroClix
Collectable Miniature Games
The 1970's were a great time for comics fans because they could get their favorite Marvel Comics and DC Comics in the same scale from the then all-powerful Mego Corporation. It may be time to dust off those bellbottoms, because happy days are back but this time, like the march of computer technology, everything is smaller. A lot smaller.
Wiz Kids has been making a name for themselves in the world of gaming over the last few years by combining two popular gaming types - collectible card games and miniatures gaming. Taking concepts from both coupled with their development of the combat dial (which greatly simplifies record keeping) has led to the 'collectable miniature game', or CMG. The first game Wiz Kids developed was Mage Knight, which is fantasy based, and they grew that into several expansion sets and new games on the way to the HeroClix system, used in the DC and prior Marvel game. There is also a MechWarrior based game on the market now called 'Dark Age', and there are more games on the horizon.
HeroClix is a system that follows many of the same concepts as Mage Knight and Marvel HeroClix, and there are complete articles on both games linked in the link box at the right. This feature is laid out to look at the basics of CMG's followed by the DC game and how it's played. After that we'll look at the differences between the Marvel and DC games, and what's planned for the future of the HeroClix system. This feature is written and designed for people who may vary from no exposure at all to the game to veteran players who have followed every stage of development. Depending on your knowledge of the game, you may wish to skip certain sections of this feature.
If you are new to collectable miniature gaming you may wish to read the entire article as it introduces many of the concepts used in the game, and even if you are familiar with the concepts you may find something new. If you are already familiar with CMG's but not with HeroClix, you may wish to jump to the second section, Playing the DC Game. If you know HeroClix through the Marvel game, the DC vs. Marvel section will help clarify the similarities and differences between the two games. If you already know everything about the game but want to know what's coming next for HeroClix checkout the future of HeroClix at the end of the feature. If you just want to collect the pieces or just want to look at lots of pretty pictures you can jump over to the gallery (though reading the first section below may help in understanding distribution).
Keep in mind the images are greatly enlarged to show detail but they may also show flaws that are not as apparent on the actual figures. The thumbnail images are closer to actual size than the large gallery images, and each figure is around one inch tall. The gallery images also have basic information about the figures to aid collectors and players.
If you've played games like Magic: The Gathering, or Mage Knight and HeroClix you'll already be familiar with the general concepts of the game, but for new players who have had their interest piqued by the thoughts of titanic tussles across the DC Universe and have never played before, this section should help bring you up to speed.
HeroClix (and other collectable miniature games like Mage Knight) are sold in several different packages to suit the needs of the gamer and that follow the same pattern as Collectible Card Games. Each line has a 'starter set' that includes extra pieces and the rules for that particular game or expansion set. Beyond the starters are 'booster packs' which just have randomly inserted pieces for the game, similar to the way sports cards are distributed. The pieces are also made in different rarities based on the collector number and the ranking of the figure. For example, figure # 1 (a Gotham City Policeman) is much easier to get (and you are much more likely to end up with multiples) than figure # 130 (Superman Reborn, which is also a unique figure). Generally, the same character at a different ranking is harder to find than the same character at a lower ranking, meaning a rookie Batman will be easier to find than a veteran one. Since each pack is random, you could get any particular piece in a pack, but the odds favor building multiples of lower numbered pieces mixed with a few uniques and scarcer ones.
Players will usually only need one starter set to get the rules, then they can supplement their pieces through the boosters and by trading with other players. The starter sets will have eight character pieces in them and will retail for about $19.95 USD. The booster packs have four character pieces in them and will retail for around $6.95 USD. The starter sets also include the rules, a special abilities card for reference, the playmat (outdoor map on one side, indoor map on the other), two six-sided dice, tokens and terrain markers, a HeroClix ring (not to be confused with the One Ring), and a strip of blank stickers. The stickers are for the bottoms of the pieces, so that you can more easily sort out the pieces at the end of play, but you can use whatever method works to make it easier to remember whose pieces are whose. There are also three scenario cards to help you get started with ideas for play and some scenarios are included in the rulebook.
CMG's have miniature pieces (around an inch tall) that are fully painted and mounted on plastic bases. Each base not only holds the figure, but it acts as the record keeper for each character since it is also a combat dial. Wiz Kids invented the combat dial, and this has been the key feature for the Mage Knight and Marvel HeroClix games. The dial takes away the need for tables and charts and by turning (or 'clicking') the base the numbers in the window change, and this lets you keep track of damage and the characters abilities as you play the game. This makes the game easier to pick up for players who haven't been initiated to miniature wargaming, the basis for miniatures games.
The base also reveals plenty of information about a character, including the collector number, the relative power (point value), speed, damage, attack and defense values, group affiliation and the experience level of the character. The dials are turned either by using the ring against a ribbed bottom to twist the base, or by twisting the figure on top of it. Most of the pieces have the ridged bottom, and only the colored bases aren't ridged. The black bases are designed to use the ring and were not ridged solely for her pleasure. As the base is turned different statistics appear in the slot for defense, attack, damage and speed values.
Most characters have three varieties - Rookie, Experienced and Veteran, which represent that character at different levels of their career. The levels are shown by color of the ring surrounding the piece, with yellow for Rookie, blue for Experienced and red for Veteran. There are also some figures that are classified Unique, and these are harder to find and cannot be duplicated on a team. These figures have silver rings on their bases and are generally much more powerful pieces. Eventually there will be figures with gold bases, which are pieces that are not found randomly inserted but are only available as rewards for contests, buying certain amounts of materials or certain other means as determined by Wiz Kids. There are no DC gold premium figures yet, but they are planned for the future.
Every piece has a point value and play balance is maintained by building teams with equal point values, so if you choose to use a few powerful pieces you may have less flexibility for your team (and even less pieces). You can only have one unique piece for each team, so that keeps one player from having several identical unique pieces.
The game is designed to be very open-ended, and every game will play out differently. The equal amount of points for each team helps balance the game, but each player can choose radically different characters and strategies for the game which leads to unlimited replayability. The addition of special abilities and powers that change throughout the game keep the contest exciting and require the players to constantly be thinking and rethinking strategy.
Playing the DC Game
There are several concepts that are used in HeroClix which differ from the other CMG's like Mage Knight. One is the existence of archenemies, and another is the use of flying bases. A third difference involves powers and special abilities and last is the team affiliation for a character or figure.
Archenemies are characters that are sworn enemies and there is also a rule to prevent the use of archenemies on the same team. Archenemies are shown by having bases in colors other than black. The characters with the same non-black colored bases will not work together - they just don't get along! This doesn't apply to two figures of the same character (such as two Superman figures) just one character and another (like Superman and Doomsday). Defeating an archenemy earns extra points for that character when determining the winner of a game.
There are two distinct base designs in the game, one for regular pieces and one used for archenemy pieces. The reason for this is that all the printing is done in white ink on black bases, and if the bases were different colors on top they would have to print the stats in colors other than white, complicating the production process and likely adding expense. So the colored bases fit under the pieces to maintain the black base color for printing and they don't have ridged bottoms. Archenemy bases can't be turned with the ring included with the starter set. Bear in mind the previous statement was not a challenge!
The concept of flying characters is central to the HeroClix game and even super-heroes comics themselves. The first true superhero - Superman - has the ability to fly (and yes, he could only leap at first but he can fly now). Characters who can fly have a special clear base that has a movable notch on the side to denote whether they are at ground level (hovering) or in flight (soaring) by changing the level of the indicator. Flying characters have some advantages in that they can more easily elude their earthbound opponents.
Part of the allure of superheroes is their use of fantastic abilities and powers that make them stronger, faster or tougher than the average man. The characters in HeroClix have the same powers used in the comics, and they are revealed through the combat dial. As play develops the dial is turned and when a statistic is highlighted by another color the player will consult the special abilities and powers card to see what additional options are available. Newer players will have to think fast as they may not be familiar with special abilities and powers when player experienced players who may have dial statistics memorized and know when a power is due to appear. The various abilities and powers can give a character a new ability, better attack or defense or make them tougher, depending of the power.
One concept that carried over from Mage Knight but was altered slightly is that of team affiliation. This allows certain characters or groups working together to gain advantages they might not have singly. This gives players incentive for building teams of related characters and also adds new options during play.
What follows is a very brief overview of game play and there is much more information available on the official site. The DC HeroClix site has downloadable copies of the complete rules and the special abilities and powers card.
On starting a new game, each player assembles a team of characters whose point values add up to an agreed amount. (Multiples of 100 are usually used.) Players roll the dice to determine who picks which map to play on, and the next player gets to choose where on the map they would like to set up their characters. (The rulebook includes several scenarios to play out, making this far more interesting than a regular board game, in which the scenario is always the same.)
The map may be dressed out with tokens or props to represent the artifacts of daily life, like trashcans, mailboxes or vending machines. All of these can (and usually will) be used as weapons to either throw at other players or smash them with. Once the map is set up, play begins in turns.
Each turn can consist of one or more actions. There are four actions: move a character, make a ranged combat attack, make a close combat attack, or pass. Moving a character is determined by the "current speed value" on its base: if that value is ten, then the character can move up to ten spaces in one action. If a character flies, a change in their flight level eats up one of their speed value points.
Using dice and comparing statistics of the characters engaged determine the success of an attack. The map adds details for the battle, so a character can suffer a "knockback" and take even more damage from hitting part of the scenery or going through a wall on the map. "Knockback" is when a character is thrown backwards by punch or other impact, and may hit another object or just be moved away. Characters are also able to pick up objects and use them as weapons against other characters. There are object tokens that represent objects included in the game, and there are accessory packs that have physical miniatures that can be used.
From here the players fight until only one side is left or a goal is met. From there points can be calculated from the fight and a winner determined. Once that is done the gloating and excuses can begin on the way to a re-match where assuredly things will be different. Just like stupid pet tricks, please - no wagering.
DC vs Marvel
Both the Marvel Infinity Challenge and DC Hypertime games use the basic rules for the HeroClix game system. The two games are not billed as being sequels or the same game, but the underlying framework for both is the same. Pieces from both are compatible in size and play, so many of the crossover classics from over the years can be recreated between your favorite Marvel and DC characters. The accessory packs for HeroClix are designed to be used in either game, so these too are fully compatible with both games.
The question of play balance can be one of individual taste and interpretation. Batman and Captain America may seem like they should be roughly equal, though debates over comparisons as these as numerous and rarely settled. When using characters from different sets use you own judgment to keep the game fair, and make sure all players agree to any changes you wish to make.
Both games use the same ranking systems, the same concepts and practices for playing the game. The DC game introduces the concept of swimming movement, which was absent in the Marvel game (though easily adaptable). The flight bases are the same, though there have been improvements to the bases for the DC game, resulting in more stable bases, and more creative ones (such as the Weather Wizard's water spout).
One area where things are not the same is in super powers. While there are some overlapping powers, they use different colors and when mixing characters always make sure you look at the correct powers card for that character's game.
Downloading a copy of each respective game's cards from the official sites can have the best comparison for the powers and abilities. You can see that while there are some differences all the powers for each game can clearly be used on pieces from either release.
Marvel pieces outnumber DC characters by a wide margin. The Marvel Infinity Challenge had 150 characters and 20 more have been added since through premiums or exclusives. The DC Hypertime game only starts with 130 characters, and it will fall a bit further behind when the Clobberin' Time expansion adds another 100 characters to the Marvel stable. While they may never be even, there is still plenty of variety!
The Future of HeroClix
The HeroClix game system just launched in May of 2002 with the Marvel Infinity Challenge set amid the fervor of the opening of Spider-Man, which looks to be the biggest film of the year (by far). After that WizKids followed up with a large scale Sentinel figure and two accessory packs - one outdoor and one indoor - with props and scenarios that are universal.
There will be a Premier Edition DC HeroClix starter to be released in mid October 2002, similar to the Marvel Premier Edition. This set is identical to the regular starter set with the addition of an extra map, more tokens and a non-random character distribution. The characters included with this are Batman, Robin, Aquaman, Hawkman, Huntress, The Joker, Bane, Man-Bat, Clayface III, and Harley Quinn.
The Marvel game has generated several premium figures, which have gold bands and are only available through certain events or have other requirements. This has been done for prior WizKids games as rewards and prizes that could be earned. Many of the premium figures for Marvel have been 'secret identity' figures, so it's fair to assume that the DC game will follow with some of these. There is already one exclusive offer available for the DC game, and that is a Superman 'World at War' figure available from Scrye and ToyFare magazines.
In November 2002 the first expansion for the Marvel game will be released entitled 'Clobberin' Time!' The title is also the call to battle for one of Marvel's royalty - the Thing of the Fantastic Four, and this set will add in the aforementioned foursome including their most diabolical counterpart Dr. Doom. The set is going to introduce 100 new pieces to the game with new sculpts for Elektra, Wolverine, Spider-Man and the Hulk, and add in some new characters such as the Sandman. You'll need the original game rules to play (handily available at the official site), and new heroes, villains and powers will be added to the system. These figures will be sold as boosters only, in packages with 4 random characters.
Tentatively scheduled for December release will be the first deluxe figure for the DC Game that will represent Sinestro, a Green Lantern who has gone terribly wrong. The figure will stand 6 3/4" tall, in the form of a giant golden translucent figure from the alien race the Qwardians, with his thunderbolt spear held nearly 8" off the ground. This will be the biggest HeroClix figure yet! Floating within the constructs' chest sits Sinestro himself, the master of the yellow power ring. The Sinestro construct figure, as with Sinestro in the DC Universe, will be a challenge even for Superman or the Green Lantern. The Sinestro construct is scalable to 300, 200, and 100-point versions, making him usable in any HeroClix game. The figure isn't designed to have Sinestro be removable, though no doubt some enterprising players will get him out whether he likes it or not.
Indy HeroClix, a new line of collectable miniature figures based on independent comics and designed for use with the HeroClix game system, is slated for release in 2003. Indy HeroClix will include characters from the universes of such noted comic book publishers as CrossGen Comics, Dark Horse Comics, Chaos Comics, Top Cow, and 2000 AD, as well as individual characters from creators J. Scott Campbell (Danger Girl), David Mack (Kabuki), and Billy Tucci (Shi), and these are just the ones that have already signed on. There is always the possibility that more could be added to the game at release or through expansion sets.
While nothing has been officially confirmed, there are clearly some major players missing from the initial DC HeroClix set, including the first lady of comics - Wonder Woman, and Sinestro's perennial foes the Green Lantern Corps (and ringslinger Hal Jordan). We wouldn't be surprised to see some or maybe all of these characters making appearances in the future, and time will tell.