Friday, 10 January 2014

Avengers Vs X-Men: An Introduction to Heroclix

In my introduction to Hooting Into The Abyss I announced that I was The Unpainter, a person who didn’t play miniature games, didn’t play wargames, and didn’t paint miniatures. There is an exception which has happened in the last year, a miniature game which sounds at first like it would be anathema to any other Abyss-Hooter on this site.
I’m talking about Heroclix, a game I have drifted in and out of a couple of times and recently returned to as my local community has been expanding its presence and the scope of its plans. I thought I would write about the four events which will take place monthly in gaming groups worldwide, but in particular the Brighton Heroclix community.

So what is Heroclix?
Heroclix is the name of a miniature gaming system for skirmish-size battles between two or more teams of generally, but not necessarily superheroes. The main two licenses the game carries are Marvel and DC, however the list of past Heroclix includes; Assassins Creed, Judge Dredd, Halo, Gears of War, Iron Maiden and Pacific Rim.
The system is really quite simple. Each player makes a team, places them on a map made of little inch squares, often replicating things like the Batcave or Columbia from Bioshock Infinite and you knock the snot out of each other. To see The Hulk chasing Batman and Ezio Auditore da Firenzi across a rooftop would normally be the matter for a fanboy’s dreams. Here, it’s a little plastic reality.
Each turn is short, players have an action for every hundred points of characters (so 500 points gives 5 actions) and each character can only be given one. If you move, that’s an action. If you punch or shoot someone, that’s an action. If you have Magneto fling a dumpster across a mall into the face of Captain America, it’s a really satisfying action. Really satisfying. Once your turn is over you’ve got little tokens on some or all of your people. The next turn they keep the actions and have to rest to remove them. Or, if you’re feeling risky, they can damage themselves to do another attack. There’s a whole risk/reward system to taking actions which makes prioritising what you can do and effectively budgeting cool superhero moves more tactical than you’d think. Can you afford to have Hulk headbutt the Juggernaut? What if he misses and is so weakened that the Toad can knock him out in one punch?

What about the miniatures? Are they cool?
They are the coolest. Over the years the game has been out, the sculpts have been getting prettier and prettier. Look at them, just look at them. Gorgeous. Or if you don’t like Jean Grey in her 1990’s outfit (because who in their right mind would?) you could just paint her up as any other version of the character from her fifty years of existence.
Anyway, they look pretty, and that’s not all. The rules for each miniature are provided on a little card, and on the base of the miniature itself. 

Here we have Cyclops. I know he’s a tool, but shut up, he’s awesome. Look at the base and the handy guide I’ve provided to how it looks. There are five basic stats; Speed, Attack, Defence, Damage and Range. To attack you roll 2d6, add your attack and try to beat your enemy’s defence. If you succeed, you inflict the character’s damage on the opponent.

It’s not as simple as that though and we'd all be disappointed if it was. Each stat might have a coloured background, meaning there’s a corresponding power in the Powers and Abilities Card (PAC) which tells you that Cyclops is super-determined with his Willpower power (purple on defence), or he can run and gun with Running Shot power (grey on speed). Move is how many squares you move, range is how far you shoot. There are little special powers too, but those all pop up as and when they are needed on a card.
But why’s it called Heroclix? Well, there’s a mechanic which justifies the numbers on the base looking like that. Each character has a certain amount of health and when they’re dealt damage, you rotate the base round. This means the stats change as the game goes on, giving people different powers and combat values as the fight ensues. Some people may want to suffer a little damage; The Hulk in the first set starts off as Bruce Banner, but after a click of damage gets a bit bigger, a bit angrier. Then more damage makes him even bigger and angrier as he Hulks out. At his mid-point, the Hulk is a nightmare of a piece to fight, before he drops back down and then is knocked out. It’s all very elegant and just to continue overusing a word I love in tabletop games, it’s thematic. For the most part, miniatures reflect their characters with a great level of accuracy. The movie version of Captain America can choose to have a ranged attack (fling his shield) or defend better against ranged combat (by using the shield as a shield). Spider-Man ignores most terrain as he bounces and swings around the map. Catwoman’s whip trips everyone next to her. It’s glorious and as close to settling those, “who would win, Superman or the Hulk?” arguments that most of us have had.

Okay, you’ve convinced me, so how do I get Heroclix?
Well, there are several different ways, online is of course the easiest method, but if your local game store is awesome then buy from them instead. I order mine through Dave’s Comics in Brighton and buy single miniatures online from Blue Rat Games.
Wizkids Games' official site is here, and news on Heroclix tends to be best found here or here.

You called this Avengers Vs X-Men, what’s that all about?
Marvel Comics have had a lot go on in the history of their comics. In 1980, Jean Grey was possessed by the Phoenix, a force of rebirth and destruction, things didn’t go well. An Avenger called Scarlet Witch went completely mental, wrecked both the X-Men and Avengers, before depowering all but (approximately) 198 mutants and stopping any more from being created.
In 2012, the Phoenix Force made its way towards Earth, specifically towards the only mutant to have been created after Scarlet Witch’s mental breakdown; Hope Summers. The Avengers were warned about it by Wolverine and prepared to capture Hope so that they could contain and destroy the Phoenix. Cyclops and the X-Men thought that Hope could kickstart the mutant gene again and let more mutants into the world. Both sides came to blows in Avengers Vs X-Men, which was an epic brawl. It was daft, but really entertaining.
Wizkids Games have released two starter sets for Heroclix, each containing six heroes. One is for X-Men, one is for Avengers. They contain everything you need to play, and form the backbone of the Avengers Vs X-Men organised play event.
Over the next four months, the Brighton Heroclix community and several other gaming groups all over the world will fracture into two sides to beat the tar out of each other and prove which team is the best.
I’ll be with the Brighton group, representing the X-Men, my favourite superheroes since I was a child. I intend on putting up some form of battle report to show you how a Heroclix event works, and the awesome battles that ensue.

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