Thursday, January 31, 2008

Review: Marvel Heroes

This is a version of a review I posted on BGG some time ago.


I was looking forward to this game and was intrigued by what I had heard about it (that each player controlled their own group of superheroes and a supervillan as well that can attack the other players' teams). The game seemed to have been well received here at BGG so my hopes were high. I also collected comic books for a while when I was younger so there was some nostalgia for me coming into this game. I really wanted it to be good. Nevertheless, I found myself disappointed overall with this game.

Brief Overview of Game Play

Each player controls one of four possible groups of Superheroes (composed of four superheroes each):

The Avengers
The X-Men
The Marvel Knights
The Fantastic Four

The game takes place on a quasi-New York inner city map. The map is divided up into six districts and there are four subsections within each district. The flow of the game is divided up into a series of 5 rounds with 5 rotations of turns within each round. At the beginning of each round, there are a number of “Headlines” that come out for each district. Essentially these "headlines" represent combat scenarios in which you may encounter bad guys and have to fight them. These headlines are of several types (Mystery, Crime, Danger). There is also a certain skill listed underneath the main description (such as science, mystic, protection, etc.). The skills listed correspond to specific character skills that can be found on the character cards for the various superheroes that can be used in the game. There are also "plot points" that are used by each player to get their superheroes ready for action before each round begins.

On a player’s turn within a round, they can do things like move their superhero, give medical attention to a superhero, or begin "troubleshooting" a headline (which is really where most of the action is). Each headline has a certain "trouble" rating – which is essentially the number of dice you roll to determine, in broad terms, how many bad guys or extra problems there might be as part of fighting the headline. A superhero may move to an area and may fight the headline alone or they may have a "support" hero along with them. Each headline grants a number of victory points to the person who successfully defeats any villans involved in that headline.


Combat consists of a series of dice rolls that have to be processed through a series of modifiers present on the villan’s card, any modifying cards for the villan, and the superhero’s modifiers on the superhero’s card as well as any modifiers on the "supporting" hero’s card. There is some simultaneous decision revelation prior to combat but it is essentially a choice of which set of dice modifiers your character – be it villan or hero – will use in combat. And, here we come to the source of my disappointment. In essence, the game pretty much mostly just dice rolling in which the rolls have to be tediously processed through the various modifiers. When looked at from a larger view, all of the mechanics in the game - including the card drawing - strike me as simply serving as window dressing for the dice rolling.

The main aspect of the game that had intrigued me was the concept of controlling a supervillan as well as a set of superheroes. Herein, again, I was disappointed as the supervillan you control is not able to actively engage the superheroes. What I mean by this is that you cannot, for example, on your turn declare that Dr. Doom will now attack the Fantastic Four. Instead, you control Dr. Doom only after the Fantastic Four decide to go after a headline. In other words, you have to wait for the other player to initiate any combat and then, again, combat is simply a series of dice rolls being processed through a series of modifiers. There are other familiar "sub-villans" that can be played in the form of cards that can be drawn by the players during the course of the game (e.g. Venom, the Juggernaut, and Dr. Octopus among others). However, these cards are, again, simply a set of dice modifiers and, in that respect, I found combat to be an unfulfilling experience.

In general, the strategy of the game seems to pretty much be the same as it is with any dice-driven game: hedge your bets with the dice rolling by trying to stack modifiers (of whatever form) in your favor. Granted, there are various ways that this can be accomplished and there are also some resource management skills involved with how and when you use your plot points but, again, a game that is this dice driven does not tend to be my style of game. There have been dice driven games I have played in the past that I have liked but this was not one of them. I won the game of Marvel Heroes I played (all of us who played were new) but I didn’t attribute my win to any great acumen or strategic cunning. I just hedged my bets as best I could and hoped for the best.


With respect to the components, it’s been stated before that the map is lacking in its appearance. However, I don’t really dock any points from the game for that as the art work of the map seems to be presented with the intention of making it look "comicbooky" and, in that respect, the map works. I also liked the miniatures and the art design on the various character cards as well as art design for the rulebook. I also liked the plot points being small chips with speech windows in them (you know, the circles above the characters’ heads in a comic book where their dialogue is written). I also liked the quirky-ness of the "trouble" counter being a very "comicbooky" exclamation point. However, all of the components simply served to reinforce my disappointment that, behind the chrome, the game is pretty much just a "dicefest".

Game Length

In terms of time, the game I played took a little over 2 hours which was mostly due to the fact that we were all new to the game. I can see how, with players who have an understanding of the rules, it could move a lot faster. So, my perception is that the time factor can be alleviated by having experienced players. Each player is provided with a game summary that is serviceable in design. However, I can also see how a self-created player aide that simply integrates the various sections on the summary into one cohesive round outline would result in a more understandable aide for a new player.
Overall Impressions
I personally found that the choices being presented by the game were simply steps to set up the culminating modifier system for dice rolling in combat rather than being diverging paths leading toward several different methods of scoring or accumulating points. Because of this, I didn't find the choices very interesting to make. For example, with respect to which team member to send into an area, that choice revolved primarily around the possible sets of how many dice can be rolled for "attack", "defense", and "outwit". Again, that wasn't necessarily a very interesting choice for me. Now, if there were different kinds or sets of dice with different actions available depending on the character I'm using, then now we're talking. But if it's not which type, but rather, just how many of the same type of dice can be used depending on the character, that just isn't a choice I find very interesting to make.
I'm not saying that a game has to be really complex to be enjoyable. I'm also not saying that Marvel Heroes is a bad game or that all games have to have a "many paths to victory" element to them to be fun. What I am saying is that the choices in Marvel Heroes were not interesting enough to me to make the game fun enough to try again for me. I can see how the game would appeal to other people who derive more of a sense of satisfaction from wading through processes of arriving at the number of dice in a roll (along with any re-roll possibilities) but that person isn't me in this case.

Who will like this game

I suspect that the main group of people who will like Marvel Heroes are the same people who tend to like games where dice are the predominant driving force of action. This game will more than likely not appeal to casual gamers simply because of the amount of rules that go into processing the various modifiers for the dice rolls.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Board Game Companies With Game Submission Pages

I recently decided to look around and find any game companies that are actually, currently accepting game submissions. The following is a list along with links to the submission pages:

Cambridge Games:

Here is the link to their submission letter:

Sunriver Games:

Z-Man Games:

Steve Jackson Games:

Twilight Creations:

Out of the Box:

University Games:

North Star Games:

There is the German board game desgin competition known as Hippodice. Here is their webpage:

There is a convention for board game designers in Michigan known as Protospiel. Here is their website:

Other options include companies like GameWright. But, it's through their regular "Contact Us" page/template that you can submit your request. They will respond with the procedures for submission but it may take a while for them to get back with you after you submit your request for info. Here's the link to their contact page:

Other companies go back and forth on accepting ideas or ceasing for the time being. For more information, one can visit the Board Game Designers Forum:

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Review of 1960: The Making of the President

I recently played "1960: The Making of the President" a few times and I was hoping it would be a fabulous game. However, I found some serious flaws with it. Granted, the production quality is top notch and I like the thematic titles and tid-bits of info on the cards. However, the general luck of the draw in the game (or, to put it more accurately, the sequence in which certain cards are drawn and by which player they are drawn) can be too significant (i.e. they can take away much of the significance of player choice because of the power of certain events and/or the sequence in which they happen).

What's funny about the dynamics of play in this game is that the number of interactive influences inherent in the cards and in the structure of play create the illusion of one's choices being more weighty and meaningful than they really are. Instead of being a game where each player makes small strides that all add up to a larger conclusion (as the game appears to play at first), this is actually a game where each turn can potentially represent huge swings in what would be the final score if the game ended on that turn. This is a reflection of the average power inherent in the design of the events on the cards and the (admittedly thematic) distribution of points for control of different areas on the board. There are simply too many events that can have a large impact given the fact that there are unequal distributions of points for cubes played (different states have drastically different values). Though this is thematic, this also results in a game where the luck of the draw can actually trump planning.

This criticism of vast swings in play is also due in part to the fact that the area control aspect of the game in the states is mostly a zero sum game (with an exception being in the case that the "unfaithful electors" card is in play). Therefore, each electoral point I'm able to completely take away from my opponent will get added to my side. Thus, each swing must be thought of as being double what you lost because not only did you lose it but your opponent gained it. For example, if by playing a card, I can swing New York away from my opponent and over to my side, that's a 90 point shift (-45 for him, +45 for me) in a game where there are a total of 537 electoral votes in play.

Another example: I played a game once where I went through on one turn and cleared out a lot of my opponents cubes off of states that would swing my way if they had no cubes on them at all. That resulted in a 140 point swing (-70 for him, +70 for me). Then the next turn, he got an endorsement in that area which swung the whole thing back in his direction - a 140 point swing the other direction. In a game where there are, again, 537 electoral votes at stake, that's some massive swinging of points happening in just the space of two turns. Such vast swings would be objects of criticism in a game like, say, Power Grid. It would be like on one turn I have 12 houses and my opponent had 6 and then the next turn my opponent took 4 away from my side while adding those 4 to his side leaving him with 10 while I have 8 and so forth.

These massive swings of influence maybe would have been tolerable or even enjoyable for me if the game had some scoring in the middle to reward early plays. However, since all the scoring happens at the end (which is, admittedly, thematic), and because the swings of influence can be so dynamic and significant from turn to turn, the early part of the game doesn't really feel important. The winner of the game can potentially be determined on the last play just as easily for both sides depending on the last few cards drawn by either player. Though this is thematic, it's not what I would prefer in a game like this. Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that a person can play poorly and win this game. What I am saying is that, because the swings of influence are so dynamic and drastic from turn to turn, much of the tension that this game is touted as having simply isn't there. Assuming both players play capably, this game is more like watching a pendulum swing back and forth where you hope that it just happens to be on your side at the end of the turn when the game ends. In this respect, the game feels more like a long, drawn out coin flip than a strategic exercise.

If the possibilities for influence inherent in each individual card were lessened by several degrees, if the distribution of points on the board were more balanced, or if there were possibilities for mid-game scoring, then the game would be more strategic and less luck driven (however, balance in point distribution on the board and mid-game scoring would both run counter to the theme). Nevertheless, despite my criticisms, I am not that surprised that very few people who have rated this game are picking up on these problems. As a player gets involved in the moment to moment decision making of 1960 and in the thematic appeal of the game, it can be easy to get caught up in the process of trying to decide which card to play without taking a step back to look at the general patterns of massive swings that are happening on the board. The type of board analysis I'm talking about can be obscured by the fact that the amount of surface area control on the board is not at all equal to the amount of electoral votes for each player.

These criticisms wouldn't be a problem at all if the game played in only about 20 to 30 minutes but this is an hour-and-a-half to two-hour long game. I really wanted to like this game (and I do like the theme) but there is no real emotional pay-off for me in a victory won in this type of game because it's hard to feel like one has "earned" a victory. It's more like one "received" the victory (which is thematic given that the game is about an election). However, this is a great game if a person wants to experience what an election feels like or if a person wants an experience that is historically immersive. The theme is solid.

In spite of my criticisms of the game play in 1960, most of the reviews on BGG for this game are glowing and the only really negative review focuses more on humor than it does on offering enlightening criticism. This has been a source of frustration for me. Surely I'm not the only one who sees things as I do?

Well, I encountered the following review because someone else included a link to it in their comments on 1960 at BGG. This review comes from the perspective of comparing 1960 with Twilight Struggle (a perspective I simply don't have yet as I have not yet played Twilight Struggle). The criticisms offered on the game in this review are quite well thought out so I'm posting a link to it here:

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Dilbert and the Marketing Department

I'm sure most if not all of us are familiar with the Dilbert comic strip. What follows is a clip from the short lived Dilbert cartoon series. In this clip, Dilbert changes jobs to a rival company called "Nirvana Company". Everything works at this new job (there aren't any of the usual problems found in most companies) until something very unfortunate happens.

What does this have to do with board game design? Well, I think you'll get the picture.

Note: After the 4:54 mark, this clip loses its relevance as to why I posted it here. However, this was how the clip was submitted on YouTube so I'm making the most of it.

Dogbert: "You're now well known in your industry."

Issues Between Designers and Publishers

Bruno Faidutti has written an excellent article on the subject of the Designer - Publisher relationship. Specifically, he discusses contractual issues by comparing contracts in the game publishing world with that of the book publishing world. It's quite interesting. Here's the link:

Friday, January 18, 2008

A Quick Look at Player Interaction

Player interaction is a point of departure for many in terms of what they want in a game. Many American style games, particularly war themed games, feature direct player interaction through mechanics such as direct resource attrition via combat. Instead of which item should I bid on or which item should I purchase, the game is more about which other player should I attack on my turn. Such games feature goals that rely on conquest, destruction, or weakening of another player as a means of achieving victory.

Eurogames, on the other hand, have often been saddled with the label of “multi-player solitaire” by the detractors of the genre. Though there is player interaction in Eurogames, it is not of the same type as what can be found more commonly in American style games. Many European style games feature indirect player interaction through mechanics such as limited markets and auctions. These mechanics create situations where many players are going for similar goals and have to compete in terms of the price they are willing to pay to achieve certain goals or the opportunity cost they must forgo to acquire certain resources before another player does. This results in mechanics where all of the players are focusing on some goal or goals that represent common aims toward which the different players are competing that do not lie in the path of direct conquest of another opponent. Instead of directly attacking another player, Eurogames tend to be more about who can achieve a mutually sought after objective better, quicker, or more cheaply than another player.

These tendencies beg the question of why more direct player interaction tends to be shunned as a trend in game design by European style game companies but embraced by American style game companies?

To the reader, if you will go back a few articles on this blog and look at my discussion about problems with triangulation in games that feature resource attrition due to direct player interaction, many of my points there relate directly to the current topic. The more direct the player interactions are in a game’s design, the more intrinsic potential exists within that design for mechanical broken-ness and runaway-leader problems. These tend to be natural consequences as games that feature direct player interaction often produce as the winner the player who was least “picked on” by the other players. Thus, American style games such as Risk, Twilight Imperium, and Nexus Ops, when more than two players are playing, tend to be more about who can talk whom into attacking other players. It’s more about the metagame of trying to persuade others to use their resources in certain ways rather than who can make the most mechanically strategic decisions on the board. Often, the winner is the player who most fully persuaded the other players to leave him or her alone so that they could gather up enough resources unmolested. These games tend to offer much of their emotional pay-off through successfully negotiating with other players in the situations that the game creates. In other words, the board merely presents a context in which players can implement negotiating and persuading skills. It’s more likely in an American style game than a European style game for a player to be a superior mechanical planner and yet still get beaten by an inferior mechanical planner who happens to be a much better persuader or negotiator.

When persuasion is the name of the game, the mechanics of the game don’t have to be held to standards of whether or not they are intrinsically balanced, whether or not there is a runaway leader problem, or whether or not it’s a concern that a player can be eliminated from the game. However, when mechanical strategy is what the game is seeking to feature, then the game’s design usually needs to be held to these standards. Eurogames tend to be more about mechanical strategy while American games tend to be more about persuasion and interpersonal strategy. One style rewards a manager, the other rewards a salesman.

It is important to note that games featuring more direct player interaction are not devoid of mechanical planning. Far from it. However they also suffer from the potential for players to arbitrarily take other players out of contention simply because they want to. If I’m playing a game of Neuroshima Hex and I just decide arbitrarily that I want to focus on hurting another player come what may then I can realistically take that player out of contention if it’s a three or four player game. I may not win but the possibility for ensuring that someone else doesn’t win is much more likely. With games that feature indirect player interaction, such arbitrary decisions don’t have the ability to be carried out to the same extent. If I choose to play poorly by overpaying for items or for taking an item that would have helped another player much more regardless of whether it helps me or not, then such decisions are much more likely to hurt me and mostly me much more than the other player. If I choose to play poorly in an American style game by attacking one player over another, it can much more easily lead to kingmaking situations. This possibility can undermine the enjoyment of the game for people who are more interested in mechanical planning because they can just arbitrarily be taken out of the game – their planning notwithstanding – simply because another player wanted to ensure that they didn’t win.

It is for many of these reasons I believe that European style games have moved away from direct player interaction. Eurogames often feature indirect player interactions because the games are seeking to feature mechanical planning as the emotional pay-off for playing. The design tendencies are meant to produce games where the problems that come with triangulation in direct player conflict scenarios are eliminated by establishing goals that are common to all players but that are not achieved through directly attacking other players.

There are many people who find the almost obligatory salesman tactics required to win certain American style games as being annoying and distracting to having a fun experience. They want to mechanically plan without having to be bothered with persuading (and in some cases pleading) with another player to do a particular thing on that player’s turn. At the same time, a person who gets a “charge” out of the persuasive challenges of an American style game or who really gets “fired up” when they can really “stick it” to another player, would find the choices presented by Eurogames as potentially being “dry” or “boring”.

Eurogames usually provide opportunities for the players to be mechanically clever without having to be bothered with the salesmen tactics that can pervade the table discussions during an American style game while American style games tend to almost require implementation of salesman tactics by the players due to the confrontational nature in many of the basic designs in those kinds of games. Although I can personally be an effective persuader, I don’t necessarily want much of that in my gaming experience. I want to tactically and mechanically plan without the potential for being arbitrarily attacked by another player simply because they “felt like it”. Thus, Eurogames tend to be much more congruent with the values I have regarding what I personally look for in a game – but that’s just me.

On the other hand, direct player interaction is not a problem at all when there are only two players or only two sides. In many games, particularly historical wargames, few to none of the issues raised in this article have any footing. Attacking and conquering the other player or other side is the whole goal of the game.

However, once a third player or side is introduced into the mix, the potential for cross-cutting and all of the accompanying baggage of triangulation in direct conflict scenarios immediately becomes a problem. What’s ironic is that many mechanics in European style games that feature indirect player interaction often require at least three players in order for the mechanics to work properly. (For a discussion about that topic, look back a few articles - I discussed how certain mechanics simply aren’t viable with only two players.)

From a game design standpoint, it is my opinion that a designer needs to be aware of these issues so that he or she can design the kind of game they are intending to design.