The comic-book medium, having come of age on the American cultural scene, must measure up to its responsibilities. … [Furthermore,] in every instance good shall triumph over evil and the criminal punished for his misdeeds.
– Preamble and General Standards, Part A(6), Code of the Comics Magazine Association of America, Inc. (“The Comic Book Code” of 1954)
From time immemorial humans crave heroes. Originally coined to commemorate participants in the Trojan Wars, “hero” later described a dead man with power to support and protect the living from beyond the grave. Today we ascribe the name to individuals, living or dead, woman or man, who, through great sacrifice and selflessness, inspire us to greater purpose. Antiquity furnishes many familiar examples of heroical fixation. The Greeks and Romans recorded in song, stone and tablet many remarkable tales of “demi-gods and goddesses” and their ilk come down to earth to meddle in the affairs of mortals. Replete with lurid details of sex, murder, betrayal, and other unsavory and unmentionable acts, the ancient authors of the precursors to comic books, Homer, Hesiod, Virgil and others, would have to labor long and hard editing their epic manuscripts to bring them in line with the strictures of the Comic Book Code of 1954. Because, in the end, doesn’t Hades win, like every time?
My oldest memory of seeing anything even remotely “superhero” related takes me back to watching Underdog cartoons when I was four. Underdog became my conditioned criterion from which I would judge all things heroic from that day forward. Superpowers? Check. Costume? Check. Fan-babe canine love interest? Check. Speaks only in rhyme? Absolutely, all the time. Hidden compartment in his jewelry where he stashes his drugs? Chec… Hey, wait a minute!… No one even seemed to notice that he was a shoe-shining talking dog. For me, the lasting connection was with the obvious: his name. To this day, I am always rooting for the underdog. When he triumphs, there is hope for us all.
What better marriage of superheroes and underdogs than “Heroes of Metro City,” a Kickstarter campaign in its last week (they have until Saturday, September 15) to reach a $48,000.00 goal. This past week, the local chapter of Pretty Sneaky, Sis, (Joe and I), sat down with HoMC co-creator, David Boostrom, of 3some Games, Inc., to talk shop, superheroes and play some cards. David is a life-long game player, and from a very young age loved the superhero genre. With HoMC, he “designed a game for his 13 year old self,” in that the game mixes elements of role-playing, board and card games, all neatly balanced, then packaged into a “semi-cooperative” deck-builder.
Heroes needed in Metro City! In HoMC, each player represents a Hero of their own design who builds a power-set and back-story through battles with bad guys, ultimately either taking down the Archenemy, or succumbing to evil’s nefarious plan to destroy the city. To win, the Heroes fend off meddlesome Minions and vicious Villains building their strength in a race against time for a final confrontation with the game’s avaricious Archenemy! All the while, the forces of evil are destroying the city all around the Heroes, brick by brick. Will time run out on the city? Will the players muster the powers and strength to defeat the evildoers? Who will take up the mantle of True “Hero of Metro City?” There’s plenty of answers in the next episode!
Object of the Game:
HoMC is in large part a deck-builder, where players add powers and the energy required to wield them to their decks, and then, through careful card choices and strategic acquisitions of powers and energy, eventually defeat tougher and tougher opponents, preparing them for a final show-down with the game’s archenemy. Meanwhile, the bad guys are slowly and steadily destroying all of the “buildings” in Metro City, with their goal to destroy them all. The first player to defeat the Archenemy wins. However, if the Minions, Villain and Archenemy destroy Metro City, the players lose.
Gameplay occurs using the following components:
- Cards compiled in a “City Supply Deck,” made up of a variety of card types, (The game comes with the following cards: 40 Spark of Energy (your basic “power supply”), 40 Origin Story (your basic “currency”), 6 other Energy Cards (10 of each), and 20 different Power Cards (10 of each), along with a “randomizer card” for all non-basic cards used to build a “City Supply” of 10 cards);
- Enemy Cards: six different Minions (5 of each), ten different Villains (2 of each), and ten different Archenemy (which are each unique);
- Player Game Boards, which serve as a place holder for Energy and Power cards and a turn order reminder;
- Three 12 sided “City Defense Dice” (one green, purple and red), which correspond to the Minion, Villain and Archenemy card stacks;
Each player begins the game with 10 basic cards, 5 each of “Spark of Energy,” your basic “Power Card power-up,” and “Origin Story,” the game’s “currency,” which provides the players with “plot points” that are used to “buy” other cards. Then, the remainder of the Spark and Origin Story cards are placed on the table to begin to form the skyscrapers of Metro City. (Truly a neat thematic tie in to the mechanics of the game). Players then deal out two additional Energy cards, and eight Powers, to form 10 additional “buildings,” a total of 12 stacks, which are laid out in three rows of four. Then, the Minion, Villain and Archenemy decks are shuffled, placed face down and the top card of each deck is revealed, introducing the players to the evils they will face.
Players are given a Hero Placard, which allows them to name their Hero. Some cards in the game give card draw bonuses for Heroes who fancy animal or metallic names, so consider the name “Iron Rhino” off limits any time we play. Finally, unlike most deck-builders, players get a chance to add a few cards to their deck from the City Supply from the get-go, allowing for further customization and development of a unique character experience. Shuffle, draw 5 and you are up, up and away!
The game designers encourage players to name their Heroes and describe the action as they play their cards, adding a distinct, yet light, role-play aspect to the game. With the game underway, players buy powers with plot points, and acquire more plot points by defeating enemies. The tougher the enemy, the more the plot points. Get enough powers on the board, and you can take on the Archenemy to win the game.
The game proceeds in turns around the table, where each player will take actions, and pass play to the player to the left. The player turns consist of the following actions: 1. Reinforce Enemies (make sure there are face up enemy cards in all three stacks); 2. Activate Powers (players play out their hands and play powers onto required energy sources to deal damage to enemies); 3. Battle Enemies (compare damage to life, and if you win, you gain it split points by putting that card into your hand); 4. Story Development (use your plot points/currency to buy more powers or energy sources, including enemies just defeated); 5. City Destruction (for each non-defeated enemy card, roll one of the City Defense die, and unless you meet or exceed a target number, the enemy cards are going to destroy cards from the City Supply decks); and 6. Cleanup (sweep any “unslotted” cards into your discard, and draw 5).
Each enemy card has a “Life” value, which the players must meet or exceed with damage done by their powers in order to defeat the enemy card. However, they also have a destruction power, which, if not defeated, will result in Energy or Power cards, or both getting destroyed, and removed from the game. If all the cards in the City Supply are destroyed, the players lose. If an enemy is defeated, the player decides whether that enemy card goes into his hand to use as “currency” from the plot points it grants, to buy other powers. It may be that the player has enough plot points, and so, does not want to clog up his deck with these cards, which, after they are defeated, only provide plot points to buy other cards with.
Players race to build better and better power cards and combinations that allow them to deal more damage, as the enemies are constantly doing damage to the citizens of the city all around you. However, these better powers come with higher energy demands, so the players will need to make sure they can “turn on” any powers they acquire. With three enemy cards to deal with, every player’s turn there is usually some city card destruction going on, which makes for a tension building thematic experience. All the destroyed cards go into a “rubble pile,” so it eventually looks like half of your city has been destroyed as the game progresses.
Joe “The Hawk” and “The Silent Serpent” Thomas took on the villains of Metro City with David’s “Avenging Aardvark” or some such fearsome beast-man-thing. After a few rounds of card choices sinking in, we finally got the hang of it, and had quite a few laughs in the process of Ka-powing! and Boffo-ing! the ne’er-do-wells of Metro City, but not before the enemies destroyed much of the city. Estimated property damage $3.1 trillion. The Hawk finally mastered Supersonic Flight and mustered a barrage of Mind Spikes to take down the Archenemy, Baron Oleg Van Genz, who was destroying two cards a turn.
Anyone who has played a deck-builder like Dominion will get this game very quickly, however, it will take many play-throughs to determine which are the best cards to have in hand and when is the best time to cull cards from hand, which can be done with mechanic called a “heroic sacrifice.” When an enemy would do damage to one of the card stacks in the City Supply, the active Hero could chose to lose an identical card from hand or the board instead as if he threw himself in front of the enemy. Again, theme and mechanics working hand in hand.
The game does not have a built in narrative, or “story,” and David admits that was an intentional choice. In fact, the art on the front of the box tells the whole story for why that decision was made. The point of this game is to allow the players to create their own narrative as they go. The powers and energy sources and crazy and varied player character names supply plenty of back story to keep the game fresh and fun after many repeat plays. And do not worry, when pressed, it is obvious the guys have a ton of great ideas for expansions to the game, a lot of them very intriguing.
The cards are graphically strong, and use simple, intuitive symbology and syntax. While there was no art, (other than for one card, Major Slagg, drawn by David Boostrom himself), this is the main reason for the Kickstarter campaign. A cadre of amazing artists have signed on to this project, including many comic book and CCG industry veterans, including the likes of: Ryan Gutierrez, Jason Cheeseman-Meyer, Chris Miscik, Michael Manuel, Steve Copter, Alayna Lemmer, Sam Flegal, Tyler Walpole, Billy Tackett, the artists of Conceptopolis, David Nakayama, John Wagner, Jason Engle, Adam Van Wyk, Lorraine Schleter, and Paul “Prof” Herbert. When it is funded, no doubt it will look beautiful, and don’t forget those higher funding levels include original signed pieces of art from these folks.
More images of the game are up on boardgamegeek, and Kickstarter. Also, check out the play-though video with the game’s designer on their site. For just a $1.00 donation, backers are granted access to all of the card files and the rulebook in .PDF format, so you can see for yourself whether the game is worth backing on a higher funding level. I got behind the game before playing it, but now that I have, I am confident I made the right decision.
With just a little more help, these guys get their game funded, and we enjoy playing a fun mix of superheroes and everything gaming, with some pretty beautiful looking components thrown in for grins. I’m a backer, and suggest this game for any of you do-it-yourselfer-supes out there. Let’s all chip in and help the underdog win just one more time.