This past weekend I was at Madicon hosted at James Madison University's by the Science-Fiction/Fantasy Guild and I got to play several new games (Thunderstone), play in one that I've run a one-shot in (Warhammer Fantasy Role Play, 2nd Edition), and run Marvel Heroic Roleplaying.
The last I ran Sunday morning with half my table hung over or recovering from a hard night partying. To make things easy I ran the first act of the scenario in the back of the book - for players I had Cyclops and Colossus; Daredevil and Spiderman; and Iron Man.
To summarize the review: It is a good solid game. It will not satisfy the Champions/M&M folks out there that want to tweak and finesse their characters, but that game is already written.
First, I want to capture something I read on twitter conversation between Cam Bank (lead writer/designer) and Fred Hicks (of Evil Hat, writers of Dresden Files): "Games designed to simulate the fiction, not the physics."
Someone else described the book as "Simulating the comic book, and not the superheroes."
The Cortex+ system used is similar to the ones used in Leverage and Smallville - build a dice pool from various areas, roll the dice, choose the two best dice rolled for your success (barring some sort of dice trick that allows you to keep 3+ dice.) The twist for MHRP is that you use a third die rolled as an effect die which is basically the "level" of success; however, the number rolled for that die doesn't matter, just the size.
It is a bit counter intuitive for folks who have other systems jostling for space, but it seemed to catch on quickly. In short, if you roll well on smaller dice and worse on larger dice, you can get a larger bang for your buck. For example, of a pool made up of a d12, d8, and d6 if I roll 11, 7, and 6 respectively; I'll use the 11+7 for my roll, and the d6 for my effect - a rather mediocre success. However, if I were to roll 2, 7, and 6, I could take the 7+6 (13) for the roll, and use the d12 for the effect which would be an impressive success.
Characters are built on a series of statistics. First is affiliation, which is whether your hero works better solo, with a buddy, or on a team. The second are distinctions, which are short phrases/descriptions that will either help your character or hinder the character (and generate plot points). The third is your power set which is a broad descriptor and made of several subsets of powers, and finally the last are specialties which are broad skill focus areas such as combat, vehicle, technology, or covert actions among others. Characters have three health capable of soaking up Physical, Emotional, or Mental damage.
But, I'm digressing because frankly there are other, better write-ups and reviews out there for the nuts and bolts of system. If someone has question and they want my opinion feel free to ask and I'll happily give it.
In play, I found it fairly quick and easy to run, I'm not sure I did everything right, but well it was a first time test run. I think everyone, at least, had a reasonable time with session for what it was. Everyone started off slowly and started to work together and start finessing their strengths - one particular moment was when Daredevil grappled and bound up Dr. Fear so that Colossus, who had been taken a beating on his Emotional health track could beat the ever living snot out of the villain.
The only downside is that by default, unless the GM/Watcher is on their A game, Act 1 of the sample adventure is nothing but combat, combat, and combat with few other challenges to demonstrate how they work. Nothing that couldn't be worked around by an experienced, competent GM, but I was neither of those on Sunday morning with as little sleep as I had.
It was also interesting to see how two characters turned out to be very support oriented got immensely better when they fell into help other heroes go bigger, the extra dice turned out to be an amazing aid at times.
Something we didn't get into was the use and abuse of XPs - I like the idea of building achievements and unlockable thingies that are something beyond mere stat boosts. Whether it is Champion Shield level clearance; a new character to play/ally to tag along or something else, there's stuff beyond buying up Gigantic Fist of Doom to d10 or d12.
So is the game good? Yes it is, at what it does. I don't see it being a game of playing large sweeping campaigns - in my head it feels like a game very much designed to play shorter arcs, or random one off games. Does that make it bad? Only if I try to use it for something that is going to run for years. But I could see it being my "go to" game for Super Hero games - other friends will probably continue to use a different rules set, but this one does what I want it to do - get together and pretend to be heroes without a lot of fuss or muss.