Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Tommy's Take on Smoke & Mirrors, Teen Force 5 and The Globalist


DEVILISH DUOS: SMOKE & MIRRORS

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: The first in a new set of ICONS products (Mutants & Masterminds version also available) by Vigilance Press, Smoke & Mirrors features a pair of supernatural villains for your ICONS game. Written by Jack Norris and featuring art by Jack Dawsey, and only 99 cents in PDF format, Smoke & Mirrors is only ten pages, (closer to six when you remove covers and OGL information), but that's still more than enough to detail a pair of characters. Smoke and Mirrors are lesbian lovers and vicious murderers, and each have unique twists: Smoke is a ghost who can touch things in the real world, while Mirrors is perpetually invisible, and can only be seen in mirrors. Smoke is a spirit of vengeance who has a hard time keeping her rage focused entirely on those who deserve it, while Mirrors is a psychotic killer who murders on behalf of The Unseen Gods.

WHAT WORKS: Each villain has some unique twists, and have backstories open enough that they could be used in a variety of settings. A few general plot seeds are included, in case you just really have no idea how to use them. Also, the PDF includes printable stand-ups of Smoke and Mirrors, if that's your preference.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: One plot seed includes a sidebar for using the Oktobermen from Due Vigilance #1, a Mutants & Masterminds supplement that hasn't seen an ICONS release yet. Smoke's powers indicate that she can become "hard to see", but I'm not sure how that's reflected mechanically, unless it's meant to be part of the Blinding stunt off of her Mental Attack power.

CONCLUSION: Strong art by James Dawsey combined with interesting writing by Jack Norris and an "impulse purchase" price point make this a winner, unless you only like to use ICONS for "animated series" type games, then these two are going to be a tad too dark for that sort of thing. Impressive product.

WATCHGUARD ICONS: TEEN FORCE 5

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: Teen Force 5 is a PDF release by Vigilance Press and Xion Studios for ICONS set in the WatchGuard universe, featuring five heroes (Teen Force 5) and five villains (Dark Faction). Each character is given an extensive bio (Marvel Handbook style, almost to a "T"), stat block, character portrait and printable standee. The PDF is 26 pages (including cover, OGL information, standees and so on), and costs $10.99, which admittedly, makes it stand out like a sore thumb among the rest of the Vigilance catalogue. Teen Force 5 is Bluechip (who reminds me a bit of Triatholon from Avengers, except his enhanced Traits are boosted and not always "on"), Jupiter (the female "brick" of the team"), Soundwave (a DJ with sonic/auditory powers), Tempest (a moody weather controller) and Vignette (a Goth mind controller). Dark Faction consists of Braindamage (a Telekinetic with ADHD), Bulldog (the team's brick), HardKnox (son of a luchador, with Osmium Steel Knuckles bearing "Hard" and "Knox" on them), Vespa (scientist turned thief in powered armor) and Zero (who can "halt molecular motion", making him REALLY hard to hit if he's aware of the attack).

WHAT WORKS: Zero is one of the better power concepts I've seen in a while. HardKnox having his name printed backwards on his Knuckles threw me at first, until I realized this way they would leave a "Hard Knox" impression on anything he hit. Standees are always great. The artist on Jupiter does a nice job of drawing her as an attractive woman with muscles, and not just a regular comic book female who happens to be super strong.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: The only background information for the setting is buried in the backstories of the characters, leaving references to things like Summit City and the MHx-trait chromosome pretty meaningless for someone picking this book up (and it is the only Watchguard release for ICONS thus far). Bluechip's bio is (mostly) written in past tense, for no reason that is ever explained. Superhero mind controllers are always really awkward to pull off. The price point versus the content just does not hold up well to other Vigilance releases.

CONCLUSION: At a lower price point, I would have a higher opinion of this product. None of the characters really stand out as anything I haven't seen before, but they also aren't noticeable rip-offs or homages of existing characters, either. Not usable as a starting point for the WatchGuard universe, but certainly mineable for your own games (I'd especially swipe Zero...fun challenge right there).

WARGAMES: THE GLOBALIST

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: Ah, the Wargames series. GI Joe meets superheroes in ICONS. The Globalist is a Cobra Commander looking chap who is head of an organization called UNITY, which basically seeks to become a big enough of a terrorist threat that the rest of the world joins forces against it, breaking down the barriers between nations and forging a one world government. Kinda like what Ozymandius wanted to do in Watchmen, except The Globalist is putting himself in the line of fire. The PDF is only $1 and includes The Globalist's backstory (with a fantastic twist), his stat block and stats for his Peacekeepers.

WHAT WORKS: The Globalist has a CRAZY secret in his backstory that is almost impossible to just guess, and makes him and his Peacekeepers MUCH more dangerous than you would think. He's also a villain of a radically different philosophy than General Venom, providing a "balanced outlook" to the crazies of the Wargames universe.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: Oh, the backstory twist may be TOO much for some people. Not in an offensive way, just an oddball way. I, personally, think it's great. Yes, I'm reaching for "complaints" here.

CONCLUSION: I love the Wargames series by Vigilance Press, and this entry continues to impress me with a unique villain who pays homage (in appearance) to another classic Cobra Commander look (mirror face instead of hood), but with a unique backstory and approach all his own.