|Psst...the good guys aren't teamed with Venom.|
Civil War was one of those mixed-bag kinda stories. Great concept, some great stories within the event...horrible execution. It's also the first Event Book for the Marvel Heroic RPG.
WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: This review covers the Civil War Essentials Event Book...the difference between that and the Premium version is about 10 bucks in print and 6 in PDF, and the Premium version includes the Operations Manual from the Marvel Heroic rules (that is, the rules to the game, just not the Breakout Event), meaning a difference of about 136 pages. Essentially, no pun intended, Margaret Weis Productions is all about options. When looking at the cover (featuring Pro Registration forces squaring off with Anti Registration forces), you can tell the good guys from the bad guys because one side has Spider-Man and Captain America and the other side has Venom. As in, the psychotic Max Gargan Venom. But I digress.
Mike Selinker does the intro, bragging - and rightfully so - about how he made Captain America the best character in Marvel SAGA (and he really is, or he's very close) because of the Edge mechanic (and about how he got to brag about this to Joe Simon, who co-created Cap with Jack Kirby). From there, it dives right into the event.
First off, I want to note something: Pretty much any time there's a page reference, you can click it and go there. That's in addition to the bookmarks, table of contents and index. That deserves some kudos right there. The Preparing for the Event chapter does a breakdown of the event, as well as recommended number of players (4-6) and some optional rules (like Troupe Play, so your group can cover all the major players of the Pro or Anti Registration sides...or even both sides, if the group wants to cover ALL sides). There's also rules suggestions on making Scene Distictions more dynamic, by adding extra features that people can use by spending Plot Points. Advice is also given for covering Watcher-Controlled Support Characters, addressing multiple characters getting unwieldy (something that was never really addressed in Marvel SAGA aside from hand waving it).
And then...the Civil War Sourcebook itself. The first thing it tackles is the Superhuman Registration Act, as well as making the Pro and Con arguments for it. It also tackles what's at stake for each side, as well as a sidebar on people playing characters who choose different sides (depending on the interpretation, you could easily flip Captain America and Iron Man, especially Ultimate Cap and Movie Iron Man). Lastly, there are bullet points for what can happen if the Act passes or fails, and the consequences thereof. A full dozen new Milestones are included, all event specific, such as Evil For Justice (recruiting Supervillains to your side), My Ally, My Enemy (where you and a close friend wind up on opposite sides of the conflict), or Convert the Enemy (where you become focused on swaying heroes to your side). There are also a number of Factions, with advice on playing Civil War from their perspective (complete with their own Unlockables), like Atlantis (including Unlocking Namor, with a number of implications as to what that means), Wakanda (would you like the blessing of the Panther God?), AIM, Hydra, SHIELD, The Media and even The Illuminati (the behind the scenes power players like Iron Man, Mr. Fantastic, Professor X and Dr. Strange). I should note that there are tons of major and minor datafiles all over this thing, from Hydra Agents to J. Jonah Jameson to Man-Ape. The section ends with a number of important locations involved in Civil War, complete with Scene Distinctions for them (like Artifacts From Avengers History in the Avengers Mansion Ruins and the Statue of Liberty serving as a Beacon of Hope).
When it's time for the Event to begin, it's all broken down into Scenes. Buildup Scenes include Titanium Man attacking Washington and Thor's Hammer crashing to Earth (and Doom trying to retrieve it). This includes datafiles for Doom, Titanium Man, Doombots, Thor's Hammer...and options like crazy. Like, say, allowing a hero to pick up Thor's Hammer and just what all that MEANS...with options for it both being a temporary measure to fend off Doom or a permanent one! To prove that it's not all slugfests, one of the Buildup Scenes even takes place with a hero appearing before Congress. The event proper begins with the aftermath of the Stamford explosion and covers a number of Scenes which could become whole sessions in and of themselves, like hunting Nitro (believed to be the sole survivor of the Stamford incident), appearing before the Commission on Superhuman Activities (complete with a chance to actually flip Henry Peter Gyrich to the Anti-Registration side, if they so choose). Act One ends with a roleplaying scene involving numerous heroes gathering to discuss the SHRA.
In Act Two, the SHRA has passed, because there's no Event without it. The Scenes get even more flexible here, as the PCs could be on either (or both!) sides of the Act. The Spider-Man unmasking scene is presented with more options, with Spidey only being used as an example, and even a suggestion for an underhanded twist like a Life Model Decoy being used to unmask in the hero's place! Other Scenes include hunting/eluding friends, the wedding of Storm and Black Panther (complete with Storm datafile), investigating Atlantean sleeper agents, culminating in an epic Superhero Battle Royal involving Thor's clone (though there are other options provided, like the Sentry and a Hulk Robot).
In Act Three, the pro-Registration forces are running across the moral Event Horizon, with supervillains being actively recruited to hunt anti-Registration heroes, captive anti-Registration forces being locked up in the Negative Zone and more good stuff. This adds a slew of new datafiles, like Songbird, Moonstone, Venom and Bullseye. The Thunderbolts debut scene includes options like making pro-Registration PCs "ride along" with them, or anti-Registration PCs injected with the same nanotech to work alongside them. Other Scenes include negotiating with Atlantis (and hopefully getting Namor and his resources on your side), busting AIM or Hydra (complete with Nick Fury datafile), getting to the truth of Norman Osborn's actions in Civil War (complete with a variety of options again, such as him being under control of Namor, who is using Osborn's attacks on Atlanteans as an excuse for war, or maybe it was Chameleon all along, and not Osborn), both sides of a Negative Zone Prison Raid (busting heroes out or stopping a break in), complete with a second epic brawl between both sets of forces that spill onto the streets of New York. The last scene also ups the lethality, assuming people will die. Act Three ends with a number of options for wrapping things up, no matter which side wins and includig a Third Option where the heroes band together against a villainous force (my favorite option, which isn't listed in the book, involves Nova crash landing on earth with the dire warning that "The Annihilation Wave is coming!").
A sidebar details the three books coming to supplement this event: Fifty State Initiative (which covers what happens in the aftermath of Civil War), Young Avengers/Runaways (which covers the teen heroes, including the New Warriors) and the X-Men (which covers the X-Mansion's residents and the Sentinels sequestering them).
Friends and Foes includes a crap ton more datafiles, starting with Ant Man (Erin O'Grady), the obscure Bantam, the Serpent Society, Doc Samson, the Kingpin, Sentry (complete with a d12 strength), Vision and more.
And THEN we get FULL datafiles for 32 heroes, including Captain America, Iron Man, Spider-Man and Wolverine, as well as folks like Cable, Punisher, Moon Knight and Goliath...oh, and Deadpool. Each with bios and two sets of character specific milestones.
The book ends with a glossary, a clickable index of datafiles and a bibliography.
WHAT WORKS: Well...there's a crap ton of new datafiles, including Dr. Doom (held up alongside Magneto as an inexcusable omission from the rulebook). There's a LOT of leeway and options given for playing out Civil War with your own twists. New optional rules like Troupe Play and handling multiple support characters is great. Oh, there's a table of contents, an index, bookmarks and EVERYTHING IS CLICKABLE. Except links to the Operations Manual, but I would bet those are included in the Premium Version.
WHAT DOESN'T WORK: No Baron Zemo. No Winter Soldier. What? I can't complain about MY favorites not being included? The art is really pixelated a lot of the time, but I am assuming that's a digital only artifact and hopefully they'll fix that for the print versions. If you absolutely hated Marvel Heroic, I don't think this is going to convince you otherwise. For a pre-written adventure (essentially), it'll get steadily harder to run straight out of the book as the twists and turns mount (though that certainly has it's own pluses, as it's not really a railroad at all).
CONCLUSION: An incredibly promising start to the Event Book formula, as there's a huge amount of options included to customize it yourself. The pixelated art doesn't bother me in the digital book, but I would be annoyed to have it present in a print book. Just a huge amount of information, including new datafiles, and while having many of them mixed around the book could annoy some, if you're working from the PDF this thing is so user friendly to navigate that it's not a big deal. Heck, maybe someone wants to play one of the characters not included as a full datafile (with Milestones) here (like Ant Man or Patriot)...just slap on a pair of Civil War milestones that make sense and run with it. If you didn't care for Marvel Heroic, I don't think this is going to sway you...but if you're a fan of it, there's a lot to like from this product.