Saturday, November 24, 2012

Tommy's Take on Civil War: X-Men

The last of the Civil War books for Marvel Heroic Roleplaying has arrived (digitally, at least), focusing on one of the darkest periods in X-Men history: The 198.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: You will need either Marvel HeroicRoleplaying and, really, Civil War in order to get the most out of the Civil War: X-Men book, though you can always get Civil War Premium Edition and kill two birds with one stone. The PDF for this one will set you back $12.99, for 132 full color pages.

In a nice touch, the cover features the four surviving original X-Men as of Civil War (spoiler warning: Jean Grey died again), even if I’m again not a fan of the particular art chosen. What you should know about this period of X-Men history, and the book does tell you this, is that Scarlet Witch has wished mutants largely away, reducing the number to 198. Most of that 198 are sequestered at the X-Mansion, and “protected” by O*N*E, a government task force led by War Machine and consisting largely of piloted Sentinels.

In fact, the first chapter of the book is largely that short summary.

The next chapter provides from mutant specific milestones and unlockables, and it has some very good ones. Can I Join Yet? is great for a young mutant trying to prove they can join the X-Men (and can easily be adapted to any young hero trying to earn their way onto an “adult” team), Disciple of X (attempting to follow Xaver’s dream in the face of oppression) and X-Veteran (which can lead to an X-Man seeking out a new role in the world, like Wolverine joining the Avengers or Storm branching off the X-Men into a mutant police force). For the Unlockables, only one seems particularly tied to the time period (gaining the trust of O*N*E), as others allow you to gain particular notoriety among mutants, gain notoriety among humans AS a mutant, or gaining a big surge of energy when using your powers.

The Xavier Institute chapter talks a bit about playing young X-Men, but also provides several datafiles including Armor (who was in the main rulebook), Pixie and Prodigy (without powers), as well as the 198, which serves as a great reminder about the horrible selection Marvel made for who got to keep their powers, like Alchemy, Erg (who looks like Legion and Callisto had a love child), Fever Pitch, Mammomax and Peepers. O*N*E is also covered here as well, with Sentinel datafiles, War Machine and Valerie Cooper, as well as a small section on playing Sentinel pilots. A few action scenes are included, including two which basically cover the events of the Civil War: X-Men miniseries in broad strokes (not that there was a ton of story to that mini).

X-Factor Investigations gets their own section, with Watcher datafiles on Layla Miller, Rictor and Quicksilver. There is a nice section on using X-Factor during parts of the Civil War Event, providing some good twists on the scenes.

The entire rest of the book is filled with full player datafiles. These include obvious choices like Archangel, Iceman, Cyclops and Beast, as well as Colossus, Shadowcat, Emma Frost and Nightcrawler and the X-Factor Investigations crew (add Madrox to the list of characters I’d love to play in this game someday). Some more unusual choices are provided, like Micromax and Sabra (due to their connection with O*N*E), as well as Sabretooth (with a Milestone set that can turn him into a hero). Personal favorites of mine that also get included are Forge and Hellion.

WHAT WORKS: Some great Milestones and Unlockables that are usable in just about any X-Men campaign is great, as are some X-Men getting the Datafile treatment for the first time. In fact, from a pure character selection standpoint, this is probably the most pleased I’ve been with the datafile collection.

WHAT DOESN’T WORK: A lot of the problems with this book have more to do with the really bad place the X-Men books were in during Civil War than it does with the book itself. The gameable content feels lighter here than it does in any of the other books, but again: That was the X-Men during Civil War.

CONCLUSION: The weakest of the Civil War books, unless you just NEED the mutant datafiles (and the inclusion of X-Factor alone makes a strong argument for that), hampered by being tied to Civil War, which was a dark time creatively for the X-Men books. That said, the Unlockables and Milestones are pretty much all-purpose, and the section about playing Sentinel O*N*E pilots plays to one of Marvel Heroic’s greatest strengths in the Event set-up, which is flipping the perspective of the events on their ear by putting the players in different driver seats. That said, a set of Milestones and Unlockables for the O*N*E pilots would have taken that promise one step further and made the book that much better. I can’t call it a “must-buy” unless you’re a big X-Men fan running Marvel Heroic, because with Annihilation and Age of Apocalypse coming up, this is as close to an all-purpose X-Men book as you’re probably going to see for a while. Still, might be worth it for the oddity of seeing an X-Men product that basically ignores Storm and Wolverine (due to their activities during Civil War).