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[Review] Heroes, Incorporated

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Joined: 03/23/2011

How many good train games are there? How about fantasy games? Or even good space games? The answer is that while we can always play more (we are addicted, after all), what about superheroes? The world needs more superhero games, and the opinion of the masses is that we need them right now!

Okay, maybe it’s just MY opinion. But still, aren’t we all secretly looking for a game that has the superhero genre and makes it fun, exciting, full of theme, and a good game? Heroes Incorporated (Quest Machine, 2004 - Sam Clifford) attempts to be that game, and, with the promised upcoming expansions, could very well be. Currently, the game play is great, with excellent mechanics and a fair, balanced game. The components are superb, very reminiscent of “German” games, with excellent artwork. The realistic attitude of the theme (“it’s all about the money and recognition”) is funny, but the game seems to fall just a little bit flat with the theme. This is only because the superpowers are not incredibly varied, and many of them are extremely similar. But the game is fast, fun, and still retains an edge of a superpower theme, and I have high hopes for the future to satisfy my thematic cravings.

Twenty-five tiles are shuffled and placed in a five by five grid in the middle of the table - each representing a city block. One of these city blocks - Crime Alley - is the center, but the remainder of the tiles is random. Each player takes a player card, four action markers, and two stands of the same color. A pile of character cards is shuffled and two are dealt randomly to each player. Each player puts their character cards face up in front of them and takes the matching cardboard tokens and places them in the stands. Depending on how many players are playing the game, a certain amount of crime pawns, with letters from “A” to “G” are placed on the board in prearranged locations. A cursory glance at each character’s power reveals if that character gets any bonus markers (white, brown, or orange), combat +1 tokens, or a gadget. Each player places the four action markers on their player card, along with any bonus markers their characters might receive, and one white action marker. Gadgets and +1 tokens are placed directly on the character card (where they can have a maximum of three each). Three “+1” tokens are placed at various locations on the board, and in player order, each player places their heroes in city blocks of their choosing (only one hero to a block). A separate scoreboard (keeping track of hero points) is placed on the table, with each of the players placing a score marker of their color on it. An eight-sided die with the eight directions of a compass printed on it is rolled for each crime marker, and the markers are moved appropriately. A deck of cards is shuffled, and one is dealt to each player. The first round is ready to then begin.

The theme of the game is that the players are trying to contend for the prize of becoming the official superhero team of “Megalopolis”, and the first person to get enough “Hero points” is the winner! The player with the most Hero points starts each round, with ties being broken by rolling the dice. On a turn, a player can use one of their action markers by taking it off their card and placing it on the hero card which is utilizing the action. The hero can either move one space orthogonally, “fight” crime, or play a research card from the player’s hand. The player can use their white token during the turn to draw an extra card, and can use the brown and orange tokens to take additional actions.
When fighting a crime, a hero has to be in the same space as that crime (unless they have the superpower “blast”, or the gadget “Bio-Energy Blaster”. Each block has a number on it, from “2” to “5”. A player must roll one die and reach that number or higher, after adding any bonuses from any “+1” tokens on their cards. Before the player rolls, any other player can play a “Super Villain” card, if they have one - increasing the number needed - for no cost. If the player reaches or exceeds the target number, they place the die with the number showing up on the space where the crime is. Another player can try to beat that number to take credit for the crime, if they wish. Either way, the hero who fought the crime cannot move or fight for the remainder of the round.

Cards can really change the face of the game. Cards are divided into different categories:
- Super Villain - Already explained - where a person can attempt to thwart the fight of an opponent.
- Adventure - Gives one hero point to that hero’s team, or 3 if they have the correct member on the team.
- Gadget - Gives the hero a gadget (with a matching token) that they can use to do various things.
- Fate - Cards that affect the game immediately.
- Fame - Only one can be in play at a time - the player pays a price to get hero points.
- Power Up - Gives a hero a “+1” token
And while talking about cards, the heroes have a variety of powers that they can use. Examples include:
- Fly - A hero can move diagonally
- Inventor - The player gets a gadget to start the game with, and can play gadget cards for free.
- Magic - The hero rolls two dice to attack and picks which one they’ll use.
- Noble - The player gets 1 extra Hero Point every round.
- And six other powers...

At the end of a round, each player totals up the Hero Points they receive. This number is equal to the block numbers where the heroes have defeated crime. Some blocks give extra bonuses, such as drawing an extra card or getting a “+1” token. If any player reaches 36 hero points, they win the game immediately. Or, if no one does so, and all the cards are taken, the player with the most points wins the game!

Some comments on the game:

1.) Components: I usually don’t have high expectations for the components of an independently produced game, but Heroes, Inc. has some really nice parts. The tiles are of a decent thickness, and I liked the designs on them, as well as the clarity of numbers and other text. The hero cards were extremely nice and large, giving plenty of room to maneuver tokens and counters on them, while providing some very nice “comic-book” artwork on them. And here I’d like to give credit to Carl Critchlow and Brandon McKinney - they did a fantastic job on the artwork in the game - and the heroes, while looking very much like a typical Silver-age comic book character, still had a new, fresh appearance. All the wooden tokens were fantastic - wood is so much better than cardboard! The cards were nice, with a computer graphical style on them, but extremely easy to read and leaving no question as to what they did. The giant scoreboard, almost as big as the game board, may be thought to be too big but is very well done and looks good on the table. Everything fits inside a rather large box of okay quality. Very impressive, and definitely worth the price.

2.) Rules: The rules are only four pages, with excellent formatting. Everything was very clearly outlined, and we had almost no questions when first playing the game. Everything - even the superpowers, are extremely simple, and only modify the game slightly. The game is extremely easy to teach, easy to learn - and once started, doesn’t take that long to play.

3.) Theme: Well, here we go about the theme. First of all, I’d like to say that I think the theme fits the game mechanics like a hand into a glove. When all the players get into the spirit, it’s a lot of fun as players go around, pushing each other out of the way as they selfishly fight crime. However, I’m sure many of the people who complained about Warcraft: the Board Game are going to complain here. The superpowers - none of them are game breaking. There are going to be no FAQs about them, and probably no rules arguments about them. Why is this? Because the superpowers, and the gadgets, only change the game in slight, minimum ways - and don’t differ from each other that much. Compare this to Cosmic Encounter, where you have over 100 alien combinations, moons, lucre, etc. and where the rule queries can be endless. Some of the theme in Heroes, Inc. was sacrificed to make it a good, playable game. This will satisfy most people, but RPG fanatics may be disappointed. I’m still not sure how to put too much theme in a game without messing it up mechanics-wise. A good example would be Strange Synergy by Steve Jackson games. It’s fun, and it’s extremely thematic; but the arguments over the superpowers have overpowered at least one of the games I’ve been involved with, and people generally agree that the game mechanics, at least, aren’t very good.

4.) Solution: So what is the solution? I’m not sure; although, my vote would be to modify the Duel of Ages system to get that perfect Superhero game. However, I do believe that the makers of this game have the right idea. They have produced an excellent, very tight game with a few modifiers. Now, they can add in more variable in expansions that will satisfy those looking for variety and theme, and can be ignored by those who just want to play a good game. Perhaps the rules will have an “advanced” set, one that people can argue about ; but one that might be more thematic.

5.) Fun Factor: Please don’t let me make it sound like the game is no fun; however, it’s quite the opposite! I really enjoy playing the game, and while it might not be as thematic as I’d like, I’ll certainly play it many times this year. The youth I’ve introduced the game to really love it, and had no problem figuring the game out. The crime markers seem a bit ambiguous, but I’m thinking about replacing them with villains from Heroclix, or something - to add more theme. The game is really good, and makes for a fun, short time.

6.) BGDF: I think if people can get the financial resources, they should produce games such as this. The big box might put off some, but it sure makes the game look enticing. AND, when future expansions are released, they can easily be added to the game. in the original box. This can be a nice feature. (if you plan on releasing expansions.)

I recommend this game, as it is a commendable first effort from the publisher, and has a theme that is often mangled or ignored in the gaming world. How many game fanatics like comic books and superheroes? How about the general public at large? (see Spiderman: the Movie for details). This theme will definitely draw people in to play, and the game mechanics, while having a bit of luck, will also appeal to the hard core “German” gaming crowd. Why get Heroes, Inc.? Well, it’s fun; and you can find out that fighting crime DOES pay.

Tom Vasel
“Real men play board games.”

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