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Scratching That Age Of Ultron Tabletop Gaming Itch With Heroclix

by Mike Futter on May 17, 2015 at 07:00 AM

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Recently, we wrote about some of the best video games to extend the excitement brought on by Marvel’s Avengers: Age of Ultron. While I have certainly been diving back into my catalog of Marvel games, with Marvel Heroes 2015 the most pleasant of surprises, my hype is expressing itself in another way.

Over a decade ago, Wizkids (then owned by Topps, now under the umbrella of NECA) began to sunset its Mage Knight line of miniatures. What set that game apart from Warhammer and others like it (besides the pre-painted miniatures), is that each figure is set on a dial of ever-changing stats.

At the same time, the company partnered up first with Marvel and then with DC Comics to release a similarly fashioned game based on superheroes. Heroclix was born, and while it’s still a deep and complex game, it offers some usability improvements to standard miniature games.

Instead of using modular terrain and line of sight measured with a ruler, Heroclix is played on a gridded map. This immediately removes some of the challenge of setting up, maintaining, and playing the game.

The dials on the bases show current stats for attack, defense, speed, and damage, while also functioning as the health counter for the character. When the dial shows “KO,” the character is out for good. This allows for thematic ebb and flow, but as someone in love with video games, I find the changing stats also create dynamic strategy not often replicated on the tabletop.

For instance, some versions of Hulk start weak (as if he were Bruce Banner). After taking a hit, he transforms. With each point of damage he gets angrier and stronger right before he’s KO’d.

Some figures from the Age of Ultron set. Click to enlarge. 

That thematic authenticity is why I dove in head-first, collected the entire first set (Infinity Challenge), and even competed in tournaments. Shortly after, we were preparing to move, I never found an organized play store, and my collection began to collect dust.

Now, my kids are old enough that we’re playing tabletop games, and they’ve both expressed an interest in learning. We visited a local store on Free Comic Book Day, participated in a quick demo, and I was hooked all over again.

If you’ve been away from the game for as long as I was, there’s a couple of things to know. First, there has been a bit of power creep (figures released later have slightly better stats overall and a wider range of thematic powers from which to draw). 

For this reason, it was recommended to me not to mix older figures with those released in the past five years or so (with notable exceptions like the original Ultron figures that still hold up). The dividing line, as the person giving the demo recommended, is figures that have cards versus those that do not.

The cards (added in 2007) not only provide more thematic color by giving generic abilities like “Mastermind” and “Hypersonic Speed” unique, character appropriate names, but they also often include special abilities. These are unique to the figure and create additional room for strategy.

Many characters also have a team ability, denoted by an emblem on the base. This has been part of the game since the start, but with the cards came in the introduction of “additional team abilities.” These are keywords that appear on the card that also give access to some bonuses if you have a team that shares one.

These are as specific as “West Coast Avengers” or as generic as “soldier.” If your team is fully themed, you can add extra abilities (for a cost against your team build total). Wizkids went back to the beginning and gave older figures keywords, so you can try to integrate them if you’d like. All of the additional team ability cards are available for “print-and-play” as are other elements.

If you’re getting into Heroclix for the first time (or coming back), there are a couple of ways to build your collection. There are starter sets that come with a number of figures, a double-sided map, rules, and a reference card for powers. After that, you can buy large boosters that have a number of figures for big sets or single-figure add-ons for smaller runs (typically associated with a film). 

Figures from the Avengers Assemble set. Click to enlarge.

Right now, there are two different Avengers sets. There’s a small group of figures based on Age of Ultron and a larger Avengers Assemble set that pulls from the comics.

For those that are more interested in playing with popular characters, I’d recommend purchasing singles. There are a number of sites that buy and sell miniatures, like Troll & Toad, Cool Stuff, Inc., and Miniature Market.  

I use a site called HCRealms (one of the oldest Heroclix community sites) to search by character name and look at the dial and abilities. Boosters cost $8.50 to $12 (depending on where you purchase) for five figures. The upside of purchasing boosters is that you could pull a super-rare or chase figure for a distributed cost of $1.70 to $2.40. The downside is they are called “super-rare” and “chase” for a reason.

Avengers Assemble "chase" Hulk figure from Hulk: The End. Click to enlarge. 

You’ll also end up pulling a lot of duplicates and lesser-known characters. This is a normal risk for any blind-buy collectible game.

Purchasing singles lets you get just the characters you want, with prices ranging from $1 - $10 for most figures. Those chase figures are going to hurt the wallet in single form, with some going for upwards of $50. These are typically neat variants of otherwise available characters (like the Hulkbuster version of Iron Man from the Age of Ultron set). They aren’t required, especially if you’re not a hardcore player.

It all depends on how you want to play the game, and who you are playing with. I was contemplating dropping $100 on a booster brick (10 boosters), but when I looked at the set list, I knew my son wouldn’t be excited about the characters but for a few.

I put that money to toward a Guardians of the Galaxy team, adding Vision to my Age of Ultron figures, fleshing out some characters for a S.H.I.E.L.D force (Nick Fury and Mockingbird) and grabbing newer versions of the Fantastic Four, Daredevil, and Kingpin.

Guardians of the Galaxy movie figures. Click to enlarge.

I also have my eye on some X-Men characters I’ll pick up in the future. All of this gets me a game with recognizable faces, no duplicates, and tuned for the more casual play my son will enjoy.

As with any collectible game, you’re going to want to have people to play with. We spoke with Heroclix product manager Scott D’Agostino (who we also interviewed last year about video game tie-ins) about the miniatures.

“Want to learn how to play HeroClix or jump into a game yourself?  Go to the WizKids Event System — called WES for short—the best way for players to find local stores that host HeroClix events as well as events for other WizKids game titles,” D’agostino suggested when I asked about finding other players. “Many stores host weekly games or you can try your hand in the upcoming Marvel HeroClix: Age of Ultron Storyline Organized Play Event Series starting in June where you can win exclusive prizes and even receive exclusive participation prizes just for playing.”

Like most collectible games, Wizkids keeps only the most current sets in rotation for standard tournament play. Right now, these go back to the second half of 2012. This ensures that the meta game changes with each new set (and gives players a reason to keep re-upping their collection).

Miniature games are more expensive than collectible card games, so if you’re a Magic, Pokémon, or Yu-Gi-Oh player looking at the prices and wincing, that’s normal. But for me, there’s something about having physical representations of characters I grew up reading about in comics. 

If it’s something you’re interested in, I’d recommend reading through the rules and watching some YouTube videos to get the gist of how the game is played. I’ve often espoused the joys of tabletop gaming, and this is another way in for those who typically prefer a controller or mouse and keyboard.