• Heroic: A Second Look

    With the release of the Age of Ultron rulebook, we of course get a look at the neat new keywords coming out in the set. This time, the newcomers are Teamwatch, which does things when characters of the same affiliation are fielded, and Teamwork, which causes extra effects if for having certain amounts of affiliation present. Both are pretty interesting, as a maturations of the retaliation idea, and a sign that DC's focus on affiliation was not an isolated case for Dice Masters, but they made me think: whatever happened to the Heroic keyword?

    For those of you who came to Dice Masters after UXM (where Heroic was featured), or possibly understandably don't remember what it does, Heroic was all about teaming up characters who had the keyword to give them both powers. If you fielded a Heroic character's die, you could pair it up with another Heroic character's die, and they'd give themselves and their partner some kind of bonus until the beginning of your next turn; for example, one of the Heroic Wolverines, as you can see to the right, makes it so that himself and his partner have to be blocked by at least two characters. It's an interesting idea - teamups are an integral part of the superhero comic landscape, after all - but the execution of it kind of fell flat.

    Hero No-Go?

    I think there were two main reasons why Heroic never really caught on (and why we're not seeing it back).

    First off - a lot of the abilities that they got just weren't very interesting, and the cost diversity of them. Angel let you pay to give your duo +2D until the end of the turn, which while not *bad* per se, is a little unhelpful considering that you need to get these guys knocked out so you can activate their powers again. Storm protected the pair from action dice, which at the time was not much of a concern; nowadays that might be a little more interesting, but it's still only one turn of protection, and only for two characters that you are, again, trying to get knocked out (or at least through). There are good ones, like the above Wolverine one, Cap's massive +4/+4 boost, and Cyclops turning himself and his partner into common Cheetah, but they were not common, and tended to be pretty expensive. Which wasn't really a surprise - outside of two 3s, all of the Heroic characters cost 5 or more. It's a bit much to mandate you buy two expensive characters to make them at all worthwhile.

    This brings me to the second point - the Heroic keyword often did not seem to be correctly included in the balance of the card's cost. Let's not candycoat it - the Heroic stipulation is, by and large, a limitation on the ability given. Yes, it lets it spread the ability to a second die (or at least, it does by the current convention), but only for one turn at a time, and then you don't get to use it again till something Heroic comes along again. Given captures and Distraction and a host of other abilities, that's a pretty big limitation...and the cards just don't seem to be discounted for it. Superhero Storm costs just as much as Lady Liberator, for an arguably weaker ability that is harder to get to fire when you want. Superhero Wolverine? Same ability as the uncommon She-Hulk, who is cheaper to purchase at only a small offensive loss (and a defensive gain); all you get for the extra energy is the ability to give another Heroic die the same deal, and again just for a turn at a time. It just doesn't make a lot of energy-fiscal sense.

    So what could we do about this? How could we redeem this lost, forsaken keyword?

    Hero A-Go-Go!

    I think the biggest way to get Heroic going again would be to embrace the fact that it is a limitation. It makes it harder to use your dice, therefore, it makes them cheaper. At six, Superhero Wolverine is interesting, but does it really compare to the power and speed of Formerly Weapon Ten, or even She-Hulk: Lady Liberator? Probably not. But if it cost five? I think a lot of people would give it a second look, especially with some better cheaper Heroic characters that would make it less of a drag to get your teamup going.

    Another thing I think would help would be breaking the mold of 'and both characters get this ability' sometimes. Not every teamup is equal, and not every teamup is about both characters supporting each other in exactly the same way. Consider the Fastball Special, a classic two-character move - very different roles there, but it's still (usually) very effective. Playing with Heroic that way can let you further tweak the balance value we get out of it, letting us bring costs down more, or even allow for stronger abilities because it isn't two dice getting them. On top of that, it elevates abilities that would counter these pairings, possibly making something less desirable previously more useful, and overall enriching the meta with more choices and possibilities. That's a good thing in my book!

    Lastly, and most obviously - they need to be good. I don't think the fact that affiliations are there in DC is what gets us to use them - I think it's the fact that they work is what drives us to play them. They're pretty well balanced, usable, and fun. With expensive cards for mediocre abilities, Heroic did not really fit that bill at all. A new set of Heroics would need to do better on that front.

    HeroingShowing Our Work

    'Well then, Evan - what sort of Heroic characters would you make?'

    I'm so glad you asked! This is actually what got me thinking about this topic - I had a teamup-centric idea, and remembered that we had Heroic, and then started lamenting that it didn't work so well, which led me to analyze why. What idea, you ask? I've already mentioned it - the Fastball Special, classically done with Colossus and Wolverine.

    The idea I had is that you have a throwing character, and a character who's being thrown. The abilities should reflect that, I thought, with the thrower buffing the throwee, and the throwee...well, he wants to be thrown, so he'd have some sort of attack limitation that would depend on being paired up to lift, and making him pretty cheap for that. Following my idea that Heroic is a limiter, I went with a base cost equal to the cheapest versions of the characters we'd seen.

    So my first draft of these guys wound up being:

    • Colossus: Fastball Special - 6 - X-Men - Heroic - The die Colossus is paired with gains Overcrush and +3A.
    • Wolverine: Toss Me - 4 - X-Men - Heroic - Wolverine cannot attack unless he is paired.

    This gets the point across, but it didn't quite seem right yet. I liked the buff Colossus gives, but the reason for doing the Fastball Special isn't just 'hit harder', it's 'hit faster' too - make it harder to dodge, go longer distances, etc. So, I thought, maybe it would be cool to move part of that 'hit harder' buff to the designated throwee, Wolverine, and possibly ratchet it based on 'thrower' level, so you can get that tossing effect even if Colossus isn't doing it - maybe I'd make it only on the turn he is fielded, to capture that 'just thrown' feeling. Meanwhile, I could then add an effect to Colossus to reflect speed - Wolverine (or whoever) sailing forward so fast that enemies can't stop him. Unblockability would make Overcrush redundant, and I wanted that sense of really smashing through when he hit another character, so it wasn't an option...but maybe making it difficult for the throwee to be turned away would be cool.

    So my second iteration wound up being:

    • Colossus: Fastball Special - 6 - X-Men - Heroic - The die Colossus is paired with gains Overcrush, must attack, and cannot be made to return to the field zone before the end of combat.
    • Wolverine: Toss Me - 4 - X-Men - Heroic - Wolverine cannot attack unless he is paired. If Wolverine attacks on the turn he is fielded, he gains an amount of attack equal to the level of the character he is paired with.

    I looked at these abilities and was frankly pretty happy with them; they certainly captured the essence of one hero throwing the other at the enemy, fists (or claws, as the case may be) first! There was just one thing bothering me, theme-wise - the thrower would sort of need to stay put while throwing. So, in went a clause stipulating that Colossus would have to not attack to let the paired character get their buffs. Mechanically, this leaves the combo open to being spoiled through the Mr. Fantastic or Phoenix globals, but that makes sense to me - if you yank Colossus forward to fight when he's getting ready to toss Wolverine, he's probably not actually going to toss Wolverine, and our short, hairy mutant will have to walk to the fight.

    With that I felt I was pretty much done with the abilities; now I just wanted to go over the costs. Comparing Colossus to his other versions...with the limitation that he couldn't attack to grant his bonuses, he was essentially either an action die or just his basic die. Even the six-cost common Colossus has an ability, so this seemed a little weak for the cost. I considered this for a little while, and ended up comparing him to the OP Superman - five cost for similar stats, and a straight up detrimental ability. Ultimately, I decided that Fastball Special's ability added enough value to him in light of Superman that I just couldn't justify dropping him to a 5; the 6 would stand.

    Wolverine, though...Formerly Weapon X costs 4 and has no detriment at all, just a condition on getting him a bonus. 'Can't attack without a special buddy' is a pretty big downside, honestly, especially for an expensive-to-field character, and while Toss Me (named because, like Gimli, Wolverine is short, hairy, and in need of being thrown) has a less restrictive bonus, the expense in cycling Wolverine would come into play. Ultimately, while Black Panther's common suggested that this Wolvie would make sense at 4, I felt that the limitation was enough in tandem with his high fielding cost that a 3 would be feasible. So, in the end, we have:

    • Colossus: Fastball Special - 6 - X-Men - Heroic - The die Colossus is paired with gains Overcrush, must attack, and cannot be made to return to the field zone before the end of combat.
    • Wolverine: Toss Me - 3 - X-Men - Heroic - Wolverine cannot attack unless he is paired. If Wolverine attacks on the turn he is fielded, he gains an amount of attack equal to the level of the character he is paired with.

    Maybe Colossus is a little expensive for what he does; maybe Wolverine is a little cheap. Either way, I think both are usable, especially if you decide to build around them - and of course, they work well together! This is the sort of thing I'd be hoping to see in further Heroic examples, should we happen to see them. The lack of the keyword in AoU suggests we won't, but who knows - you can never call a hero dead unless you've seen the body, and until WizKids says it's a dead keyword, we'll keep our eyes out.
    Comments 5 Comments
    1. Meatman's Avatar
      Meatman -
      The only time I've ever tried to play with Heroic is in a casual game where both me and my opponent attempted to use it. It is a fun idea, but definitely challenging to pull off. Would be nice if a few of the Heroic cards had a global ability that made it easier to execute in someway. Or perhaps a BAC that provided a game play bonus for any character with a Heroic ability.

      Definitely fun and satisfying when you can pull it off though...I used a Cyclops Red Hulk team up
    1. DigitalFirefly's Avatar
      DigitalFirefly -
      I feel like if there were more cheap Heroic characters they'd be much more usable. Teamwatch and Teamwork seem more like what they intended Heroic to be. Let's hope it's usable this time around.
    1. ToaEmpoleon's Avatar
      ToaEmpoleon -
      I played Magic the gathering during the Innistrad block where they introduced a mechanic called soulbond, which is very similar to heroic. soulbond was stronger in that it wasn't just for one turn (it was for as long as they were both on the field), and that a creature/character could bond with any other character. What made soulbond fun was giving things abilities that their colour couldn't normally have, or just great abilities in general. When I saw heroic, my first thought was "oh, soulbond but terrible". The way the mechanic is now, I'm not even sure I would want it to become a common ability because as far as I'm aware heroic characters don't even have abilities outside heroic so even if there were good/ cheap heroic characters it would be extremely difficult to build a team that was either all or no heroic characters. Even with the affiliations like villains, you can throw green goblin and spider-man on the same team, the game doesn't force you to run no heroes if you want a couple of villains.

      I think the best way to fix heroic would be to just errata the whole mechanic to let it at least hook up with any character (or possible any character sharing an affiliation). That way, you can augment already good characters and cover up their weaknesses or make them stronger.
    1. Dave's Avatar
      Dave -
      Heroic required a significant resource investment for a non-equivalent benefit. I think that there are ways to do it well, it just wasn't balanced that great.
    1. Necromanticer's Avatar
      Necromanticer -
      I think there are at least a couple heroic characters that can work out in a pretty spectacular way, they just require a very dedicated investment.

      Thrown Car + Captain America + Red Hulk = 25-29 damage with overcrush