Published on October 3rd, 2014 | by Across the Board Games Staff1
Superhuman’s Identity Crisis
Superhuman: Rise to Power is releasing on Kickstarter October 4th. Images featured in this article are from a prototype copy. Rules, art, design and content are subject to change. Please visit ThoughtTankGames’ website for more information.
Featured in this article are the opinions of both Nicole and Luke who have different perspectives and preferences in gaming. Nicole comes from a more casual gaming background and has experience with marketing and branding. Luke is a more experienced gamer and enjoys roleplaying games and superhero-themed content and media. We felt that including both perspectives was important for this article.
Superhuman: Rise to Power is a superhero-themed game that was made by avid gamers and superhero enthusiasts from Thought Tank Games. Two players or an even team of players will play out the ‘good vs evil’ conflict and will take on the role of a hero or a villain. Players can choose from an array of unique superhumans with recognizable power sources. We played with Dr. Prometheus and Dame Doom: both heroes draw from the Paranormal power source but players can also choose from Gear Head, Inspired and even Mutant. A player can choose a pre-made deck of powers or customize their own deck. These superpowers can boost your stats, help your die roll, injure your opponents, etc and will help you build your strategy when preparing to face opponents and plot challenges.
The overall objective of the game is clear: players run around the board completing plot cards at different locations on the map that are usually tied with responding to a certain event in the city and successfully resolve the conflict by a high die roll or losing the struggle with added consequences. Going after these plot cards earns justice counters for the hero and the villain and once 5 justice counters are earned, the teams face off in an epic showdown which will leave one victor. I know that’s what I need to do to win the game but on the small scale, on an individual turn, I don’t know how to perform the actions needed to progress the game.
Superhuman does not have a clear rules. I know I need to make it to those plot cards, but there are 9 different movement actions or rather restrictions that a player must consult before moving. Every time I wanted to do anything, I had to consult the stereo manual 75 page rulebook which was needlessly long and still didn’t resolve all the nuances and scenarios that come up in the game. With no easy reference sheet and no gameplay video that actually goes through step by step of what a player’s turn looks like, playing this game was stifling and took around 4-5 hours. Ideally with the reference cards and changes to the rule book to include and in-game examples, Superhuman would play around 1-3 hours depending on the number of players.
All the forward-facing elements like art, cards and pieces of the game are well constructed and are of final production quality. The design of the characters are unique and the thematic setting, though generic, was well presented. However Superhuman is a game that was made but it wasn’t designed. To understand the distinction and since we’re talking about superheroes, let me offer a little bit of back story. We were approached to review this game back in early July and were introduced to Superhuman as:
“superhero themed decking-building card and board game, which allows players to be customized heroes and villains engaged in an epic showdown in an urban environment.”
I gladly accepted as I enjoy deck builder games of varying difficulties and was interested in another approach to the superhero genre. With the success of recent indie superhero franchise, Sentinels of the Multiverse, I was curious to see this developers’ version and how a board would be incorporated in gameplay.
A little later that month on board game geek, Superhuman was described as such:
“Mechanically, it is a sort of hybrid between a tactical miniature game and a ccg style game that plays like a table-top Grand Theft Auto meets Heroclix and MTG, which is heavy on use of a personalized deck of super powers representing your own customized or pre-made character”
and now, a day before the Kickstarter launches, it’s being sold as:
“…a custom expandable card game that uses tactical miniature style gameplay in conjunction with over 80 unique powers”.
There are many mechanics pulled from a variety of games that are unfortunately poorly explained, which makes it difficult to figure out who this game is for. It isn’t a deck builder as initially presented and doesn’t have any of those casual gamer elements commonly associated with those descriptors. The board elements are like a strategic miniatures game where individual characters have powers to use in combat and contains strict movement and action rules. The rules as presented make Superhuman feel like a roleplaying game with combat like D&D 4e as the power sources are described in detail and the superheroes have stats. Superhuman needs to pick a clear log line and stick with it as a clear reminder of what this game is supposed to be and who they should be marketing it to.
I want to like Superhuman and I desperately want to know how it actually is supposed to play as the creators see it. I feel there are elements that are unique and worth further development like allowing characters to complete objectives/plot cards at different locations and I would love to see more open world actions like in roleplaying (i.e. I want to search the building for survivors or I want instruct the police to set up a barricade) in order to affect the board state. The appearance of Superhuman is spot on and the physical elements only need touch ups like larger, more distinct icons and changing the competing saturation on their cards.
It feels like Thought Tank Games didn’t know what game they wanted to make and that lack of experience producing games for an audience shows in the evolution of their log line for Superhuman and in the poor presentation of rules. Having a clear sense of how your game plays and who would like this type of game is needed to sell your game idea to an audience of gamers on Kickstarter. Superhuman may be a game enjoyed by the creators and their friends but it needs more work until it is a marketable product.
If you have been a tabletop gamer for long enough, you probably know of the Champions role-playing game. Champions is/was a super hero RPG that became popular in the 80s, but eventually lost favor with the community for being overly complex. If you are newer to gaming you might be more familiar with the Monsterpocalypse game published by Privateer Press. Monsterpocalypse was a collectible minis game that took place on a city map and, while fun, was very hard to learn and play because of poor rule books and player aids. Superhuman: Rise to Power reminds me of a cross between Champions and Monsterpocalypse: in theme, game play and defects.
While Superhuman was described to us by the creators as a superhero deck-building game with board elements, this is emphatically not the case. Superhuman’s basic game play does involve a themed deck of power cards, similar to those in Sentinels of the Multiverse. There are advanced rules to build your own custom deck prior to play, like you would build a CCG deck, but there is nothing resembling Dominion-style play.
Most of Superhuman’s game play is board-based. Each player has one character, assigned to either the Hero team or the Villain team. You win the game by accruing 10 points for your team and then completing an end game mission. You get points by completing smaller plot missions that are drawn from a deck (there are separate plot decks for heroes and villains).
Most missions involve going to a specific map location and then rolling dice at your opponent until one of you gets higher numbers than the other person. Sometimes you need to just run up to someone on the opposing team and do a particular amount of damage to them. This process involves rolling dice at your opponent until one of you gets higher numbers than the other person.
Granted, some of the cards you have in your deck can give you unique advantages that make the game more interesting. The problem is that most of the cards give static bonuses that don’t make the game more tactically interesting, they just make your numbers larger. The Action Point mechanic is too restrictive- having to spend action points for every square you move into means that you’re not usually moving and shooting. The rules seem to encourage getting enough static bonuses to your action points that you can punch and dodge every turn. This means you’ll be standing in front of your opponent rolling dice at each other, unless someone uses their points to dodge, in which case you just spent your attack points for nothing.
The production levels for the game were varied. The illustrations are on par with Sentinels of the Multiverse, that is, amateurish but acceptable to many people. I like the look of the map/board, and the elements of the buildings were interesting. The graphic design on the other hand is poor: the card text and iconography is very small and the choice of fonts was not well thought out and hard to read. One of the good things about the design is the attack into present on attack cards. That design element is GREAT as it gives you exactly the info you need to make an attack in exactly the order you need it, from left to right, though it too is too small when actually printed out.
In addition, the Kickstarter project itself has some flaws. To get the game you have to pay $60, which would usually pay for a big-box game full of minis and components. Superhuman comes in a roughly 12”x12”x2” box, doesn’t have a hard board (it’s made from poster paper), and it doesn’t have minis.
Overall I think that Superhuman has a lot of potential but is not a game I would buy at this time. As an initial playtest it has a lot of potential, but the whole thing still feels half-baked. The game feels like it doesn’t know what it wants to be- it’s too complex for a pick-up game, it’s too objective based to be an RPG system. With some more game revisions and some business consultations I’m sure Superhuman can be a great board game, but right now it might be better to pass on this one.