Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Icons Review!

If you've been following Twitter comic book creators at all today, you'll know that it is, in fact, #avengersday. On account of that, we'd like to provide a down and dirty review of the new supers game, Icons. Read on to see how Blackbox and the mighty Gravedigger can save the day!

According to the text, Icons is "fairly short and simple." That statement is true, but this 129 page book (in .pdf) provides a lot of POW! for the buck. Each character is composed of six abilities: Prowess, Coordination, Strength, Intellect, Awareness and Power. Each ability has a score from 1(minimum human) to 10 (Cosmic or maximum superhuman). When a roll is required, the player rolls two six sided dice, one positive and one negative. This total is then added (or subtracted if the negative die is higher) as the "effort" to the associated ability score. This score is then compared to the Difficulty level of the test by subtracting the difficulty from the score. A failure results if the difficulty is higher than your score. The level is success is determined by this score if it is positive.

On the GM's turn, the character reacts to what the NPCs or enemies are doing and rolls based on their associated ability. The GM never rolls a die. Players get determination points to use for those great heroic feats they would otherwise not be able to accomplish. Using and gaining determination points centers around the characters characteristics and qualities such as catch phrase or headquarters.

Characters can be created using a random 2d6 mechanic for everything from origin to abilities to powers or with a point buy system. I prefer the random creation as most super heroes did not get to choose their powers, but were born with or otherwise acquired random powers. I am glad they included both systems since I know some players who would never play a burrowing, psychic with the ability to fly. I also enjoy the random creation so that you can force yourself to play a different character archetype than normal. Do you usually play the brawler/fighter? Well, now you get a chance to play the brain of the group, etc.

Page 18 of the rulebook presents team creation rules. My team, the Searchers of the Multiverse is the team shown on that page. My character is Blackbox, the big robot on the right. During team creation you get to determine team resources, challenges, origin, etc. This portion of the rules really brought together our entire team so that we felt like a group working towards unified goals.

A little less than 40 pages are filled with the powers available to the characters. This list is pretty exhaustive. I should point out that some of the powers require two of your power "slots" that you rolled for earlier in creation. In addition, each character gets a specialty that provides a bonus to certain checks. For example, my character Blackbox gets a bonus for wrestling which is very useful when he uses his superspeed to fly out a window and grab onto a flyer.

While playing the game, each characters turn is called a "panel" in which you can take one test/action plus potentially move and each round is called a "page." Distance is a somewhat abstract concept divided into Personal, Close, Extended, Visual and Beyond. Obviously certain abilities and powers only work at certain maximum ranges.

After the abilities, the book goes into the various uses for the different abilities and how to use those abilities in comabt and out of combat. After the abilities, the next section covers combined actions such as aerial attacks, combined attacks, pulling punches, etc. At one point in our game, Blackbox threw one of his teammates up onto the roof of a bank. While not necessarily covered in the combined abilities section, Blackbox made a strength test while his teammate made a Coordination test to determine how he landed.

Other sections of the book involve coming back from the dead after one issue (play session), recovery of wounds, minions and an in depth discussion of using and gaining Determination.

Starting around page 83 is the GM section of the book. This section covers team creation, random adventure creation and managing Determination before covering Villains. The villain section provides interesting rules for creating arch-enemies among other villains and then provides several sample villains. My favorite name being Confederape. The sample villains also have suggested adventures featureing that villain along with their backstory.

After the Villain section is a number of pages featuring generic other types of characters like bystanders, cultists and henchmen followed by a decently sized creature table. Finally, the main book contains an introductory adventure for starting out on Icons and an idea for the GM on what an Icons adventure might involve.

Also included with the preorder pdf are: additional villains, standups for the villains (three sheets - shown above, cut out shown to left) and an adventure involving Dr. Zodiac.

A few final thoughts: Dan Houser, the artist did a great job of providing art that fits the "feel" of the game. If you are looking for a heavy crunch game to munchkin, Icons is not for you. If you are looking for a fun, easy to learn system that makes you feel like you really are playing a superhero where almost anything can go and plays quickly, Icons is the right choice. I really like the resolution system. It adds just enough chance to make the roll interesting while providing a decent idea about your chance of success. I definitely look forward to playing and running more Icons games in the future. Icons' claim to being a "fairly short and simple" book ring true, and demonstrate that big games can come in fairly small (in RPG terms) packages.


  1. Hey! Thanks for the kind words! And yeah, as your game's GM, please don't read too much into the villains section. In fact, gimme those books back right now!! :)


  2. I can't wait to get my hands on the hardcopy of this as I hear it's supposed to be trade paper back in size and should sit very nicely between my All-Star Superman and Uncanny X-men trades :D

  3. Hey Paul! In case you didn't get my email earlier today, or whatever the deal is with your work email policy, and you check this: Email Gareth from the email address you used to order it from to clear up the pre-order issue.

    If this don't work, drop me a line. :)


  4. Just got my copy of Icons PDF, and I'm impressed. Dan, you did a good job of the art, and I'm envious as hell that you managed to get to illustrate a whole damned RPG, you lucky dog :)

    Steve and Gareth did a great job in writing the game. It's nice, simple and quick. Looking forward to running a game soon.

  5. Hey Mancer!!!! It's great to see you over here. I'm glad you picked up the book, man, and the experience drawing it has improved my illustration skills, and I'm currently working on something you might be interested in. PM me over at the Think Tank OR drop me an email at!


  6. Dan,

    The email address you gave me bounced, but I sent you a PM on the Think Tank :)

    Hear from you soon buddy.



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