Thursday, June 30, 2011


I go in and out of moods for my games a lot.  Gamer ADHD as it has been called.

I have been going through my Icons collection of late with the idea to revive my long dead Supers game.
I have already stated Justice for Icons, but I have not used it for Willow and Tara just yet.  So here is my point of view on Icons.  Some of this I mentioned before, but I wanted to pull it all together in one place.


I enjoy Supers games. I don't get to play them as often as I would like, but I enjoy them all the same. I had been playing M&M 2ed and just picked up BASH! so I was hesitant to also get Icons. But Icons comes with a pretty good pedigree. First it is written by Steven Kenson, who gave us Mutants and Masterminds and also worked on Silver Age Sentinels. Steve obviously knows his supers. It has Gareth-Michael Skarka of Adamant Entertainment and one of the minds behind "Hong Kong Action Theater". Walt Ciechanowski has a ton of game systems under his belt too including M&M, True20 and Victoriana (1st ed). And Morgan Davie, whom I'll admit I am not as familiar with. But he is one of the guys that wrote Icons, so that makes him good in my book.

Comics are a visual medium. Full of art and color and eye catching action. Icons is the same. It is a really good looking book, especially one that has such a "retro" or even "indie" feel to it. It lives somewhere between the free flowing cartoon fun of Cartoon Action Hour and the slick, high production values of Mutants and Masterminds. All three of these games are fantastic and their style really tells us a lot about what they are about. Icons is a comic book game that is close to a Saturday Morning Super Heroes cartoon. The art, which some people have disliked, I think sets the perfect mood for this book. It is simple art, but it is good art and has a earnestness about that I like. That is also true for the rules.

Icons, as you may or may not have heard, is powered by FATE. Though the typical FATE/Fudge trappings of naming the power levels is gone in favor of numbers (sort of a step backwards from the FATE perspective, but fine for me). There is the option for named levels too, and I think it would fit the style of comic book action, but I myself prefer numbers. The scale is pretty simple, 1 to 10, with 3 an average. So very similar already to a lot of games I play.

The rules themselves are really simple. It is a modification of the dF system. Use 2d6 with one as positive and one as negative, roll and add, apply mods. Easy. You can be up and running in less time than it takes to say "Meanwhile back at the Hall of Justice..."

Hero creation is unique for a modern game, it is random. Not that you couldn't do it as a "point buy" system, but the randomness is what I think sets it away from BASH which can fill similar needs.

I feel I must at this point call out the Character Sheet. Long ago I was a reader of Marvel and I loved their "Whos Who" of the Marvel universe where they would have bar charts to rank their heroes on various attributes. It was almost very game-like and I loved them. Icons does something similar and it really gives their characters a different feel.

I would be lying if I didn't see bits of pieces of Silver Age Sentinels or Mutants and Masterminds peeking out every so often. That is fine with me. That familiarity is a good thing in my mind.

Icons is not really the game I would use if I were going to run a multi-year, multi-arc long game; that's what Mutants and Masterminds is for. But if I needed to run a supers game on a rainy afternoon or a convention or just something to have some fun with, then Icons is a great choice.

Other Icons products:

Hope Prep #0: Orientation
Icons and M&M 3

Ever since the X-Men went to class and the Teen Titans went to their tower, being a super powered teen has always been popular in comics. It was popular before that too, but let's stick with high school. Hope Prep is another in a long line of Schools for .... you get the idea.
This book was written for ICONS, but I am certain that the same applies for other versions (M&M).
The idea here is a day spent learning about your new school, Hope Prep. A new bad guy organization is introduced, which I really liked and will use. And it works as a good introduction to supers roleplaying and the game systems as well.

Each scene is detailed well, but not in a way that tells the GM what everyone needs to do, but instead a framework of what is going on and how to move from one scene to the next. Very nice.
There is a starter map of the school grounds and some materials to print and give to your players.

All in all, a very fun intro and certainly makes want to get some more from this line of products.
5 of 5 Stars

Hope Prep School Freshman Handbook
Icons and M&M3

The Freshman Handbook is a great product in the Hope Prep product line. Meant to follow from the Hope Prep Orientation book, this book expands what you know and provides more information.

Like the Orientation Book, this book is multi-system. I had no issue moving from the ICONS version of one to the M&M version of the other.

This book contains everything a new student will need to know about their new school. There are class schedules with information on the teachers (and their powers, listed in back). While there is a wealth of information here it's utility will vary form GM to GM. While somw may like know where the students are at any given moment of any given day, there are others that will hand wave this.

One thing I found a distraction was the multi-colored text of the two students, Maza and Kid Courage. While interesting and provided a good insight to what was "really" going on, I found the font choice and color difficult to read sometimes.
4 of 5 Stars

I just found this awesome Character sheet for Hope Prep for Icons from the author's own blog.

ION Guard
Bash! and ICONS

If you need a reason to buy BASH or ICONS then this is it. At just about 60 pages this supplement presents the Intergalactic Ordinance Network Guard or ION Guard, an intergalatic police force defending the universe from all sorts of bad guys.
Yes we have seen this before, but the the presentation in this book is so enduring you ignore the obvious DNA of this product and just pull on your ION Fist, say your Oath and protect the Galaxy. NPCs are detailed as well as bad guys for you to fight. The layout of the book is awesome and I honestly can't say enough good about it.
Dislike: would have liked to see more bad guys.
5 out of 5 stars.

Field Guide to Superheroes Vol. 3 (ICONS)
A hefty collection of archetypes for the ICONS game. Lots of familiar territory here with some standard comic book archetypes. What I came here for was the Magician, Occult hero and the Psychic.

In all cases an archetype is presented with some explanatory notes on how this character works in the comics and the game. Examples from comics are given and ways to use the character. Then we also get a full write up of a ready to use character, either as an NPC or PC for your own games. Usually 4 pages per archetype.

Very good book for the price and now I want to pick up the first two as well.
5 out of 5 stars.

This might well be the most awesome product I have ever paid under a buck for.
You don't get many pages here, but you get alot. A "ripped from the tabloids" personality that can be a snap to play. All the Icons stats you need, a background, awesome art and a little paper mini to use in your game.
All for less than you would pay for a Mt. Dew out of a vending machine.

I just don't want to see more like this, I want to see LiLo and all her awesome powers of...well something I am sure.

Worth it for humor alone.
5 of 5 Stars

Icons vs. Bash vs. Mutants and Masterminds
This is something I think I need address, but at the moment I don't feel qualified enough to do this. I think I am going to have to play some games and try them out to see which ones I like the best.

More on Icons tomorrow.


Bruce Hill said...

Dear Tim,

Whilst I eagerly await a post comparing the three, have you played Supers! by Simon Washbourne? This is very similar game to Icons being very light prep and fast.

In the end I chose this, rather than the others, to play with my kids because the combat mechanic (Power v Power) so matches the younger TV superhero animations (I'm not as convinced it imitates modern comics - I thought it did, but a recent perusal of some comics seems to indicate that I'm wrong).

Timothy S. Brannan said...

I have not heard of it.

I will go and research and see what I can learn! Thanks!

John Dunn said...

Thanks for the positive feedback on our Hope Preparatory School products. It's very much appreciated!

Unknown said...

I'm been on an ICONS kick lately and it is currently on the top of the heap of Supers games that I'd like to run (with Truth & Justice and the newly discovered Supers! waiting in the wings). Thanks for the review of the supplements, though. I don't currently have any of them.