Saturday, July 9, 2011

ICONS Revisited

Awhile back, I put ICONS back on the shelf. Having run it twice, I wanted to love it, but I couldn't bring myself to. There were a couple reasons, but the principle one was in play. I couldn't get past the Invulnerability power.

Basically a character with Invulnerability can never be physically harmed by a character with Strength two or more points below that Invulnerability. From a genre standpoint, it makes total sense--Batman can smack the heck out of Superman for days and it wouldn't do anything but annoy Superman. But from a game standpoint, it felt wrong. In my experience there should always be a way to hurt the bad guy.

A couple of weeks ago, I had a conversation with Chuck Rice, who writes a lot of support material for ICONS. I decided to bring up this flaw to maybe get some house rules from a subject matter expert. It didn't go the way I'd planned. Chuck made some pretty good arguments for why this was OK. So I resolved myself to run the game one more time, looking at it from his standpoint--it is a genre convention; it forces the players to thing outside the box; this is a Good Thing.

This week my Friday group was down a player, and since we're just starting a campaign, I didn't want to go on without him. I took the opportunity to run Steve Kenson's excellent adventure, The Skeletron Key, using the official freebie characters given out to promote the release of ICONS. Justin played the Hangman, Ed played the Mighty Saguaro (brilliantly, I might add), Veronica played Miss Tikal (that name still cracks me up a year later), and our guest player, Matt, played All-Star.

I warned the players in advance about the inability to damage some things--they wouldn't necessarily be able to smash their way to victory. I told them to think outside the box when this issue came up. The group really thought on their feet. They used Stunts and Retcons to defeat the physically tough opponents. All-Star was equipped to hurt anything in the story, but that didn't stop the other players from doing their part. 

I was impressed. Not only did the players get around my perceived flaw in the game, they had a blast doing it. And it felt more like reading a comic or watching a cartoon. The result is ICONS does a great job of providing an authentic-feeling, super-powered experience.

Another thing I learned about the game is I'll be running it exclusively from my iPad. As a physical book it's beautiful, but I have some organization issues with it. There is no index and the table of contents is anemic. The powers section is not organized in a way that lends itself to quick reference. Powers are broken down alphabetically by type, rather than just alphabetically. Further, there's no alphabetical page number reference to make things easier to find, and the table of contents doesn't tell you what page the sections for power type start. It makes for a very frustrating experience when you're new to the game and need information now. On the iPad, I just bookmarked this stuff, and I can now reference the book very quickly.

Overall, ICONS is a great game, and as long as you warn the players of the genre conventions and keep your copy on a laptop or iPad, you should enjoy it too.