Union City Heroes RPG review

For a guy who really loves his superhero RPG’s this one slipped under the radar for me until it popped up in my Facebook ad feed after the Kickstarter had already ended. The game is called Union City Heroes. You can tell a lot about a superhero RPG’s ethos based on what they choose for art, and this one has a strong silver-age, cartoony feel to it. As it turns out, I like that kind of innocence when it comes to superheroes, so after reading some about it, went ahead an picked up the digital pdf from DrivethruRPG.

So let’s get one minor gripe out the way, which has to do with the names they give various game elements. What I would call “points” as in “a point-buy character creation system” they call “ranks.” What I would call “ranks” as in “I have three ranks in a particular skill” they call “levels.” What I would call “levels” as in “I am a level three Mystic” they call “classes.” What I would call “classes” as in “I took Leader as my character class,” they call “archetypes.”

So, you could have a PC with the Anti-Hero archtype who is Class 3 with Level 2 Flight which cost me 6 Ranks. See my point? (pun intended)

Now that that particular issue is out of the way….

It’s a point buy character creation system, with each PC have a number of Ranks based on what Archetype the player picks. The Archetypes are very, very broad, intentionally so since the author points out that a particular popular comic book web-slinger could be categorized as Gifted or Masked Vigilante, or a Star-Spangled super-soldier could be Brawler, Gifted, Leader, or Paragon, for example. The Archetypes are there to give a bit of direction for character development as the PC increases in Class, including some special abilities, although multi-archetyping is an option as well.

So you have a fairly typical arrange of stats, although Agility is just used for defense while Aim is used for both melee and ranged offense, preventing a particular uber-stat to occur. The power options are also fairly standard, with usually an increasing expense in Ranks to go up Levels in ability. There is also a cap on a power’s level affected by both Class and Archetype. The Archetype selection also makes certain powers typical to the notion less expensive as well.

Dice mechanics are 2d10+modifiers [stats, powers, special abilities, etc] versus a comparable die role by the opponent or a static number. Damage is a straight-up dice roll based on the power (or Strength) plus modifiers, then having that total subtracted by things like the power Armor, and then applied against the Stamina (aka hit points) of the target.

All that seems pretty simple until you start seeing the special rules, like double odds on the 2d10 causing collateral damage, and double evens causing knockback. There is also a pool of Hero Points which can be used to create bonuses to die rolls, among other things. The pool of points for a PC is replenished by either rolling a 10 on a die roll, or interacting with a significant NPC in a non-combat scene, which is a nice bit of genre-related rules creating there.

The use of NPC interaction as a major game mechanic is one of the things I really liked about Union City Heroes, the other being how they handle villains. When a villain hits 0 Stamina, they automatically attempt to escape (“smoke bomb!”) But the PC heroes can attempt to thwart the villain’s escape, which then causes the villain to shift abilities into a more desperate, powerful version. This can actually go on through several different iterations until either the PC’s let the villain go and claim the XP award for whatever iterations they managed to defeat, they defeat all the iterations and get the max XP, or they themselves are defeated and get NO XP for the entire encounter. This mechanic creates a certain amount of thoughtful decision-making on the part of the players as they consider how depleted their own resources (Stamina and Hero Points) they are after defeating a particular level. I can see the image of a hero team, battered but successful, saying “let him go–we’ll catch him next time.”

Now for the downsides: this game is listen as being only first edition (digital) copy, and the creators promise that the second edition will be the print copy when it becomes available. But the first edition is missing some critical things. First, there is no sample PC in the book at all, and no real step-by-step PC creation process example in the book. There is also only one villain, and no real guidelines on how villains are created. You can extrapolate both things from reading the rules and being a little creative, but it is a much-needed addition.

There’s also a smattering of typos and one cut-paste error between one power’s table and the next power’s table, but it’s clear what was intended.

Thematically, the game actually reminds me a lot of Silver Age Sentinels, minus the overbearing game mechanics. There are LOADS of references to past generations of heroes, fake comic book covers featuring what I assume will be sample PC’s (one of each Archetype) and villains, and the core game locale of the eponymous Union City. That bit of comic book love is what really endears me to this game.

Plus it is ten dollars, which is a real deal for 200 pages, even if a chunk of it is full-page illustrations. Some time in the near future I’ll post some PC and villain examples that I’ve come up with on my own.

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