Honestly, this is a game that I remembered fondly but hadn’t played probably since the early 90s. Last fall as part of an online convention for Enbicon I decided to offer this up (before COVID the plan was to have a retro-table at the convention with a variety of older games). As I started to read I was wondering how much of my fondness was simple nostalgia and how much was because the game was actually good and deserved to be played again.
For those unfamiliar the first MSH game was released in 1984 by TSR and it was…okay. Nothing truly spectacular but options were somewhat limited in a hobby that was barely a decade old and exceptionally niche. FLGS were largely a thing of prophecy but if you were lucky your could find D&D or something else by TSR at a bookstore.
Regardless, apparently the game was successful enough to warrant an Advanced version two years later and that game…that game is excellent.
Coming in only two years after the basic game, this is more of an upgrade as opposed to a new edition. It’s still compatible with the basic game and adventures but expands significantly on every aspect of the game.
Ahead of It's Time
The game is a fairly slim package (the Player’s Book and Judge’s Book together are about 150 pages and probably 50 of them are taken up by stats for various heroes, villains, henchmen etc. but there is a wealth of information in there including many things that gamers in the modern day enjoy or even take for granted.
- Degrees of success – the Universal Chart uses color coded degrees of success rather than simple binary pass/fail.
- Character Points to affect dice rolls – the Karma system was used for both advancement and to affect dice rolls. Bonus was that you spent Karma before the roll so you could choose your level of success and then spend the points to get from your roll to that level.
- Zone based movement – rather than feet and inches, MSH used zones of differing sizes. A thing still in use in Year Zero games, 2d20 games and FATE games.
- More Strategic Options – MSH was the first game I played where there were actual tactical choices that could be used in combat. It’s not as much as some games nowadays but back then it was amazing.
- Descriptive Ability levels – Much like many narrative games, MSH used descriptive adjectives for characters. Spider-Man doesn’t have a Dexterity of 18, he has Incredible Agility. Wolverine’s healing factor is Monstrous. Sure the adjectives have numbers attached to them but we always used the adjective.
How'd It Play?
It was a blast. I ran a modified version of one of the published adventures, with the players playing Spider-Man, Luke Cage, Iron Fish and Moon-Knight. The rules were pretty quick to pick up and use, even factoring in Roll20 and Discord and the game felt properly Marvel-ish.