I love Heroclix. I was introduced to them in '03 and I was immediately hooked. It was like playing a game of chess, only with superhero miniatures and more freedom of movement. Oh and dice. But other than that, EXACTLY like chess, or in other words: an incredible blending of strategic gameplay and comic book characters, with some dice rolling thrown in just to make things unpredictable.
The game is played on a predetermined map and operates like most other miniature-based games: characters have a score for movement, attack, defense, damage and range. The big difference with these is that as they take damage, their stats and powers (indicated by color-coded markers on each stat) change by way of rotating (or clicking) the base. The problem was that I couldn't find a group to keep playing with. A few of my roommates got into it, but after a couple of years, interest waned on all our parts.
When WizKids announced that, finally, this year they'd be taking their miniatures game online, I jumped at the chance to take this tabletop game to a whole new crowd of online players. The results, as these things often are, were mixed.== TEASER ==
I like to close on a positive note, so I'll be tackling what's wrong with the game before I move on to what's right. What's wrong is that the game is still in Beta (testing and not being released as a full-retail product, for those non-gamer readers among us), so the game is still very, very incomplete. There are strange glitches that I've seen do everything from pass characters through walls (which should be unpassable), to giving opponents powers that I should have to freezing up after a game is completed. The game is also unintuitive in its user-interface, for instance you can't just select your miniatures when you join a game, you have to use a pre-made team, or Force, that you assemble in an entirely different menu. This feature in particular seems completely unnecessary, especially since it really only forces each player to make a huge number of Forces to account for the units they may want to use from game to game.
Another, somewhat minor, gripe is that the units don't animate in any substantial way. You won't see Johnny Storm hurling fireballs, nor Captain America hurl his mighty shield, instead the miniatures stay completely frozen and when they need to move, they do so by floating along the game board.
While this isn't a deal breaker, the fact that there have been animated board games for well over a decade makes this more glaring than it perhaps deserves. Since the beta was/is relatively inexpensive to join, this is still forgivable until you see the price of a booster pack in-game. While the Beta only costs $1.95 to get into (and comes with the Fantastic 4 Starter for free), Booster packs, which contain five random figures and can help make your Forces more diverse, each cost $12. This is only $3 less than physical boosters cost (and most of those you can find on-sale in a comic book store at a discount), and considering the lack of animation and complete randomness of the packs, as well as the more basic fact that you don't get a figure that you can actually see and hold, this is far too much to pay. If Heroclix Online wants to stay competitive and keep making money after people have signed up, they either need to start having sale events or reduce that price down further ($10 would be the absolute maximum I'd think).
But all's not glitches and overpricing: the game, once you get into it and get past the initial awkwardness, is an incredibly faithful recreation of a game of Heroclix. The game is entirely turn-based, though each player has a five minute limit before the game automatically switches, to the next player, so you can't dawdle over-much. The maps (of which there are four) are also very well rendered and give a great diversity of environments and terrain, each requiring their own individual tactics. The dice rolling is, as always, either joyous or infuriating, depending on what side of the equation you're on. There's nothing quite as infuriating as seeing a perfectly executed plan completely disintegrate because of a few low die-rolls, but on the other side of that coin is the ridiculous come-from-behind victory that accompanies a few good turns of fortune and to be fair, the game seems to have an excellent randomizer for the die rolls.
I also have to commend the community. It's a little sad that a community can be lauded for not being populated by aggressively negative types who'd just as soon insult you as assist you, but such is reality. So far, though, all the games that I've gotten into have ranged from the conspicuously silent to those who were nothing but helpful and polite. Maybe it's because the community is still fairly small, though rarely to the point that I've had trouble finding a game to join, but the overall feel is very positive and everyone seems like they definitely want to be there to have fun.
At the End of the Day
I can't fully recommend going into Heroclix: Online cold, at least not when it goes full-retail. I'm not sure how things are going to shake out when the game goes on sale to the public, what's going to cost what, or what mechanics are going to be tweaked, but at this point I can really only recommend it to fans of the analog game. The Beta is still open and you'll get to bring everything you earn into the retail release, which is a neat perk.