Wednesday, February 23, 2011

[Lost Games] "The Official Superhero Adventure Game" by Brian Phillips

With the emergence of the role playing game "Old School Renaissance" and the growth of the indieRPG scene, we have seen a number of excellent gaming products released over the past few years. In many ways, it reminds me of the heady days of yester-yore when gamers had "heard" of this newfangled thing "Dungeons & Dragons" and had a vague concept of what a role playing game was. During the early days of the role playing game hobby, there was an explosion of creativity as the market defined itself.

To be fair, there have been several explosions over the decades. There was the garage explosion of the 70s and early 80s where a number of products -- both wonderful and awful -- were created by gaming communities to be shared with friends and sometimes for profit. The best of these games led to the creation of new gaming companies. There was the "corporate" explosion of the mid to late 80s where companies that had once been garage companies exploded with products. Look at the product lines of FASA, Judges Guild, TSR, and Steve Jackson Games during this era. Attempts to enter the market by gaming giants like Avalon Hill and SPI sparked this age where production values increased and new marketing strategies emerged. The 90s brought another surge of independent companies who capitalized on a mature but unsaturated market to bring in new gamers and new games. Companies like Pinnacle Entertainment and White Wolf emerged in this era with new games that had inspired settings and mechanics. Then came the d20 explosion where a large number of companies, big and small, rode the coat tails of one of the largest gaming releases in RPG history. This era also saw the emergence of some small players, but it wasn't until the d20 bubble burst that the works of these wonderful independent creators began to receive their due.

Every era has had many games to offer and experience, but we only have so much time to engage with our hobbies and some games get lost, overlooked, or forgotten. The purpose of my [Lost Games] series, which will have a new entry every couple of weeks, is to highlight some of these games. Sometimes they will be games that I own and enjoy. Sometimes they will be games that have a large community of devoted fans. Other times, like today, they will be games that are lost and difficult to find.

I own almost every super hero role playing game ever published. From Superhero 2044 (original and revised) and Supergame to Icons and Hideouts & Hoodlums, my collection runs deep. There have been a few games that managed to slip past my superhero rpg obsession net though, and one of those games is "The Official Superhero Adventure Game."

According to Heroic Worlds, "The Official Superhero Adventure Game" was self-published by Brian Phillips in 1981 in two separate editions (much like Supergame had two back to back editions). The first edition featured a 52 page rule book and 32 card stock sheets and a blue and white cover. The second edition, published the same year, also featured a 52 page rule book and 32 card stock sheets with a color cover replacing the blue and white one. Lawrence Schick, the author of Heroic Worlds is less than kind in his comments regarding the game and describes it as a, "Superhero system of confused, rudimentary rules, mainly for combat (basic and advanced). Includes dozens of hero and villain character descriptions."

If this were the only review available for the game, I would desire a copy. The inclusion of dozens of character descriptions, regardless of the overall quality of the game, might provide a nice jumping off point to inspire other games. Though I don't get to play them as often as I like, super hero games are my favorite games to play in and run and any game that has more NPCs for me to convert to my favorite systems the better.

This isn't the only review available for the game, there is another review in the invaluable August 1982 issue of "Different Worlds" magazine (Issue #23). That issue provides a much more detailed review by gaming great Steve Perrin who writes:

The rules do provide a 'role-playing game,' but that section simply gives hints for role-playing the characters provided, also providing a somewhat looser scenario plan with another plot and more options for the referee. In fact, this is the only scenario that needs a gamemaster. The previous ones can be played by two players, each taking a side to manipulate.

One interesting aspect of the last chapter is the experience point system. Rather than giving points to the character, the points are given to the player, bot for his playing ability and his role-playing. Thus the characters remain the same, but the experience points given the players are used to help determine who gets first choice of characters for the next scenario...

All in all, you get quite a bit for your money, even without the ability to make up your own characters. The characters provided are interesting in themselves, and the scenarios make for a good reproduction of a DC saga, if not a Marvel epic. For character and scenario ideas alone, superhero referees might do well to pick up this game, if they can find it. Write to the author if your local store doesn't carry it.

This review is much more positive than Schick's and sparks my imagination. Just what is this "Official Superhero Adventure Game," and how does it play? Sadly, I'll likely never know. I have yet to see a copy on eBay or in a store. The review provides a PO Box address for Brian Phillips for those who might be interested, but I doubt that it would be useful today.

This one seems truly lost, but I'll keep looking.


LeBlanc Vivant said...

Somehow I've managed to end up with this game in my collection!!! I may truthfully be the only person that owns it. I've crawled the boards and discussions and only a few people have ever heard of it, much less purport to have ever seen it. Want proof? Here's a scan I just made of the cover...

I'll be working on turning it into a PDF for educational purposes.

Steve Lopez said...

I have a copy, purchased at Origins '82 in Baltimore. The company also sold a line of metal miniatures (one mini for each character provided in the game), which I likewise purchased (and which we used for years afterward in V&V and Champions "pickup" games).

The game is not remotely a "role playing game" as you or I would understand the term. It is a set of minis skirmish rules (with basic and advanced versions). The extra "role-playing" section consists merely of a set of linked minis encounters in which each player is provided with a "secret objective". Players (not their characters) are scored on their performance of these objectives, and the player with the highest point value gets "dibs" on what character he wants to play in the next game(s).

Steve Lopez said...

I neglected to mention that I have the 2nd edition (with the "color" cover -- very "pastel" and washed-out looking). As I said, I bought the game at Origins '82 and played in all three of the company's demos of the game at that convention. One game took place in a city constructed from cereal and oatmeal boxes covered in construction paper, with plenty of Matchbox cars on hand to be flung around.

A second game was played on a very cool 3D castle setup. The metal mini for the character Shiva was set up as a statue in front of the castle. I'd bought the game and minis the day before, and was misled into thinking that the "statue" was a villain trick which was going to "come alive" and attack us at any moment, but that didn't happen. I believe the villains in that game were the handful of Axis characters included with the game.

I don't remember what the third game was, but it was most likely played on the city layout.

Russ H said...

I have this game as well. It was notworthy in the 80s in that it had a line of figures from Castle Creations. When this game went OOP, the figures bacomesome of the original figs for the old Champions line. Bu todays standards the figures were a little crude, but by 1984 standards they were great. And the above commenter is right. This is in NO WAY a role playing game. It's a scenario based, minitures battle game.
The Rules have a few noteworthy parts that need fixing, but for an 80's indy game, this was pretty good and many of the rules issues could be easily fixed by players agreeing "Okay...we'll do THIS to resolve THIS from now on"

Rich Howard said...

I loved this game. In fact it was my first superhero RPG, three years before I discovered Champions. I owned the blue-white cover version and never knew the color version existed. The reviewer is right, the characters were the best part of that game. The teams of heros and villains, along with solos and even one or two antiheroes who would fight on either side, inspired my imagination.

I know it wasn't technically an RPG, it was a miniatures battle game at its heart, but so was AD&D in its infancy. We roleplayed with O.S.H.A.G. before we even knew what real roleplaying was. I even wrote Brian Phillips letters (yup, snail-mail letters) telling him how much I loved the game and wanted to see more.

Unfortunately, my copy was caught in a flood and molded away. One of the saddest days in my geeky life.

I'm writing a blog entry about my childhood gaming days and seeing it reflected in my youngest nephew now. I decided to see if the ghost of my first (and nostalgically favorite) superhero RPG might still be lurking about. Glad to see its memory hasn't completely disappeared.

beasterbrook said...

I think I need to track down a copy of this;)