Review: Adamant Entertainment – ICONS


ICONS
ICONS is a complete superhero system written by Steve Kenson, Gareth-Michael Skarka, Walt Ciechanowski and Morgan Davie and published by Adamant Entertainment.
By Aaron T. Huss

ICONS is a rules-light superhero system based off the FUDGE and FATE systems. It is a success ranking system where the dice become modifiers to a character’s Abilities instead of the character’s Abilities being a modifier to the dice roll. These modifiers are determined by using 2d6 where one dice is a positive modifier and the other is a negative modifier. By adding the two dice together, you receive the first modifier for the action being taken with the second modifier being that action’s difficulty level. What you get is a character who is destined to succeed more often than not with that success gauging the actions effect. The net value of the character’s Abilities including both modifiers produces a number that is compared to the never-changing success ranking system that starts at 0. The better the result, the more incredible the character’s success producing increasingly improved outcomes. Pretty simple if you think about it.

The system is quite fitting for a superhero game as it improves one’s chances for success and adding a measurement of how well they succeed. However, only player’s get to use these mechanics as Game Masters do not roll any dice. Actions from a super-villain are gauged by how well the superhero defends. The higher the success on the defensive maneuver, the further reduced that super-villains action becomes. It is definitely a superhero-centric game, designed to reproduce comic books from the Golden and Silver ages.

SUPERHEROES

If you look at the bulk of ICONS‘ mechanics, there are really only two things involved: superheroes and villains. Everything else revolves around these two in some way or another. This is what Golden and Silver Age comics were all about. They told you stories about everything that the heroes and villains affect instead of creating a world with events that the heroes or villains are becoming involved in as an outside party. Everything is directed by one of these two and they are the reason it has a purpose. So it’s very fitting that the bulk of the book is given over to what it takes to create a superhero and the team he or she belongs to. The game’s core mechanics are so intertwined with this superheroic theme that one does not exist without the other. Basically, the mechanics are what define the superhero and the superhero is what gives the mechanics purpose.

Superheroes are defined by six abilities which are used to perform all in-game tests. A character’s powers are tied to one of those abilities thus giving them more meaning for that particular superhero. There are no additional skills to roll against nor are their different abilities that are created through the use of powers. Everything uses the six abilities and that’s it. Superheroes are defined by the powers they possess and what characteristics those powers carry (such as defensive, mental, or movement). By combining these different powers, either randomly or by choosing specific ones, your superhero is born. Further role-playing aspects are added (called Qualities and Challenges) that add a bit of story control into the hands of the player.

Rounding this superhero creation process out is creating your superteam which all the characters belong to. Think of the Avengers of Justice League of America…

To make things even easier, super-villains are created in a similar manner even though the Game Master doesn’t get to roll any dice for them. Superheroes aren’t complete if they don’t have a super-villain to face.

GAME MASTERING

The Game Mastering section is where all the secrets are told for how a GM can turn ICONS into an exciting comic book. This includes a look at making villains and arch-enemies. To boost these efforts, a large selection of pre-generated villains is including with detailed descriptions of the villains and a listing of adventure ideas. A small selection of creatures are included, although why you would use these is beyond me, along with a sample adventure. The sample adventure is a great representation of what ICONS is meant to recreate.

OVERALL

ICONS is an excellent system that harkens back to the old school design of comic books from the Golden and Silver ages. Storylines are short and more often than not the superhero overcomes the villain within the pages of a single issue. Additionally, the superhero always seems to make it look easy and no matter what, succeeds in his or her efforts. This is what ICONS is recreating and its mechanics are designed around that feeling. Instead of slapping a theme onto the mechanics, the theme was designed into the mechanics. Even the terminology matches the theme! While it may be limited in an adventure’s look and feel, it definitely does what it aims to do. If you’re a fan of old school Spider Man, Avengers, or Justice League of America, this is the game that will allow you to recreate your favorite comics.

RATINGS

Publication Quality: 10 out of 10
ICONS is a beautiful book. All superheros and villains are designed in this very traditional coloring manner found in four-color, Golden Age, and early Silver Age comics. While this may seem cheesy, it’s a perfect fit for the theme and design of the system’s mechanics. ICONS is designed to recreate those old comic books and the illustrations only support that theme. In addition, the book’s layout and formatting is easy to read and very pleasing to the eyes. It is a perfectly designed book and really utilizes the digest format to the best of its ability.

Mechanics: 8 out of 10
There is one slight drawback to ICONS‘ mechanics to fans of superhero role-playing games: the system centers around the superheroes. How is this different? The superheroes are essentially over-the-top characters who rarely fail and the mechanics are designed around their action and superior abilities instead of spending more time considering the overall setting and a lengthy storyline. Yes it’s designed to recreate comic books where storylines rarely lasted longer than two issues, but some of the tools are taken away from the Game Master to create full campaigns. Simple things like villains don’t roll dice for their own abilities nor do they get a reaction to the superheroes action. They are destined to fail sooner rather than later.

With that in mind, the mechanics are a beautiful blend of quick action, limited dice rolling, and lots of superhero options to keep the game moving quickly and provide players with a variety of options to create their ideal superhero. The rules-light system is obvious in every facet and superheroes are definitely superheroes. Why, powers cover 26 pages of the 127 page book! One of ICONS‘ strongest points is that its theme is designed directly into the mechanics producing a very fluid game system that meshes perfectly with the created characters.

Desire to Play: 8 out of 10
Players looking to recreate Golden or Silver Age comics will find almost everything they’re looking for in ICONS. Those looking for the opportunity to a darker, grittier game will not find it within ICONS. In addition, if you want your superhero to have a high success rate, then ICONS‘ mechanics are a great fit. ICONS produces characters that are super in every regard.

Overall: 9 out of 10
If you’re looking for the ultimate “super” experience where your superhero is all but guaranteed success when using his or her powers and is a driving factor of the entire storyline, then ICONS is most likely the game you’re looking for. While it doesn’t actually contain superheroes from the comic books, it contains a huge variety of powers that can be mixed and matched to recreate those superheroes. Just remember, superheroes here are the ultimate heroes and villains are the people who are always defeated by the good guys.

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