If you asked 100 HeroClix players what their favorite part of HeroClix is, we suspect you’d get at least 50 different answers. Some love superhero combat, others love playing their favorite teams from comic books, many people love collecting the pre-painted miniatures, and others have an entrenched love of the gameplay.
There’s a lot to love within the gameplay – team construction, the Combat Dial, the Standard Powers. However, there’s something that we knew wasn’t as beloved, and it’s time for it to go: Pushing Damage.
As part of the changes we wanted to make to HeroClix with the 2021 Rules Update, it was obvious that the mechanics of HeroClix are an interwoven web. Adjusting one rule naturally impacts others. One of the changes the team felt most strongly about was removing pushing damage. Since pushing damage has always been a part of HeroClix, we wanted to discuss in detail not just why we wanted to remove it from the game but also the ripples of changes that we decided to implement as a result.
Why We Pushed Out Pushing Damage
The original purpose of pushing damage was to implement a cost to acting frequently with your character. It meant that there were basically 2 costs in original HeroClix – the pre-game point cost to include a character on your force and mid-game clicks of damage to act consistently with them. Even though pushing damage is a cost, there are benefits to the game that it exists.
- There’s a skill test to knowing when to push and when to pass.
- We’re able to design figures that motivate you to deal them pushing damage in order to get to a click that’s better than the click they’re on – often called “activation clicks.”
- Being able to push as a way to switch from one set of powers to another.
- Perhaps most rarely – it gives players a way to KO their own character to trigger a benefit.
Originally, acting consistently with your biggest threat that you had advantageously positioned was seen as a huge benefit. We’ve come to feel the benefits of pushing damage weren’t worth the tradeoff.
- The basic strategic decision to push your character just doesn’t feel good. Worse still – if you push to miss with an attack, or push to fail a breakaway roll, you feel like you’re digging your own grave.
- The deeper strategic decision to push your character in order to shift to a new power set vastly widens the gap between rookies and veterans. Even when rookies have learned this is sometimes a powerful tool, they’re more likely to use the tactic incorrectly or forget it.
- Willpower occupying the defense slot meant that characters couldn’t have both a damage reducer and the ability to avoid pushing damage. This eventually caused the invention of Indomitable and the striped shield, foreshadowing the need to prevent pushing damage.
- Pushing damage is a second drawback in the same dimension as action tokens. The result of taking the second consecutive action with a character wasn’t just pushing damage – it was also being forced to pass with that character on your following turn (and that isn’t fun either!).
- Sometimes many things happen between the decision to take pushing damage and actually taking the damage that make it easy to overlook. It isn’t unheard of for a character to take an action where they do 2 things (like Charge), pick up an object along the way, and resolve a few die rolls. By the time a player should be taking the click of damage, it might be easy to forget.
Flash forward to today. Many figures that play a role that makes you want to take actions with them every turn have Indomitable, Power Cosmic, Quintessence, Cosmic Energy, or Willpower. Other characters are designed to operate with free actions like Sidestep and the utility suite (Outwit, Perplex, Probability Control). Of the characters that see competitive play, the overwhelming majority of them have some way to avoid pushing damage. Figures without that capability are immediately evaluated as “less than.”
If new players were going to learn a tactic, we’d rather it be about utilizing the Standard Powers to their maximum effect instead of subverting an infrequent drawback. Also, for all of the design opportunities that pushing damage might present, it also balances itself with design obstacles. For example, it’s challenging to design effects that have meaningful benefits for your character taking damage or getting KO’d when its very easy for you to activate those effects yourself instead of using them as a catch-up mechanism as your opponent is damaging you.
After careful consideration, we knew that one of the changes we would make on the next rules update would be to remove pushing damage. What else was tied into this? Willpower, Indomitable, Colossal Stamina, and Team Abilities that referenced these. Internally we called the process of adjusting these game effects as The Indomitable Knot.
If there wasn’t pushing damage, it meant that Willpower wouldn’t do anything as a Standard Power. This was the first thing we wanted to focus on when it came to the ripple effects of removing pushing damage.
The sentiment of Willpower was that your character got to act more frequently than characters without Willpower. The closest power to that on the PAC is Leadership. So we designed the new Willpower to feel familiar:
Willpower 2021 – At the beginning of your turn, you may roll a d6. -: Remove an action token from this character.
We like that it’s automatic and has variance. We also like the timing – if a character with Willpower is KO’d, there isn’t usually a situation where they wasted time rolling to remove an action token that was meaningless.
Before we share the solution we settled on, we wanted to share three ideas; two that we didn’t select and the one that we did.
- Leaving it as a combat symbol that granted Willpower.
Since new Willpower causes each character to roll a die, we didn’t want a team of Indomitable characters to roll 5+ dice at the start of every turn. Putting a cap on Willpower so it could continue to be tied to Indomitable isn’t elegant. We also didn’t want to create feel-bad moments where players would forget to use it.
- Making it functionally identical to Colossal Stamina.
Colossal Stamina is too close to pushing damage for us to believe it’s right to remove pushing damage then apply Colossal Stamina to all of the existing characters that have Indomitable. This realization caused us to consider changing Colossal Stamina, which we might have otherwise left untouched in the 2021 rules update.
- Retiring the term Indomitable and making striped shield the standard defense symbol.
Existing characters in player’s collections would be able to all play the same as new characters – that’s a huge benefit. We were able to eliminate a rule AND its exception. Overall, the tempo of characters taking actions would have fewer tiers than us making Indomitable do something totally new.
Notably, characters that have Willpower on their defense slot will be getting a boost relative to characters that simply had Indomitable. Given the opportunity cost of having Willpower instead of a damage reducer or evasion ability, we’re okay with this.
As said above – we strongly didn’t want to move the negatives of pushing damage into a new game effect. Colossal Stamina was a valuable benefit to Colossal figures, so we didn’t want to just trim it away like we did with Indomitable. Our design goals were:
- Allow Colossal, and perhaps Giant, figures to act more frequently than standard sized characters.
- Avoid the negatives of pushing damage.
- Ensure larger figures are still fun and compelling for players to utilize.
When we realized that the benefits for large figures (Colossal and Giant) could be the same, it was a nice chance to streamline how those categories of figures play. Colossals would still be sufficiently different from Giants by having flavor to make them feel bigger, whether it was their improved Giant Reach or their ability to carry Giants. This meant that Colossal Stamina could be retired as a Keyphrase, and its sentiment could live on within the Great Size Keyphrase. Here’s where we landed on Great Size, new portion italicized:
Great Size (2021) – (Improved Movements), (Improved Targeting). Lines of fire drawn to or from this character are not blocked by elevated terrain or outdoor blocking terrain, and are hindered only if the line of fire is drawn to a square of hindering terrain that includes the target. This character can use Willpower and succeeds on a roll of -. Protected: Pulse Wave.
That’s a lot. They get these benefits:
- Improved Movement and Targeting (just like before)
- Ease of targeting and being targeted (just like before)
- Super effective Willpower (to fill the void left by Colossal Stamina)
- Protected: Pulse Wave (this prevents wonky rules situations)
Some Colossal or Giant figures right now that don’t have Indomitable will be getting a boost. While this might cause a slight rebalancing, we’re not concerned that any of these figures will become broken as a result.
A few Team Abilities grant Willpower or Colossal Stamina. The ones that gave Willpower will continue to do so. The Masters of Evil Team Ability gave Colossal Stamina, so we didn’t want it to live on as-is. Giving those characters Great Size doesn’t make sense and complicates them. Masters of Evil ended up with Colossal Stamina as their TA because their previous TA was so close to Colossal Stamina that we couldn’t justify it not being Colossal Stamina. Masters of Evil Team Ability isn’t very widespread, so we gave them a new ability that is a little different:
Masters of Evil (2021) – When an adjacent friendly character makes a close attack, modify the target’s defense -1 if the target is adjacent to this character.
One of the benefits here is that Masters of Evil characters will get to serve a utility role for their teammates even when they’re tokened up, even if they’re normally just a bruiser from a dial design perspective.
We know this may seem like a big set of changes for some players, but we hope you’ll come to feel as we do that they’re not that big, and will help improve the health of HeroClix. Until next time Masterminds, keep on Clixing!
To see everything we’ve revealed so far for the 2021 rules update and Wonder Woman 80th Anniversary, check here