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Godlike
Reviewed by Mark Finn, © 2003

Format: Game
Genre:   Gritty Wartime Superhero Adventure
Review Date:   July 29, 2003
RevSF Rating:   8/10 (What Is This?)

The War of the Supermen

Starting this month, I'll be reviewing the current crop of super-hero role-playing games on the market, with an old gamer's eye for What Makes a Game Cool. Later, after I've gone through the new games, I may turn to the old games and do an uber-comparison piece. For now, though, sit back and let me be your guide into the many worlds of super-hero gaming. . . . MF

The tagline to this game is 'Superhero Roleplaying in a World on Fire,' and it aptly sums up the scope and intent of Godlike: What if our 'real' World War II saw the emergence of the first super heroes? How would that have affected our outcome? After all, in the four-color world of comic books, one has to wonder how the Nazis could create giant Swastika-adorned robots to menace Superman and Wonder Woman, and yet sixty years later, the general populace isn't flying around with the aid of jet packs.

Godlike addresses that concern by scaling back the scope of the super powers available to players. You want to fly? Cool, no problem. But a bullet to the head will knock you out of the sky, just the same. As with any rules system, this is tweakable, so if you really want to run Captain America and Nick Fury against the Ratzis, you can. But doing so sidesteps a lot of what makes Godlike so cool.

Superheroes at War

The game system utilizes the seemingly ubiquitous dice pool concept: Your game stats and your skill level are represented by a number of dice, which are rolled to produce a success number. Ordinarily I'd pooh-pooh the dice pool, because I'm old school, you see. Dice pools are very mushy, and in the case of super hero games, where it's important to know that Jimmy Olson is a pushover next to Superman, I think they are a waste of space.

Godlike, however, uses some math to set up their dice pool. When you roll a handful of dice, you are looking for matches├│two 7's, or three 4's, for example. That success number is then interpreted by how fast you did your task, and how well you did it. Depending on the result, you could get your shot off first but hit in an ineffectual place, or you could take your time and bullseye your target. It's quirky, interesting, and it works BECAUSE it's fuzzy. There's enough creative interpretation there for the touchy-feely gamers and enough math, logic, and reasoning for older, more seasoned gamers. (Confused? There is a resources page on the Arc Dream website that has quick start rules and game play tutorials you can download that explain it better. In fact, the website has a ton of support material on the site and is worth a visit or two once you buy the game.)

The limiting factor of the dice pool is that no player can have higher than a 10 in a stat or skill. And no one rolls more than 10 dice, because they are virtually guaranteed to succeed. How this is kept in check is by limiting the starting attributes and subsequent points use to purchase powers. 25 points in game terms doesn't buy you much, but it does make a for a cool one-trick character. That's not a bad thing, though; because the mortality rate is so high, the rules encourage running squads or creating multiple characters. This sets up some interesting dynamics, and encourages a more 'soldier at war' style of role-play than the standard 'I've got my staff out, checking every ten feet for traps and listening at the door' type of thing.

A World on Fire

Where Godlike really shines is the background material. This world breathes, and includes a detailed and well-researched timeline that inserts their 'Talents' into the grander scheme of WWII. Reading through the history, I found several mysteries for the GM's to delineate at their leisure, or ignore if it doesn't suit them. I like that a lot. There's plenty of flavor included, too, with well-doctored photos and magazine covers to give a sense of what it would have been like in the 40s, in battle, to see flying men.

The background material is nice, too, in that it sets up Arc Dream's next big release, Wild Talents, which moves the world of Godlike forward for modern super heroes. Ooh, talk about a legacy-style campaign.... I personally like the way powers are explained, too. Crack the book and read about the emergence of Talents. It's fun stuff.

Slick production values and a simple and clever system with an eye toward punching through tanks and German machine gun nests make this a great superhero game. Don't worry about not being able to create Captain America├│you'll have more fun making invisible snipers, super fast medics, and guys who can turn into gorillas (yeah, that's the sample character!). I wish I'd thought of that.


Mark Finn is the Games Editor for RevolutionSF and the author of two books of fiction: Gods New and Used and Year of the Hare.

 
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