With Great Power...
With Great Power... by Incarnadine Press costs $20 US ($12 US for the PDF). It is an attempt, and a successful one, at capturing the style and rhythm and melodrama of the Silver Age comics. Yes, the characters have an array of special abilities and powers, but that's not the game's focus. The focus is on the characters and the choices they make and the dilemmas they face. Of course that also means that you don't have to worry about point-balancing your guy who can throw portable miniatuarized suns at his opponents with the guy who wears a bat-mask and has a utility belt full of boomerangs and shark-repellant spray. No more making your mighty hero afraid of spiders, dyslexic, gassy, paraplegic and allergic to shellfish in order to pay for your mega-blast attack, either. Also, no more wondering how you're going to keep your players interested in yet another evil plot to launch the heroes' base into the depths of space.
But just because it's not the focus, doesn't mean you don't get to use those powers. As a matter of fact, you've got a fair bit of flexibility in just how you use them. Suddenly decide that your ice-ray can make a never-ending ice-ramp for you to travel around on? No problem. Done. No need to pay extra points for it or anything. The game is actually designed to simulate how comics work, from the difficult initial encounter with the villain's plot to the inevitable shift in the balance of power which allows the heroes to bring the fight back to the villain. The rules emulate comics, not physics.
To determine what happens, the game uses (several) decks of playing cards. Early in the game, the GM has several decks to draw from, and her low cards count as "wild". Later in the game, the players get to used those extra decks and wildcards. In a nutshell, a conflict with another character is a "page", and each page is made up of several "panels". The panels consist of a card played by one character, representing an action, and a card played by his opponent, representing his defense and counter-action. First person who can't play a higher card of the same suit loses, and not only does he not get what he wanted, his opponent does. Of course, in the comics, characters are always going from fist-fights to laser-blasts to throwing cars. Thus, in the game, you can switch tactics to start playing with a new suit, ignoring the values on the cards of the old suit. That's the gist of the conflict system.
However, if you find yourself in a pinch and need more cards, there's something you can do. You can start risking your assets, be they dependent NPCs, possession, powers or whatever. Maybe your power armor starts to show signs of wear from the combat. Maybe your old aunt (once again) wanders out into the street where you're fighting octopus-man. The question becomes, "what price will you pay to win the page?"
The good news is, if you lose a page of conflict, you get to play a card to the "Story Arc" which slowly turns the tide in the player's favor. As a matter of fact, the villain can't win and the heroes can't defeat him until the Story Arc is complete.
What about the GM? How does he make the villain's plot interesting. Glad you asked. Before all of the role-playing starts, the players and GM get together and decide on the "theme" of the game, as illustrated by examples like Justice vs. Revenge, or Ideals vs. Practicality (don't worry, there's a list to choose from if you can't come up with one on your own). Then the players pick a few of their assets to be important to that theme. One of these assets from each player becomes important to the schemes of the villain. The GM takes a few minutes and chooses a villain or two from her collection of dastardly rogues, and decides how the villain is going to use the hero's asset to complete his evil plan. Voila! So not only is the villain doing something evil, now it's personal!
And that's it. If the villain can convert/utilize the heroes' assets to his cause, he wins. If the heroes can undo that harm, say, destroying the mega-laser that is powered by a hero's "green forcefield" ring, then they win. All of this, of course, assumes that it's the end of the Story Arc. Otherwise it's just a temporary gain.
So, while it sounds all super (heh), there are some caveats. First of all, this game is designed to emulate a very specific style of play. It's not about tactics or resource management (much) and it's not about bloody vigilantes or "average joes" with special powers. It's about heroes who know that they're heroes, all flashy costumes and dramatic entrances. Also, the rules, while very clever, are a little tricky to get the hang of. There are plenty of examples and even an illustrated play-by-play, but mistakes are likely to be made the first couple of times through. Also, while it doesn't require alot of "night-before" prep, there is a bit of setup time before every game while the players and GM hash out what the game will be about and the GM steps out to put together the villain's evil Plan. This might be an issue if your players tend to lose interest if things don't start in the middle of the action. Oh, and of course you'll need several (3-5) decks of playing cards, each with distinctive backs (so they can be easiliy sorted).
I have to admit that I haven't played this yet due to some scheduling problems, but I'm eager to get to it as soon as possible. Honestly, it sounds like a giant, cosmic-ray-powered blast!