|cover art by Alvin J. Belflower|
Villains hold a certain allure; they appeal to our baser desires. A game where players assume the roles of evil-doers would seem to have a great deal of potential. Supervillains was an attempt to capitalize on the 'bad boy' mystique in terms of the comic book super-being genre. According to the back of the box:
SUPERVILLAINS includes scenarios which may be played as board games, and complete rules for setting up and running a role playing campaign game. The game contains a strategic map, a tactical map, die cut playing pieces, and all the dice, charts, and rules required for play.In fact, Supervillains presents itself as three games: a basic game (“...the same as virtually any Adventure board game”), an intermediate game, and an advanced game (with “as much freedom of character play as any other role-playing game”). The role-playing nature of Supervillains is often ignored. Lawrence Schick neglected to list it in Heroic Worlds, even though he catalogues Masters of the Universe – a product with less of a claim to being a role-playing game.
The cover indicates Supervillains was a Task Force game. Task Force was a company in the 80s perhaps best known as the (then) publisher of Star Fleet Battles. It also produced a variety of 'pocket games'. Apparently, Supervillains is Rick Register's only design credit.
One bygone summer, when he was a kid, your humble host purchased this game. It was money well spent as he derived extensive use of the product those halcyon months so long ago. Nowadays, kids have detailed HeroClix figures for games of super-being combat. Back then, all we had were cardboard counters and we were grateful. Nostalgia notwithstanding, Supervillains is not without its faults.
Part of the trouble with Supervillains is the premise; it's not easy being evil. All a superhero has to do is stumble across a villainous plot and thwart it. A supervillain must formulate and advance plots. Also, the motivations of supervillains are myriad. Among the various sorts of supervillain there are: a misunderstood alien who steals electronic components to repair his spaceship, an operative of a hostile foreign power, a mad scientist seeking revenge against the civilization that spurned him, a megalomaniac attempting to conquer the world, a thug who has no aspiration beyond robbing a bank. Supervillains does nothing to address character motivations or the need for players to create plots.
The RPG aspect of Supervillains includes what I call a 'schedule' game – a type of game I have discussed previously. “In the Advanced game,” the rules state, “the players will inform the Gamemaster what actions their characters are taking during each segment.” (A 'segment' is a half-hour of game time.) Continuing, the rules state that “encounters between player-characters...will be played out...” This suggests that player characters are not grouped as a party, they engage the setting separate from one another.
Here is the complete introduction to the game:
The fiendish Dr. DuNos was running wild through the city terrorizing the populace and creating havoc. As public enemy #1, the master of sound, had managed to evade both DAGGER and The Sentinels. The mayor of New York City was so distraught over the matter that he had been ready to resign over the furor, when the Controllers volunteered their services to track down and arrest DuNos. The intangible Null-Man, the Living Vacuum, Electro-Thing, The Battery, Soundwave, and the Gyro-Changer all had long criminal records; but the mayor had little choice. He gave the Controllers permission to attempt what no one else had been able to do.
Given their own headquarters, the Controllers soon proved their loyalty to the mayor by doing their best to track down the infamous DuNos. Although DuNos managed to evade them time after time, they were soon given another assignment in addition; to capture the notorious Holy Crusader and Company. The Holy Crusader, the Giver of Light, Perihelion, and The Crab were all wanted for numerous and various crimes against the state, one of the most ruthless of which included the brutal massacre of an entire squadron of DAGGER agents.
Laboring night and day with little sleep, The Controllers were finally able, through luck, to locate the Crusaders' hideout. They prepared to engage in combat with the fiendish foursome. Both sides tensed, as each was waiting for the other side to make the first move. As these Superbeings stood poised for action, suddenly a whining sound filled the air and the sky grew darker as two DAGGER air cruisers passed overhead, containing forty agents, who were authorized to eliminate both the Crusaders and The Controllers, each for their various crimes. It would be a long and bloody battle and many Superbeings and DAGGER agents would lie dead before the day was over, but perhaps the city, for a time, would be free of the supervillains.