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Thursday, August 07, 2008

Clix ain't givin' you piece of mind

Yet another in a series of posts only Mike Norton will ever read, if indeed even he bothers...

So I'm selling off my HeroClix collection, a bit at a time, over on Ebay. Why? Well, let's see if typing it all out makes it seem a little more coherent --

First and foremost, I never get to play any more, and I've never wanted to be one of those geeks who collects useless-but-pretty memorabilia just to have same cluttering up my living space. I feel the same urge to have useless-but-pretty junk as nearly any other collector/obsessive of some pop culture sub-genre, but for me, there has to be some function to the form. That's one reason the Heroclix bug bit me so hard back in, what, 2003? Whenever it was my brother Paul gave me an Infinity Challenge starter set... I could indulge the collector's itch with a clear conscience, because not only were Heroclix cool little superhero statues, but they were actually useful as game pieces, too.

From the start, though, I was enormously dissatisfied with certain aspects of the official rules, so I pretty quickly implemented the first of what would grow to be an endlessly complicated array of House Rules. This was fine as long as I was primarily playing with my brother and his friends, who were all amiable about such things, and willing to defer to me as the 'comic book expert' in their gaming group. They just wanted to play an interesting game, and if I was anal enough to insist that only flyers with Damage Values of 3 or higher could taxi other characters, well, they didn't care.

Once I stopped playing with those guys, though, my insistence on playing only under my own House Rules pretty much crippled my opportunities to play with anyone at all... at least, until I moved to River City. Here, for a while, my two oldest stepkids would play with me... but they're pretty long over the game at this point, and I've never managed to find any replacement gamers. And as long as I insist on playing only by my extremely complex House Rules, I'm unlikely to ever find any replacements. And if I can't play clix with anyone, then the figures are just little superhero statues with no function or purpose, and I don't want that. So, really, I'd only been putting off the inevitable for months.

Still, I probably would have kept putting it off for a while yet if not for several other factors, which I'm writing all this to get outside me and take a good hard look at.

As a game, Heroclix has undergone several changes over the past few years. Flatteringly, many of those changes have been very similar to modifications I've enacted in my House Rules -- okay, it isn't really flattering; I'm sure the WizKids game designers aren't consciously borrowing my ideas, it's just a case of parallel thinking... but at the very least, when WizKids officially implements a rules mod that I myself have been using for years, it validates my own chops as a game designer to at least some minor extent, right? Anyway. While many of the rules changes have been laudable, a few others have been near criminally idiotic, and WK will apparently never address the central issues that create the greatest dichotomy between how combat works in comic books and how it works in their game... but never mind all that. Suffice to say, regardless of incremental movement towards a game structure much more consistent to the source material the game and characters in it were based on, it was clearly never going to get to a point where I'd be able to play a game of Heroclix under the official rules without gritting my teeth for nearly the entire match. So rules changes really weren't helping me.

Other mods to the game, and to the figures themselves, however, have troubled me greatly. In some cases I understand why, but in others, frankly, I'm baffled. Maybe I just hate change. I suppose that's normal, although I dislike admitting that I may well be uncomfortable with certain changes not because those changes are poorly conceived and/or implemented, but just because I'd become accustomed to things the way they were and don't want to have to accept change in any particular, regardless of how cosmetic.

Still, that's probably it. Each of the changes that WK has made to HeroClix over the past few years bothers me deeply. In each case I can see the reasons why they made the changes, and I can also see that the changes were either necessary or actually a good idea... but I still don't like them.

Cosmetic changes -- I dislike the fact that clix no longer have colored rings around their bases, unless they're Uniques. I suppose I don't mind the loss of the full Rookie-Experienced-Veteran cycle for most figures in a set, as it does indeed allow the inclusion of many more characters per expansion. But I miss the colored rings. I don't see why, if a particular character in a set is the Rookie version of that character, it can't still have a yellow ring. I suppose old school players like myself would be tempted to regard yellow and blue rings with some contempt, because, generally, the yellow and blue ring versions in a standard REV were less desirable than the red/Veteran version of the character... but I still miss the colored rings.

I also miss flight stands, and more than that, I miss the mechanics of hovering and soaring. I understand that by eliminating flight stands, WK has managed to save probably a significant amount of money on their manufacturing costs (plastic is a petroleum by-product, and its production prices are going up in direct proportion to skyrocketing oil market shares), and if they're going to stay in business they're going to have to pinch pennies wherever they can. But flying characters just don't look right to me without flight stands. As with the colored rings, I'm sure this simply comes down to me being emotionally unwilling to accept or embrace a change I am viscerally uncomfortable with, but, whatever. I miss colored rings on the dials, and I miss flight stands.

Beyond all this though -- there are simply no words for how conflicted I am at the introduction of Special Powers, which necessitate each figure now having a Character Card to explain how any Special Powers it may have actually function. One of the beauties and wonders of HeroClix was that the built in dial feature made the figure itself entirely self contained. You didn't need paper and pencil, you didn't need to keep track of stats or hit points. Everything was on the dial. Now, with Special Powers, you suddenly had cards to go along with each character. Now, many of the characters don't have Special Powers and therefore don't need the cards, but many others (usually the most powerful and/or useful figures) do. And it's a lot of clutter, and I find it intrusive and annoying.

The problem is, many superhuman comic book characters NEED Special Powers if they are going to be adequately defined. So Special Powers are actually a wonderful innovation in HeroClix... and yet, they aggravate the crap out of me.

All that, plus the usual obsessive collector frustrations... I had a good collection but I was never going to have a great collection because I simply couldn't afford to get all the figures I really wanted. Just for one example, WK screwed me badly by putting out an Alred Pennysworth figure that was both enormously useful and all but impossible to obtain; as a super rare chase fig, he costs... well, I can only find one on Ebay right now, and his Buy It Now price is over $200. Even if I were lucky enough to pull one from a booster -- and the set he came out in is long out of print -- at that price, I couldn't justify keeping him. I'd HAVE to sell him. And there are quite a few figures out there like that; I want them, but I can't afford to acquire them, and if I somehow got hold of one anyway, I'd feel obligated to sell it because my family needs the money more.

(Afternote: Okay, Alfred is a bad example. They've used the same sculpt from the super rare chase fig on a common "Alfred" figure in the new BATMAN:ALPHA starter set. And the figure's dial is actually more useful than the chase fig's. So if I really wanted an Alfred, I could have one, and the cheap, common one is more playable, too.)

Beyond all that, there are the frustrations I feel whenever a new set comes out featuring yet more characters I couldn't care less about from contemporary comics storylines I am either apathetic regarding, or actively loathe. It's not enough for Brian Michael Bendis to completely piss all over my Avengers, no, he has to fucking ruin every new Marvel Heroclix expansion with his toxic drivel, too.

All in all, it just seemed like a good time to get out of it. I doubt Heroclix has the same legs as, say, Magic: the Gathering does; if these little figs are worth a few bucks NOW, I may as well get what I can for them, because it doesn't strike me as likely that they're going to hold their value for very much longer.

And that's that.


At 10:56 PM , Anonymous Tony Collett said...

I read your piece, and even just linked to it. Given that I'm more out of the game than you are, I'll be joining you in selling my pieces on eBay.
It's a shame, though. Castle Anthrax won't be the same without all your Heroclix on display, but I can understand wanting to pay bills.

At 6:28 PM , Blogger MJ Norton said...

As mentioned to you earlier and elsewhere I understand your decision to formally get out of the game and try to recoup some money by selling as many of the clix as you can. For the most part Heroclix figures are a terrible investment if one's looking to even get one's money back on them. A few pieces manage to hold a high value for years, but in general prices for pieces peak early and then decline along various slopes.

Since the rarity scheme introduced with the generally ill-named Avengers set the majority of the pieces in the set have tended to drop to "not worth trying to sell" value fairly quickly, as more and more the collector coin becomes concentrated in the rarest pieces.

Given your decisions (you and Tony) to get out of the game, a piece I've just posted may very well reinforce your decisions to sell now and quickly.

Most of it remains highly speculative - a year from now the game could be just as successful as it is now - but even if so, with the onset of Special Powers the vast bulk of earlier clix, driven purely by will only continue to drop in value on the secondary market.

I definitely echo the grumbles from the collectors' standpoint, all the moreso since "industry standard" (industry code in this instance for "What Wizards of the Coast decides to do with their minis games") approaches to how to boost the sales/"excitement" around a collectible game is to introduce both Extremely Difficult- and Damn Near Impossible- to collect pieces.

Has this pushed me to seriously buy more of the product in pursuit of them? No. Has this generally made me less satisfied with my purchase? Yes.

Still, I enjoy the game, warts and all (addressing the rules and the shortcomings in the stat & powers approximations), and am currently just adjusting my buying habits to best deal with the changes. My expectation that I will never have a complete set of any release has simply been reinforced -- but that's something I've had to keep in mind from the earliest set anyway thanks to various prize LEs, some of which were ridiculously rare. I hate the concept about as much as I hate the current Chase pieces, but it's not a complete deal-breaker for me.

Items such as the elimination of experience rings and flight stands don't bother me at all or much, respectively, but I understand that in a Why I'm Getting Out post one's going to list anything and everything that's wrong. When dealing with anything that one was once deeply enthusiastic about the natural instinct is to make it as thorough a break as necessary so as to prevent backsliding. People do this all the time with ex- significant others.

Still, coming back to the game as it's currently evolving, today's revelations aren't looking very promising unless Topps is indeed looking to sell off a streamlined (largely gutted) WizKids late this year/early next and/or the guy who all the critical set, dial and gameplay decisions are being turned over to turns out to be far more competent than he's believed to be.

Me? I'm in a wait and see mode. I'm not expecting to be buying deeply into this October's Arkham Asylum (this being a relative state, of course, as I've tended to buy heavily), and am looking forward more strongly to next year's Hammer of Thor set, which I'm at least reasonably sure will see a good character selection and dial design; there it's the quality of the sculpts and paint work that's most in question, along with the matter of to what degree the LE and chase piece decisions will aggravate me.

Whether or not that marks the end of the line for me and new Heroclix sets is something I simply don't have enough information to determine. Since my orders on sets these days don't happen until the month before it's not a decision I need to make.

I never looked at Heroclix a business move - a fiscal investment I'd be looking to get a monetary return on (not that I'm implying you have) - and I have no problem with simply storing them away should the time come that I realize I haven't played with them for a long time and don't expect that to change. I may be gloomy and dire in many respects, but I always have some hope for tomorrow and besides all that my instincts as a packrat are powerful. So, my drive to sell off my collection isn't going to be as strong as yours.

Do I find myself thinking a little more often about selling off old clix to finance the new sets, though? Sure. Knowing that I could get back over $100 by selling that Earth-2 chase Superman I pulled in Crisis makes that a definite temptation -- yet another reason I despise the chase piece concept, as it immediately commodifies what should be a fun game piece and a character one wants to have in one's collection. It turns it into a gauche, almost unpleasant thing that one almost has to treat as if it's a (small) fistful of cash. (Well, if it were in singles...;) )

If nothing else, I've been terribly lax about liquidating the bulk of extras I have; even if the majority of them go for next to nothing at the unit price level, getting any money back on those -- and reclaiming the storage space they're taking up -- would be a step in the right direction. I've tended to give pieces away to those I know would appreciate them instead, but I haven't had that much opportunity to do even that of late. Jumping back into ebay with the extras is something I should give some attention to, and soon.

All that said, Godspeed, good luck and a stout heart in the sell-off. (Forgive the inevitable slips of the fingertip and likely dangling thought -- I've left myself neither time nor patience to edit this bloated comment.)

At 4:33 PM , Blogger Dave said...

Hey there Doc,

Just wanted to let you know that others really appreciate all the work you did to create your great set of house rules. I was never a fan of clix originally because of the official rules, but someone pointed me in the direction of your rules and I (we) haven't looked back (note: I do like the special power cards, and am glad we no longer get the same figure with three (REV) times in each set). Cheers.

At 5:15 PM , Blogger Doc Nebula said...


Thanks for the encouraging words. It's nice to know there are people out there using my rules, even if I can't find any here in River City. ;)


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