Heroes & Villains

DZ models inspect the buffetOne of the things that distinguishes Mars Attacks from Deadzone is the way it deals with the different levels of model. In Deadzone everyone is an individual with some degree of importance, much as in the real military. Different duties that all go together to make the military machine work. The difference between leaders, troopers and specialists is their job rather than their level of fame and glory (as it were). DZ is thus based on a realistic¹ view of the world.

MA Martian heroMars Attacks comes from a brash and exaggerated comic style universe and so everyone is divided into two camps: the heroes around whom the story is built, and everyone else. The “everyone else” department often makes up the bulk of the headcount in a scenario, but they are really just there to show how great the heroes are, either by falling to their mighty attacks or by threatening them so they can use their wit and cunning to escape. Just as with any pulp novel, classic comic, or blockbuster movie, you need the plebs to make the heroes look good. This is not a realistic view of the world.

Coming from these two disparate views of the universe, both games naturally need to do different things to best reflect their own world.

We’ve talked about DZ before, so let’s look at Mars Attacks.


Mars Attacks divides models into Soldiers and Heroes. If you’ve played the beta then you’ll have seen the soldiers in action. They are versatile and skilled, but have a nasty habit of dying very quickly and in droves. Each one is interchangeable with the others of that type. They work en masse.

MA human heroesHeroes, on the other hand, are all different and tend to work quite happily as individuals (or very occasionally as pairs). Some are fighters like the bulk of the soldiers, but better. Others are leaders and can inspire the soldiers (or other heroes) to greater feats of arms. Still others have more unusual skills such as repairing alien weaponry and equipment, hot-wiring cars, negotiation, stealth, first aid, and so on. This description hides a further level of variety. Even those heroes who share a type of ability may well achieve it in a different way. For example, a hero with a rocket launcher is a fighting hero, as is a skilled brawler. On the tabletop they work very differently though, and the missions you’d really want them to help with aren’t the same.

Of course, every hero shares the same stats as the soldiers as well, so they may have some skill at arms even when their main focus is in repair or acrobatics.

The way Mars Attacks defines these skills is by giving each hero an additional stat called Smarts. This basically means what makes them a stand-out hero in the first place and can vary between models. It isn’t a number, but a special trick they can do under certain circumstances.

I’ll be coming back to the heroes later and we can talk about some specific examples then. For the moment, just be aware that the larger-than-life world of Mars Attacks includes plenty of larger-than-life heroes 🙂






1: Yes, I know, “realism” in SF. Tsk, tsk! What was he thinking?

Obviously the Warpath universe isn’t real. In this context “realistic” is simply a shorthand meaning consistent and credible, conforming to a consistent set of physical laws and with people that behave in a recognisable and reasonable manner. Or something like that. If aliens, space ships, blasters, travel to extra-solar planets and so on were real, then it could work like this.

Also, the definition of what is “real” may offend some of the philosophers in the audience, in which case I apologise for making sweeping statements. I know it’s far more nuanced than that in real reality 😉


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11 Responses to Heroes & Villains

  1. Ben says:

    “Also, the definition of what is “real” may offend some of the philosophers in the audience, in which case I apologise for making sweeping statements. I know it’s far more nuanced than that in real reality ;)”

    I appreciate that all you philosophers are incapable of speaking in anything other than incomprehensible bollocks so to translate, when Jake says “real”, he means “ontological integrity of the subject”. Hope that’s (not) clear enough for you.

  2. Anthony says:

    So where are my statlines, Jake.

    Also, it’s really unclear how you determine with side the flying terror (bug token) and flying card event cards are played from. Is it from the bottom left of the mat of the person holding the event card or is it determined another way?

  3. I would really like it if you could make a hero that is physically or mentally challenged. The kind of person that is cynically written off by society as “unnecessary”, but in the context of the invasion has a talent that makes them more valuable than the strongest musclebound thug or the richest slimeball jerk politician/CEO. Here’s to the underdog! 😉
    Also, is Novas Vira a SHIELD- like organization or more like Illuminati? BTW- where can I download more MA comics?

    • Quirkworthy says:

      Nice idea on the hero. I’ll talk to the Mantic guys.

      As to the true nature of the Novas Vira, they’re something of an underground resistance or planetary defence. Perhaps a bit like SHIELD. It’s hard to tell as they’re all so damn secretive!

  4. maxstyles417 says:

    Considering the differences between DZ and MA in relationship to heroes, is it harder or easier to design an AI for solo gaming. I keep thinking it is easier because of the larger than life nature of Mars, but then again maybe not….. Will mars have solo playability like dz?

    • Aeneades says:

      I really hope that Mars Attacks does have solo play, would be a big draw for me. I know that Mantic mentioned it a lot in the comments early on in the Kickstarter but not heard anything since.

    • Quirkworthy says:

      I’m working on solo rules for MA, though I’m not sure they’ll be mechanically related to the ones in DZ. The games are sufficiently different in outlook that the requirements of an AI system are actually rather different. From where I am at the moment I’d say that MA was harder to do decent AI for than DZ.

      The aim to have the games playable and fun with one real and one AI player is the same. Beyond that it’s just a case of whatever works best.

      Solo rules are funny things as they don’t need much actual rules footprint. however, the work they need to get them right is way out of proportion with the words that you see on the page. I suppose that’s why you don’t see good AI systems more often.

      • maxstyles417 says:

        Does that come in the form of additional play testing? Or just requiring more time to make the AI mechanics match the flavor of the game?

        • Quirkworthy says:


          Playtesting solo stuff is easier to arrange (you’re always free when you’re free) and easier to get wrong (you know what you meant and there’s nobody else there to tell you it’s gibberish).

          Capturing the flavour of both the game and the likely play style of an opponent are extraordinarily complex. Like humans. And when you reduce a human’s reactions to a deck of cards or set of tables you’re asking a lot for it to work every time. In some ways balancing an AI system is really about deciding on when you’ve reached an acceptable level of fudging.

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