There are a lot of things that I like about the new Marvel Heroic Roleplaying game, and a very few things that I don’t.
The dice pool mechanic is brilliant. You add things to the die pool based on what you’re doing — fighting solo, fighting with a partner, or fighting with a team, for example. After you’ve rolled the dice, you get to pick out dice you’re using for success, and dice you’re using for effect, which gives players a lot of narrative control.
And I really, really like the way plot points are used. When you roll 1′s, the gamemaster can basically “buy” those dice off of you, in return for a plot point per die. You can use those points on later rolls, for all of the usual things you can use plot/hero/style/whatever points in most games that use such a mechanic. The gamemaster, in turn, gets to add that die to his “doom pool”, to be used against you at a time of his choosing. Roll a 1 on a d6, he adds a d6 to his doom pool; roll a 1 on a d12, he adds a d12, and so on. The more you mess up now, the better you can potentially do later, but the better the bad guy might be as well. It really increases the tension.
The art and layout are gorgeous and easy to follow, and the rules are illustrated with examples to make them clear and easy to learn.
As for my concerns, well, they’re minor. The first is that as clever as the mechanics are, they might be a bit too convoluted for a beginner. I’ve seen a lot of glowing reviews from experience roleplayers, but a few from non-gamer comics fans and roleplaying newbs that boiled down to “Huh? I don’t get it”. Granted, I misspent most of my youth playing 1st edition AD&D, not the least convoluted game system ever conceived. Any concerns that beginning roleplayers won’t “get it” has less to do with underestimating their intelligence than with underestimating their attention span; I want new people in the hobby, this is a perfect gateway game to draw new people in, but I’m afraid rules that aren’t immediately intuitive might serve as a barrier to entry.
The other concern is that folks familiar with the Cortex system will see this branded as such and expect it to operate in the same way or being compatible with other Cortex products. Other than being a point-buy system that uses polyhedral dice, not so much. It expands on the “roll attribute + skill and beat a target number” into a larger die pool, and as above, expanded how the die pools work. It is a great system here, but after playing Firefly, Battlestar Galactica, Leverage and Supernatural, and even considering the rules changes hung on Leverage and Smallville (which has a very different take on superpowers), I don’t consider this Cortex in anything other than name only.
Concerns aside, this game is a big win, and a viable option for folks looking for a superhero RPG.