Lethal Weapons, Part 1: The Basics

The comic book universe is an endless wellspring of story threads, character developments, anecdotes of heroism and villainy, and idea exploration, of which superhero showdowns are really a very small aspect. Stripped down to its fundamentals, however, no mainstream book featuring men (and women) in tights would be complete without the good guys tangling with the bad guys in a colorful, no-holds-barred all-out slugfest every now and then. Let’s face it – we can be intellectually enthralled by Iron Man discussing the ramifications of registration with Captain America across a conference room table, but we’d much rather they settle it with a few rounds of repulsor rays and shield tossing.

In recognition of this interesting fascination we have with comic violence, VS System has captured what is undoubtedly one of the most seamless and visceral representations of comic conflict in a game through its delightful combat system. At the end of the day it’s really just a lot of number crunching, but don’t tell me playing that Crushing Blow doesn’t give you just a twinge of glee.

And with that, we enter the wonderful world of combat augmentations. Search tech brings consistency, but the other half of the equation of victory is power, which translates in VS as an amalgamation of three things:

a) Stunning an opposing character.

b) Not getting stunned back.

c) Causing breakthrough or direct endurance loss.

Excepting some alternate win condition, even the most passive, control-oriented decks have to consider doing some or all of the above at some point. While there are some decks that manage to achieve this on the strength of their characters alone, most often, a player will utilize an assortment of non-character effects to overcome his opponent. Characters are and will always be the core of VS (good luck to those of you trying to come up with a character-less VS deck), but many a match has been decided on the strength and availability of a combat trick.

Offensive Combat Tricks increase the ATK of your character, or reduce the DEF of an opposing character. When used for an attacker, they tweak the numbers so that the attacker has enough ATK to stun the defender, which is especially relevant when the attacker is much smaller than the defender, although sometimes they are used simply to increase the amount of breakthrough endurance loss.  Attacker offensive tricks vary in size, though they normally average out at the equivalent of a 3 ATK gain for the attacker.  Defender offensive tricks are more liberal in doling out the equivalent attack gain because no breakthrough loss is suffered by attackers, so if a stunback is all the defender is hoping for, he doesn’t have to work too hard for it.

Defensive Combat Tricks increase the DEF of your character or reduce the ATK of the opposing character, and aren’t quite as prevalent or ubiquitous, but they serve to turn the flow during a critical turn.  On attack, they help to prevent stunback, which preserves your field and the endurance you would have lost from getting your character stunned, and force your opponent to go through that character (if it’s visible) if they’ve still got attackers left.  On defense, they stonewall attacks and could result in your opponent getting neutered for the rest of his attack step if he was counting on stunning that character before proceeding with the rest of his attack.  They aren’t found in every deck, but those that do have them try to take full advantage of their presence to play a more controlling game.

Combination Combat Tricks are really just both offensive and defensive, providing a bonus to ATK and DEF simultaneously for the attack or the turn.  They could be as vanilla as a +1/+1, or much more significant, and provide excellent utility since you get two effects for the price of one card.  They tend to be team stamped or require a specific condition to be played effectively.

What combat tricks to include in a deck and the quantity of each have fluctuated wildly as the game has evolved. They have come in the following flavors thus far:

Non-Ongoing Plot Twists sit at the top of the heap, and are enjoyed far and wide for their surprise factor, tremendous effects, and “free” cost (requiring only that you reach their resource threshold). The highest fixed ATK and DEF pumps in the game thus far are both non-ongoing plot twists, and a lot of the better ones are generic. The only drawback is that they are one-shot deals, and cannot usually be replayed once used.

Ongoing Plot Twists provide either a continuous benefit or a reusable payment power for a combat augmentation that varies from mediocre to awesome, with the added benefit that they can be played in multiples. The best ones are usually team stamped. Their primary drawback is that they must be played from the resource row.

Locations are also played only from the resource row, and provide formidable effects on the level of both ongoing and non-ongoing plot twists, which are normally reusable. Due to uniqueness rules, only one location per name can be face-up in the resource row unless otherwise stated, so multiple copies become dead draws unless the player is willing to lose a resource to generate the effect again in the turn. Locations with strong effects are normally team stamped.

Equipment permanently augments a character with a ATK or DEF bonus, and goes to the scrap heap when the equipped character leaves play (or switches between the visible and hidden areas). Not as popular as the other options because they need to be recruited, which sometimes costs precious resource points, have no surprise value, and normally cannot be moved from the character first equipping them. Also, since characters usually cannot equip more than one equipment, multiple copies are dead draws.

It is interesting to observe the shift in favorable augments that has occurred over the years as new card outshine old ones and the bar for powerful effects rises ever higher.  During the Origins era, non-ongoing plot twists were far and away the weapons of choice, unless you were Brotherhood.  Nowadays, at least for Silver Age, the Fate Artifacts reign supreme as the generic combat “pump”, but the prevalence of the big attack 3 (Savage Beatdown, Big Leagues and Blinding Rage) means that the environment will remain an aggressive one for some time to come.

It is also important to note that there are very few strong DEF pumps that can be played while actually defending, which has been pointed out by the designers as a necessary balance to account for the alternating initiative.  Part of the game’s tempo involves being on the receiving end of attacks at least half the time, and the way VS is structured, the attacker is given much more freedom of choice than the defender, since the defender cannot choose which character defends.  As such, providing strong DEF pumps off-initiative breaks that tempo, largely negating the advantage of having initiative.

Next:  The Magical Numbers

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