A couple days ago, four of us got together to play ICONS - the new superhero rpg by Steven Kenson et al. The game is a cross between a cleaned up, old school TSR Marvel supers game and the more narrative and modern Spirit of the Century. The game includes information about several powers, but it's not crunchy - ICONS is heavily tilted toward random character generation and being able to sit down and play quick-like. While I love Mutants and Masterminds (Kenson's other, much ballyhooed supers game), ICONS is a different beast. It's not for the munchkins. Really, it's not for the gritty old schoolers or vampire narrativists either. It's for some goofy, quick fun with a splash of dynamic play and modern cool.
And that's how it actually played. Which was perfect for this particular night. Here's the origin story of said night:
My friends and I are late-20s/early 30s gamers with wives, long term relationships, careers, and in my case, a kid. We're not as grizzled as Old Guy Mike (glad you're back on the blogging scene!), but time is still scarce, and it has empirically proven near-impossible to have a steady campaign going. So, we've decided to make a set, biweekly game. Whoever shows, shows. At our first meeting, we had about 8 people (WOW!!!). Our second was sadly cancelled because of attendance issues. At our third meeting, Pat was supposed to continue his long-running old school, fantasy, sandbox, gritty, savage worlds campaign. But he bailed at the last minute because he had professional responsibilities (you know, like editing fantasy flight rpg books for real money).
I had ICONS sitting on my desktop, and it looked quick and fun. I downloaded the first adventure the night before our game, quickly skimmed the ICONS rules, read the adventure, and showed up with some makers mark for the game the next day.
The game was great. We randomly generated characters in 45 minutes. We played through about 3/4 of the adventure in a few hours. This was quite fast indeed. Much of this speed is due to the simplicity of the system: The GM doesn't roll dice, and only compares PC rolls against NPC stats. (A couple times, muscle memory kicked in and I caught myself reaching for dice when it was the NPCs' turns to attack, and rolling is FUN, but it worked well regardless.) The system was simple enough that I didn't really explain it to the players. I just translated the results of their die rolls for them. In the end, we had a few pretty cinematic combats, some cool between combat scenes, and ended up with what turned out to be some morally ambiguous superheroes (e.g. they wouldn't help a dying CEO/inventor live without a promise that he would sell his entire company - that he grew from his garage in the 80s- to a rival CEO... who was also player in the game.) Good stuff was generated in a limited period of time.
So here's the verdict: ICONS is goofy as hell, but it's also cool and surprisingly dynamic. It's a really nice blend of old school mechanics and new school narrativist ones. If you want a supers game built for long campaigns, you probably want to look elsewhere (like at Mutants and Masterminds). But if you're looking for a fun pick-up-and-play game with little prep needed, this is a great game for you. With our schedules these days, it was the perfect game for the perfect time.