One thing I've noticed is that when a company decides to specialize in something, it tends to do that one thing very well. In the case of Spectrum Games, they've chosen to do genre emulation, and thus far, they've done that very well.
I'm happy to say that they haven't missed the mark on Capes, Cowls & Villains Fowl.
I've played a few games that are supposed to emulate the superhero comics genre, and they do an okay job of doing it, but in the process, you wind up with a set of complex and confusing rules that almost railroad gameplay. Add to it that the character creation rules are almost non-existent. Bear in mind, I like open-ended character creation, but there has to be at least a little crunch in my book.
CCVF satisfies both the need to have some crunch in my characters as well as having a simple set of rules emulate the comics. The game does both well.
For character creation, you simply list abilities and add modifiers, linking and levels to them. There's nothing preset about the abilities, you make up what you want and that's it, although modifiers do allow you to fine-tune those abilities more acutely. I like them in this regard.
Generally, open-ended abilities can cause a deer-in-the-headlights reaction as you try and put together all the possibilities, but the bright side is that the game includes a few pages of ideas to pour through and organizes them well enough that you can pull from different areas and make the character you want.
The modifier I like most in this game is Versatile. Many supers games try and have a “do anything” power that either is too powerful or it requires use of math in the middle of play that can slow it down. Here, it's just cut and dry: Each time you buy the modifier, you get one aspect of the power that's always available, and one aspect of it that's open, and you can buy it up to three times. The open aspect can be defined once per issue. Not bad, although I might house rule it for things like Annuals and 80-page Giants to be able to use it a little more often, but have you ever seen Green Lantern or Doctor Strange use really “out there” abilities more than a couple times in a regular issue? Not really.
Conflict is resolved through rolling the dice and taking setback tokens. Both parties roll, and the loser takes the token. Once four tokens are acquired, the character is out of play in one form or another. I think this, more than anything else in the game, is where CCFV shines in emulating its chosen genre. Hit points and damage tracks don't do well in supers games, and the definition of what they do is too narrow to capture all that can happen in a superhero comic.
Filling up on setback tokens can mean anything: capture, falling asleep, being knocked out, getting fed up and stomping off in frustration, being bound in place by a pile of tires, whatever the story and character demands. It CAN mean death, if that's the kind of game you're playing, and the rules do address killing combat. When I played with my group, we had a lot of fun with this rule, and it required a greater creativity, which added to the fun.
To really be able to write a good review, I did play this with a group, and it does live up to the promise of being able to play in the fast-paced action of a superhero comic book. Sometimes the math involved with higher results on the d12 slowed play slightly, but it's easily forgivable. I love how the game plays.
I think the biggest trouble came in understanding how to build characters, or where linking comes in during character creation. I think the creation rules could have been a little clearer here. There was a little bit of “human error” in my group, as they only tried buying powers rather than buying powers and other things that their heroes could have used. But when they bought all of their abilities, there was a lot of points left over and we couldn't figure out where to put them. This was cleared up later, fortunately.
All-in-all, CCFV takes the superhero genre and does it really well. It's got enough in the rules that we can make sense of the action, but loose enough that action is fast and smooth. Hero building is flexible without including too many rules. Of all the games that make the claim of superhero comics emulation, I'd place CCFV at the top of the list. Not only do I want to play it again, but my fussy group is also clamoring for more.
[5 of 5 Stars!]