Disappointing in a couple of significant ways, Champions Battlegrounds nonetheless delivers on most of what its ad copy promises, although less completely than one might expect.
It's a well-written purchase, but I'm still not convinced it was actually worth the full $17 US I paid. Its strengths are strong, but its weaknesses are significant.
WHAT'S GOOD ABOUT IT?
Well, it delivers on what it promises -- sorta, kinda … barely. I haven't run Champions at the gaming table in years, mostly because I find the game so preparation-intensive. This is not a criticism of Champions; merely that I can prep two or more rpg adventures for other game systems (super, or non-) in the time it takes me to properly prepare one Champions adventure. I have less free time than I used to, so the Champions system is not my best gaming option right now.
I bought Champions Battlegrounds based on the product description -- all that we have to go by, here on RPGNow, until the customer reviews roll in -- after all, what Game Master who runs superhero or modern rpg adventures wouldn't be interested in a product which features five ready-made adventure locations? A park; a mall; a major amusement park; a building construction site; and an abandoned warehouse?
Besides, the five-part, optionally-linked adventure also promised appearances by classic Champions villains such as Ogre and Foxbat. What's not to like? (More on what became of this, below)
The adventure is generally lively and well-written, and rather expertly laid out, given the density of the text description here.
There are a lot of clearly-marked sections, sub-sections, and sidebars throughout, so finding the information you need, when you need it, shouldn't be too tough.
The adventure text also features a number of "If The Players Do X", or "If The Players Fail Here" callouts which can prove very useful given players' tendency to do the things the GM least expects, when he or she least expects it.
The five "battleground" locations can be used separately, of course, or they can be played through as a sequence of linked episodes leading to a final showdown. Options are always good.
WHAT'S NOT SO GOOD?
The worst, most unpardonable sin in Champions Battlegrounds, is that IT REFERS YOU TO A SEPARATE PRODUCT FOR VILLAIN STATS! Sorry for shouting, but that's simply bad form, Smee, especially in the PDF format, where customers can't really know all of what they're getting until it's too late.
The product does stat out its brand-new villains, but for all of the others, you are given page numbers from the Champions villain supplement Conquerors, Killers, and Crooks, and told to look them up.
Hardcore Champions players won't care -- they already own every Champions supplement they can get their hands on -- but for those gamers who pick up Battlegrounds as a potential "gateway" product to Champions, well, Hero Games isn't gonna win much love with cheap tactics like this.
I don't enjoy writing negative reviews -- I'd much rather focus on pointing out the good stuff -- but this increasingly common tactic of publishers giving gamers less than a complete product, while implying it is complete is REALLY starting to irk me, and I feel compelled to call it out.
Funny how the RPGNow product description just "forgot" to mention that you need another product to fully play Champions Battlegrounds, hunh? Yeah. Sure. Right.
The second disappointing aspect of this product is that the promised location maps are not really tabletop scale. In their defense, however, they DO have map-scales on them, both in feet, and in the Champions 1 hex = 2m (6') standard, so you can figure out map-distances if you have access to a ruler.
Most of the maps, however, are printed at what could be called "overview scale" -- like the kind of maps you get when you visit a shopping mall or an amusement park. Some detail, and a general scale, but it's more about giving you an overall sense of place.
The maps are good, but if your players want to tear it up by the concession stand in the superhero-themed OmegaWorld amusement park, or slug it out in the mall comics shop, you're still going to have to break out the battlemap and the markers and hand-draw the player-scale details.
My last complaint is a personal quirk, and does not significantly affect my rating of this product: the PDF is black-and-white throughout.
Even the cover, which is full color on the RPGNow website, is black-and-white in the actual PDF. It just seems wrong for a superhero product not to have even a color cover -- and given the way Champions Battlegrounds weaseled on the villain stats, it makes me wonder if the "color in the promos, but not the product" was another example of marketing weaseldom.
SO, WHAT'S THE VERDICT?
If you're a Champions devotee, you've already bought this. If you're merely a curious gamer, take a look at the strengths and weaknesses I've listed above, and decide if the positives outweigh the negatives for your specific game needs.
Champions Battlegrounds is well-written, and certainly interesting enough to deserve a passing grade -- but its flaws (particularly the lack of necessary villain stats) hold it back from anything more than a basic pass, in my opinion.
Final verdict: 2.5 out of 5 stars, rounded up to 3 for the RPGNow system.
[3 of 5 Stars!]