I'm going to start this review with an example. Bear with me a sec.
Here's the guns my Shadowrun 4th edition fire support ork "Sweep" has in his arsenal:
Weapon: Damage, Armour Penetration, Mode, Recoil Compensation, Ammo
Savalette Guardian: 5P, -1, SA/BF, 1, 12 (c)
Hammerli 620s: 4P, 0, SA, 1, 6 (c)
Ingram Smartgun X: 5P, 0, BF/FA, 2(3), 32 (c)
Ares Alpha: 6P(7P), -1(-2), SA/BF/FA, 2, 42 (c)
Ares MP-LMG: 7P, -2, BF/FA, 5(9), 50 (c)
Ares Desert Strike: 9P, -4, SA, (1), 14 (c)
Here's an equivalent block from my Marvel Heroic shape-changing synthezoid "Shift":
SFX: Burst Fire. Step up or double a GUNS die against a single target. Remove the highest rolling die and add an additional die to your total.
Limit: Out of Ammo. Shutdown GUNS and gain 1 PP. Take an action vs. doom pool to recover.
Regardless of whether you know what those stats mean, if that first block is what you want from an RPG and the second seems ludicrously simplified, then Marvel Heroic Roleplaying (which I'm gonna abbreviate MHR from now on) is probably not for you. However, if the simplicity of the second block is more appealing to you than the detail in the first, then MHR might be what you are looking for.
In short, MHR favours abstract over detail, and dramatic license over simulation. You won't find tables giving hit modifiers for cover, or range, or ammo capacities, or rules for grappling, tripping, and disarming, or anything of that sort. It abstracts everything down to three simple effects:
- If it helps you or an ally, it's an ASSET.
- If it hinders your foe, it's a COMPLICATION.
- If it hurts your target, it's STRESS or TRAUMA.
And, that's that. You want to take cover? Roll the dice and build the "TAKE COVER ARIZONA!" asset. Wanna trip someone? Roll the dice and inflict "DROPPED ON HIS BUTT" as a complication. And those names? I just made them up. You won't find them anywhere in the book. It's driven a lot by imagination and style over rules and rote. When does your gun run out of ammo? Well, the Watcher (i.e. them what runs the game) can invoke your limit at a dramatic moment, or you can do it yourself to gain a precious "Plot Point", which might help you out later. And so it goes.
For players used to a lot of structure, the abstract nature of the game might give you pause. Questions of "How do I do <x>? There's no rule for it!" are sure to pop up. It can take a bit to adjust to thinking of everything in terms of those basic effects above.
To answer some of the criticisms I've read in other reviews, all I can say is the rules really ARE simple. It's so straightforward it can take you aback a little. It's so open, the lack of structure might leave you foundering for a while until you find your proverbial sea legs. It might end up being TOO abstract for you, and that's a matter of taste. MHR won't be for everyone.
To one specific comment I've read... yes, the game does speak primarily about playing existing Marvel characters. However, it takes very little imagination to use the rules to build your own characters. No, there aren't any rules specifically labelled "Character Creation", but the "Understanding Datafiles" chapter gives you everything you need to build a character. Our team of New Avengers consists of 7 original characters, plus Luke Cage, Iron Fist,and Spider-Woman.
For those looking for some extra tools, the official Margaret Weis website has downloadable PDFs with one-sheet Player and Watcher rules summaries (very handy). That says something: all the rules that a player needs fit on one side of a regular piece of paper. There's also optional rules for randomly-rolled character creation if you like that style.
For me, after playing RPGs for better than 20 years, I love MHR. I still enjoy games with lots of details and "crunch" too from time to time, but I've really come to value dramatic flow in a game over tables and pages and pages of rules. I love that my all my character's game data fits on one side of a sheet of paper with room to spare. Our MHR sessions breeze by, sleak and streamlined, with lots of fun and laughter as players declare outrageous stunts and try to come up with clever names for assets and complications. I love that, as a Watcher, I have easy tools to bend the story dramatically.
Hopefully someone finds all this helpful. Have fun, and keep playing!