(Good morning! I hope you like some of the changes we've made on the site redesign. There'll be more about that later, but for now, feel free to peek around, kick the tires a bit, and let me know what you think).
I am extremely late to the bandwagon of the recent superhero game ICONS, but I am sure the good folks at Cubicle 7 and Adamant Entertainment won't mind me hopping on board. I finally got a copy this weekend, and what we have here is something unique--that rare RPGnet Darling that actually lives up to the hype. Turns out all those enthusiastic articles on Stargazer's World were pretty darn close to the mark.
First, I need to admit I never really got into Mutants & Masterminds as a Supers RPG. It was too fiddly for someone who admired Marvel FASERIP and Truth & Justice for their simpler mechanics. But ICONS manages to blend a modern layout with the heart of systems like FASERIP to create a RPG that should be attractive to old and new-schoolers alike.
First, there's character generation. This is completely random (though there is a point-build system thrown in for those who can't stomach the thought of that), and this provides for some very unique characters. All of your normal powers you'd expect in a supers RPG are here, and every type of hero from your Unearthly origins to your Trained super-sleuth.
The random character generation is one of the reasons people are calling this a game with a classic feel, and I get that. You're rolling on charts for Origins, Ability, Power, Specialty, and other areas to flesh out your character. Despite the randomness, there are a couple of safeguards in place so that your character will at least be in the ballpark of other characters, even if the rolls don't go how you've imagined.
The system itself is inspired by FATE, but and keeps things very simple. Things in the game are rated on a scale of 1-10, with 1 being Feeble or Weak (yes, it provides optional FASERIP-style descriptors--ROCK!), and 10 being Cosmic or Astonishing. For resolutin, you're using two dice, one negative and one positive, to get results from -5 to +5. You have six stats (Prowess, Coordination, Strength, Intellect, Awareness, Willpower), which correspond pretty simply to their real-world equivalents. Nothing is rocket science with this system, but it is very cleanly presented.
In fact, one of the places where ICONS shines is in the Taking Action! chapter, which explains how to put this basic system into play and actually do things in-game. The Game Master and Villians chapters are also very strong, and mark this as a game that's easy to get up and going very shortly.
I'll admit, I'm curious to see how the system holds up over a longer campaign, but I think it'll do just fine. I don't do a long of long-running supers gaming anyhow, so this is really a secondary concern for me.
Really, the interesting thing for me is how ICONS takes a very simple mechanic and illustrates how to make it do just what you're going to want it to do to represent superheroes. Honestly, if this book doesn't get some mention next year in the ENnies for Best Rules, Writing, or Game, I will be very surprised.
ICONS even hits the spot on art. Dan Houser's illustrations throughout the book are evocative of such popular shows as Batman: The Brave & The Bold and Justice League Unlimited. There's no grit here, just a celebration of a world of dudes with weird powers and the battles they have.
The pdf is currently on sale at RPGNow for $14.95, which I'd usually consider pricey for a 128-page book, but ICONS is simply excellent enough that I can still recommend it. It is also sale in print, which I hope to be able to grab at this year's Gen Con. At least one other gamer in my circle has already picked it up, and I think I can state we're both pretty excited about it.
Lastly, if you're buying ICONS for the Kindle or iBookstore, all proceeds from that will be going to the Gulf Oil Cleanup. That's a wonderful gesture, and well worth noting.
So yes, ICONS is pretty fantastic, and is primed to get you excited about running a supers game without having to learn a lot of heavy mechanics to make it work. I can see why people were excited about it, and why it's gaining the following it is. If you're in the market for a relatively easy, rules-light supers RPG that you can be up and running quickly, ICONS is well worth the look. Gareth-Michael Skarka, Steve Kenson, and the other co-authors should be proud of their work.