PAX 2010: It's clobberin' time with SHSO's PvP online card game

Massively has taken a swing at Marvel's Super Hero Squad Online several times in the last few months, now. So, on our trip to PAX, the boy-in-grown-up-shoes, Jay Minn, could not wait to show us the newly announced PvP portion of this dynamic game. Minn, who is the Director of Games for The Amazing Society, turned in to a giddy imp and directed me to a computer station that had a burning Human Torch on the screen, all prepared to fight some bad guys. Even though PvE wasn't what I was there to cover that day, Minn just had to show me anyway. "Click on a bad guy," he told me, "and good things just happen." I obliged; the Torch lit up and chased some bad guys away! At that point, we were told we had to move on to the PvP portion of the demonstration. Marketing people can be such spoil-sports sometimes.

The giddy grin returned to Minn's face as he gave me instructions on how to get into the online card game. In the lower right-hand corner simply sat an icon that looked like fanned-out cards. As part of the demo I was able to pick my opponent, and since I just love seeing the Ol' Canucklehead Wolverine get beaten down, I picked him for my enemy. And who is the best Marvel superhero? Spider-Man, of course. I had to choose him as my character.

Hero up with me after the break to find out the details of my adventure through this shiny and lively online card game.%Gallery-101337% Card games as PvP

Although Minn "cannot confirm nor deny" whether there will be other PvP type games for SHSO, we do know of at least one: the card game, which happens to be playable both online and with physical cards. If there is any direct tie to the physical and digital cards, again, they "cannot confirm nor deny." Still, this is a pretty cool PvP element, and the characters associated with each card are visualized in game as you play those cards.

So let's break the game down into its cards. Each card (both physical and digital) has five different important areas to look at: level, attack, block, factor, and special effect.

The match starts at a shared power level of 1. After each turn there is a 50/50 chance that power level will go higher. This level only determines whether you can play the card or not; it has nothing directly to do with the damage of the card, except in that it is common (though not a requirement) for higher-level cards to have larger damage outputs.
This is the attack number. A player's HP is determined by the number of cards he has left in his draw pile. The attack number determines the maximum number of cards the opponent can draw off his draw pile. The color also determines the factor of the attack, but we will discuss that in the next paragraph.
The factor is generally determined by the type of character who is attacking: Spider-Man speed, Wolverine animal, Hulk strength, and so on. There are six factors in all: animal, elemental, energy, speed, strength, and tech. It is very important that you pay attention to the factor type of the attack because that will determine the appropriate block, which leads us to the next part.
These are blocks. They are the single most important part of the card. Blocks counter attacks, kill keeper cards, and possibly prevent full damage from being taken on attacks. If you hold a block of the same factor as the attack in your hand, you may play it and completely prevent the attack. If you don't have one or choose not to play one and you run into a matching block card as you're discarding from the draw pile, you can stop the attack.
Not every card has these, but these are called special effects. Based on the strength of your actual attack, you will perform a special effect on your opponent. For instance, if the card says, "3: Your opponent's cards are Attack -5 next turn," then you have to hit your opponent for 3 or more in order for the special to take effect.
Battling online

The stage was a poorly lit street of Super Hero City. Wolverine on one side; Spider-Man on the other. Who would win this glorious battle of the titans? Only the cards would tell.

The first move was mine. Minn pointed out that of the four cards that were in my hand, two were lit up. He told me that even if you have no idea how to play, you would be able to catch on by just clicking on the lit cards (it's kid-friendly!). So I chose the first lit card that seemed good to me. Apparently, Wolverine had a block for that, so I did no damage to his deck. His attack returned similar results. In fact, this seemed to be the flow of normal gameplay right up until Wolvie pulled a fast one on me and I had nothing left to block his psionic attack from a Jean Grey card. Jean popped up from his side and lashed at me for two attack points. My Spidey lay on his back for a second, but, hey, this is Spider-Man. He's not going to take one lying down.

The Jean Grey card that was played by Wolverine happened to be what is called a "Keeper," which meant that Jean stood at Wolverine's side to help him attack me every time his primary attack was successful. Luckily enough for me, the first time Jean came into play, I was able to block her power, thus taking her out of the game.

So there we were again: man to man, with only a handful of cards left in each of our decks. Spidey was sweating. Wolverine was sweating. Minn was sweating. I was sweating (but then it was cold sweats for me -- darn PAX pox). Minn told me, "Because of the way the mechanics are set up, every game is kind of close. In that sense, even the most, most beginning player has a chance of winning against the most expert player." Or in this case, against the computer. On the other hand, a very skilled player could put together a killer themed deck with special rules and bonuses, like a deck featuring only or mostly members of the Fantastic Four. Of course, acquiring just the right cards might be the real trick, if the cash shop that goes along with SHSO's free-to-play model sells booster packs for cards rather than exactly that card you're after.

On with my fight! Wolverine attacked! He hit me with a 12, and I had nothing to block it! Eight cards in, I finally stopped him, and he only had three cards left. Surely I could win now. I played my animal attack. He blocked it! I thought I was done for. He knocked out all the cards in my draw pile. I had nothing left but what was in my hand. My only hope was to take him out with one of my two remaining cards. Cautiously, I played the card and clenched tightly to my final card in my virtual fingers. The tension was thick now. The world became slow motion around me as Spider-Man made his final attack on Wolverine's last card. Minn cheered, "YOU WIN BY ONE CARD!" It was a great moment. Spider-Man danced. Minn danced. I danced.

The SHSO experience

With some games you can just tell that the developers aren't quite into what they are doing. They want to make games, but not necessarily the games they are working on. Jay Minn and his crew are not like that at all. As Keith Mutzman, the PR manager for Gazillion, said to me at PAX, "Marvel is one of the good partners... they pick the right people to be their partners." I completely agree. Gazillion Entertainment and The Amazing Society have a very dynamic and enjoyable game for children, one that exudes so much nostalgia that parents want to join in, too. Jay Minn told me what happened to him the other day. "I had the pleasure as a developer where there was a moment in time when I realized that I could not stop playing my own game." I can definitely see how this would happen to him or to anyone.

If you are a Marvel fan at all, be sure to check out Super Hero Squad Online's web site at for all the rules and visuals for this amazing game -- and the PvP card game within it. And stay tuned to Massively for the latest updates and hands-on insights.

Nuff said!

This article was originally published on Massively.