Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Taxonomy of Attacktix Special Powers

By: YodaBreaker

I thought it would be good to publish something I've been kicking around for a while: a breakdown of special powers in a taxonomic tree format, using functional similarity of the special powers as clustering rules. I've included some additional thoughts about how to choose between versions of the same special power (using dependence on other figures for special power activation as a tiebreaker of sorts). I know this is a dangerous thing to do before all of the Marvel figures have been revealed, but I can update this, if there are new special powers revealed in this series. I hope it helps people figure out what sorts of special powers they'd most like to use, and to understand how they might work together.


If you want to know why I classed things the way I did, read the RATIONALE section. If you'd like to read some additional analysis about how to think about special powers based on the figures on which they depend for their activation, read the DEPENDENCIES section. If you're interested in what this makes me think about special powers past, present, and future, skip to the MUSINGS section. If you think I've wasted far too much digital ink already, then stop reading, because this is a long one.


At the top level of the taxonomy is the offensive/defensive dichotomy. In my mind, this is the most basic level of division among the special powers, as it determines whether each special power will help you press the attack or defend against your opponent's onslaught. If you prefer a game that lets you whittle down your opponent's figures as much as possible, I'd recommend that you choose figures with powers from the Offensive cluster. If you prefer to keep your own figures standing for as long as possible, I'd recommend choosing figures with powers from the Defensive cluster.

In each cluster, there are also two fundamental ways to achieve your offensive or defensive aims: you can either affect the "out of play" status of figures targeted by special powers directly (by taking them away, in the Offensive case, or bringing them into play, in the Defensive case) or indirectly (by granting your figures additional move or attack actions, in the Offensive case, or by impairing the position or attacks of your opponent's figures, in the Defensive case).

Within the Offensive cluster, there are two major ways to reduce the number of figures standing on your opponent's team with special powers: either take them away or affect your figures in such a way as to grant them more advantageous attacks on your opponent's figures. To take away an opponent's figures, you can either take control of them (and make them part of your own team!), or remove an opponent's figures from play altogether (by wreaking Vengeance on a figure). Most frequently, when you take control of a figure, you take over one that's already on the playing field with Capture. However, Mystique's Swap instead takes a figure from your opponent's backups and puts it in play for you. At this level of classification, things are a bit more nebulous; I once had Vengeance and Swap paired (as ways to remove figures from your opponent's active figures, either on the playing field or from his or her backups), with Capture hanging out on its own. Thus, you can see how these decisions can seem arbitrary; that's why I'm writing this section to let people at least see my thinking about how I've grouped special powers.

There are three major ways to offensively affect your figures indirectly: giving them additional moves, attacks, or moves and attacks. Additional moves alone are granted by the Charge power, and free moves and attacks are granted by Attackback. However, if you're given a free attack immediately, you're basically given a Shootback; if the next attack comes on your next turn, it's a Battle Cry.

Within the Defensive cluster, there are also two main ways of keeping your figures standing as long as possible: either bring them into play, or indirectly affect your opponent's figures so that they cannot attack as effectively. You can see that there are a lot of different ways to bring your figures back into play. If you're bringing figures into play from your backups, you'll use the Recruit or Transform powers (which are basically the same power, given the way Hasbro decided to treat Transform). However, if you're bringing them in from Backups, you'll use Recruit. I chose not to put Swap here because it deals with your opponent's figures directly, which I view as a hallmark of Offensive, rather than Defensive powers.

The deepest special power tree involves standing up a figure that's been knocked down. If you have to replace another figure on your team with the one that's been knocked down (and in that replaced figure's position, rather than where the original figure was knocked down), you'll be using Sacrifice. If you stand up the figure on the starting line, you'll use Rescue. If you stand the figure up where it was knocked down, you'll use Recover if the special power depends on your team having some additional figures standing, whereas Last Stand depends on your having no figures remaining on your team. A case can be made that Recover and Last Stand should be collapsed into a single power, based on their mechanics (that is, Last Stand is just the inverse of Recover in terms of the figures on which they depend); however, I've kept them separate because the spirit of the powers seems very different.


Given the functions of each of these special powers, it's also important to consider how any special power you want to use depends on other figures. In essence, you want to use figures that have special powers that depend on you having the fewest number of specific figures. This procedure maximizes your flexibility in team composition, and it prevents you from having specific single figures that you either must have in your possession to make them work or must have standing on the playing field to take advantage of the special powers.

I propose three levels of the dependence of special powers on particular other figures:

  • Weak: The special power does not depend on any specific figure or class of figures; can work with or against nearly any other figure in the game [e.g., Vengeance (Attacker), Recover (Any)].
  • Medium: The special power depends on a specific class being available on your team or your opponent's team [e.g., Evade (Ewok), Rally (Specialist), Battle Cry].
  • Strong: The special power depends on a specific figure being available on your team or your opponent's [e.g., Recruit (Boba Fett), Rally (Battle Ravage)].

  • If all other things are equal, I'd tend to prefer the special power with the weakest dependency on other figures. That way, if much of your team is knocked down, you'll still have a good chance of having a special power activation mean something. For example, if S4 Darth Vader gets knocked down with only one other figure remaining on his team, he'll still stand back up if his special power window is white. Similarly, S1 Yoda's Vengeance on an attacking figure is a pretty weak one, as you'd have to have a figure attack Yoda for his special power to activate in the first place, by definition! However, S1 Yoda's special power activation also depends on your team also having another figure in play on your team, so his special power's dependence on other figures is stronger than S4 Darth Vader's.

    Similarly, if all other things are equal, I would suggest choosing special powers that depend on your own figures than on your opponent's figures, as you have much more control of what figures are on your team than on your opponent's team. Many of the Attacktix special powers have this level of dependence, as it creates a strong motivation to have thematically coherent teams (if the powers depends on a particular brand class). It also prevents any special power from being a killer; for example, Tarkin's Vengeance (Leader) makes him a fearful figure indeed - but only if you have a Leader on your team! I put Battle Cry on this list because it will always need at least three figures remaining in play to be useful (that is, to grant an extra attack to your team, as you already get two free ones for each turn), which is hardly a weak dependence.

    Finally, if all other things are equal, I would suggest that you choose figures with special powers that affect the same figure name or class as the figure having the special power, as it allows you to build teams of figures that will have a greater likelihood of special power activations being useful for your team. Put another way, a team of all Jedi Warriors whose special powers all affect either Jedi or Warriors will likely be able to make use of a special power activation, no matter who goes down. In contrast, a team comprising an Autobot Warrior, a Marvel Knights Specialist, an X-Men leader, an Ewok Trooper, and an Imperial Captain would have relatively few figures to choose from if any one special power activates. Furthermore, the one figure that's able to make use of the special power may not be in a good position to take advantage of that power.


    Hopefully, seeing these special powers broken down like this helps you think of what other special powers might be fun to have. The most obvious example is the "X" power I have in the Defensive powers cluster. Currently, there's is no special power that completely freezes an opponent's figres from either moving or attacking. The Stun power approximates that for strikers (a loss of movement also usually translates into a loss of attack for strikers), but there's nothing that prevents a chosen figure from not moving or attacking. I'd propose a special power titled something like Freeze for this sort of power; the text might read something like "Your opponent may not move or attack with one {S} Specialist of your choosing."

    You can also use this tree to understand why certain special powers should probably have different effects, instead of how they act now. The primary case of this is Recruit/Transform. As we've talked about extensively on here, it seems like Transform should read something like "Replace this figure with [Transformer] robot/vehicle mode from your backups where this figure was knocked down" to differentiate it from Recruit. However, as it sits now, it's just a brand-specific relabeling of Recruit. Not that brand relabeling is a bad idea; note how Force Push/Thunderclap are brand-specific names for the same special power. It would be rather ridiculous for a non-Star Wars figure to have a "Force Push" power, even though the same special power mechanic could be applied to other Attacktix universes just as well.

    You can even see how new special powers might fit into and complement the existing ones, even if there aren't explicit holes in the power tree. Capture is a permanent power; what if there were a Jedi Mind Trick or Hypnotize power that granted you an Attackback using one of your opponent's figures against him or her? The text for this power might read: "You may move and attack with one of your opponent's {T} Troopers." It would require making a branch where Capture is right now, making you choose whether you want the temporary (Jedi Mind Trick/Hypnotize) or permanent (Capture) version of the power. Nevertheless, this could be a fun special power to have - it would certainly change the way you use formations! - and it fits well within the established framework of existing special powers.

    Likewise, what if you could poach a figure from your opponent's defeated area, as a reverse of Rally? Such a Graverobber special power would create a branch where Vengeance is: if you're taking your opponent's figure from the playing field, it'd be Vengeance; if from (the opponent's) backups, it'd be Graverobber. You could imagine a similar branch where Swap is now: if you can just steal a figure from your opponent's backups, you might have a Defect power; if you have to replace the figure you stole with your defeated figure, it'd be Swap.

    You can finally see how many of the effects can fit within the special powers scheme. R2-D2's effect is basically like a Battle Cry that can grant negative as well as positive numbers of attacks, and the Medic Droid is like a delayed Rally (as we've discussed a great deal already). R2-Q5's is sort of like a Charge for a Trooper, and Han and Luke as Stormtrooper's effects are a figure-specific Battle Cry that depends on another figure being in play. Pole Dancing Spidey's effect is likewise a Battle Cry-like effect that depends on having multiple different types of figures in play. Mystique's effect is like the Emperor's Possession attack, so it's like a combination of Battle Cry with a -1 "attack grant", Sacrifice (Mystique for your opponent's figure), and Capture (your opponent's figure).

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