Review: ICONS

Adamant Entertainment and Gareth Michael Skarka have made some waves recently with their ‘app pricing’ policy and, indeed, it must be working since I wouldn’t have bought a copy otherwise. Still, Icons and its derivitive products seem to be wildly popular and surely it can’t just be down to price. There must be something behind that, right?

There isn’t really a background to the game, there’s some ideas and some random plot tables, some example villains, but there’s no real implied setting. The visual look of the game and what writing there is, is indicative of a ‘saturday morning cartoon’ style as found in Cartoon Action hour, emulating the style of such cartoons as Batman: Brave and the Bold and similar, recent, superhero cartoons. That said, this is really a toolkit for putting together your own heroes, villains and settings and this is all just taken from the implied nature of the text and the presentation.

This is a heavily stripped down version of the FATE system. It massively de-emphasises aspects and skills and replaces them – mostly – with a series of statistics. Something which has upset some fans of the FATE system as it has previously stood. I think this works though and it’s a good demonstration of how versatile the FATE system can really be. That said this is a very simple and light system and without some pretty heavy modification it isn’t going to be suited, so much, to the more modern/hard style of postmodern superhero comics. This isn’t too hard to do, you can just port a few systems back in from other versions of FATE.

Dice-wise it doesn’t use FUDGE dice (+/-/blank) but, as with Starblazer and Legends of Anglerre uses 2d6, one positive, one negative.

Obviously, being a superhero game, the majority of the mechanical considerations are to do with superpowers and a good spread is covered in the book as well as it being simple enough to kitbash new powers and themes from the existing ones.

The game doesn’t particularly have an atmosphere. As I’ve described earlier at his a heavily implied ‘saturday morning cartoon’ feel to it but this isn’t particularly explicitly created, rather implied from the choices of villains and presentation. This is a little at odds with the quotations scattered throughout the text which come from classic comic books and versions of the characters, rather than the cartoon ones.


From the font to presentation, the book looks like arse. It’s not Comic Sans but it might as well be. While it’s simplistic and fairly clear it brings to mind a powerpoint presentation, rather than a book. When you buy the PDF you get two versions, high resolution and low resolution. The low resolution one has poor JPG compression, meaning there’s a lot of artefacts on the graphics, particularly on the cover and larger illustrations. This shouldn’t have happened if the file was exported at low resolution and high quality, or exported from a different file type. Admittedly this is a minor thing, but when you open the file it’s the first thing you see and gives an immediately poor impression.

The drawings themselvse… well, that’s very much a matter of personal taste but I don’t like them. They’re a good attempt to look like a Saturday Morning cartoons but don’t quite pull it off in my opinion. There are artists and clipart groups that produce art along these lines, White Elephant for example, but the standard of artwork in ICONS falls very much short of that for the most part. There are a few more effective, stand out pieces such as the cockroach man in the back but for the most part – not great.

ICONS wears its love for the old TSR Marvel Superheroes game on its sleeve and if you’re remotely familiar with that old game it’s going to be screaming at you from every page. This makes me wonder why ICONS was made since a retroclone of the old TSR game is already available, the 4C system. If you’re aiming to replicate that experience and that game… why not use that as your basis? This isn’t an awful game but it’s a little incoherent, loses a lot of what makes FATE great in stripping it down too far and isn’t presented well.

On the plus side

  • A good skeleton upon which to build your own game.
  • A novel approach to FATE.
  • Cheap as chips.

On the minus side

  • As ugly as a bulldog licking piss off a thistle.
  • Barebones content means you’ll have to make everything from the ground up.
  • Fairly style-specific, not great for all kinds of superhero games.

Style: 2
Substance: 2
Overall: 2