The helicarrier has been a part of Marvel comics lore since the 1960s (remember when it was held aloft by helicopter-like rotors?) but rose to new heights in the public consciousness since being gloriously re-imagined in 2012’s The Avengers. As author Mike Lafferty accurately points out, “Whirling turbines, tons of armed troops, and the constant peril of crashing to earth make a helicarrier an ideal setting for a superhero game.” It seems almost inevitable that someone set a superhero adventure aboard one. Fainting Goat Games is the first with this short scenario that can be played in an evening or two.
It would have been easy to remake the now infamous scene from The Avengers where heroes have to fend off villains assaulting the vessel. Lafferty went another, more imaginative, and in the end, more rewarding route. He elected to have the heroes involved in a heist aboard a helicarrier, essentially a role reversal from the movie. In this adventure, the heroes are tasked by a government organization Bureau of Aberrations, Mutations, and the Fantastic (BAMF; any comic fan worth his salt gets the winking reference) with infiltrate the flying HQ of a super-science criminal organization to steal a dire world-ending device and escape without getting caught.
The criminal organization? NEST (Network for the Expansion of Strategic Terrorism), clearly and cleverly modelled on COBRA from G.I. Joe with their Beetle Soldiers (grunts), Wasp Agents (elite troops with jetpacks), allied ninja-in-white (in this case, a woman named Snow Claw), and the masked NEST Leader who just coincidentally looks a lot like COBRA Commander. Its an homage, but a brilliant one.
The object of the heist is the robot known as Unity, an Ultron pastiche, but a number of alternate McGuffins are offered, ranging from the classic ray-gun that induces volcanoes to erupt to a frozen-but-still-alive golden age hero.
Want to get the action started quickly? The Helicarrier Heist has you covered by presenting a team of pre-generated characters based on public domain heroes: Green Turtle, Black Fury, Nightbird, and The Shield. All are well designed, and obviously useful beyond immediate application in this adventure. A cool addition are the sidebars detailing in brief the publishing history of each these Golden Age heroes; a nice touch.
Lafferty packs the adventure with exciting possibilities. What happens if the PCs are captured? He offers suggestions. Want to recreate elements of that thrilling scene at the end of Captain America: The Winter Soldier? He offers suggestions. Want to run the adventure where the PCs are villains? Again, suggestions. Every angle is covered.
It’s clear Lafferty is passionate about comic books. Its evident in the joyful way he writes and in the many Easter eggs keen-eyed readers will find throughout their adventure (the heroes’ contact, by way of example, is Colonel Steven Romita, honoring legendary father and son comic artists John Romita Sr. and Jr., and of course BAMF is the sound effect that accompanies Nightcrawler’s teleportation). Helicarrier Heist is as much fun to read as it is to play. The artwork throughout shows a similar level of passion and skill. Fantastic maps of the helicarrier’s varied levels are provided, including player friendly ones (courtesy of BAMF) that show general layout but without detail, vital tools that allow characters to plan their insertion – a trope of the heist genre - before the action begins. Because once the action begins, it’s really on – the thrills come fast and furious, culminating in a no-holds-barred showdown on the flight deck.
An action-heist superhero adventure, the Helicarrier Heist is a thrilling and unique experience, an extremely worthy love letter to The Avengers. You won’t spend a better three hours at the gaming table.