- The Washington Times - Friday, March 30, 2007

Collectible games continue to give lovers of strategic challenges, trading cards and miniature figures a way to become part of their favorite comic books, cartoons and movies.

Here are just a few of the latest releases to meld pop-culture universes with hands-on action.

Attacktix Spider-Man 3 Tournament Set

(Hasbro, $19.99)

Marvel Comics’ heroes and villains are the latest characters to be incorporated into Hasbro’s popular squad-based, collectible-figure battle game.

For those unfamiliar with Attacktix, the simple-to-learn experience requires that players assemble a group of 3-inch-tall comic-book stars, methodically move them into position and knock down an opponent’s figures. Each character has a special hands-on power to deliver damage — such as a swinging arm for close combat or a projectile to shoot at long range.

This core set, based on the upcoming “Spider-Man 3” movie, gives players standard figures of Venom (who fires a symbiote ooze bomb from his mouth), the New Goblin (tethered by a string, he can detach from his base, move into position and shoot a high-tech pumpkin bomb) and a pair of specialty pieces.

First, a massive figure of the Sandman, with an 8-inch span and a dual attack: He can shoot a sand missile from one hand and knock over an opponent with his other, very large hand. To defeat him, the other player must strike down a pair of sand pillars on the mound from which he has grown.

Second, a Spider-Man attached to a plastic web on the flagpole of a 6-inch-tall building can swing around to kick over an opponent’s figures. To defeat the Webbed Wonder, the player must knock down two billboards anchored to either side of the building.

A taste of the action: Players can use any smooth surface for the gaming arena and select numerically weighted characters from teams such as the Fantastic Four, Avengers and Sinister Syndicate that add up to an agreed point total.

Figures move by rolling along a set number of clicks determined by a number found on their base. Characters are of different sizes and mass and come with attacks such as Dr. Octopus’ tentacle swing or the Punisher’s missile blast from his really big gun.

Specialty powers come into play when a character is defeated and if a white mark appears in an area under the figure’s base. The first player to knock down all of the other’s figures wins.

Coolest characters: Clearly the Incredible Hulk and Thor look like potential powerhouses. Unfortunately, the Hulk must throw a drum at an enemy, a fairly useless and inaccurate attack. Also, although the mighty Thor looks magnificent, his hammer-slamming action is extremely weak and ineffective.

Difficulty of play: A solid 2 on a scale ranging from 1 (play blindfolded) to 10 (somebody get me an aspirin). This is a great game for parents and offspring to enjoy, as its simple learning curve combined with the quick style of action-packed play delivered by these rugged figures will keep the interest of everyone 6 years old and older.

Expanded possibilities: With 32 characters available in the initial wave, players will want to grab more booster packs ($4.99, two figures in each).

Or a Marvel Starter set ($9.99), with four figures in the package. These include a special Ghost Rider-themed set (Western Ghost Rider, Blackheart, Abigor and Ghost Rider) or a classic confrontation set that pits Spider-Man and Wolverine against Green Goblin and Sabretooth.

Aliens Collector’s Set and Predator Collector’s Set

(WizKids Games, $30 each)

The HorrorClix game of collectible miniatures welcomes two of the most lethal species of the universe to its scary lineup of mythological creatures and horror stars.

Through a pair of expansion sets, players can integrate some prepainted, plastic 3-inch-tall figures from 20th Century Fox’s famed sci-fi movie monsters into action that combines combat dials, gridded maps, dice, math and trading cards.

Either set of Aliens or Predators offers seven highly detailed figures, a 20-by-30-inch single-sided map, action cards for each figure, plot twist cards, and victim tokens to act out some intense role-playing scenarios.

Characters are culled from last year’s “Aliens versus Predator” movie and include frightening detail, down to dreadlock strands on the Predators and flowing, bony tails on the Aliens. I suggest each be handled with museum-curator-quality care as the delicate figures will not withstand any abuse.

Surprisingly, players do not get a rule book or even the pair of dice required to play a full game with the sets. However, the figures are beautiful, although a bit pricey, and the rules are available online (horrorclix.com).

Coolest characters: Under Predators, I loved the pride-filled warrior with a telescoped spear held high over his head that sports the impaled head of an Alien. This Raging Predator can move up to eight spaces and has 10 points of attack before the dice roll.

Under the Aliens set, one of the acid-spitting beasts clings to a pillar and stalks a startled human scientist. It can move up to eight spaces and has 17 points of defense.

A taste of the action: Upon a gridded map of the Whaling Station seen in the film, players amass a 300-point army of figures. Each species has a series of numbers on its bases that change with the rotation of a combat dial to determine how many places it can move, defensive strength and attack potency. A pair of dice further embellish an attack and, when a figure takes damage, his keeper must rotate its combat dial the number of damage specified. If three skulls appear on the dial, the character is dead.

Difficulty of play: A solid 8 on the 1 (blindfolded) to 10 (somebody get me an aspirin) scale. I can handle the combat-dial functionality, but once wall and victim tokens along with plot twist and extended-power cards got incorporated into the action, I needed the wisdom of an Elder Predator to decipher the rules’ minutiae.

Expanded possibilities: To truly take part in an “Aliens versus Predator” experience, players will need to add the Alien Queen Action Pack ($34.99) highlighted by a horrifyingly detailed mother Alien figure removable from its 8-inch-long egg sac. Owners also get an Alien Queen containment map, egg and drone minion tokens and a scenario rule book along with an extra Predator and Alien figure.

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