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Wednesday, September 15, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

Snohomish County entertainment
HeroClix: Chess meets comic books

By Christine Dubois
Special to The Seattle Times

The Marvel Comics character Sentinel, a mutant hunter, towers above other figures at Who's on First? Sports Cards in Marysville.
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Things were pretty quiet until Batman attacked Captain America, the caped crusader's outwit power breaking through his opponent's energy-shield deflection. Meanwhile, on the other side of the room, Wonder Woman fended off a charge from Cheetah, and Mystique fired at Spider-Man from a hiding place in the bushes.

Fortunately, because these superheroes and crafty villains are only 1-1/2 inches tall, battles like these can be held at comic and card stores every weekend with no resulting property damage.

"It's fun," said James Lang, an eighth-grader at North Middle School in Everett who says he owns about 100 of the hand-painted figures.

"I know the guys from the comic books. It takes a lot of strategy. You have to know when to move the guys and stuff."

A cross between chess and comic books, HeroClix is a tabletop game played with collectible miniature figures of comic-book characters. The base of each figure is a dial that shows the figure's points, powers and stats. Players click the dial to keep track of the figure's status during the game.

Each figure has its own combination of powers — stealth, leadership, etc. — and is worth a certain number of points. Players build their teams based on the relative strengths and weaknesses of the figures and the total point value. A 300-point team is standard. Players move their figures around a 3-by-3-foot map, the designs of which vary and can include indoor or outdoor scenes or specific locations such as Metropolis, the Bat Cave or the X-Men's Danger Room.


Five Snohomish County stores offer authorized HeroClix tournaments:

• Games Plus II, Arlington, 360-658-1644.

• Comic Stop, Everett, 425-438-9718.

• Comic Stop, Lynnwood, 425-744-2767.

• Crystal Door, Marysville, 360-659-2076.

• Who's on First? Sports Cards, Marysville, 360-653-9014.

Most tournaments are free; some require players to buy booster packs. Information, including tournament schedules:

The first HeroClix set — DC HeroClix: Hypertime — was released in fall 2002. Subsequent sets have featured heroes and villains from Marvel, DC and independent comic-book lines. To appeal to collectors, figures come in varying degrees of rarity, from the more common rookies to hard-to-get "unique" and limited-edition figures.

To date, almost 50 million HeroClix figures have been sold worldwide, according to a spokesman for WizKids, a Bellevue company that developed the game. WizKids was purchased last year by Topps, a company known best for its baseball cards.

Marketed primarily through comic books, HeroClix is one of several popular miniature games developed by WizKids. Others are MLB SportsClix, MechWarrior and Mage Knights.

About 3,000 stores in the United States — five in Snohomish County — hold authorized HeroClix tournaments, where players compete for prizes, usually limited-edition HeroClix figures.

Games Plus II in Arlington has hosted HeroClix tournaments for more than a year. Employee Joseph Miller attributes the game's popularity in part to the high profile of comic-book heroes.

It is standing room only at a HeroClix tournament on a weekday afternoon at Who's on First? Sports Cards.

"The characters are easily recognizable," Miller said. "Superman, Batman, Captain America, Spider-Man. The game is attractive, well-paced and the rules are simple. It's not a game where a high budget will help you that much. Having all the figures won't help you if your opponent plays well and gets good dice rolls."

Jim Demonakos, a co-owner of Comic Stop stores in Lynnwood and Everett, said his stores average about eight people each week for HeroClix tournaments, mostly males from 15 to 40. When numbers aren't even, staff members play, too.

"Everybody who works here plays HeroClix," said Demonakos, 26, who has read comic books since he was 7.

"The more you play, the better you're going to be. You start figuring out the strategy and what works for you."

A HeroClix starter kit — eight figures, a playing map and instructions — costs $19.95. Booster packs, which contain four random figures, cost $6.50 to $8. Individual figures range from 50 cents each for a common rookie figure to $25 or more for a so-called unique.

A recent check of e-Bay showed more than 7,000 HeroClix items for sale, with bids ranging from a penny for an experienced Diablo figure to $580 for a set of 100 assorted figures. Most players find that about 50 figures is enough to put together a competitive team.

Larry Hyde of Lynnwood stumbled across HeroClix in fall 2002. A longtime trading-card collector, he was looking for a set of cards when the store clerk told him about HeroClix. Soon the 47-year-old delivery driver was playing twice a week. He owns about 650 figures, primarily from the Marvel comic set.

"I'm an X-Men fan," he said.

Though Hyde wasn't a comic-book reader as a child, he got interested in the X-Men while watching the cartoon show with his sons, now adults. The story line — about a group of mutants who, though misunderstood and persecuted, use their powers to help the world — appealed to him.

"My kids helped usher me into my second childhood," he joked. "Now they have no interest in it anymore."

Hyde said the game appeals both to his imagination and to his competitive nature. "I'm at the age where I can't run around a ballfield anymore. This is the one competitive thing I do."

On a recent Tuesday evening at Who's on First? Sports Cards in Marysville, seven players, most of them under 16, vied for prizes from the newly released Marvel HeroClix: Ultimates set. Many were new to the game, drawn in when they saw others playing it.

"Kids would make fun at first," said Chad Key, who runs the store's tournaments. "But the next week, they'd be buying their own boosters and playing themselves."

Key discovered HeroClix at a card store in December. He has spent between $3,000 and $4,000 on his new hobby, plays two or three times a week, owns about 1,500 figures and has attended national conventions in Long Beach, Calif., and Philadelphia. That might seem over the top, he conceded, but it's the only hobby he has.

"I don't go drinking with the fellows," said Key, a network engineer at Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle and the father of four young children. "This is what I do for fun. This is my method of keeping connected with what I liked to do as a kid."

Key won his first tournament July 3.

"I really do stink at the game," he said modestly, "but it's fun playing."

For Key, part of the fun is making friends.

"There's a lot of nice people playing the game," he said. "Kids who are 10 years old up to people in their 30s and 40s. There's not an issue about the age gap. Everybody's there to have a good time."

Christine Dubois:

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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