By The Power of Grayskull! I resurrect an actual play review of The Masters of The Universe Role Playing Game by FASA that I wrote back on July 5th, 2013.
Welcome back to #ThrowbackThursday.
Each week I plan to bring back an original review with only minor editing, keeping the feel and tone of the original post. At the end of the original article, I will follow up with my current thoughts on whatever it is I was reviewing.
Disclosure: Some links in this post are Amazon Affiliate links. As an associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.
Why this particular review?
A couple of weeks ago I published an Ask the Bellhop article which was followed up by Episode 11 of The Tabletop Bellhop Podcast where I talked about some of the worst games I’ve ever played. Included on that list was The Masters of the Universe Role Playing Game from FASA. Back when I first published this review in 2013 I noticed something happening. Every time I shared it people would get really excited.
It seems that very few people know that this game exists. The usual reaction is the same one I had when I learned that FASA, the original designers of BattleTech, the old Star Trek RPG, and many other games, had made a He-Man game: people think it’s awesome, then they rush to the internet to try to find a copy. That’s what I did, and I completely empathize with that desire. But I’m here to tell you not to act on it.
That is why I am republishing this review now. When I shared my Worst of the Worst list I had a lot of people freak out. I saw a lot of OMG There’s a MotU RPG! I saw lots of “I must have it!” It’s my fault people are hearing about this game for the first time again. I feel it’s my responsibility to get this actual play review back out there so that people can know just how much of a hot mess this “game” is.
So don’t rush out and find a copy of this game on eBay. Don’t pay the silly prices on Amazon. Just don’t. Read this actual play review and you will understand why.
The original review
If you are anything like me, stop it! Stop it right now! I mean it! I know what you are thinking: “A He-Man RPG, by FASA. OMG! Take my money!” That’s exactly what I thought when I stumbled across this one on Boardgamegeek.com just under a year ago. This is a bad thought that leads to dark places. Trust me. Let me tell you why:
The Masters of the Universe Role Playing Game was put out by FASA back in 1985. FASA is the company that brought us amazing games and worlds such as Shadowrun and Battletech. They published that Star Trek RPG I talked about a couple of weeks ago. They are, and were, a trusted name in the RPG marketplace. This would be why I was shocked and amazed and immediately went to eBay when I heard that they had made this game. Come on now, how cool would a good RPG about He-Man be? The problem: this isn’t an RPG at all.
Unfortunately, The Masters of the Universe Role Playing Game does not live up to its name. It’s just another bad licensed board game. Not only that, it’s an incomplete, unplayable, board game with some of the worst and most confusing rules ever written.
In this game, it’s the players vs. the game (see Pandemic didn’t even come close to doing it first). The players take on the roles of various Masters of the Universe characters that include He-Man, Ram-Man, Man-at-Arms, Teela, Fisto and Orco. The heroes are trying to break into Snake Mountain and steal the Jewels of Eternia. Attempting to stop the heroes are a wide variety of He-Man villains including Beastman, Trap Jaw, Evil-Lyn and of course Skeletor. The dungeon itself is also filled with a variety of traps and other lesser known monsters and defensive robots. Sounds cool so far, doesn’t it? Sadly it’s not.
Gameplay starts by seeding the board. You have ten treasures chits that are placed on the board on blue star rooms. These are randomized and only one of them has the jewels the heroes want on it. This adds unpredictability and replayability to the game. Then the players take turns moving their hero standees on the board. Every hero has a character sheet with a ton of stuff on it, about three items of which are actually used. One of these is a movement rate. The board is divided into squares and it costs one movement point per square plus an extra one to move through a door.
Once [a character] is moved you reference a map key and read off what room each hero is in. Then you roll for an encounter. This is done with a D6, adding modifiers depending on what room you are in. Some rooms have set encounters in addition to this. After rolling for an encounter the heroes in rooms with baddies can attack. Then the baddies attack back.
There’s a really cool bit here where the monsters have an AI described that tells you how they act. It’s even cooler that some are very specific and based on what heroes are in the room. For example, Beastman flees if outnumbered. Skeletor uses magic if Man-At-Arms is there but moves in and uses his sword on He-Man. After the monsters go, if a hero is in a room with a treasure token and no baddies they can flip it and take it. If the treasure chit is the Jewels of Eternia, then all the players have to do is escape. Other treasures either do nothing or give some special rule breaking ability.
Sounds pretty awesome, doesn’t it? Trust me it’s not. This is what hurts the most about this game. It sounds awesome. It looks pretty awesome. It has so much potential but, sadly, it’s all wasted.
The first thing you will find when reading the rules, which are kind of neat and written like a comic book where your 8-year-old self is represented in the comic as a generic boy outline, is that they make no sense by about page 1. By page 3 or so they make even less sense. Then you get to a rule summary. Sweet! Oh wait, this contradicts the stuff in the comic. Wait where’s the defense chart? [I can’t find a defense chart]? “This character only attacks by defending” wait, what? “…attacks when a character enters the room… this monster never attacks only defends” huh? What the hell?
I’m being serious here. The rules make no sense. They feel like they are making a bit of sense. They actually feel enough like they are making sense that you may be tempted to put together a group and try to work through it but trust me: when you actually try to play you will find you can not.
That’s right, this game is 100% unplayable as written. It just can’t be done. The only way to play is to just make stuff up as you go. Every five minutes or so you will go hunting for something in the rules only to find it’s not there at all. [You will find] something as clear as “Spiders will always attack the closest player character. They will attack until dead. When defending they will use the attack option.” [This will have you searching] for the Attack Option and the Defend Option and you won’t find them. These are mentioned in every single monster description. Some monsters even roll to see if they Attack or Defend when defending. You won’t find this. It’s just not there.
When attacking you roll 1D6 and add something. The defender rolls 1D6 and adds something else. I say something because nowhere in the rules does it tell you what to add to your rolls. You have a bunch of skills, stuff like Hand to Hand, we assumed that this is what you added and the bad guys have an Attack stat, we guessed this is what they add, but nowhere does it explain what you [are actually supposed to] add to your die rolls.
[Masters of the Universe] could have been an amazing game. What the heck happened? Well, it ends up that there were plans to turn this game into a full blown RPG. There were even miniatures produced for it by Grenadier Miniatures [(click this link, seriously, these minis are awesome)]. [Sadly,] the Advanced Set, that was due out in 1986 was cancelled. This is the reason that the characters have stats and a list of skills that are never used in the existing game at all. This is why Orco has a bunch of spells on his character sheet but can only use a small selection of them. Sadly I don’t know exactly what happened but whatever it was, left us, the fans, with this sorry, incomplete and contradictory box.
So again I reiterate: no matter how cool this looks or how cool it sounds, or how confidant you are that you can figure out these insane rules, just give up. If you are a collector, it’s a cool item to own. Just save yourself and your players some stress and keep it in the box, forever.
My Thoughts Now
Nothing has changed. I still think this could have been one of the best RPG boxed sets to come out of the 80s. But it’s not. Instead, it’s a badly broken cooperative board game. One that is so badly broken that you can not play it as written. It doesn’t even have the excuse of a printing error. This box got published, and sold, incomplete and unplayable. It’s not what you expect from a company like FASA, especially back in a time where FASA was a big name in the industry.
Now I find a new piece of info that I didn’t know back when I wrote this. It ends up that FASA found out the TV show was being cancelled in the middle of production of this game, so they rushed the game to market knowing it was incomplete. The plan, I guess, was to get it out and get it into people’s hands before all interest in the licence faded, thinking they could fix it all with a second edition. Of course, it did so badly that the project was cut before that second edition could come out.
I did hold out some hope that over the years someone would have created a set of house rules for playing this game but when I search online the only real article about the game that comes up is my original review on the Windsor Gaming Resource.
One last time before I sign off. Don’t buy this game. I know it sounds cool. It’s a box of false hopes and broken promises. If you see someone else get excited at the mention of this game, do them a favour and send them a link to this review.