(Metagame Archive) Design vs. The Headiness of Multiplayer

By Danny Mandel

Here’s how it works:

Sometimes, you work on an expansion and you have lots of design stories to tell, and you tell them, and people write you happy and positive emails. Or even if they don’t, they make some pleasant comments on the bulletin boards, or at least they don’t say anything too mean, and so you go on with your life full of self-satisfaction and glee . . .

Other times, you get Brian Hacker and Dave Smith* to write your articles for you so that you can take a couple weeks off before your typing fingers start itching, the self-loathing starts creeping back in, and you start craving your weekly dose of affirmation . . .

So yeah, I’m back. And today, I’m here to talk about something that’s been on the forefront of the Vs. community’s consciousness since the early days of Marvel Origins . . .

Two-Headed Mutant! (And its younger DC Comics brother, Two-Headed Metahuman!)

Okay, maybe it’s not the Beatdown/Overload controversy of ’05, but it is the subject of an email I got a couple weeks ago from someone I like to call “Dimitris.”**

Dimitris had some fun playing Two-Headed Mutant with his friends, but he also had several questions, mostly stemming from the fact there isn’t a whole lot of information available outside of the original rulebooks. Departing from my usual technique of copy/pasting the email and my reply into the body of an article, I figured I’d instead regale you with the hows and whys of Two-Headed’s origin. I’ll also give a bit more instruction about how R&D envisioned it playing.

First of all, here’s the entry from the Marvel Origins rulebook:

Two-Headed Mutant:

A two-on-two game of Marvel. Teammates sit next to each other across from their opponents. One team starts with initiative, which will be passed to the next team at the end of the turn. Each team starts with 100 endurance. Each player has his own resource row, but shares a single front and support row with his teammate. Play exactly like a regular game of Marvel with some exceptions.

Turn Sequence


Draw Phase: All players draw two cards.


Build Phase: The team with initiative completes the following steps, and then the next team does the same.


Team Resource Step: Each player on the team puts one resource into his resource row.


Team Recruit Step: Each player on the team recruits characters and equipment by spending his own resource points.


Team Formation Step: The team arranges their characters into a single formation.


Combat Phase: The team with initiative makes their attacks. Then the next team makes their attacks.


Recovery Phase: Each team chooses and recovers two characters.

One of our design goals when creating the Vs. engine was to make the two-player game transition smoothly to multi-player games. For example, the initiative mechanic speeds up game play because everyone’s doing something on every turn. Also, unlike some games where a player has to announce all of his or her attacks at once, the Vs. System has each player announce and complete his or her attacks one at a time. This means that there’s no mechanical difference between how the attack step works in multiplayer games or one-on-one games.

We started off testing multiplayer games in the grand melee style, where everyone’s trying to win the game on his or her own.

Next, we tried team games, with teammates sitting diagonally across the table and sharing 100 endurance. This way, one team would have a player start with the initiative on the odd turns, and the other team would have a player start with the initiative on the even turns. The game play was the same as in grand melee, except you couldn’t attack your teammate.

There were several variants to team play, among them:

Attack Left: A player can only attack the player on his or her left. This prevents one team from ganging up on and eliminating an opponent who’s gotten off to a slow start. (There’s also the Attack Right variant, which plays somewhat differently, because now you’re attacking the player who just had the initiative instead of the player who’s about to receive the initiative.)


Team Shields (not to be confused with Tim Shields, a Vs. Tournament Organizer): Each team starts with a 50-endurance shield. Once the shield is gone, each player has 25 endurance remaining. This also helps prevent a team from eliminating an opponent who’s gotten off to a slow start.

Shared Recruiting (not to be confused with Cher-ed Recruiting, which involves leather pants and Dave Humphreys): A player may recruit a character into one of his or her teammate’s rows. The teammate then controls that character. This variant can really shake things up, as it essentially combines each team’s hands, at least for the purposes of recruiting.

While the above variants mess around with standard Vs. game play, none of them changes the play experience as much as Two-Headed Mutant. I don’t remember if it was Matt Hyra or me who came up with the idea for the format, but Matt could probably take me in a fight, so we’ll go ahead and give him the credit. Plus, he works on the Wynx Club game, so he could use the ego boost.

The main concept behind Two-Headed play is that players share everything except their hands and resource rows. Each player has his or her own hand and resource row, but there is only one front row and one support row per team, and only one 100-point endurance total. You know . . . two heads, one body. Once a character is in play, both players control that character. Yes, this means that you and your teammate had better get along pretty well . . .

Something to consider about Two-Headed Mutant is that you can play it one-on-one (which is how Matt and I originally tested it). Each player brings two decks. Each player has two separate hands of cards and builds resources into two separate resource rows. Each player gets two recruit steps (one for each hand). However, all characters and equipment from both of his or her decks go into a single front and/or support row. Because of the double recruits, the chaos and carnage accelerates much more quickly, so each player gets double the endurance and double the recovery phase recoveries.

So yeah, that’s how R&D originally envisioned Two-Headed Mutant. If you haven’t tried it yet, you should. Unless it turns out that you hate it, in which case you shouldn’t.

One last thing to keep in mind: While the Vs. System was designed to support general multiplayer games, Two-Headed Mutant is a bit more off the beaten path. As you play, I’m sure questions will arise about card interactions and the format itself. Unfortunately, there isn’t a separate comprehensive rules set specifically for Two-Headed Mutant. Fortunately, Matt Hyra has agreed to answer all of your questions. Okay, that’s not true. What is true, though, is that you can send me your questions, and Matt and I will come up with answers that we’ll post online in an FAQ at a later date.

 Okay, that’s all I got on Two-Headed play. Send feedback or questions to dmandel@metagame.com.

Tune in next week for a look at Three-Headed play. Or, at least another article that makes fun of my coworkers.

*Thanks guys! Great articles! You’re both awesome! (Except for Brian. Brian stinks! Kidding, kidding! I kid because I love. And because he never reads my articles, anyway . . . )

**Because that’s his name.


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