Looking at its two-volume, nearly 800-page descendant, it's hard to believe that Champions could ever have been encompassed in a single, 64-page book. Released in 1981, Champions was not the first superhero RPG -- that honor goes to Superhero 2044, which debuted in 1977 -- but it was, for many years (and still is, according to some), the gold standard for the genre. The reason for that is simple: the underlying power rules for Champions, eventually known as the "HERO System," were "effects-based," which is to say, they provided mechanics for super powers on the basis of what they did rather than how they did them. This eliminated the need for multiple individual power descriptions for, say, throwing fireballs and projecting cold, as both were simply types of "energy blast," differentiated only by their in-game appearance and origin.
Well-written effects-based rules are very flexible and enable players and referees alike to create a near-infinite variety of powers. When I first encountered the game in 1982, when it was released in a boxed set, I definitely considered the rules of Champions to be well-written, covering pretty much every possible power I could think of. My friends and I enjoyed creating reams of superheroes and villains, doing our best to see if we could come up with a concept the rules didn't easily cover. We found a few, of course, but we also came up with ways to make the existing rules cover those marginal cases. It wasn't until we acquired supplements, such as Champions II (released the same year as the boxed set) and Champions III (in 1984), that we realized we were "doing it wrong" and had to change the way we handled certain powers and abilities.
I'm pretty math-impaired, so Champions was never a good fit for me, gaming-wise. Its points-based system always made me mildly uncomfortable, but its flexibility was attractive enough to me that I muddled through and enjoyed the game greatly anyway. Coming primarily from a background of D&D and D&D-inspired games, Champions really was a revelation to me. I admired how it compactly provided rules for almost anything you could imagine from a superhero comic book. I also thought its segment-based combat system, while a bit clunky, was nevertheless a very good emulation of the slugfests you see in those comic books. In short, Champions seemed to be, despite my misgivings, a near-perfect game, one whose rules had managed to capture exactly what I wanted out of a superhero RPG. My friends and I played the heck out of it for several years as a result.
Over time, as I mentioned, more and more supplements were released for the game and each one added to both to the game's depth and its complexity. After a certain point, I found complexity won out and I simply would have nothing more to do with Champions. My friends and I could have just ignored the supplements and perhaps we should have, but we were young and foolish and had a thing about keeping up with the latest releases -- too many years of D&D will do that to a person -- so we simply abandoned the game and moved on. Looking back on it, I think that was a pity, because we'd had a lot of fun with Champions.
I can't say I've kept up with all the ins and outs of Champions and the HERO System since the late 80s. Every now and again, my interest is revived and I take a peek at the Hero Games website. That rather quickly cures me of any residual interest I have in the game. It appears as if the game has gone down the road of becoming ever more exhaustive and "complete," providing rules for all those marginal cases my friends and I discovered years ago -- and many more we didn't even consider. There's nothing wrong with such an approach, I suppose, but it doesn't appeal to me, particularly nowadays. I like my games short and sweet, even if that sometimes means I have make things up myself, because I consider that part of the fun, just as I did back in 1982 when I first opened that 64-page superhero RPG.