I love a good board game, especially one based around my favourite comic characters; I’m a DC obsessive through-and-through. Throw in a healthy dose of family friendly action, co-operation and shiny, shiny figures, and I get ridiculously excited.
So when I got the chance to get hands on with the new Batman: Gotham City Chronicles game from French company Monolith Edition (based on the same engine as their highly successful Conan boardgame), I leapt, swung and bat-grappled into action (yes, I’m an addict, leave me alone).
Whilst this is certainly in keeping with the recent industry trend of hybridising Board and Miniature gaming, this feels like it will appeal more successfully to the non-gamer than most, not just because of the IP but it is still recognisably a board game, rather than a small-scale miniature skirmish game on a board (*cough*Shadespire*cough*). That being said, the game comes with 90 miniatures cast in the now-familiar plastic-resin (blue for heroes and red for villains), and having got my hands on some of the initial renders, I can tell you that the quality of the sculpts, and the level of detail is astounding. Riddler’s cufflinks, for example, are minuscule question marks. The overtly comic-y aesthetic (especially of Scarecrow, seen here, and of some other models such as Harley Quinn and Alfred) may not appeal to everyone but they attempt to capture the feel of the characters – and with 90 models in the basic game pledge (working out at just over a £1 per miniature), you get a lot of pretty toys for your money.
(for demo purposes, we were just using cardstock standees for the models).
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The game is for 2-5 players, pitting an Overlord (arch-villain) against the Heroes, or two Overlords against one another. 4 of us set about playing Adventure mode, with 3 of us as Heroes playing co-operatively – well, if you don’t, you just lose horribly – and for our demo we tried one of the basic game scenarios, trying to stop Bane blowing up an abandoned Subway station below a hospital. Interestingly, there’s no set sequence in which they have to do things, beyond alternate Hero/Overlord turns. You could, for example (as we did) sneak Batman along a gantry, then run Red Hood up to grab a Gatling gun and pick off some goons, then have Batman hack a computer that he’s standing next to. This means that there’s a lot of discussion and planning, though not at the expense of time: the game is playable in an hour to an hour and a half. The core mechanics in the game are the use of Gems, which are essentially action points. You can use as many of these as your character has, but you only recover a limited number each turn, so the game is about careful asset management and weighing up risk/rewards. So, to continue our previous example, after Batman has hacked the computer, he might still have some Gems left to parkour down a wall and move elsewhere, but that could leave you short in a subsequent turn.
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Gems also provide you with the dice you roll, with the different coloured dice having different averages and number of successes. It’s actually much easier to get your head round that than you’d think, as they go yellow-orange-red (worst to best), and with white and black as a safe and risky option respectively. With skills covering melee, ranged, manipulation and intelligence, your various characters can assign their dice as they see fit based on a task, with the ability to spend for re-rolls also (but again, you run the risk of running short of gems). The Overlord player, on the other hand, has a smaller pool of gems overall but one that they can assign to any of their thugs in any ratio, meaning that whilst individually weak swarms of goons still present a threat – as we discovered to our cost!
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It’s a really fun game. We were really surprised by the emphasis on stealth and co-operation: it’s very easy to over commit yourself, partly because the gameplay is so intuitive. Because it’s narrative-objective based in any given scenario (here, having to defuse C4 and hack computers whilst avoiding Bane’s goons), it feels very much like a comic story and, crucially, different enough to other games out there, both of the super/mini variety and of the board/mini variety. You can tailor the existing scenarios, swapping out characters for others, or devise your own – at which point it takes that step beyond board game and will appeal much more to the traditional gamer, though equally providing lots of variety for the “regular” player.
A basic pledge is around £100 ($140) – although “basic” doesn’t do justice to the sheer quantity and variety of scenario options that presents – through to around £240 ($320) for a full pledge with all the bells and whistles and stretch goals. That might seem steep – but, as I said, remember that effectively at the entry-level price you’re only paying around £1 a model for some stunning miniatures, never mind everything else.
Plus, there will also be the opportunity purely to go for specific models, for the collector, modeller, casual gamer (great generic civilians) or just the fan. It won’t be to everyone’s wallet, but it’s an excellent, accessible game from a company with a track record of delivering on their Kickstarters. The game hits Kickstarter on 27th February, and there will be a number of chances to try it as part of their Bat-tour yourself, including Sunday 14th January at the Dice Roll Cafe in Glasgow at the CCA and 20th at ABZ Games Aberdeen – check out the monolith Facebook page for more details!
Anyway, that’s my two euro-cents – let us know your thoughts below!