Gotham is a war zone, locked down, locked away from the world. The Joker has it in his grip, and it’s up to the GCPD to save the day… with a bit of help from the Bat.
My boys and I decided to tackle the intro campaign for Knight Models’ Back To Gotham boxset.
I’ve gone into detail HERE about the box contents and changes to the game. For now, I’m just going to talk about how the game plays out of the box and how me and my kids fare with it.
The rulebook is clear and well-laid out. My eldest (12) got his head round it fairly quickly – in fact, in some ways quicker than me, as the game has changed pretty fundamentally.
The rules have notional similarities, but the old willpower token / action mechanic, which was so fundamental previously, is no more. Because characters can take far fewer actions per activation, the game is much faster both in terms of planning and play.
There’s a lot of emphasis in the intro game on story, and for all of us this was a big win. It’s also an indication of the change in emphasis in the game as a whole: victory comes from objectives, building the narrative as the game goes on, rather than annihilating your opponent.
That being said, the first scenario is a simple skirmish. It introduces the basic dice and action mechanics of the game in a clear and direct way. It also introduces the first of the new mechanics: Effort and Audacity. Essentially, Effort is where you take stun damage to roll extra dice on attack or defence, or (situationally) deny your opponent dice. Very intuitive and fluffy. Audacity markers allow character to take multiple actions (move AND attack, or vice versa) rather than just one (move OR attack).
My older lad got right into it, my younger (10) less so. Whilst the older is keen on tabletop gaming (happily playing DCU, Dredd, Aeronautica, Wings of Glory, Gaslands, AoS, Killteam, Hellboy and of course Dreadball) the younger is more into board games, online gaming and collaborative play (Hellboy, though he’s a Dreadball fan too) – he also likes KM’s DCU Miniatures Game though, so we thought that might be a hook. As it is, though, it was a bit too crunchy for him: there’s a fair bit to keep track of; not necessarily an age thing, more of a personal preference I suspect.
The second scenario introduces the fundamental, and entirely different, new mechanics: Manipulate actions and Suspect Tokens (Audacity tokens enable them to do all 3 types of action – Move, Attack and Manipulate).
Manipulate is used to place your own or reveal an opponent’s Suspect Markers – clues, essentially – and by making the victory condition for the scenario to have the most placed at the end of the 4th turn, it hammers home that this is the game’s central premise now.
Manipulate can also be used to activate special abilities (signified by a Bat symbol on a trait) – Batman’s Batclaw, Harley’s Distract or Disturb, and so on – and despite the various special rules it’s a very, VERY fast game: the game’s standard 4 turn format is easily playable in an hour or so. It’s not about killing everyone, it’s about the clues in the investigation or the pieces of the fiendish ploy. And, as the boy observed, it feels like a race against the clock. The second scenario also brings back The Night: it’s always dark in Gotham, so ranges are restricted, with streetlights providing limited LOS.
Onto game 3, and we have the addition of Objective Cards. At this point, to all intents and purposes, you’re playing the full game. Now to be fair, the rulebook does suggest ignoring traits the first time through and then replaying WITH them but, tbh, they’re pretty self-explanatory… With the exception of Weapon Traits. The fact that they’re not explained front and centre – even in the intro rulebook – feels like an oversight. It’s important to acknowledge that the rules and the compendium (the latter being where the traits are covered) are free to download, and generally extremely well-written – but as an intro set, they should be THERE, in bold, in front of you (as indeed should be an explanation of conditions such as Poison).
I would also like the objective decks to have come preconstructed into 20 card decks ready to go for the two different sides, as this is not an obvious process initially. Not necessarily that hard, but if it’s a learner intro game, wouldn’t be complex to have prepped and ready. Again, it takes digging in the rulebook; could’ve been avoided. However, even with this the game is still FUN – it’s fast, frantic, comic action. Yes, Batman is brutal, Harley is hilarious, Deadshot is, well, deadly … But it’s Cops arresting goons, and Joker setting off poison fish and explosive teeth that make the game. That’s where the story is, and that’s how you win.
This scenario was won, in the end, by the solitary cop waiting for backup from turn one – he had his objective, and that’s how you do it. It’s worth mentioning that Objective Cards can also be spent as Resources in-game advantages instead, and this adds to the push-pull of management. In some ways it’s reminiscent of the best elements of Card Gaming and wargames that employ similar strategic planning (such as Privateer’s Warma-Hordes); the fact that the core of the game is fluffy resource management is an absolute win.
Before we hit scenario 4, my boy asked me, “New BMG or Old BMG?” and without hesitation my answer was “New”. I’m a HUGE batman nerd but the time to play BMG was always the thing against it; this game now goes like The Flash. So what does the final scenario bring? Well, it’s the return – and the reinvention – of old rules. First up, Sewers. With 2 (previously 3) sewer tokens to be placed, players get effectively the ability to teleport across the board with a Manipulation action. Now whilst in 2nd (which introduced this version of the sewer rules) this felt faintly ridiculous, because 3rd is such a compressed gameplay experience anyway, it doesn’t feel at all unnatural – to give a boardgame analogy, it’s like a secret passage in Cluedo.
Inspire, which is the inherent ability of your team’s Boss, has also had a shake-up, giving henchmen within 8″ of the boss a Manipulate action for free. This balances the fact that swarm lists are going to be short of Audacity; it also plays into the fact that you can choose whether a Leader (Boss is automatically Highest ranked person on team) is on a 40mm or a 60mm base, as the bigger base means effectively more Inspire radius but leaves them more vulnerable (because of base to base LOS and potentially more outnumbering in melee). Also, if your Boss dies, you pass the status of Boss to another model in your team, albeit with a more limited, 4″ radius.
The final scenario feels good and bloody. Joker historically was a powerhouse in the game as his Kaos Agent ability meant you didn’t need to pre-plan your turn (thereby making him easier for novices but also skirting one of the main tactical challenges); now, effectively, you simply don’t preassign your Audacity markers. It’s a nuanced change: it still feels like the old ability, but its power dialed down a notch.
Interestingly, by the time we hit game 4 we didn’t have to check the rulebooks even once. This is a sign of a good game if ever there was. Traits are clearly explained on the reverse of the cards, which of course helps, and there’s tokens aplenty to track everything. Indeed, you’ll notice is the sheer quantity of tokens. It can be a little distracting, and the fact that everything is a yellow and black can feel a bit overwhelming. Even though the KM tokens are clear, we did find that mixing it up with some of Counter Attack Bases’ excellent acrylics helped, particularly their Activation markers, Pass tokens, and KO markers.
All in all, Back To Gotham is an excellent starter set for players old and new, and there’s plenty of value in there (all the terrain in the photos, apart from the clown cars, is from the box). More importantly, however, BMG 3rd is fundamentally a move in the right direction, with all the rules, cards etc available as free downloads and a game that emphasizes fun and story, but not at the expense of tactics.
So it’s a great, and in an increasingly crowded market, different take on comic book super games: a big thumbs-up from Chez Graven!
Now seeing as you’ve read all that, it would only be fair to give you a little prize now, wouldn’t it? We’ll send one lucky winner a gaggle of goodies, a mystery prize of models, tokens and terrain to get you started with – or back into – BMG3.
All you need to do is:
Like – Share – Comment (on THIS post)
Tell us who you’d like to see in BMG3.
Couldn’t be simpler, so what are you waiting for?