2-4 players, One vs Many, Efficiency Puzzle
Designer: Frederic Henry
Artwork: Georges Clarenko
Overview of Gameplay-
In Batman Gotham City Chronicles one player takes the role of the Overlord to command all the henchmen and major villains of the Batman universe whereas the other 1-3 players play as the heroes to try and thwart the overlord’s heinous schemes.
In a typical 4 player game round the three heroes will all work together completing actions such as moving around the board, attacking villain minis, completing manipulation actions like hacking computers etc. They don’t have a turn order so they can all converse and decide how they want to tackle a round and basically work as one big team, which is great. Once they have spent their fill of action cubes then the play goes on over to the Overlord player. That player activates up to 2 tiles on their special player board and with those activation’s is able to manipulate certain minis on the game board. These usually consist of moving villains and henchmen around and attacking the hero players. Sometimes though there are other actions where they can manipulate other items on the board as well.
Play continues like this until either the heroes complete whatever objective they are going for or the round timer reaches its apex where the overlord usually wins.
Components/Game Board –
These are some mighty fine components I won’t deny. The cardboard tokens and plastic cubes are your pretty standard fare, but the miniatures are outstanding. You can really see the level of detail in each one and they are differentiated by color based on what faction they represent which is awesome. The hero minis are blue, villains are gray and the bystander minis are orange. This makes it super easy to make out the board state at a quick glance. That said the one big downfall to the minis are their bases. Every single one of the minis that came packed in the two huge boxes for this game had warped bases. This caused the minis to wobble a bit when sat on the board, which, honestly isn’t a game breaker but more of an aggravation.
The rest of the components basically boil down to the cards, dice and player boards. The cards are the mini sized cards and there are about a handful of them to dictate the items and gear you will be taking on your missions. The quality is pretty slick, no linen finish here but honestly you won’t be handling these cards at all. They are just meant to lay next to your hero board to remind you of any extra dice or abilities you may get. The dice are really good quality and you get a lot of them in the core set…..although, in my opinion, it’s still not enough. The dice are broken down into colors based on the strength of the dice. Goodness I’m trying to remember exactly how many you get, 4 of each color with yellow, orange, white, red, black….. The thing is, sometimes you will need a FIFTH dice of a particular color for your rolls. Yes you can just roll the 4 and then roll another but cmon. Just slap in 1 more die of each color and we would be all set. Now the hero’s player boards are pretty much great. They are double layered, which, anyone that knows me knows that I go wild about two main things in board games. Exploding dice and Double layered player boards. Now this game doesn’t have exploding dice (SUPER unfortunate because I think that would make the dice rolling much more exciting and make things a tad bit easier for the heroes) but it does have those glorious, glorious double layered player boards. I love them. You pick a character sheet and it slides right into the spot for it perfectly on the player board and then your cubes go on the bottom section and there are individual sections for each action. The one downside to all this is that annoying “Active/Rest” token that kinda wobbles about on top of the character sheet. I would have preferred something like an integrated dial on the player boards instead of that random little token.
Another huge plus for me are the game boards themselves. My goodness these boards are GORGEOUS. Hats off to whoever did the art and color for these boards because man let me tell you they POP. Just looking at them you can really get a sense of the depth from the artwork and the bright vivid colors really make the intricate details stand out. The artwork aside, I LOVEEEE the rounded edges of the boards. Rounding the boards off like that gives them that premium feel and also adds durability for the long run so the edges won’t fray.
The huge plastic overlord’s board is also a huge plus. This thing is just cool. It’s got spots for the tiles that you will be activating, small areas for the main villain’s tokens and spots for the red cubes for their life total as well as the general area where you will be managing your own action cubes. It’s large and foreboding like a command center just like you would expect.
There are two giant boxes and both boxes are literally filled to the brim with content. Let’s start on the outside of the boxes and work our ways inward. So just looking at them stood up side by side they create a diorama of the various heroes standing strong facing off against the various villains adorned on the other box. The boxes make for a really cool display if you have space on top of your shelves but they will also fit in a standard Kallax shelf unit with about an inch of overhang. Once you open the boxes up you have a plethora of stuff to go through and unfortunately there really isn’t a storage solution to handle all this yet. The villains box is practically full with the box that holds all the enemy minis and the overlord dashboard and tiles and the heroes box has almost everything else. I mean it all fits but I would be willing to bet there are a number of people itching for a good organizer, especially for those villain tiles.
Visual Appeal /Theme–
Outstanding on both counts. I mean if you like Batman right off the bat (hehe) you will relate to the theme and every game I’ve played have been overwhelmingly thematic. Just last night I was playing a 4 player game (the Joker/Harley one) where I was lowering some bystander into a pool of acid (eek!). it was up to the heroes to stop me of course by hacking computers around the board to hinder and ultimately stop the mechanism from lowering. They had to get at LEAST 3 of the 4 computers hacked to hinder it within 7 rounds. The heroes were Batman, Spoiler and….Harvey Bullock. Epic trio. SO Batman right off the bat (I’m just gonna keep using that) was the best at hacking computers so he was jumping around doing most of the hacking whilst Spoiler and Harvey cleared out goons. Harvey had a few cops with him so he could order them to pretty good effect. Well fast forward to the very last round, Batman was RUNNING from across the board to try and get to that 3rd computer terminal and stop it, the bystander was inches away from plunging into the acid. Harvey and one last cop was in the next room from it, Harvey ordered the cop to open the door and the cop was blasted by a shotgun henchman and killed. In that moment Harvey was able to rush into the room and peck on the computer to try and avert the lowering mechanism……..
This was it. It was up to Harvey Bullock to hack this 3rd computer terminal and stop the lowering mechanism and bring home the win for the heroes. Harvey stood there dumbfounded. He wasn’t a techy guy! He just liked to eat donuts and take bribes and order people around! Batman was screaming, “NOOOOO!” as he ran and parkoured over some barrels and the bystander was plunged into the acid while the joker unleashed a crazy laugh from the balcony above.
Now in the game itself, the player playing as Harvey had to get a super high success number to hack that terminal since there was another goon in there with him and add to that the fact that Harvey didn’t have any hacking skills AND his base dice to roll for those actions were all yellow dice (the worst), he wasn’t prepared to hack that thing. It was possible if he rolled all success with what few action cubes he had, but not probable. He went for it anyone knowing that was the hero’s last chance. But that’s my point, the theme in this game just oozes out. Even though the heroes lost that match, it was crazy thematic.
Now this is where we get to the biggest downside of the game. To be honest this issue has been beaten to death already if you just glimpse the forums, however it needs to be mentioned here as well. Monolith as a company puts out some pretty great games, they are still rather small, not too many games under their belts but the ones that they have released are pretty great. However they really struggle with writing out good rulebooks. Like Conan before, the rulebook for Batman is just a challenge unto itself to comprehend. Coming into Batman fresh without ever playing Conan will make the struggle that much more difficult. If you have played Conan then you at least have a notion of how this game will play. But Batman is still a whole ‘nother beast with an astounding amount of additions to the rules than Conan ever was.
There are two books, a rules book and a missions book. First let’s discuss the rules book. It is written in flowchart format which is something that makes it easy to follow along with IF you already understand the game, but that kinda defeats the purpose. And like after reading through this book multiple times I discovered that pretty much all the information you need to know IS hidden in the pages, it’s just finding it that’s the struggle. There is no index and no good way to really locate any particular rules question that you have arise. Just last night a player asked me about activation of Harveys extra cop troops that he can control……Instantly I reached for the rulebook but then paused as I thought…..where the heck would that even be at in that book? There is no good way to find anything, it’s a mishmash of jumbled rules.
And the Missions book is the exact same way! The missions are laid out in an order that defies logic. They are not ordered by player count or difficulty or lol alphabetically. Like they are just kinda tossed in there randomly and not even listed at player count, you have to check how many heroes are available to use to see how many the mission supports. So let’s say you wanted to play a 3 player game, well first there is one for the overlord, then you need to peruse ALL the missions to see what missions are available that use just 2 different heroes. Another thing, why are the maps in the very BACK of the missions book? This kind of information needs to be front and center and preferably written on the boards themselves honestly. You every map there are height advantages and areas where you can move to by either jumping or climbing etc. You don’t know about any of this based on the boards themselves and have to refer to the maps at the back of the rules manual to see all these special movement rules. My advice, print these pages out in color, and make sure to always have the map page next to the board when you play.
The last thing I want to mention is the massive overuse of iconography. Some games user iconography for certain actions to save space on tiles or to actually make some games easier. This game however has a crazy amount of different skills and abilities and each one is assigned to a specific icon. These icons are displayed on all the character sheets and each character has a different variety of icons. On average any one character has from 6-10 of these different icons scattered around on their player sheet. Now there are pages of these icons listed in the rulebook that tells exactly what they all do……but again they are all jumbled! This time around though they put them in alphabetical order….BUT it makes no sense to put them in that order at all considering you have NO CLUE what the icon means.
Table Talk/Fun Factor –
I love the table talk this game creates. The heroes are always discussing strategies and planning out their mission. Playing as the Overlord you can’t really strategize with the rest BUT it’s still fun to talk out your plots out loud and watch the heroes squirm. Speaking of that, playing as the overlord you really have an immense amount of control over this fun and flow of the game. And as such it is up to you to make sure the rest of the players are having a good time. I say this because the game seems to have balance issues but only at first. The first time new players will play a game, the overlord feels SO powerful. It’s only until after multiple plays on the same map do the hero players start to understand the strategies and methods to overcoming the mission. So playing as the overlord with new players I recommend taking it easy on them, have some fun with it. Don’t gang up on 1 particular hero and keep kicking them when their down. Make it a challenge for them but at the same time don’t steamroll them. After a few more plays with the same people you can start playing much more naturally. As such the Overlord really feels like a DM of the game.
Optimal Player Count/Replayability –
Personally speaking I enjoyed the game at all player counts equally. The game of course runs a bit faster the lower number of players but even with a full 4 player game, playing as the overlord I never felt bored on the heroes turn. I found it fascinating to watch them and listen to their plans and I’m even taking part during their turns having to decide if I want to roll to defend my minions or not. The same works vice versa for the heroes. So downtime wasn’t a big issue and there are a variety of different missions created for all player counts so this game will have something for you to do for a long while. Speaking of replayability, there are 26 missions out of the box and just an insane amount of villains and heroes to play as. Granted each different mission shoehorns you into specific villains and heroes but they are all utilized overall and each mission feels completely different from the last. By the time you finish all the missions (IF you finish them all) playing the first one again will feel fresh. Also as I said earlier, each mission really needs to be played more than once to learn a proper strategy. After every game I played we would always sit there staring at the board with the heroes discussing how they could have done it better and what they would try next time. Even me as the overlord many times I would chime in on things I noticed that the heroes missed, such as using that fire axe item to create a hole in the wall to bypass some enemies.
Positive Final Thoughts –
All in all I really love this game. The thematic feel it brings to the table combined with the beautiful boards and excellent miniatures just roll into an extremely impressive package. You get SO much stuff here that it will keep you and a group of friends busy for months. Each of the 26 missions feel completely different and exciting. The game is extremely thought provoking even after you finish a game, causing you to think about how you could have done something better.
A huge plus to the game isn’t even something that is included with it. The fans. They have (and still do) created an outstanding amount of player aids and other helpful additions to support this game. Before playing your first game I would highly recommend getting on boardgamegeek.com and printing out the player aids that have the iconography separated per character. Then each hero player can keep that one sheet close at hand during a game and can easily reference it during play. That makes teaching the game soooooo much easier.
Negative Final Thoughts –
Coming into this game you would think it would be more of an action based game. What with the hero players taking control of Batman and kin and walloping some bad dudes. And the game certainly looks that way from afar, of the 26 or so missions that the game comes with you are running around trying to achieve a particular objective and most of the time the overlord player is trying to stop you.
Here’s the thing. This game is compounded by the illusion of choice. From the setup of the mission to everything in between you are made to think YOU are making the decisions but in reality the game has already made them for you if you want any good chance of winning. Picking a mission to play nets you with a very specific setup, and that’s fine. But then the characters you can play as…..you never can choose just ANY character, there is a list of specific characters to choose from for each mission. Then for Bat dudes you are given a certain amount of “points” to pick Bat gadgets to take with you……BUT you really have to see what gadget will be useful on that particular mission and choose THOSE specific gadgets or it will be a complete waste.
On top of that if you go in and spend too much time beating up on bad guys you will most certainly lose the mission. You need to plan out a strategy on the most efficient route and way possible to complete your objective. If you don’t focus on that and that alone then all the overlord has to do is play subpar to just hinder you long enough to win.
Now this isn’t a sandbox game at all. But it plays more like a puzzle to solve than an action game that’s for sure. As for me, it was definitely jarring the first couple times I played the game. Thinking I could go in and wallop a few baddies here and there as I’m making my way towards my objective. But you really cannot do that in this game. You HAVE to make your way to the objective AND THEN only fight when there is absolutely no other option. If you spend too much time fighting and get a few bad dice rolls….well let’s just say that first time players will have a hard time with this.