New South Wales
When you walk ...through a Storm...hold your head up high!
Image Courtesy of W Eric Martin
This review continues my series of detailed reviews that attempt to be part review, part resource for anyone not totally familiar with the game. For this reason I expect readers to skip to the sections that are of most interest.
If you liked the review please thumb the top of the article so others have a better chance of seeing it and I know you stopped by. Thanks for reading.
Game Type - Thematic Game
Play Time: 30-50 minutes
Number of Players: 2
Mechanics - Action Point Allowance System, Grid Movement, Secret Deployment, Hand Management, Dice Rolling Combat
Difficulty - Pick-up & Play (Can be learned in 10 minutes)
Components - Fair to Good
Release - 2013
Designer - Matt Hyra - ([b]Adventure Time: Card Wars, Assassin's Creed: Arena, CapCom Street-Fighter Deck Building Game, DC Comics Deck-Building Game, Ender's Game: Battle School, Food Fight, Ghost Busters: The Board Game, World of Warcraft Miniatures Game)
Overview and Theme
Engage gravelly Batman Voice...
'If only the populace could see the Arkham I see at night. Most citizens are afraid of being out after dark, but from my vantage point there is a beauty to Gotham that few see. But she is a fragile creature too. My family has dedicated itself to the ideal that is Gotham and nothing will stand in my way to making her great again. Ah the signal already, smoke appears to be coming from the prison, looks like it might be a long night...I can smell trouble...no wait...that's definitely last night's felafel. Ooh damn, Alfred won't be happy!'
Batman: Arkham City Escape is a 2-player game in which one side takes on the role of the famous bat, whilst the other assumes the role of villains, henchmen and lunatics that are currently calling Arkham City Prison home. Batman is aiming to keep them there whilst the villains and their goons are looking to break out.
It is published by Cryptozoic Entertainment, a company that have built their base on creating games using well known franchises. Matt Hyra is the designer and his design credits (above) highlight his ability to work with many big franchise titles and so at the time of this release he worked for Cryptozoic Entertainment in-house.
This game is loosely based on the video game release, Batman: Arkham Asylum which was made by Rocksteady Games in 2009 (4 years earlier). Whether the game does this title any justice is yet to be seen.
Gotham can be a dirty city at times and I sure could use a sidekick to come along for the ride. Grab that riot shield and let's get to it.
The components on the whole are not too bad but some aspects let the production down as a whole.
The Board - The board is a large-ish affair and is vertical in nature, to allow either side to start at one end. It is also double-sided to allow for two map formats, which do make the game play a little differently in relation to movement and force the players to adapt to their surroundings.
The board features large hexagons in order to accommodate the Villain Cards that move on them and one end features black and yellow police tape, which serves as the Villain's goal.
The artwork is more hit than miss. The board actually features a background that depicts the Asylum from a top down perspective and in truth it is rather well done. But you have to look really closely to make much of it out. So instead the players are mostly focused on the cards in play and Batman's position, leaving that artwork to morph into a collection of mottled greys and light blues.
The board is of a good thickness though. On the whole the board is just a pass...but barely. It just isn't all that exciting.
Image Courtesy of Alice87
Batman's Utility Belt - This is a pretty cool inclusion as they could have just expected players to lay the Utility Belt Cards on the table. It isn't amazing in design, simply a horizontal board with spaces for 4 cards and a belt buckle in the middle. Hence, it is designed to look like Batman's Utility Belt...kinda neat but in truth totally superfluous.
Image Courtesy of Luisjoey
Cards - The cards are where the publisher gets a little cheap as they are quite thin and feel like low quality. The artwork is serviceable but not amazing and I'm not sure if this is stock Batman artwork from somewhere or from Rock Steady files. It does the job without getting me super excited.
Image Courtesy of Alice87
The icons and text all work fine but the inclusion of TM on so many cards is annoying to say the least.
Image Courtesy of Alice87
Dice - The combat dice are functional but bland as they only come with 2 different icons. They are also screen printed rather than etched, so I suspect they would fade after many plays.
The Batman Experience Dice is a larger black affair and features text rather than icons, which looks a little...well...crappy.
Image Courtesy of Alice87
Batman Standee - Batman is represented by a simple tile with Batman illustrated on it and this is placed into a stand. C'mon really? You have this cool hero in your game and he can't even get a simple miniature or at least a decent 3D-standee. Even many Euros can manage a decent standee for their start player marker and they are Euros! Very lazy indeed.
Image Courtesy of Alice87
Tokens - Batman requires some tokens to track the uses left on gadgets in his Utility Belt and these are small black or white counters. They do the job but even these have a copyright icon on them. I recognise that Cryptozoic is probably bound by law to include these trademark and copyright icons but it really detracts from the games visual aesthetics.
Image Courtesy of Alice87
Rules - The rules are a bit of a mess really. They leave a few ambiguities here and there but they are mostly poor because they are largely just slabs of text with the occasional image to break things up. The line spacing is poor and it just makes it hard to find a key point mid-game as you are learning.
Image Courtesy of Alice87
On the whole the production is lucky to get a pass mark from me and the bargain bins in which this game found itself seems about right.
Image Courtesy of Luisjoey
The game is pretty easy to get ready. The board is laid out vertically so that each player is at the correct end and the Batman player sets out his Utility Belt mat. The Batman player must select 4 Utility Belt Item Cards to play with (from the 8 on offer) and place them face-down on the mat. The Batman standee is placed on the starting (Bat Signal) location.
Each player has 9 set-up cards. Each player shuffles these and adds 5 at random to a common pool of cards. These are shuffled together and then placed on the 10 Riddler Trophy locations on the board (those marked with a green question mark). This gives the game some variability with each play.
Each player also has their own 40 card deck. These are shuffled by each player and each player draws 5 cards to form their starting hand.
The dice are set to one side as are the counters and the game begins with the Villain always going first (as Batman would have relatively little to do without Villains in play).
Arkham Escape is played with the two sides taking alternate turns. Because there are differences in the actions of both sides, it makes sense to cover them separately.
The Aim of the Villain Player – The Villain player has a very simple objective. To get a total of 10 VPs worth of bad guys to exit off the board at the far end. Each Villain, goon or thug is worth a number of VPs as listed on their card. If a card exits the board with a hostage, then the point value of the hostage is also included.
Villain Actions – The Villain player always goes first in the game. To determine how many actions they get, 4 dice are rolled. For each Arkham City icon rolled (50% chance) one action point is gained and so the Villain player can have 0-4 actions in a given turn (although the number of dice rolled can be increased for each Penguin terrain card in play).
With these actions the Villain player can do the following :-
Place Villains - For one action up to 5 villains can be placed face-down from the Villain player's hand in empty starting locations.
Move Hidden Villains - For one action all face-down villains can be moved 1 space in any direction.
Move a Revealed Villain - If a villain has been exposed they care less about stealth and as such a single villain that is face-up can move 2 spaces in any direction.
Move a Villain with a Hostage - When a villain enters a space with a set-up card (Riddler Trophy spaces) they may reveal an Ally (of the Bat), which becomes a hostage. For one action point both the villain and the hostage can move 1 space in any direction. A Villain is also able to move and leave a hostage behind if they so wish.
It is important to note that the villain player can take multiple movement actions if they have the points, but they can never move a single Villain more than once in a turn.
Draw a Card - For 1 action point the Villain player can draw a card from their draw deck and this action can be taken multiple times.
The Villain player can also turn any of his cards on the board face-up at any time during their turn and play any cards listed as 'Free Action' (from their hand) without having to pay an action point.
Draw a Card - The Villain player ends their turn by drawing a card from their draw deck. This is in addition to any cards that may have been drawn in the turn using action points.
The Aim for Batman –
Image Courtesy of marnaudo Batman is trying to do his best to stop the filth of Arkham City Prison oozing out all over town. Success for Batman is as simple as defeating 10 VPs worth of scum before the Villain player can amass 10 VPs worth of escaped 'freaks'. Taking out all of the trash is not necessary, indeed it is impossible given Batman's resources, so he has to be more selective.
Batman's Actions – Batman is the much more challenging of the two sides to play in my opinion as he represents the 'one' in this one-against-many game.
Batman does not get to roll dice to earn actions. He doesn't even get multiple action points! He is simply allowed to move and he can fight if he enters a space containing a Villain.
Movement - Batman has 3 movement options each turn but he can only chose to use one of them in a single turn.
By Foot - Batman can move to any adjacent space.
Gargoyles - Batman can instead move by grapple hook, using the Gargoyles that frequent Arkham City. He must be within 2 spaces of a Gargoyle location and he can move between any number of Gargoyles provided they are no more than 2 spaces apart.
Sewer System - Batman's final option is to move from one sewer grate to the other, with both locations being central on the board. This can be a good option if the Villain player is trying to sneak some characters down the wings.
Utilise Utility Belt - This, like any other action that Batman can take, is purely optional and doesn't require action points.
Batman starts the game with 4 gadgets in his utility belt. At any point in the game (his turn or the Villains') he may turn a gadget face-up on his belt. When this occurs a number of Charge Counters are placed on it, as outlined on the card.
Using a gadget that is face-up is as simple as removing a Charge Counter and using the listed power. These can aid Batman's movement, improve his combat ability and so on.
Fight Villains - If Batman moves into a location featuring a Villain Card he can fight. If the card is still face-down it is first turned over to see who he is facing.
Each Villain lists a Capture Rating that must be met or bettered, rolling combat dice. The Batman player can chose to play any number of Combat Cards from their hand in order to gain the Combo Points listed. For each Combo Point earned in this way, the Batman player gains a dice to roll.
These dice are rolled and Batman is hoping to roll a number of Batman icons to equal the Capture Rating of the Villain\Henchmen\Lunatic card that he is facing. Batman icons offer a 50% chance of being rolled.
If successful, Batman takes the defeated card and adds it to his score pile.
If he fails to defeat his adversary, nothing happens unless the card that survived has a Retaliation Effect (and most do). This power then plays out and it usually isn't too great for old Batsy!
Of course the other negative of combat...win or lose is that the Combat Cards played are discarded and that means that Batman is down on resources!
Draw a Card - Like the Villain player, Batman also ends his turn by drawing a card from his deck. The key difference here is that this is the main way that Batman gets to draw a card. More on the implications of this shortly.
Gaining Experience as the Caped Crusader - As well as gaining VPs from a captured Villain and denying them the chance to escape, there is one other benefit of winning a fight, Batman gains experience!
This is simulated by allowing the Batman player to roll the Experience Dice. There is a 50% chance that a Recharge result will be rolled and this allows any one gadget on the utility belt to have its charges fully restored (when a gadget is out of recharge counters it can no longer be used).
The other results are all a 1 in 6 probability. Draw 2 cards does as it says, Gargoyle allows a Gargoyle Card to be added to the board in a Riddler Trophy (?) location (which improves Batman's movement options) and a result of 'Allies' allows an Ally card to be drawn from that deck and added to a Riddler Trophy (?) location
The above set of rules pretty much sum up the game. Anything additional comes from the abilities listed on cards in the game that serve to mix up the action from one game to the next.
But there are still a few aspects to cover.
Allies – Allies can be extremely valuable to Batman as some of the powers can loosen the limitations that face the Batman player. However Allies can only offer their effect if they are free in a space. If a Villain card ever enters an Allied location, they no longer offer their power and they can be taken as hostages.
Villain Limitations - In truth the Villain player has far fewer limitations than the Batman player in this game, but one such limitation is that a Villain card cannot enter a space with another Villain card unless they enter a ? Set-up location and reveal a Villain by doing so.
This has implications for the Batman player as he only has to enter into combat when he moves into a Villain's space or if they engage him. So Batman may fail to defeat a Villain and then decide to deliberately stay in that space in a future turn, thereby denying the Villain the chance to have another Villain attack him.
However the Villain player can pay an action point to attack Batman with the Villain already in the space.
End Game - The game is over as soon as one player or the other earns a total of 10 VPs or more.
So How Does the Game Feel and What is it's Nature?
Image Courtesy of LuisjoeyThe play feels very much like a game of cat and mouse. The Villains don't need to beat the daylights out of Batman, all they need to do is keep him so busy that some of them can sneak through.
Batman is always fighting the hard fight in this one. The Batman player is always up against it as Bats simply doesn't have enough resources to ever feel like he is in control for long. Batman's Utility Belt certainly helps but he never quite has enough gadgets at his disposal.
The early game is about revealing those Riddler Trophy locations and hoping that good things are in store. The cat and mouse feel is also amplified by the Villain's ability to hide the nature of his forces with Batman never knowing who he will face next. Likewise, the Batman player can keep their opponent guessing by not revealing those Utility Belt Items too early in the hope that he can surprise them at a key moment.
In truth the game is about resources and Batman is always resource poor and the Villain tends to be resource rich and for me this makes for some really bad 'balance' issues. At times Batman doesn't even have what it takes in hand to defeat a really tough villain and even if he does he is likely to wipe out his hand of resources in that single fight, leaving him vulnerable for the next 2-4 turns as he rebuilds his hand of Combat Cards.
God help Batman if he does go all in to take down a big guy and then rolls badly!
That said the game tends to throw up some close results and I have won once as Batman.
For me the game should be tense and 'edge of your seat stuff'. To some degree it is. But there is always this feeling that as Batman you are fighting a losing battle and the Villain player has to screw up in some big way for Bats to come out on top. Instead of tension the game tends to deliver frustration and that is on both sides of the board.
Batman's frustration I have already outlined, but as the Villain Player I also felt like there were not many tough choices. I always had plenty of resources, I knew how to wield them to cause my opponent major headaches and apart from a set of good roles from Batman or a well-timed Utility-Belt ability fouling up my plans, I never felt any pain as I always had the resources to simply set more plans in action.
The game is really a case of the Villain Player wearing Batman down and as the hero, Bats needs to find some magic bullet to get the upper hand. For me, Bats does not have enough ammunition to find a magic one. That's why I suspect they released a new Utility Belt Promo in the 'Hotline to Oracle' card that allows Bats to draw additional cards when he is low on them.
It's also worth noting that the game can be influenced heavily by random variations. If the Villain player discovers one or two Penguin Terrain cards early, then they will be drawing a multitude of cards in no time. If the Villain player manages to get a couple of big Villains out at the same time, then Bats is in for a rough night.
Experience is also crucial for the Batman player in relation to chosing a good selection of Utility Belt Cards. I get the feeling that a game can be lost before it even begins if a set of Utility Belt Cards is chosen poorly and limits Batman's ability to react to different threats. I can see that some players may not get enough plays in to make smart choices before they give up on it entirely.
Does the game recreate the video game faithfully?
Not really. It does a good job of including a lot of the villains and thematic flavour of the game and the Batman universe in general and that is all well and good. But the video game is a lot more than simply combat and even then...the combat in the video game is about chaining combos together to take out packs of goons. Here the action is one fight at a time and often a period of downtime is required between battles before Batman has a realistic chance of taking down another foe. That gives the game no sense of pacing at all. It is methodical and slow. The only sense of adrenaline the players feel is when Batman sweats over a combat roll...to kill one guy...knowing that win or lose he is resource screwed for some time.
Being a fan of solo games where I'm more likely to get a beating than win comfortably, I am fine with hard games. But the balance issues make this less fun than it should have been. As for recreating the video game? No, this simply uses that vehicle as a backdrop for the game's mechanisms.
The Final Word
Overall I am disappointed by this experience but not surprised. I did have some fun in learning and playing the game...but ultimately not enough to want to revisit this after 3 plays and certainly not enough to keep it on my shelves.
In a 2-player game, balance is one of the most important aspects and they just give Batman too much of an uphill battle here and too much luck needs to go his way. I really think the combat in the game could have been enhanced here by a mechanism similar to that in Arcadia Quest where one face is a critical hit and allows the dice to be re-rolled, allowing for some crazy damage chains to occur. That or Batman had some form of frenzy attack where he just loses his sh#$ and gets additional dice as he lays into his victim.
For me the Variant is critical to have in play (allowing Batman to skip his turn if he starts it with no Combat Cards in hand in order to draw 3 cards) and I would always use the Hotline to Oracle Promo card as well.
So I really can't recommend this game. I love the source material, the gadgets 'in game effects' are cool and the whole Utility Belt implementation is clever. I also loved how Batman can move around using the Gargoyles but these too are subject to luck in relation to their placement. But all of these cool elements are not enough to ignore the core failings of the game as an experience.
So it is that I sigh and await a Batman game that is really cool. Turn off the light Gordon...this city isn't worth saving after all.
Till next we meet...look to the skies and smile at the shadows.
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