ADVANCE REVIEW: WizKids Games Batman Gotham City Strategy Game
Choose Your Villain And Carve Up Gotham...
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While WizKids is best known for HeroClix, over the last couple years they’ve branched out into the board game arena with some incredible offerings and partnerships with big names in that world. Everything from the hit Quarriors in the new “dice building” game category to Star Trek games featuring ships and figures, Lord of the Rings, and more have delighted fans and players alike. The latest project returns to a familiar locale with a new twist in the Batman Gotham City Strategy Game. Usually games revolving around the Dark Knight and his city see you playing on the side of the heroes, battling against the various would-be rulers of Gotham. However, in the Strategy Game that’s flipped; players take the role of one of four iconic villains and seize Gotham territory through money, information, intimidation, and brute force. And while you contend directly with the other villains (players), Batman himself is always waiting in the wings to foil your dastardly scheme!
If you think of Life, Monopoly, and the like when you hear the term “board game,” you need to get out more. As everyone at your local game store can tell you, board games run the gamut with every genre from horror to sci-fi, colonization, art, anime, exploration, etc. There are games that take mere moments to play, and others that require a massive investment of hours or even days. Licensed games bring movies, TV shows, video games, novels, and more to the table, letting you play with familiar settings and characters. The Gotham City Strategy Game offers a European-style “zone control” experience while adding in lots of cool tokens and figures for those who enjoy more tactile and colorful elements. It’s all packaged in a very sleek box that’s sure to catch your eye with its fantastic cover image of Batman fending off a coordinated attack by Gotham’s criminal elite! Meanwhile, the back panel describes the game and shows off the contents.
Inside the box you’ll find lots of cool components. A fold out heavy-duty cardboard game board captures the city of Gotham, divided up into twelve blocks (each named for a real location from the comics - see how many you recognize!). A packet of paper and cardboard supplies you with a very manageable rulebook, several sheets of punch out cardboard tokens, and four really cool player screens that are decorated with fun character art of the villains while also providing key game mechanics and definitions on the reverse. There are three sets of cards for the Strategy Game, 84 Criminal Plot cards, 10 Batman cards, and 20 Villain Ability cards, as well as two dice specific to this game. Even the little Henchmen figures are color-coded to their bosses, with five for each villain. Then of course there are the five figures themselves: Killer Croc, Joker, Penguin, Two-Face, and Batman. Each one is expertly sculpted and painted with classic comic book appearances, and they all look fantastic. Finally, the game includes alternate HeroClix dials and cards for the figures (more on that later).
Starting up a Gotham City game is quick and straightforward, and though the game definitely takes time to master it’s easy to learn. You’ll need 2-4 players, each of whom choose a Villain to play; once those are chosen players get their character-appropriate figure, screen/hideout enclosure, Ability cards, and starting resources (Money, Information, and Threat tokens). In line with the trend of fun ways to choose the first player, Gotham selects the one with the most parking/speeding tickets, with ties going to the one who got the most recent! Starting Threats are placed on the map, Plot cards are dealt, Batman hides out in the Batcave, and you’re ready to begin!
The goal of the Gotham City Strategy Game is to level up your Villain, with the title of winner going to the first one to get to Level 10 (or the player at the highest level when you run out of Plot cards). Levels are achieved by accomplishing specific goals including how many blocks you control or how much Money, Information, or Henchmen you have accumulated. Rounds follow a specific structure, starting with you checking to see if you can level up. If you can, click your Villain’s base once (or more if you qualify for the next level as well, etc.) and if a certain symbol appears you can add a new power to your character from his Ability cards! Next you play a Plot card, which has two different components. At the top will either be an income amount for the player controlling a specific block or the Bat symbol; in case of the latter draw a Batman card and see what fun the Dark Knight brings. The bottom of the Plot card has an additional effect which you can choose to activate or trade in for two Monies, Information, Threats, or any combination thereof. Next up you can purchase Henchmen ($5 apiece), and then move your Villain figure and/or Henchmen on the map for the price of one Information. Lastly, draw another Plot card to get back to five and your turn is done.
Of course, that’s really just the tip of the iceberg. Actual game play is fast and furious, with calculated Threats, Henchmen, and Villains sent to strategic locations in order to rule blocks, collect income, and fulfill requirements for leveling up and Plot cards. The game offers a ton of variety and different game play experiences through truly unique Villains and their Abilities, and the sheer randomness of the Plot and Batman cards. For instance, Killer Croc excels at fighting, gaining bonuses to his fight roll and a very cool power that lets him travel through the sewer and pop right back up after being beaten. Meanwhile Penguin excels at collecting resources and actually gets a power that lets him run away from fights, totally in line with the character! Two-Face is appropriately middle of the road and good at a lot of things without being great, while Joker is, typically, nuts with wacky powers.
Plot cards too really make the game fun with everything from strategic income gathering to temporary partnerships with other Villains, gambling, trades, the chance to gain additional powers, and much more. Each one has its own specific flavor name as well, adding to the fun. And what about Batman? Well, play a Bat symbol Plot card and draw from the Dark Knight’s deck. These cards have the Caped Crusader working against the Villains, with all sorts of random effects like taking away resources or showing up to eliminate crime from a Gotham City block. As the game goes on Batman gets more powerful as well, so when he shows up on the board it can be lights out for your dastardly character. Whether it’s Batman and a Villain or just two bad guys, any time two figures end up in the same block a fight ensues. Each side (Batman is temporarily controlled by the player who triggered his appearance) rolls a die and adds any applicable modifiers; the winner retains control of the block and can add more Threat (or in the case of Batman remove other Threats) while the loser goes back to his hideout (or Batcave).
WizKids has been making great comic book miniature figures for years, so it’s no surprise that the five included here are very well done. Each one captures the essence of the character with a classically-inspired look and appropriate details. Joker wears his gaudy purple and orange suit while leaning on his cane, Penguin looks dapper with his monocle, double-breasted vest, and umbrella, while Two-Face matches order and chaos with two different looks, a gruesome half face, pistol, and coin in hand. My favorites are probably Killer Croc with great reptilian texture and a highly aggressive pose and of course Batman with his dynamic stance and swirling cape. All of the figures are intricately painted with lots of fine detail from Batman’s black and yellow Bat symbol to Joker’s squirting flower, the tiny yellow buttons on Penguin’s vest, and more. Each figure is mounted on a “clix” base that you turn each time you gain a level; the dial window shows you whether or not you gain an ability and what you need for the next level (Batman’s dial just displays his fighting and Threat-removing power). Whether you put them back in the box between games or display them on your shelf or desk, these are great looking figures that you’ll enjoy even when you’re not playing...
And that goes double for HeroClix players! The Gotham City Strategy Game debuts WizKids’ new “SwitchClix” mechanic that lets you use figures in different ways, often in completely different games! The four villains and Batman can thus transition from this board game into a regular HeroClix match; simply pop the figure off of its Strategy Game base and onto the included HeroClix dial and you’re ready to go. Each figure comes with both bases as well as a standard HeroClix card. Best of all, all five characters are extremely playable in HeroClix from the inexpensive 49 point Two-Face to the 115 point Batman. Each Villain has the Batman Enemy Team Ability, Arkham Asylum keyword and at least one other, and a power-cancelling Trait and Special Power (or two Traits in the case of Penguin) ranging from Croc’s Willpower denial and D&D-sounding “Claw, Claw, Bite” to Joker’s Perplex shut off and gas attack. Cobblepot can even spawn Penguin Automa-Bombs proving that while the birds may not be able to fly, they can go “BOOM!!!” Finally, this Batman shows up with a highly effective dial, Improved Movement ignoring hindering terrain, a great super Incapacitate Special Power, and one of the coolest Traits in the game; “Utility Belt” lets you give Batman permanent access to a standard attack or damage power that he didn’t already have at the beginning of the game, letting you tailor your abilities and strategy to whatever you’re facing across the field of battle!
Batman: Gotham City Strategy Game will hit stores on March 20th for around $50-$60. After playing it with a group of friends I can say that it’s a lot of fun and offers significant replayability with the combination of trying out other Villains, playing with different numbers of opponents, and getting totally different Plot cards as you go. If you’re interested in adding a fun board game to your collection you should check this out, if you’re a Batman fan you’re definitely going to like it, and of course it’s a total no brainer if you’re also a HeroClix player. Get yours on March 20th wherever HeroClix and board games are sold.
Review and Photos by Scott Rubin
Review Sample Courtesy of WizKids Games