Batman is easily one of the most recognisable media figures next to Superman and nodding Churchill dog. After gaining critical success in the virtual world in Batman: Arkham Asylum and Arkham City, Cryptozoic Entertainment have attempted to translate that experience into a boardgame with Batman: Arkham City Escape. With only room for two players, does it capture the feeling of being the caped crusader or is it best left in the asylum? Components
126 Game Cards
40 Villain Cards
40 Batman Combat Cards
8 Utility Belt Cards
10 Ally Cards
10 Gargoyle Cards
18 Setup Cards
1 Batman Character Pawn
8 Combat/Action Dice
1 Batman Experience Die
1 18″ x 33″ Double-Sided Game board
1 Utility Belt Game board
If Only It Came With A Real Batman Utility Belt
Out of the box Batman: Arkham City Escape has a fairly large amount of components for only two players. With a modest 126 cards split into six differing types it can seem a little staggering the first play-through, especially to players who were enticed by the relation to the video game and aren’t board game fans. Taking on average of 15-20 mins to set up, it is a comparatively long time next to the 20-30 play through.
All of the parts are well constructed, although the lack of anything not made out of cardboard apart from the dice is disappointing. All the paper and card pieces are high quality though, which is needed given the quantity of these parts.
The board itself is fairly long and narrow, with one player at either end and is double-sided for a remixed version of the basic game. A small other board to simulate Batman’s utility belt sits on the Batman players side of the board. Although the inclusion of it as a secondary part is questionable as it is meant to sit at that side of the board anyway.
Taking artistic license with the video game premise, the aim of the game is for the Batman player to subdue ten points worth of criminals from escaping, while the criminals have to escape with 10 points worth of cards. It is simple enough, with players taking turns back and forth as they face off against the caped-crusader.
The game mechanics are heavily balanced in favour of the criminals. The player who controls the rogues gallery have the simple goal of reaching the other end of the board, crossing the magical line to the outside world. Multiple villains can and will be on the board, ranging from common thugs to Two-face or Bane. These can be augmented with other cards like Titan to augment their strength, or a henchman for some extra power. There is no limit to the number of villains that can be in play, with the board quickly being taken up by Batman’s hit-list.
Batman Needs All The Help He Can Get In This Game
The villain players pool of cards is randomly taken from their pile which lends to the chaotic nature of the line-up. This is further enforced by villain players not have regular turns. Every turn they must four die, and for each dice that rolls onto an Arkham City logo they get an action. This can lead to four turns, or none and can be augmented by other cards in effect possibly leading to more turns.
Batman on the other hand is just one man who has the job of stopping this advancing army, so he only gets one action. Thankfully he is much more manoeuvrable than the villains, able to latch onto gargoyle cards placed around the map, which allow him to cover the board in a single move. It can seem a little unbalanced at times though if the villain has a series of lucky roles.
He also gets the bonus of his utility belt, hidden cards that can be revealed to unleash a set of abilities. Chosen from a deck of eight, only four can come into the game. Each belt gives Batman the ability to change things in their favour, from bringing a villain closer or making it so they cannot move next turn. These have a set number of uses that can be replaced in certain circumstances. It is a nice way to balance out the villains numbers that fitting to the character.
The board is littered with 10 Riddler trophy cards, which when turned over come into effect. These cards are selected pre-game from a larger pool. The pool is split in half and each player selects five from their pool secretly. That pile of 10 cards is then shuffled and placed on the board. Each card uncovered is just a likely to help either player. Some house allies that benefit Batman with a bonus, but can be taken hostage by a villain for extra escape points at the cost of movement. It may hold a villain bonus which Batman will have to deal with. They add a little variety game to the otherwise simple premise.
When Batman encounters a villain combat will ensue, which is a simple task. Each villain has a combat score which can be increased with bonus effects and cards. Batman has the task of beating this score with a set of combo cards. These act as the Batman players hand and he uses them up to unleash a combo akin to the video game. A savvy player will be able to use the least number of cards for the most damage. An issue arises here though as the Batman player only picks up one card per turn, which quickly leads to them losing combat as they have no way to defeat opponents. These can be remedied by instituting the house rule for the player to get two cards at the end of a turn instead of one, but it can still lead to the Batman player hurting and being overwhelmed easily. It seems the creators were aware of this issue, with designer Matt Hyra suggesting this extra rule.
The game has two main issues. Firstly that although the game itself is not that complicated, it is bogged down by a long list of actions that are free or not and when they can be performed. This isn’t helped by a manual that is written rather confusingly and doesn’t contain any information in case of a rules clash. At this point it is up to the two players to reach a gentleman’s agreement, but it stops the game dead.
The second issue is the difficulty it is to win as Batman. While arguably it does capture the feeling that Batman is only one man holding back an army of insane murders, games can boil down to a conga-line of pain for the player who woefully gets cast as him. This once again can be remedied by house rules, but the games that lead up to learning this hard lesson can be a drag.
Retaliation Abilities Impose Further Punishments On Batman For Losing Combat
Batman Arkham City Escape can at times be an overly convoluted, difficult mess. What saves it is how it captures the charm of being the Batman versus a horde of criminals. Taking just enough inspiration from the video game and incorporating other aspects to make a solid basis for a board game to make it enjoyable, it isn’t without it’s share of issues.
There is a fun game hidden under the balancing issues, and while these can be fixed with home rules and small tweaks, it is a large hindrance to something otherwise interesting and fun. The dark knight may rise, but he falls just a quickly in the face of unprecedented force.