Batman Gotham City Chronicles – Review

I recently got a chance to play BATMAN GOTHAM CITY CHRONICLES and had a blast with it.

The game was released via a very successful Kickstarter, which ended with over $4.4million pledged. As part of the Kickstarter there were no less than 4 additional expansions available (Wayne Manor, Arkham Asylum, Batmobile and a Versus mode), but I only played with the base game. That said, the base game is still huge, with 150+ high quality miniatures, four large maps and more.

There’s a huge variety to the miniatures, from well known characters such as Batman, Robin, The Joker, Penguin etc, to some much more obscure characters gleaned from the depths of the comics (there’s even a Batcow). See all of the miniatures on the Kickstarter page.

Just some of the heroes and villains included in the base game

There can be no doubt that this is an excellent presentation. Very high quality miniatures: dynamic and well sculpted with lots of personality. The boards themselves are extremely high quality with great artwork, featuring varied locations from the inside of a chemical plant to a rainy Gotham street. Even though each board is flat, there are a number of different elevations within the level, so on your turn you might climb on to a car, then up on to a building, before jumping across an alley to another building, etc.

One thing that became quickly apparent is that there is a huge amount of content included in the game. There is a mission book which contains 21 or so scenarios, each of which can be tackled by a number of different heroes. As the rules are written you can’t use every character in every mission (but it’s your game, after all, so there’s no reason why you couldn’t bend this rule), but they still give a great variety. In the first mission that I played, I got to choose between one of the four variants of Batman included in the game (which all differ slightly), and a couple of the variants of Robin. Later, in a different mission where I controlled two heroes, I used a different Batman along with Nightwing, but I could have chosen Batgirl and Robin, say. Leafing through the missions booklet, it was great to see that there’s also some missions where you use some of the more mundane characters, like Commissioner Gordon.

Once you’ve picked which heroes you want to use, you’re given a card which shows their abilities and strengths (some characters are better at fighting than others as you’d expect, some are more agile and able to parkour around the map, etc). Then comes one of the toughest, and coolest parts of the game: choosing which gadgets you take with you.

Of course, Batman is renowned for his gadgets, and that is well represented here. Each character has an allowance of points from which to choose a number of gadgets to take with them on the mission, each gadget costing a different number of points. It’s a compelling choice because it makes you predict how you’re going to approach the mission. Do you take the grappling hook and move through the level more quickly, or do you take the explosive gel which lets you blast a hole through a wall?

In my first game, where I had no real idea what I was doing, I decided to be as Batman as possible, picking a Batarang (which lets Batman attack from a distance), a grappling hook (which allows him to quickly scale obstacles and walls) and his Batcape (which gives some added protection against ranged attacks).

The villainous Two-Face and his goons had taken over a chemical plant and were threatening to poison Gotham City’s water supply. My mission was to go in and stop them before the time ran out and they released the chemicals. I had to hack three computer terminals (there were 4 in the level) to deactivate the release valves and save Gotham City.

Starting on one of the gantries above a vat of chemicals, I was attacked by one of the goons, which I quickly subdued. I then dashed along the gantry, knocking out another goon and positioning myself ready to hack the first terminal. The henchmen moved to take up positions below me as Two-Face moved to shoot, but his bullets were deflected by my cape. In the next turn I jumped down to cover, out of sight of Two-Face where I was attacked by two goons. The Batman that I was playing was a bit more combat focused than the others (being based on the hulking Batman as portrayed by Frank Miller in his Dark Knight comics), and so was able to take out both goons in one combo attack.

From there I fired my grappling hook into the roof of the plant, swinging to an elevated position atop a pile of barrels, before using my Batarang to take out a guard. I jumped down to where the second terminal was, took out another goon at close quarters and hacked the terminal, all the time trying to avoid shots from Two-Face’s gun.

Time was running out, so I grappled up to the gantry where the final terminal was, pushing my way through the last few guards. I reached the terminal… but it was too late. I was unable to stop the valves being released and the chemicals poured into the river. I had failed.

If it wasn’t obvious from the above, this all felt incredibly evocative. Deflecting bullets, beating up goons, throwing Batarangs, swinging from grappling hooks: it all came together to create a real sense of feeling like Batman.

The game mechanics are very reminiscent of publisher Monolith’s previous game, Conan. You are given a number of cubes which represent your available actions, but also your health. You activate various actions by moving those cubes to various parts on your player board. Want to move? Put a cube in your movement section. Want to attack? Put one in your attack section. Want to make REALLY sure that the attack hits? put more cubes in for that same attack, allowing you to roll more dice, increasing the chance of success. It’s a really fun system that works very well. You only recover a small amount of cubes per turn, so there is a real balance between going all out and doing something amazing in a big flourish of action, or being more conservative and saving your actions for when you might need them most. It is a system that gives each turn a great sense of momentum, with lots of interesting decisions to make, and it works very well. (Shut Up & Sit Down did an excellent video review of Conan, which you can watch by clicking here.)

After my failure in my first mission, I decided to have another go, this time taking different equipment and going for different terminals. I lost the Batcape and the Batarang, this time taking explosive gel. I managed to blast my way through one of the walls into a room with one of the terminals, but again I failed by running out of time. This was due to me dithering about and not being entirely sure how to approach the level. It was clear that efficient use of actions and proper planning is key to success.

In the third mission that I played, Batman teamed up with Nightwing to take on Scarecrow and a horde of crazed followers who had spread a fear-inducing toxin throughout Gotham. I had to get in, get the recipe to create an antidote and get out. Nightwing proved to be an absolute beast in combat, his electrified batons doing great work at taking out a large number of goons. His parkour skills also meant that he was able to move through the level quickly. Batman made use of his grappling hook, getting to Scarecrow quickly and managing to beat the combination of the safe which contained the recipe for the antidote out of him (I could alternatively have hacked a computer terminal to get the safe’s combination), before knocking him out with a punch from his Electrified Batgloves.

The two heroes then managed to fight their way through more guards (not before being shot a fair few times), get to the safe and then get out, saving Gotham in the process.

Though the game was a lot of fun with one hero, it felt much more fun with two. The heroes were able to work well together; one pushing forward while the other recovers, and the whole game just felt like it flowed better with two heroes.

There are a few drawbacks, however. Beyond the obvious one of price and availability, there is the rulebook. Though I didn’t read it myself, from what I saw it did seem to be quite dense and difficult to navigate.

There is also the point of symbology in the game. There are a large number of skills in the game (perhaps 30+), each represented by a symbol. The problem that we had was that it was quite difficult to remember what each of these symbols meant, so we had to keep pausing to look them up. The symbols are listed alphabetically on the player aid that we were using (which was a print out, and not included with the game), but because the symbols aren’t named on the character sheet, we ended up playing a game of symbol-Where’s Wally every time we needed to look something up, which was quite often.

It would have been useful for their names to be listed on the character sheet, so that looking them up alphabetically was quicker. If not, grouping the skills on the player aid into categories (skills pertaining to movement, movement skills, etc). Also, the fact that the player aid wasn’t included in a game that costs $140 is slightly annoying.

This did break the flow of the game slightly, as we had to keep pausing to look up a particular skill, but this is a fairly minor gripe in the grand scheme of things, and it doesn’t spoil the overall experience. As you get more experienced and familiar with the skills, it is a problem that would quickly fade into the background.

Overall, I had a fantastic time with this game, and I would highly recommend it. It feels quick paced, exciting and evocative, and the sheer amount of missions / hero combos / equipment combos mean there is a massive amount of replayability. I am very much looking forward to playing it again.

+ Fast-paced gameplay with a great sense of momentum
+ Lots of interesting decisions
+ A strong theme which comes out well
+ Massive amounts of content and replayability
+ Excellent presentation
+ Makes you feel like Batman

– Some fiddly symbology issues

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