While the talk of the comic book world right now is the Man of Steel, the Caped Crusader has had a pretty good run lately. The recent trilogy of movies directed by Christopher Nolan were critically acclaimed films that brought a realistic approach to Batman. Both Arkham Asylum and Arkham City video games were not only great comic book games, they were great games period. Cryptozoic is bringing Batman and all his villains to you in a two-player board game with Batman: Arkham City Escape.
The first thing you notice about the box is how big it is to accommodate the board that you’ll be playing on. Measuring in at a foot and a half wide and a couple inches short of three feet long, it requires a longer table space than most other board games. Two different board configurations are included, with one side used for the introductory games and the other used for more experienced players. Each side is made up of hexes that show different locations throughout Gotham. The artwork on the board is serviceable, and you won’t have any issues determining how each location is marked.
In Escape, one player plays as Batman and the other plays as the villains. The goal of the game is to reach 10 victory points. While both players have the same goal, they accomplish it differently. Batman gains victory points by capturing villains, while the villain player tries to get 10 victory point worth of bad guys and hostages across the other side of the board.
Setup is relatively easy. Each player has nine setup cards. They shuffle their setup cards and randomly chooses five. The ten cards are then shuffled together and then randomly placed on the board where a green question mark is. These cards can be helpful to Batman, but they can also be villains that will start a fight with Batman, or Allies of Batman that can be taken hostage. While it would be nice to have more setup cards, there is enough variety with the ones included that you won’t be sure which ones will be uncovered during the game. There is also a certain amount of risk and reward to consider when encountering them. They might be helpful to Batman, but they could be useful for the villains too. It can help turn the tide for either side, but it also means that a face down villain must reveal himself. If you need to gain the upper hand, revealing a setup card can make you or break you.
While Bruce Wayne can do a lot with his physical strength, this toys in the Utility Belt make him much more effective against the evil-doers. A side board of the Utility Belt is provided, and it does match the gear aesthetically. Toys he is able to carry include the Batarang, Batclaw, Line Launcher, Glide Kick, Explosive Gel, and Cryptographic Sequencer. However, the Utility Belt can’t hold everything. It only has four slots for holding these items, so tough choices have to be made. Each one has a specific number of charges, so it’s not like you can use these as many times as you want. Flipping these over during the game gives you the feeling that you are revealing the item to your opponent so they have an idea of what you are coming at them with, so you need to judge when to use it and when to keep it hidden for the right villain.
The Ally Deck and Gargoyle cards are set to the side. The Batman figure is placed on the Bat signal space. Finally each player shuffles their respective 40-card deck and draws five cards. The villain player starts his turn.
The villain rolls four dice, and for each success rolled gains one action. This can make the game difficult for the villain player with a bad string of dice rolls. Rolling a single success can be frustrating and hamper your progress, while rolling three or four successes multiple times in a row can make movement across the opposite side of the board much easier. The odds should balance out the number of successes, but actual results may vary.
The following actions can be performed by the villain player:
- Placing up to five villains from your hand to the back row face down.
- Moving all face down villains one space.
- Moving a single face up villain up to two spaces.
- Moving a single face up villain that has a hostage one space.
- Drawing a card.
The villain player can also flip villain cards face up and play any free action cards without using an action. When he ends his turn, he draws one villain card.
The Batman player has specific moves he can make as well, but he doesn’t have to roll dice to find out how many actions he can take. Here are his options:
- Moving Batman.
- Flipping any Utility Belt gadgets face up.
- Using any Utility Belt gadgets.
- Fighting villains that are in the same space as Batman.
Movement is handled three different ways. He can move one space in any direction, grapple from Gargoyle to Gargoyle as long as none of them are more than two spaces away, or move from one Sewer space to the other Sewer space if he is currently standing on either.
Whenever a villain card is moved into the Batman space voluntarily or through some kind of gadget, combat occurs. Batman plays a number of cards with combo point value on them. The combo point value on cards indicates how many dice Batman can roll for the combat. Text on the card can add to the number of dice rolled as well, but Batman can’t roll more than eight dice. Each villain has a number representing how many successes Batman will need to roll to capture that villain card.
If Batman rolls enough successes for the combat, he rolls the XP die. On three sides, it allows Batman to recharge one of his utility belt cards back to the maximum number of charges. If Ally is rolled, an Ally card is drawn and put in the same space as Batman. The Ally gives Batman extra abilities, but they can also be captured by villains. Rolling Draw 2 lets Batman draw two more combat cards into his hand. Rolling Gargoyle lets him put a Gargoyle card onto one of the 10 setup spaces. These are a nice reward for being successful in combat, and it is an extra incentive for Batman to initiate combat.
If Batman doesn’t roll that number of successes, the villain can retaliate. The retaliation for each villain is listed on their card, and can be as minor as moving Batman to another space, or as major as allowing each villain card holding a hostage to move two spaces.
When Batman ends his turn, he draws a card from his combat deck.
The Batman player has to rely on covering long distances, using his gadgets, and balancing the number of cards in his hands when going through combat. Do you go for the villain who is worth more points but will force you to use several combat cards, or do you go for the easy prey who is closer and worth less points? Do you take a chance on that villain who is sneaking away, but you don’t know who he is because he hasn’t revealed himself? It is more difficult to play as Batman because he can do so much on his own, but you really need to manage his resources as well.
The villain player has an advantage in numbers, overwhelming Batman. However, moving from one end of the board to the other takes a while, especially if you are trying to sneak past Batman or get extra points from an ally. Knowing which villains to lay down and how to move them makes a lot of difference.
Since the game is mostly card driven, the cards are the most important component of the game. They feel like they are made of solid cardstock, but they are so thin that I always was afraid of accidentally bending them while holding them. The back shows exactly what type of card it is not only from the text but also by the color. The color scheme of front of the card matches the back as well. The name of each card is prominently displayed, and the graphics on each card are taken from video game, tying both games together well.
The token representing Batman is just a cardboard cutout with a plastic stand to hold it up. While I understand that it is a cost-cutting move, having some kind of figure for Batman would have been a nice touch.
The dice are custom, with three sides having a Bat symbol, and the other having the Arkham City symbol. Using these symbols makes successes easy to see for both sides. They also keep the atmosphere of the game more instead of just trying to roll a 4, 5, or 6.
Escape can be played in less than a half hour once each player gets accustomed to the way each side plays. The rules are simple enough to make it accessible to non-gamers, but still has enough strategic choices that gives it enough depth for gamers to play. The game recommends ages 15 and up, but I can see younger teens playing this without issue. The graphics aren’t too disturbing, but some could be scary for younger kids.
While it won’t give you the same adrenaline rush as the video game, Batman: Gotham City Escape is a fine game in its own right. It isn’t going to simulate Batman going through all of Gotham and completing missions, but you get a taste of combat of strategy. Enough variety is available that Batman and the villain can try different strategies. While the components could be a little better, they are serviceable. As long as you know what you are expecting with Escape, this is a solid game to add to your collection.