Batman: The Animated Series Almost Got ‘Im card game review

Ask anyone their favorite episodes of Batman: The Animated Series.  Let’s say top five.  I’m willing to bet that more often than not, “Almost Got ‘Im” will at least be somewhere on most of those lists.  If you’re not familiar with it, the episode’s premise was simple: a group of Batman’s rogues are playing poker, each one taking turns telling their story about how they almost got Batman.  There’s Two-Face trying to steal $2,000,000 (with a twist on the Penny Plunderer story), Penguin’s delightful “aviary of doom,” and the pure poetic simplicity of Killer Croc’s tale.

It’s a highly acclaimed episode, and it’s not difficult to see why: the poker game provides a nice framing device where we can see these villains interact with each other, all while telling individual stories that showcase their own personalities.  There’s nary a misstep in the entire episode, and the final twist at the end is pure genius.

Now, nearly twenty-five years after its original air date, Cryptozoic Entertainment have come along with a genius idea: turn the concept of the episode into a card game.  The game was released on January 25, and the kind folks at Cryptozoic were gracious enough to send us a copy for review.

If you’ve ever played social deduction games like Werewolf or Mafia, the basic game play mechanics of Almost Got ‘Im will be familiar.  Everybody has a designated role, with one person being the undercover spoiler of gameplay, and everybody has to use trickery and deduction to try and figure out who’s who.  One person plays a special role where they try to eliminate other players during end of round “blackout” periods, while the others try to determine who is working against them.  It’s a game that relies just as much on interaction and intuition as it does gameplay mechanics, so no two rounds will be exactly the same.

Since the plot of “Almost Got ‘Im” hinges on a reveal that (uhh, spoilers?) Batman was one of the disguised villains all along, merging it with the mechanics of Mafia seems like a no-brainer.  It’s a story that seems tailor made for an adaptation like this.  So, take some of the Dark Knight’s greatest villains, add in social deduction to suss out who is actually Batman, and what do you get?  A pretty great group game.

Just looking at the packaging alone, this is something that Batman fans will want to pick up and add to their collections.  The box (which is smaller than I was expecting) is adorned with high-quality, official images from Batman: The Animated Series.  The cover itself merges the classic black silhouette against a red moon with the title card from the episode, even replicating the individual fonts of the series and episode titles.  Simply put, this game just plain looks cool.

The box is nice and sturdy as well, with high-quality glossy paper stretched over sturdy cardboard.  Take care of this game and it will probably last years.

When I said this was pretty much Mafia with Batman characters, that was really only part of the equation.  There are also some elements of poker in the game, making it feel unique and not like a copy/paste rush job.  As such, the mechanics are also a lot more complex, so there are quite a few rules to get down before you can start a game.  The basic structure of the game goes like this: there can be five to eight players at a time, with one person serving as the Dealer, i.e. the game master.  That person controls the flow of the game and keeps track of rounds, not actively taking part in the gameplay itself.  Everybody else receives a character card with one of Batman’s rogues.  That’s who they “play” during the game, and each character has a special once-a-game ability they can use.  There are 13 character possibilities, including obvious choices like the five villains from the episode and others like Bane, Ra’s Al Ghul, and the Ventriloquist.  Ignore the fact that Ra’s probably wouldn’t gamble, let alone next to someone like the Riddler.  It’s a nice spread, is my point.

Once the character cards are selected, which is by a random blind draw, each player also gets a role card.  This indicates the type of character they’re playing as and what type of poker hands they’re trying to get.  The hands allow for characters to use their special abilities in the blackout periods at the end of each round.  For instance, there is obviously a “Batman in Disguise” role.  This person is… well, you know.  Batman’s goal is to “subdue” different players, and to do that he needs to get two pair.  Once Batman gets the needed hand, he can eliminate another player from the game (which really just means they can’t use special abilities anymore; they can do everything else).  The rogues are trying to figure out who Batman is to win the game, and Batman secretly tries to eliminate the necessary number of characters to be victorious.  So, there’s lots of secrecy and subversion to the game, and the rowdier the group the better.

I’m trying to pack a lot of information in here without just repeating the entire rule book, so if things get confusing, I apologize.  The addition of poker elements to the game was pretty genius, as you really start to feel like you’re reenacting the episode once everyone settles into a groove.  Like in poker, one character is the dealer (called “the Brains” since the game leader is the Dealer), and a round consists of each player drawing a card from either the deck or a discard pile and then discarding a card.  This goes around the table until each player has gone, and then at the end of the round (save for the first one), the Brains can make an accusation about who they think is Batman.  An accusation has to be seconded to go into effect, but if it is then the accused gives a defense as to why they aren’t Batman.  Then the other players vote: if that person is Batman, the villains win; if they aren’t, then Bats is one step closer to victory.

Whether there’s an accusation or not, each round ends in a blackout.  The players close their eyes, and the Dealer goes one by one around the table asking if they have the necessary hand to use their special ability.  If they do, they can use it, and then discard their existing hand for a fresh set of cards.  This is where Batman can subdue a character, but some characters also have abilities that can nullify the subduing.  The blackout ends with the Dealer announcing if anyone was subdued or not, the Brains token is passed one player clockwise, and the next round begins.

The design values of the game are great too.  Each card, be it poker, character, or gameplay rules, is nice and sturdy with clear, colorful graphics.  The only complaint I really have is that some of the character cards have some weird screencaps on them, and the character card for the Scarecrow doesn’t match the design of the deck card that he’s on.  Besides that, though, the game pieces are truly high quality.  Bonus: it comes with a full deck of cards with two Jokers, 54 cards total, so they can be used to play other card games as well.  Like, you know, Go Fish or whatever.

Once the mechanics are understood, it’s a fun game to play.  I played as the Dealer while my wife, her niece and one of her nephews, and her dad were the players, and everyone had a great time.  We had the minimum number of players needed for a game, and with the promise of a longer game with additional character mechanics, I’d love to try with a larger group.

Indeed, a good time was had by all.  I think the best endorsement I can give is that everybody wanted to play again immediately after the first round.  In that regard, Almost Got ‘Im is a winner.

Overall: Whether you’re a gamer or not, Almost Got ‘Im is a must-have for any fan of Batman: The Animated Series.  The price has been fluctuating pretty wildly for a few weeks on Amazon, but it averages around the $18-20 range which is pretty fair.  With great design, fun gameplay, and an ingenious use of the Batman property, this is one of the best gaming experiences I’ve had in a long time.  Really, everyone wanted to keep playing even after multiple rounds, and I don’t know what speaks to a game’s success more than that.

Special thanks to Cryptozoic Entertainment for providing Batman News with a review copy.