Batman: Gotham City Chronicles is a Kickstarter exclusive board game that raised 4.4 million by making big promises. It’s out now, and it looks like its creator, Monolith Board Games, kept those big promises, which means that the expensive dungeon crawler is absolutely MASSIVE. So large, in fact, that I believe there’s no way for me to give you a well-informed opinion on the experience Gotham City Chronicles offers when I’ve only owned it for a few short weeks. If I had to sum up the game’s quality now, I’d be grading it for its potential alone, and you deserve more than that. Monolith Board Games sent Batman News a copy of Gotham City Chronicles on June 6th, and this article right here is going to break down exactly how well this new tabletop game “sparked joy” over the past five weeks. And in another month or so, I’ll come back again with an updated review, and then again a couple months after that! You’ll see just how well my friends and I are enjoying the game as its novelty wears off. And if it’s collecting dust in a closet somewhere by review #2 or #3, you’ll know it’s probably not worth the hefty price tag.
What is it like playing as the villain? What’s it like playing as the heroes? How is gameplay with two players compared to four players? Will the base game’s 21 scenarios essentially make this 21-games-in-one? The fact is, I don’t know… yet. As of this very moment, my opinion of Season 1 of Batman: Gotham City Chronicles is that it’s fun (once you figure it out) and it features extraordinary detail that will delight die-hard fans of The Dark Knight. But it’s also a struggle to learn, a pain in the ass to teach to your friends (when their schedules align with your own and you can actually gather everyone around the table), and its setup is tedious and time consuming.
But let’s wind the clocks back to the day it arrived…
Day 1 – What’s in the box?
I was totally overwhelmed. The biggest games I owned up until his point were things like Mansions of Madness, Infection at Outpost 31, Lords of Waterdeep, and a vastly expanded Settlers of Catan. But this? The $140 base game includes:
- 162 plastic miniatures
- A villain command board
- 56 tiles
- 49 energy cubes
- 3 hero Bat-tablets
- 21 hero screens
- 2 double-sided game boards measuring 31.5 x 23.62 inches each
- 39 equipment cards
- 20 Bat-gadget cards
- 20 dice
- Dozens of tokens, a hefty rule book, and a book of 21 unique gameplay scenarios.
That’s a lot for the base game. Oh, and what you see in the photo above is not the base game. What you see in the photo is the $320 All-in Pledge package, and that adds all of this:
On day one I opened boxes and examined all of the really cool plastic miniatures, sending countless photos to fellow bat-fans in the process and feeding off their envy. I mean, holy crap! Monolith didn’t just craft figures for the A-listers that everyone knows. This game’s roster of playable characters was made with serious comic book readers in mind. Bat-Cow? Check. Azrael (complete with flaming sword)? Check. Harvey Bullock? Check. Doctor Death? Check. Mister Bloom? Check. The Signal? Yup. Blue Bird? Sure. Court of Owls? All varieties. And the double-sided game boards offered some really stunning locals for all the action to take place! It was exciting times. Exciting times cut short by the fact that I had to visit my girlfriend’s family that evening rather than stay home and play the biggest Batman board game ever. Scheduling time to play such a sprawling game is always going to be a hurdle, that was clear right away. And it’s so heavy and comes in so many boxes that there’s no way I’d ever lug it to a secondary location where miniatures and tokens could go missing. No, when people want to play this, they’ll have to come to you. That said, setting aside playtime and transporting/storing the game are not Gotham City Chronicles’ greatest and only flaw, unfortunately. I would soon discover hat the terrible downside to this unarguably beautiful, interactive celebration of the Batman mythology is its rule book.
Day 2 – These Instructions are Garbage
Gotham City Chronicles is a reskin of Monolith’s popular Conan game, which is a streamlined dungeon crawl. You’re supposed to flip through the scenario book to find a setup with characters and objectives that sound fun, and then organize your board and pieces accordingly. There are essentially four actions in the game and each one seems to require you to spend your limited supply of red energy cubes in order to roll a corresponding number of dice to see how many successes you get. It doesn’t sound terribly difficult when it’s laid out in those terms, does it? You check to see how far your character can move to a scenario’s objective and if they can’t make it, spend cubes to travel farther. If there’s a challenge like combat or disarming a bomb, check to see how high the dice tally needs to be in order to overcome that challenge, then spend X number of cubes to roll X number of dice. Not bad, right? You and your crew are smart enough, experienced enough in the ways of tabletop gaming to handle this, correct? Wrong. If you try to learn-it-as-you-go, you’re going to ruin your Saturday spending hours sifting through the obscurity that is the rule book.
I am so very, very glad that I did not invite friends over to play on Day #2. Instead, my girlfriend and I spent the entire night studying the rules so that we’d be prepared to play… eventually. Seriously, the rule book is difficult to navigate and it’s such a mess that it wears away at your psyche, bludgeoning you with its endless tables and charts. The only positive comment I have is for the excellent artwork breaking up all the monotony. For the manuals and packaging, Monolith utilized official DC artwork from the likes of Alex Ross, David Finch, and other high profile artists who have contributed to the comics, which makes it baffling that the company chose their own original artwork for character profiles. You can see what Riddler and Ra’s look like below, but I’m getting distracted from what I was whinging about in the first place. See, even talking about how awful and boring the rule book is bores me!
There are two separate books, and game setup is found in the front of the scenario book, but then you’ll have to go back to the regular rule book to see the stuff that the scenario didn’t explain, like the icons. So many many icons! Icons on character tiles, cards, and hero boards should be obvious to understand. Icons should function as an abbreviated language preserving precious real estate on cards and hero boards, but these have no evident meaning. And it’s not like there are just a dozen or so to memorize– there are 51! Even the map requires you to know the various elevation levels of specific spaces on the board, but the only way to know their value is to reference the back of the scenario book or have Monolith Games’ line of sight tool up on your phone or tablet.
It’s just a fact that you’re going to find yourself printing out official player aids from the Kickstarter page or fan made ones on sites like Board Game Geek. There is no way you and your friends are going to learn how to play without them. Not unless you want to spend 9 hours passing the rule book back and forth. And after spending $140-320 dollars, that’s unacceptable. But here’s the real kicker, even the rule book itself acknowledges how bad it is as a how-to guide and directs you to Youtube:
But Monolith’s Youtube video is so dry that it fails to educate. It is one of the most lifeless instructional videos about one of the coolest subjects (Batman) you will see, and I found myself rewinding to the beginning over and over again, it was awful. And it was at this time that my girlfriend started sneaking glances at reddit and facebook rather than learning how to play, so now I was in this alone. I searched Youtube for more entertaining channels that attempted to explain the game, but after 3 hours of studying I could spot when Youtubers were getting basic instructions totally wrong. The pursuit for a reliable source took some time, but finally I discovered the channel Board Game Coffee. Board Game Coffee, far and away, did the best job of explaining how to play and I’ve linked to their videos below.
And after a long night of absorbing all the intricacies of Gotham City Chronicles, my girlfriend and I set up Scenario #1 “To Sink a City” on the kitchen table and… we agreed, that after all of that, we were both too tired to play.
Day 3 – To Sink Half a City
Our over-confidence was our weakness. Despite reviewing all the ins and outs of the game’s extensive rule book, she and I still found ourselves retreating back to Youtube for guidance throughout the night, and ultimately only played three rounds of the seven round scenario “To Sink a City.”
We both liked the scenario, though. Flipping through the book, I found that there were many scenarios in which the villain is essentially just playing defense, but in this storyline, Bane and company had an objective of their own. I was Bane, my girlfriend was Renee Montoya, Catwoman, and Dick Grayson. She needed to eliminate bombs planted in the Gotham subway, and I needed to prime those bombs. Unfortunately for her, I’m controlling an entire army of henchmen and Bane himself, and most of the guys who can prime bombs are already standing next to the explosives scattered across the board. If more than one bomb is primed at the end, she loses.
After three rounds, I felt the kind of confidence only a super villain in the 2nd act can feel.
Day 4 – To Sink the Other Half of a City
At the start of a hero’s turn, they will recover energy that was spent in the previous turn. If you’re active, you’ll only recover 2 energy cubes and there’s not a lot you can do with that no matter how good you are at budgeting cubes from turn to turn. However, if you rest your character so you recover more energy, you’ll be doing nothing at all this turn except defending. Now, keep in mind that there are only around 7 turns for any given scenario. This means that basically you can do a lot of kick ass actions and feel like your heroes for about 4 turns and then rest for 3 turns each game. That… does not sound great. In that case, you’re not doing anything fun for over half of your turns, and that’s disheartening because at the end of the day a game HAS to be fun. Being cautious with your red energy cube budget is the smarter strategy, but it’s not very fun and it’s not even a guarantee that you’re going to win. And in this case, on night two of our first scenario, my girlfriend lost. A rematch was declare for the following night.
Day 6 – To Sink a City in One Night
She lost again, but we were playing faster. It took us two hours to finish a single game, which isn’t bad at all. Unfortunately, setup takes too long. From what I’ve gathered on the web, the average game should take about an hour and a half, and I’m a little conflicted about that. On one hand, it’s great that the game doesn’t hog up the entire evening and you and your friends can play different games, too. On the other hand, it takes so long to set the game up that I feel like it should give me more. Even if I want to play a new scenario (often times requiring a different board or at least different miniatures that need to be retrieved from the box) or the same scenario again, it’s going to take quite a while to organize everything. And if I want to move on to something else it’s going to take a lot of time to put all the accessories back in their respective boxes (if you just have the base game, you’ll still be dividing everything between two boxes). It feels like too much stuff at times. Too much of a good thing. And it’s so cumbersome and complicated that more than once I found myself thinking Gotham City Chronicles would work way better as a video game.
Day 8 – Bane Can’t be Beat
We got playtime down to an hour and a half on this night. Utilizing the unique abilities of the henchmen and coming up with new strategies for when to cash-in tiles on my villain board’s “river” is getting even more enjoyable, and I’m gaining confidence with Bane. My girlfriend stopped fighting my henchmen as much (even though she says it’s the most fun part) and started focusing on bombs exclusively. By staying focused on objectives and not the thrill of combat, she got closer to winning, but still ran out of time. We agreed that she needs an extra round or two, or she should have more energy cubes. And if you’re wondering if she tried swapping out Renee Montoya for Batman yet, she hasn’t.
She’s looked at his abilities and doesn’t have any interest in him. She’d rather have a gun than a batarang, and looking at the benefits, I can’t blame her. It’s not a good thing when someone isn’t excited to play as Batman in a Batman game, and in a Batman game guns shouldn’t look this attractive. Meanwhile, I had a great time being evil. While there’s no room for error for the heroes, I was able to employ a different style of play every game!
Day 13 – Miniature Painting is a Relaxing Hobby
You can only spend so many nights losing at the same board game before you need a break. My girlfriend wanted to do different activities together, and when I suggested a different scenario or taking a crack at being a villain in the same scenario she glared at me in such a way that I’m honestly not quite sure how I survived.
None of my friends were free to learn a board game, so when I had some time to myself I decided to try my hand at painting these meticulously sculpted miniatures of heroes, villains, henchmen, and citizens. The nearby board game store and my local comic shop both had supplies, but I wasn’t quite sure what I needed. I grabbed a few water-based acrylics, a spray-on primer, and some brushes all by a brand called Army Painter. It seemed a little pricey for how little I got, but you only live once, I guess.
Basil Karlo AKA Clayface essentially looks like a big ol’ poop monster, so it seemed almost impossible for me to screw up transforming his gray sculpture brown, so I tried painting him first. I wanted to make his hammer-fist look like it had a metallic texture to it, like something we saw many times in Batman: The Animated Series, so I wrapped the mud mallet in cellophane and sprayed the miniature down in leather brown primer. Afterward, I used a dark wash to fill in all the crevices, dotted his eyes yellow, and then brushed his weapon in a shade called Plate Mail Metal. I have to say, I liked the results and an hour absolutely flew by without me thinking once about my job or any of life’s stresses. It was wonderful.
Day 16 – Teaching Four People How to Play
I invited four friends over to play, which is too many people. So what happened was, my girlfriend and I remained on the sidelines and gave lessons to the quartet on how to play. I gave a speech on the basics and then we fielded questions as the game of “To Sink a City” went along, and it worked out surprisingly well. They weren’t able to finish in an hour and a half, but we got the campaign wrapped up in 2 hours and 15 minutes with Batman finally making an appearance as well. Not too shabby. Best of all, after the fourth round, we weren’t being asked any questions at all, the gang just got it. And they had fun, too. But did the good guys win? Hell no.
I believe now that even if you fully understand the rules, that’s not enough for the good guys to save the day. You must already be a seasoned hero in that specific scenario to stand a chance. If you are not well-versed in that scenario, the villain is guaranteed to win. In every game I saw, the heroes would either have to roll perfectly or they would have to formulate a brilliant plan of action with everyone executing it flawlessly from the get-go in order to be successful. That said, if they come up with an ingenious strategy, the villain is sitting at the same table! Your rival would hear the plan and react accordingly, which means that a two player (one person controls the villain, one person controls the heroes) game is probably the best. And, in a two-player game, you could rest one or two heroes and still have fun with whichever character still has energy to take action.
Otherwise, if you want to play with more than two players, fudging the rules here and there or flat-out creating your own set of house rules is encouraged, in my book. Right now, heroes simply don’t seem to have enough energy cubes or turns to stand a chance. If your group makes too many mistakes in just a single round, the whole game has probably been lost. There’s just no room for improvisation for The Bat Family, but the bad guy can approach the game totally relaxed and just wing it. It’s always fun to be the villain, but being a hero is going to be a grueling experience if you need a win to sleep at night.
Day 19 – Painting Miniatures > Playing the Game
Three days after teaching four friends how to play Gotham City Chronicles, I get a phone call. Obviously, someone had a good enough time that they want to try out another scenario with another nefarious villain from Batman’s iconic rogues gallery, I thought. But I was wrong. He wanted to paint!
So my buddy came over and we spent almost three hours just sitting at the table, painting. For the first thirty minutes or so we even talked about our relationships, our jobs, and then we started chatting a bit about the characters we were painting. Then, something magical happened. We just enjoyed the silence. It was oddly peaceful just painting quietly across from one another. Every once in a while we’d ask for an opinion on what color we should use for a henchman’s jacket or a villains eyes, but that was it. Sounds like we’re going to make this a weekly or bi-weekly activity. There’s certainly enough miniatures with this game to keep us busy for a long, long time.
Day 22 – Art Supply Budget
After dropping $50 on art supplies between the two of us (I wasn’t kidding when I said my friend wanted to make painting part of the weekly routine) we realized that the paints you find at a craft store are probably just as good. We went to a fabric and crafts shop called Jo-Ann’s, where comparable paints could be acquired for 60-cents each rather than the $2.60 we were spending at the shops geared toward nerds.
I should note that although my pal and I are loving the newfound hobby of miniature painting, I do not recommend buying the game specifically for the art of painting miniatures. That would be crazy. This is just an added perk of owning the game.
Day 28 – You’ve Gotta Write a Review Sometime…
I have not had the game long enough to say for certain but for now I’ll say the game is worth buying if you can answer “yes” to the following questions:
- Are you a hardcore fan of the COMICS, and not just the movies?
- Do you have the free time and space to host a game night?
- Do you have experience playing or a serious interest in playing dice-heavy board games?
- Does the idea of painting miniatures excite you?
- Do you have at least one other friend who loves Batman AND would want to play a dice-heavy board game?
- If no to the above, do you live near a board game store or comic shop that allows you to bring in your own board games and mingle? It’ll be hell to haul this to and from a secondary location, but I’m betting you’ll make friends for sure with something as big and eye-catching as Gotham City Chronicles.
Kickstarter is asking for a lot of cash for a board game, but when you think about it, the base game is not actually one single board game. No, every scenario is its own game and since hero gameplay is so distinctive from villain gameplay, each scenario is essentially two games! When you look at it that way, you’re dropping $140 for 42 Batman-themed games– more than that if Monolith would finally come out with the promised online scenario editor. The scenario editor was supposed to be released for free in mid-June, but July is here and Mission Maker isn’t.
Do I enjoy painting the miniatures more than setting up and playing the game right now? Yeah. But that will likely change as my friends’ schedules align with my own and I have more time to discover more scenarios and more strategies of play. The expansions like Versus Mode sound as if they’ll totally turn the game on its head as well. As I said before, the villain gameplay with its command board is an absolute blast, so giving head-to-head players their own boards seems like something that could truly bring balance to the experience. We’ll see in the next review.
After one month of owning it, I find that Gotham City Chronicles has captured the aesthetic of BATMAN but its gameplay does not feel very BATMAN. The production value of the game’s many components is incredible from its boards and miniatures to the cards and tokens. But nobody will feel like Batman when they have to make their hero rest between every brawl. That said, being a villain is a fun, empowering experience that doesn’t seem like it will ever get old.
Still, there is a TON of material I haven’t tapped into yet that will surely sway my opinion in one direction or the other. Gotham City Chronicles offers a lot of variety with its myriad scenarios and playable characters, but since it’s so difficult to learn and to teach others how to play, I wonder just how many weekends it will take before I can experience it all. And with it requiring so much money, time, and effort to be enjoyed, I hesitate to recommend the game to anyone who does not already view tabletop gaming as their #1 favorite pastime.
We’ll talk about all of this again in a month or so, when I have played a few of the expansions and, ideally, painted many more miniatures.
To purchase Season 1 and Season 2 of Gotham City Chronicles, go HERE to visit the official Kickstarter page.
DISCLAIMER: Batman News received this collectible from the manufacturer for the purpose of review.