Batman: The Animated Series – Rogues Gallery board game review

One of the supreme joys of being a Batman fan is having so much different content to devour.  There are comics and movies and books and video games, statues and toys and all sorts of items you can own to show your love for the Dark Knight.

Over the last few years, I’ve really been enjoying various board and card games based on the Caped Crusader and his world, and the folks at IDW Games have been near the top of the pack with their offerings.  Last year, we featured the insanely great Batman: The Animated Series – Gotham City Under Siege (which is getting an expansion very soon) as part of our annual Holiday Gift Guide, and this year they have a new game in a similar vein: Batman: The Animated Series – Rogues Gallery.  Like Gotham City Under Siege, Rogues Gallery is based on the seminal Batman animated series of the Nineties, which we all know and love and hold dear and also own like six times over by now.

Whereas Gotham City Under Siege was more cooperative and cast you and your gaming buddies as various members of the Batfamily, Rogues Gallery has a different focus…

…namely in that you get to be bad guys.

Combining press your lack mechanics with a bit of deck-building strategy, this is an incredibly attractive board game that is tons of fun, though it does have a few design flaws.  Read on for a rundown of the game’s accessories and gameplay.

Before you even open the box, this game impresses.  It’s covered with original artwork of some of Batman’s most notorious rogues, all based on the designs from Batman: The Animated Series.  The characters are very, very close to the official design work on the show, to the point that you would be forgiven for thinking that some of the villains were lifted directly from an animation cel or promotional artwork.  I love the added touch of having a different villain on each side of the box, with even the inner lid bearing different rogues.

What’s even better is that, even in the case where a character appears on both the front and one of the sides, they aren’t simply copied and pasted.  Each image is unique, like Harley holding a hammer on the main group image while brandishing a pistol on the side artwork, or Joker smiling maniacally versus squirting acid from his trademark trick flower.  Some of the added details are nice too, like Poison Ivy reclining in a seat made of plants and vines.

Even the back of the box is designed well, with a clear depiction of the contents of the game and well-placed text providing gameplay details.  There are some production quality issues contained within, unfortunately, and I’ll get to those, but the packaging certainly does the job of catching your eye.

Included inside are instructions, of course, along with several cardboard sheets with punch-out gameplay tokens, two sets of dice, and several types of cards.  There’s plenty of room inside the box to store everything, to the point that it almost seems like there’s too much space given that the game doesn’t utilize a board.  Still, it holds everything you’d need, and hey, if there are future expansions then there’s room for that too.

The Player Sheets are a definite highlight, with a pretty eclectic variety of villains available.  There are obvious choices, like the Joker and Harley Quinn, to slightly more inspired choices like Bane and Killer “It was a big rock” Croc.  The game’s manual credits several different artists for the “interior artwork,” so I’m not sure who did what, but whether it was Dario Brizuela, Matt Ferguson, Chris Fenoglio, Sean Galloway, Marcelo Ferreira, or Jack Lawerence, all of the artwork is fantastic.  The colors of Leonardo Ito (cover art) and Luis Antonio Delgado (interiors) help evoke the animated series feel as well.  This is one of the best licensed games I’ve seen whose original artwork doesn’t feel like a pale imitation of the source material.

Besides the gorgeous look of the Player Sheets, the design work is top-notch as well.  Special skills and gameplay rules are clearly laid out, with nothing feeling cluttered or confusing.

A “Bat-Signal Board” used for tracking rounds and turns, bomb-shaped “Power Tokens,” a “First Player Token,” a “Bat-Signal Token,” dual-sided “Lucky Coin Tokens,” and “Scheme Tokens” that are cleverly shaped like clipboards are on the cardboard sheets.  The cardstock is durable and each piece punches out cleanly, so don’t worry about and flappy pieces of paper tearing off.  The look of each of these pieces is great too, especially the Lucky Coins.  True to Two-Face’s signature charm, the coin pieces have a “clean” side and a “scarred” side.  It’s a great detail that shows how, generally speaking, a lot of thought and attention went into the design of the game.

Two sets of dice are also included: seven green “common dice,” and four purple “power dice.”  They’re dice.  They fit the typical villainous color scheme.  Not much else can be said about them, and that’s okay.  I do wish that a better storage bag was included for the dice and tokens.  The Gotham City Under Siege game has a really nice black bag with a drawstring and the game’s logo printed on it.  Rogues Gallery, on the other hand, just has a simple plastic zipper bag.  It works, sure, but it would have been nice to have something a bit fancier.

The cards used during gameplay are separated into four different sets: Upgrades, Accomplices, two sets of Heroes (Basic and Advanced), and Batman.  The Upgrades are pretty self-explanatory, with each card having a different weapon or item you can use to increase stats and such.

Visually speaking, these cards are of the same quality as the rest of the game.  The images are crisp and clear, with some great original art.  The design work is great as well, with clear headings and instructions.

Unfortunately, it’s in these cards that some production errors poke through, as there are a handful of typos littered throughout.  While they don’t take away from the actual gameplay, and none are so egregious as to change the meaning and intent of the cards, it’s still pretty disappointing.  With the great production values of the game, another quality assurance sweep could have detected these flubs and had them corrected before the final printing.  So they look nice, but they don’t always read well.  It’s a shame, too, because besides some fairly egregious errors the production quality of the game is second-to-none.

Having said that, I’d also like to praise the incredibly weird choices made for the Accomplices cards.  Arkham Inmates make sense, as do slightly more reliable Stonegate Prisoners, and I love those delightful obscurities like Captain Clown and Garth from “Tyger, Tyger” are available.  Red Claw and the Sewer King are even among some of the more powerful Accomplices, but do you know who’s missing?

Sid the Squid.

The man who killed Batman himself is nowhere to be seen, yet that weird mummy lady from “Avatar” is?  For shame.

Seriously, though, it’s a nice selection of some familiar names along with some genuinely surprising pulls, with a lot of mobsters and one-off henchman getting play.

So how does the game actually play?  It doesn’t have as steep a learning curve as Gotham City Under Siege, and rounds aren’t quite as complex either.  Still, there’s a lot to do in each turn, so it can take a few playthroughs to get comfortable.  Once you do, though, it’s pretty intuitive.

Your ultimate goal is to beat Batman, which is simple enough and… probably obvious, as you’re playing as a bunch of villains.  Three to five players begin the game by selecting the villain of their choice, and start off with a Power Token, a Secret Lair Upgrade, and one each of the Arkham and Stonegate Accomplice cards.  The player’s cards are arranged around the rest of the gameplay pieces, which you can see an example of in the gallery below.  Without an actual board, the Bat-Signal card is used to track progress, along with various indicators on each Villain card.

Gameplay consists of rounds, each containing different phases: Preparation Phase, Crime Spree Phase, Arrest Phase, and Upgrade Phase.  Each player takes a turn each round and completes the four phases, in order, before moving on to the next player or round, as applicable.  Generally speaking, each phase is exactly what it sounds like: in the Preparation Phase, you assemble your Accomplice cards, roll the dice, and flip the “Lucky Coin” tokens, and then reap any advantages; during a Crime Spree you can utilize your special abilities, activate Upgrades and Accomplices, assign dice to appropriate slots (the slot mechanic is, by far, the most complex part of the game, and the one with the steepest learning curve), and advance the Bat-Signal token; in the Arrest Phase, you are subdued by a hero (if you failed to defeat them in the Crime Spree Phase), and then escape; and in the Upgrade Phase you can use “Schemes” to purchase Upgrades, Power, or Accomplices.

While the game is promoted as having “press your luck” mechanics, victory is not entirely left up to chance.  Making smart purchases and upgrades is just as integral as getting good dice rolls, especially when you consider that you’re playing against others who are trying to accomplish the same goal.  Even the “final battle” with Batman is a bit randomized, so you’re not facing the Dark Knight under predictable circumstances.  There are three different Batman cards, each containing different abilities and requirements for victory, which adds another layer of excitement to the game.

Thankfully, the instructions are clear, if not a little lengthy.  The playing guide is detailed enough that you can make a decent go of it right out of the box, and there’s a more truncated “quick reference” Turn Order on the back of the instructions for when you have a good grasp of the game mechanics.

As far as group play, you need at least two other people for a proper session, which is fine.  It’s a social game, after all, where you’re playing against others just as much as the board.  Still, due to the nature of needing multiple players, it’s not so much a “pick up and play” game as it is one you schedule a game night around.  With its complex yet accessible gameplay and great use of the Batman IP, though, it’s definitely a game you and your friends will get a lot of mileage out of.

It retails for around $34.99, which is about standard for a game of this sort.  With the general quality of the set and the fairly high replay value, I think that’s pretty worth it.

Overall: Despite some production flaws that are too egregious to overlook, Batman: The Animated Series – Rogues Gallery is a quality board game.  The original art alone is almost enough to recommend this for fans of the series, whether they like board games or not.  As a game, though, it’s complex and exciting, with a good balance of strategy and chance used in its mechanics.  Gather a few of your fellow Batman-loving friends for a solid night of gaming with the latest offering from IDW Games.

SCORE: 8/10

IDW Games provided a copy of this game for the purposes of a review.


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