First impressions: Cryptozoic’s The Dark Knight Returns board game, now live on Kickstarter

When it comes to Batman, there are his popular stories that most fans have at least read, and even more know.  Year One, The Long Halloween, Knightfall, Hush, The Court of Owls, and Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth, just to name a few.  They routinely appear on Best Of lists, and are typically the first recommendations for new readers who want to dive into Batman material.

Then there’s The Dark Knight Returns, the seminal 1986 classic from Frank Miller, Klaus Janson, Lynn Varley, and John Costanza.  As a story, it practically transcends not just Batman, but the comics medium in general.  Along with Watchmen, The Dark Knight Returns was a dense, mature story that brought new respect to the medium.  For better or worse, those two stories showed that comics could be serious and tackle some heavy issues, taking some of the groundwork laid out by creators like Denny O’Neil and Len Wein in the Seventies and expounding upon their potential.

Since then, TDKR has practically found a life of its own, as there’s hardly a list of essential Batman comics that doesn’t include the story, let alone have it in the top spot.  Besides its own reputation, it has been the subject of countless homages and parodies over the years, and has had influence and representation in multiple mediums.  From cartoons to movies to action figures and other merchandise, there’s so much material out there that you could build an entire collection based off this one story and never branch out to other versions of Batman.

That popularity and influence has now made its way to board games, as Cryptozoic have launched a Kickstarter campaign for Batman: The Dark Knight Returns – The Game.  Designed by Daryl Andrews and Morgan Dontanville, the game is an ambitious single-player campaign that genuinely pushes the limits of what a board game can be.

Fitting, given its source material.

Cryptozoic provided me with a prototype, “work print” version of the game, so while some mechanics may differ from the final product, I can tell you this: if you like Batman and gamin, you need to get this.  Even if The Dark Knight Returns isn’t your absolute favorite Batman story of all time, there’s still great value in playing the story, not just reading it.

Because that’s precisely what this game sets out to emulate: the feeling of being Batman, heading out on one last mission to save the city you swore to protect.  The game will be split up into four campaigns, each modeled after the chapters and issues of the comic series.  There’s the main game board, along with tons of mission cards, allies, enemies, power-ups, and dice to complete different actions in the game.  Unlike a typical game, where you try to level up over time and get better stats, you’re effectively fighting against the clock and a sense of attrition.  It’s an incredibly unique mechanic that fits the material perfectly, because even if Bruce feels like a man of thirty, of twenty again, he’s still past his prime.

While it isn’t a direct comparison, this mechanic reminded me a bit of the Battlestar Galactica board game, which is one of the best, most stressful games I’ve ever played.  There, you play against the board and have to keep track of supplies and the lives of citizens on different ships in the makeshift fleet.  Strategy plays as much a part as luck in that game, and it’s similar with The Dark Knight Returns.  As Cryptozoic themselves put it, “The Dark Knight Returns is not about winning, it’s about enduring.”

It’s a long game too, which will be made even longer once all four books are released and you can play through the entire story.  You only win by completing each mission, and you can lose by failing to defeat a boss, allowing too many riots, losing all of your stat points for any of your “health meters,” or if you simply run out of time and take too long.

As I said, my copy of the game is a prototype, so the character pieces I had were cardboard punchouts lifted from the source material.  They’re actually really cool and high quality, but the Deluxe version of the game will have actual models and figurines of different characters.  Batman, Robin, Two-Face, Superman, and the Joker are just a few of the pieces that will be released over the course of the Kickstarter campaign, and what’s more, each book will have different gameplay mechanics to keep you on your toes.  While the overall game stays the same, you’ll have different allies and items to go up against the different enemies and scenarios you encounter.

The Kickstarter campaign is live now, and while you can back it with any amount, there are Base Game and Deluxe Edition tiers to get the game itself.  The base level gets you the game and all basic pieces, which is still a relative steal at a minimum amount of $60.  The deluxe tier– with a pledge of at least $99– gets you the game, the aforementioned figures, and a gorgeous slipcase to house all of the pieces and rule books.

Check out additional details below, along with galleries featuring different aspects of the game.

Per Cryptozoic:

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns – The Game, a solo board game, is coming to Kickstarter on February 23rd, recreating the comic experience as you play through all four books in Frank Miller’s iconic limited series.

Lake Forest, CA – February 23, 2021 – Cryptozoic Entertainment, leading creator of tabletop games, trading cards, and collectibles, and DC Comics today announced the launch of the Kickstarter campaign for Batman: The Dark Knight Returns – The Game. Fans can check out the Kickstarter page at this link.

Crafted by acclaimed game designers Morgan Dontanville and Daryl Andrews to be accessible to hardcore and casual gamers alike, your skills will be tested across four missions, each featuring their own unique rules, allies, abilities, and epic boss battles. With variable set-up and endless combinations of Fight and Detective cards, each playthrough will throw unique resources and challenges at you.

The Dark Knight Returns is likely the most beloved Batman story ever told. Writer/artist Frank Miller’s four-issue series from 1986 was a watershed moment in comics, as it brought a dark and cinematic feel to the medium. Every Batman story since then owes something to it. 

“Diehard fans will really appreciate all of the care we took to capture the style and tone of the original story in the game,” said John Sepenuk, CEO of Cryptozoic.

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns – The Game is for ages 14 and up and will be offered in Base Game and Deluxe Edition formats, with the Deluxe Edition featuring 17+ miniature figures and coming in a slick Kickstarter-exclusive slipcase that will look incredible on your bookshelf next to your premium board games and special edition books!

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns – The Game is live on Kickstarter.