Based on Conan (the Kickstarter that put Monolith on the map), Batman: Gotham City Chronicles is a one-vs-many, scenario-driven, skirmish game. One player takes on the baddies and the remaining players each take a hero such as Batman.
The real innovation here is the action-selection system, which provides players with lots of tricky decisions throughout. Let me tell you about it…
The heroes each have a pool of ready cubes. They get to move two spaces for free each round, but every other action (shooting, punching, interacting with objects, further movement, etc.) requires them to spend these cubes.
At the start of every round they only get 2 cubes back though! So if you do more than two actions (which you really want to do), then your character becomes increasingly fatigued (they run low on cubes) and they need to spend a round resting. This allows them to get 5 cubes back, but then they can’t spend any cubes that round.
The villain-player has a slightly different system. They still have cubes to spend on actions (although they get 5 back each round), but each villain or group of henchmen has a tile arranged in a sliding horizontal line. Crucially, they can only activate two tiles each round.
The further to the left the tiles are, the cheaper (in cubes) they cost to activate. After a tile has been activated though, it is removed and placed in the spot furthest to the right, which makes it really expensive to activate the same tile two turns in a row.
You may have moved a group of Brutes next to Batman and hit him once, but next round, although you’d love to punch him again with that group, you just can’t afford it.
As the heroes, you have to pay careful attention to the villains board and plan your strategy accordingly. He’s very likely to activate the cheap villains and probably won’t activate the more expensive ones… but he could if he really wanted to!
Efficient use of the action-selection system is key to victory. It’s all too easy to use up all your cubes early and then find you’re struggling to do anything for the rest of the game.
The game comes with a large number of scenarios that typically involve the chief villain attempting to accomplish some dastardly scheme. For example, trying to develop a toxic nerve gas. The heroes have to fight their way through all the baddies and stop him from accomplishing his goal.
Scenarios have a time limit, which is always very tight. If the heroes spend too long fighting bad guys, the evil mastermind will achieve his nefarious plan.
Combat is fairly straightforward: you can shoot using a weapon or punch them. You roll dice, attempting to roll as many “success” icons as you can. Better dice (for more powerful weapons) have more successes on them. You can spend extra cubes to reroll dice to help mitigate any bad luck.
The defender can then spend cubes to roll dice and each success blocks a hit. Baddies typically have armour, which will prevent a fixed amount of damage for each attack. Once they die, they are removed from the map.
The heroes can’t die though. Each time they take damage, they have to move an activation cube into a wounded pile, where it becomes much more difficult to get back.
The only real issue with the combat system is the iconography – there’s tons of it! Each hero has a set of special abilities represented by icons on the player board. Each weapon has more icons on it.
We found we were constantly having to look up what all the icons mean. Some allow you to do extra damage, some allow you climb on buildings more easily, some allow you to pin enemies down. There are just so many of them. I’m sure the game would speed up once you’ve learnt them all, but the learning curve is steep and it makes the game very slow initially.
I really like the activation system. It gives you lots to think about. However, we struggled with was how swingy the dice can be. It’s all very well being able to spend action cubes to mitigate bad dice, but the action cubes are so precious that being unlucky with the dice can still lose you the game as you simply run out of actions.
The miniatures are decent, and there are plenty of them. The artwork is very true to the comics, rather than any other Batman media. I’m not a fan of the style, but I’m sure plenty of people will appreciate it.
Overall, I was somewhat underwhelmed by my first few plays of the game. I like the strategic and tactical decisions involved. That side of it is really engaging. It’s just slow and too easy to get done in by the dice.
I’m keen to play it more though. The theme is strong and it does get quicker. We’re also getting better at it the more we play it, which I appreciate.
Have you played it yet? What do you think?