This review has been a long time in the making. Years really. Let me explain why:
I’ve always liked Batman. As a child I liked the Adam West TV series. But that’s the thing: I liked it. I didn’t love it. It was too woolly and everything felt like they didn’t really understand where they were going with it. It was 2 Dimensional TV for the masses and that would have been fine had it been based on a 2 Dimensional comic book for the masses.
Even in the pastel tinted abyss that was the Silver Age Batman was still a conflicted character. Sure he’d been softened but that was because, unlike any other flagship IP, Batman was a commercial failure. At the time readers couldn’t get to grips with such a dark character. It was a case of evolve or die. The problem was it didn’t evolve, it rebooted.
Truth be told DC are stuffed whatever they do with an era in the Batman timeline that was erased decades ago. Ignore it and people still go na na na na na na na na Batman!…and I die a little inside. Acknowledge it and the only thing that dies is my soul.
The two things that saved Batman, in my opinion, was the Frank Miller’s non-canonical series The Dark Knight Returns (1986) and the Batman Animated Series (1992). The former re-established the character as a crime fighting, bone breaking, badass and the latter gave it the commercial appeal it always needed. In the space of 6 years Batman was changed forever.
So what’s this Bat-history lesson in aide of? Put simply it’s to highlight just how much has changed. Obviously there’s been hiccups along the way, particularly with the movies franchises, but the character has come out of the other side as one of the most important and iconic characters of this and last century.
The release of a miniatures game may seem like small potatoes compared to rebooted franchises, multi million dollar movies and we haven’t even mentioned the Arkham video games. But it’s not. It’s important because Batman was and is a universal constant. He’s a hero that has successfully transcended genres, genders and ages.
Allowing a miniatures game is further recognition that we all, basically, want to be the Bat. In whatever form that may take. Even if that form may take running around the house with a bed sheet pinned around my shoulders thattotallyneverhappenedshutup.
But on to the game…
The first thing that is immediately apparent about the Batman Miniatures Game is that the book is a labour of love. The set piece photography has been so lovingly put together you can tell that the writers put everything into it producing something that DC and the fans would be proud of. It reminds me of the first edition of Games Workshop’s Fellowship of the Ring rulebook.
The production value is great. There’s a healthy mix of artwork from the comics and images from the Arkham video games. The book opens with a double page image from the Dark Knight Rises but I won’t hold it against them. It’s a premium production that’s roughly the same price as a Games Workshop codex but, if I’m brutally honest, is of a better quality. My only gripe is the showcase section of the book is 18 pages. Yes the models are cool but they could have been displayed in a more efficient way than that…like in the gang list section that doesn’t exist. But more on that later…
So in the Batman Miniatures Game players build crews of various types be they villains, cops or superheroes. The nice thing about the game, thanks to the variety of criminal scum in Batman, is that you can quite comfortably pit two criminal gangs against one another. Penguin verses Black Mask for example. Equally you can play games using just cops against the crims or just superheroes.
What has been well done is striking the balance between having the superheroes as walking examples of badassdom but still capable of being defeated if they’re singled out and attacked en masse.
The profiles are reasonable straight forward with key stats such as endurance, defence and attack all making an appearance. Where it suffers is the writing. It’s not badly written. It’s over written. Knights Models clearly wanted everyone to enjoy the Batman Miniatures Game so much that much of the book is over explained to the point that some parts I had to re-read to fully understand their meaning. It’s not the whole way through but I found myself skimming because I was getting bored of the repetition.
However this shouldn’t detract from what is essentially a very good game. A lot of thought went into the mechanic and how best to represent the fast paced action of the comics. For one thing every game is assumed to be set at night limiting line of sight to 30cm. This makes the game hugely tactical but suddenly makes anything that produces light a major threat or a major advantage depending on which end of it you’re standing.
In the Batman Miniatures Game each character has a Willpower value which indicates how many actions they can perform per turn. This elegantly allows the superheroes to kick face without having preposterously buffed stat lines as is common practise. Instead Batman gets to perform 8 actions per turn whereas your common crim only gets 5.
I can’t tell you much more about any character other than Batman because there are no profiles included in the book. Now, I didn’t know this which means that there’s a fair chance others picking up the book won’t either which is going to make for a big disappointment. Fortunately each model comes with a card so you won’t be forced to buy additional products so you can play the game.
That fairly major grumble aside the mechanic in Batman works well despite the abundance of tokens required to keep track of everything so, providing you know what you’re doing, each activation is reasonably quick.
Where it comes slightly unstuck is the two tiers of damage. Once you lose your endurance points you get knocked out. But there’s other forms of damage beside, which I’m not sure are needed and it took me three tries to understand how to inflict it and I’m still not sure how it works.
What is cool about the Batman Miniatures Game is the sheer volume of actions you can perform. Sure there’s running and face kicking but you can also do stuff like ping shots off objects to hit targets that would otherwise be hidden. Which is absolutely spot on for characters like Deadshot.
There’s also a list of special rules to put the 40k rulebook to shame. But it all goes towards making the game very cinematic and also encourages you to build and make use of, cool and groovy boards. Basically anything any character in a Batman comic has done you can do in the game. All you have to do is remember you have the option.
The sheer variety available reminds me of Inquisitor and that’s no bad thing.
What’s also pretty cool is a summary of the background at the back of the book for the less nerdy/initiated so everyone, not just the die yards, has a firm understanding of who’s who so they can make an informed choice over who to collect. Other than Batman. Obviously.
The Batman Miniatures Game is a good game. I was pleasantly surprised at how well thought out the game was to balance game play and authenticity. Yes the rules are a bit laboured in places but it doesn’t detract enough that I wouldn’t happily play it.
It’s touches like using reputation instead of points to govern the size of your crew as well as affixing a cash sum for equipment which stops players from having piles of hardware. The simple fact that superheroes are worth far more than henchmen you’re actually encouraged to think and fight like The Bat because you’ll get utterly spanked if you don’t. What the henchmen lack in ability they make up for in numbers and unbridled violence.
It’s great that the Batman Miniatures Game allows for and encourages you to take Jim Gordon and members of the GCPD and better still that going up against a supervillain is a genuine challenge for them. But most importantly, Batman or any member of the Bat Family aren’t unstoppable. Very tough to stop but still stoppable.
The Batman Miniatures Game rulebook is available from Firestorm Games priced £31.49.