Who runs Gotham? Of course, we all know it’s Batman, but that’s not going to stop his rogue gallery from trying. In Batman: Gotham City Strategy Game by Wizkids, you play as the villains as they try and build their crime empire while taking over the city. Of course, Batman won’t just give it to you, as he has a knack for showing up at the most inopportune times to clean up the streets. Is it worth your time to square off against rival bad guys and the Dark Knight himself?
Each player takes control of a villain. Your choices include the Joker, the Penguin, Two-Face and Killer Croc, which are represented by HeroClix figures. All of them are vying to be the top dog in Gotham by building their empire, though they’ll all start as lowly level 1 villains with very little on-hand in terms of resources or territory.
That won’t be the case for long though, as everyone will take turns terrorizing the streets of Gotham. Over the course of the game, you’ll collect information, make money, hire henchmen and claim territory to strengthen your position. As you hit predefined quotas for each, your villain will gain a level, which you’ll update on the figure itself. The first character to hit level 10 wins.
On your turn, terrorizing Gotham is a multi-step process. First, you’ll check to see if you’ve met a requirement to level up. If so, twist the base of your figure so that it reflects your new level and goal. If not, keep it moving. Then you’ll play one of the five Criminal Plot cards in your hand. Each card has one action on the top and one on the bottom. The top action involves the ruler of a particular territory claiming its benefit, which is either money or information. Ideally, you rule the territory on the card you play so you can reap the benefits, but there will be cases where multiple benefactors or someone other than you will cash in.
The bottom of the card will give you some other benefit, though you can pass on it to get two tokens of any combination. I’ve already mentioned money and information, which are both attainable during this phase, but there’s also Threat tokens you can snag. By taking these and placing them on the table, you’ll invest in claiming a territory that one of your figures isn’t standing in. If you have the most threat in an area that isn’t occupied by henchmen or a villain, you run that territory.
Certain Criminal Plot cards feature the Bat Signal on top. These generally feature great benefits on the bottom, but they also cause Batman to hit the streets. When these cards are played, the top card in the Batman Plot deck is revealed and the Dark Knight carries out that action. Depending on the card that’s played, he may rush into enemy territory and take out a rival for you, head back to the Batcave to better prepare for the next fight, or even attack you should you get unlucky. This aspect of the game is my favourite, as it adds a nice level of excitement stemming from the uncertainty of what Batman will do next. It also makes perfect sense within the theme of the game, as Batman tends to have a way of sneaking up on people.
After playing a Criminal Plot card, you can spend money to hire more henchmen or use information to move your guys in and around the city. Should you move your villain in the same territory as another villain, you’ll fight. Each player will roll a die to see who scores higher to settle the skirmish. The winning player gets immediate control of that territory plus two threat tokens, while the loser must retreat to their hideout. Finally, the player will draw one more Criminal Plot card from the deck to complete their turn.
In general, I think the game’s mechanics are sound. Everything about building your empire makes sense while tying into the theme very well. Once again, it’s worth stating that the best part of the game is when Batman is about to clean up the streets. My problem with it is that it’s a long and largely uneventful grind to level 9 before things really heat up. While the game lists its playtime at 60-90 minutes, all of our games were 2+ hour marathons. Long games are fine if the mechanics are strong enough to entertain for that length of time, but this wears out its welcome long before the game ends.
If Batman: Gotham City Strategy Game could wrap up in 45-60 minutes, this would be a much stronger title. As is, the game’s one real flaw is unfortunately a real big one. Batman fans and board gamers in general can probably get a few games in and enjoy it in spite of its shortcomings. However, it won’t have any long-term legs due to it just taking too long relative to what it has to offer.