For a long time Batman and video games were not a good combination. Most video games featuring Batman were bad/awful. That all changed in 2009 with the release of Batman: Arkham Asylum. Batman: Arkham Asylum was not only a good game, it was revolutionary for the video game industry. Many video games have since used a version of the fighting mechanics that originated in Batman: Arkham Asylum. As the game was quite successful it spawned three sequels with the first sequel being Batman: Arkham City. I bring this all up because today’s board game is based off of Batman: Arkham City. All of the villains are loose in Arkham City and Batman is charged with preventing them from escaping. Batman: Arkham City Escape has an interesting concept and some good mechanics that are almost ruined by the game being wildly unbalanced.
How to Play Batman: Arkham City Escape
- Choose which player will play as Batman and which will play as the villains.
- Layout the gameboard on the table. It is recommended that you use side A for your first couple games. After you are used to the game you can use side B. The Batman player sits on the side with the Batman symbol. The other player sits on the other side of the board.
- The Batman player takes the Batman playing piece and places it on the starting space.
- Shuffle the ally deck and place it near the Batman player. The Batman player also takes the gargoyle deck.
- Each player takes their corresponding nine setup cards. Each player will randomly choose five cards and return the rest of the cards to the box. The ten cards selected by the two players are then shuffled together. These ten cards are then randomly placed face down on the ? spaces on the gameboard.
- The Batman player takes the Utility Belt Board and places it by them. The Batman player will then choose four of the utility belt cards and places them face down on the board. In your first couple of games it is recommended that you use the Batarang, Batclaw, Line Launcher and Detective Mode cards.
- The Batman player takes the combat deck while the villain player takes the villain deck. Each player shuffles their deck of cards and then draws five cards which becomes their starting hand.
- The villain player will start the game.
The villain player begins their turn by rolling the dice to determine how many actions they will get to take on their turn. The player will normally roll four dice but there are a few special abilities that can alter this number. For each Arkham City symbol the player rolls they will get to take one action.
The villain player can take a variety of different actions. The player can choose which they would like to use and in what order they would like to use them. Some actions can even be performed multiple times during a player’s turn. The actions the villain player can perform are as follows:
- Place villain cards on the gameboard.
- Move all face-down villains up to one space in any direction.
- Move one face-up villain up to two spaces in any direction.
- Move one face-up villain with a hostage one space in any direction.
- Draw A Card
Place Villain Cards
This action may only be used once each turn.
A player can use one of their actions to place villain cards on the gameboard. When a player chooses this option they can place up to five villain cards on the gameboard face-down. These cards can only be placed on the spaces on the edge of the board closest to the villain player. The cards can be placed on any of these outer spaces that are unoccupied. Placing a villain card on the gameboard does not count as a movement for that villain.
Move All Face-Down Villains One Space
This action may only be used once each turn.
When a player chooses this option they have the option to move all or some of their face-down villain cards one space in any direction. Face-down villains can be moved to any space but two villains may never be moved to the same space (unless moved by a special effect). If a face-down villain is moved to a space that Batman or one of his allies occupy, the villain must be turned over. If the villain shares a space with Batman, Batman and the villain will fight (see below).
Move A Face-Up Villain Up to Two Spaces
This action may be used multiple times but cannot be used on the same villain multiple times in a turn. Each villain can only use one action to move each turn.
When a player chooses this action they may move a face-up villain up to two spaces in any direction. If the villain shares a space with Batman, using this action with the villain will start a fight with Batman. A villain normally can’t move to a space occupied by another villain but you can use this action to move them through a space occupied by another villain. If a villain ever moves to a space that Batman occupies, they must stop moving and fight Batman.
Move a Face-Up Villain With A Hostage One Space
This action can be used multiple times but can only be used once per villain each turn.
When a villain lands on a space that contains an ally, that ally is taken hostage. The ally’s ability no longer applies until they are no longer a hostage. The villain card is immediately turned over. The villain player has the option of taking the hostage with them as they try to escape. A villain can only take one hostage with them while they move. As the hostage slows down the villain, the villain can only move one space with them. The reason to take a hostage with you is that it will score you more points if you are able to escape with them as a hostage.
Draw One Card
Finally a player can choose to use as many of their actions as they want to draw villain cards. Each villain card that the player draws will cost one action.
In addition to the actions listed above, the villain can perform several actions that won’t use up one of their actions for their turn. These actions can be used as often as the player wants and can be used at any time. The free actions that the villain player can perform are as follows:
- Flip any villain cards face up.
- Play any cards from their hand with the words “free action” on them.
The goal for the villain player in Batman: Arkham City Escape is to have their villains escape. For a villain to escape they must cross the yellow escape route tape. Any villain that crosses this line will score points for the villain player. The villain cards are worth the value along the right edge near the middle of the card. If the villain card was face down it is revealed to the other player. These villain cards will be added to the villain’s score pile. The villain player will also take a card from their villain deck.
If the villain brought a hostage with them, the hostage is added to the villain’s score pile as well. The hostage is worth the points on the right edge of the card.
Some Additional Rules
- Each villain card can only be moved once per turn unless the player uses a free action card to move them. Some retaliations can also be used to move a villain twice during a turn.
- If the villain deck ever runs out of cards, the player shuffles the discarded cards to form a new draw deck.
- Only one attachment may be placed on each villain.
End of Turn
When the villain player ends their turn, they will draw one villain card. Play then passes to the Batman player.
On Batman’s turn the player will get to take a number of actions. The Batman player does not have to roll the dice and will always get to take their action unless a card effects what Batman can do on a turn. On Batman’s turn a player can perform the following actions:
- Move Batman.
- Flip any number of utility belt gadgets face up.
- Use any number of utility belt gadgets.
- Fight any villains that share a space with Batman
The Batman player will always get to move Batman unless a card’s ability prevents Batman’s movement. Batman can choose to move in one of the following ways:
Batman can be moved one space in any direction.
Batman can grapple to any gargoyle space that is within two spaces of Batman. The player can keep jumping between gargoyles as long as they are within two spaces of one another.
Finally Batman can move between the two sewer spaces. If Batman is on one of the sewer spaces they can use their movement this turn to move to the other sewer space.
Flip Over a Utility Belt Card
The Batman player can choose to flip over any number of utility belt cards face up whenever they prefer. When a utility belt card is flipped over, place charge tokens on the card corresponding to the number in the top left corner of the card.
Use Utility Belt Cards
The Batman player may use as many utility belt cards as they want on their turn. They may even use the same utility belt gadget multiple times on the same turn. The only requirement to use a utility belt gadget is for the card to have at least one charge on it. To use the utility belt gadget remove one of the charges from the card. Then take the action noted on the card.
Whenever Batman moves onto a space that contains a villain or a villain moves to his space, he must fight the villain. If Batman begins his turn on the same space as a villain, he has the option to fight that villain or move to a different space.
Combat begins with the Batman player choosing which combat cards from their hand they want to play. The number in the top left corner of each card determines how many dice the player will get to roll if they play the card. Some cards also add additional dice if the conditions on the card are matched. The player can play multiple cards or choose to play no combat cards. The batman player may never roll more than eight dice during combat though unless a card specifies otherwise.
The Batman player will then roll the dice. Each Batman symbol counts as a hit. The Batman player then compares the number of hits to the number in the top right corner of the villain card.
If Batman has less hits than the number on the villain’s card, their attack failed.
If the player has a counter card in their hand, they can play it to re-roll any dice that were misses to try and successfully capture the villain.
If Batman fails to capture the villain, they will face a retaliation. If the villain is stunned Batman does not face retaliation for the failed attack. The players will read the retaliation listed on the villain that Batman failed to defeat. This effect goes into place immediately.
If the amount of hits are equal to or higher than the number in the top right corner of the villain card, Batman has captured the villain. The villain card is added to Batman’s point pile and counts for points equal to the value on the right side of the card.
If Batman captures the villain they will get to roll the XP die. Based on what is rolled on the die the Batman player will get to take a special action.
- Recharge: The Batman player may refill all of the charges used by one of their gadgets. The player will refill the charges to the number in the top left corner of the card.
- Ally: When the ally side is rolled, Batman will get to add an ally to the board. The top card from the ally deck is drawn. The card is placed on Batman’s current location face up. The ally’s special ability will go into affect based on what is written on the card. Ally cards cannot move on their own and can only be moved when they are taken hostage and moved. An ally temporarily loses their ability whenever there is a villain on the same space as them.
- Draw 2: The Batman player will draw two cards from the combat deck.
- Gargoyle: When the player rolls a gargoyle they will get to place a gargoyle on the gameboard. The player takes a card from the gargoyle deck and places it face up on any setup space (green ?)
- Batman may not fight the same villain two times in the same turn.
- If there are two villains on a space, Batman will have to fight both villains. The Batman player chooses which to fight first. After the first fight ends, Batman will have to fight the other villain.
- If the Batman player can eliminate all of the villain cards and the villain setup cards from the gameboard, they will immediately win the game.
- If the combat deck ever runs out of cards, the discard pile is shuffled and becomes the new draw pile.
End of Turn
When the Batman player ends their turn they will draw a combat card. Play then passes to the villain player.
End of Game
The game ends immediately once someone has scored ten points. Whichever player has ten or more points in their points pile wins the game.
My Thoughts on Batman: Arkham City Escape
If I were to quickly explain Batman: Arkham City Escape I would say that it kind of reminds me of a game of tug of war or even a tower defense game. Basically both players have their own objectives in the game. The villains are trying to reach the end of the gameboard in order to escape. Meanwhile Batman moves around the gameboard trying to stop them before they can reach the end. The player who ultimately wins this back and forth fight will win the game.
For a game where there are only two players, I will say the two roles play quite a bit differently. Basically the goal of the villain player is to overwhelm Batman with villains. The more villains that there are on the board, the harder it will be for Batman to stop them. The villain is given several abilities in order to support this goal. First they are able to use one action to play as many villain cards as they want as long as they have open spaces on their end of the board. The villain player can then move all of their face down villains with just one action point. Once a villain is revealed the player can use one action to move the villain up to two spaces forward as they make a run for the exit. The villains can even take hostages with them in order to score more points. The villain player has to use these different mechanics in order to keep the Batman player occupied so they don’t have time to sit back and acquire more cards for combat. They need to keep Batman moving as they try to sneak villains past him.
What is unique about the villains is that there is no set amount of actions that they will get to take each turn. They will roll four dice and the result will determine how many actions they will get to take. They could either take zero turns or up to four turns. This difference can have a huge impact on the game. You could have a plan on what you want to do and then get no actions on your next turn. This ends up adding quite a bit of luck to the villain player’s turn. If the villain player rolls well they will do very well in the game. If they roll poorly it will be hard to win. As the villains have a built in advantage in the game (more on this later), I don’t mind this fact.
While the villain player is trying to flood the board with villains, the Batman player needs to play more methodically. The villain player is always going to have the numbers advantage. Batman can’t be everywhere at once so the player will have to choose which villain(s) to target each turn. The Batman player can’t be too aggressive as that will allow a lot of villains to sneak past them. They can’t be too passive either though or it will be too late to stop all of the villains. Basically the Batman player needs to balance eliminating villains from the board with preventing villains from sneaking past them.
Most of Batman’s strategy in the game comes from combat. The Batman player doesn’t always control when they will have to fight but they have quite a bit of control over picking their fights. The key to combat is the combat cards. In order to defeat a villain you need to play enough combat cards in order to win the fight. As each dice has only a 50% chance of being successful, you need to use enough combat cards in order to get enough dice to win the fight. Statistically speaking you will probably want to roll at least twice as many dice as are needed to defeat a villain. This introduces a risk/reward mechanic to the game though. You could play cards that provide less dice which could save you some cards. You don’t want to waste combat cards as they are precious. If you fail though you lose all of the cards you played with nothing to show for it. The key to combat is finding a happy medium where you aren’t taking too big of risks but are also not wasting too many combat cards.
Overall I had fun with Batman: Arkham City Escape. There are board games with a similar concept but the game has some unique ideas. I actually found the “tug of war” mechanics to be quite interesting. It gives both players different objectives which makes both roles play quite differently. The game gives each player some interesting decisions to make which will impact the game. Batman: Arkham City Escape is not a perfect game. I enjoyed my time with it though, and I wouldn’t mind bringing it out every so often.
As for the game’s difficulty I wouldn’t say that the game is really easy to play, but I also don’t agree with the game’s recommended age. The game has a recommended age of 15+, but I don’t really see players having to be that old to play the game. Batman: Arkham City Escape is not a game that you can just pick up and play. The game has a decent amount of rules with some being a little nitpicky. It will take some time to explain the game to new players and there is a learning curve before you will know exactly what you are doing. After you adjust to the game though it becomes pretty easy to play as none of the mechanics are particularly difficult to grasp. This is why I don’t really understand the game’s 15+ recommended age. I would say that 10-13+ would be more appropriate. I am guessing the game’s recommended age comes from the fact that the game is based off of a mature video game. Gameplay wise the 15+ age recommendation doesn’t make a lot of sense.
I enjoyed playing Batman: Arkham City Escape but it has some serious issues.
I would say that by far the biggest problem with Batman Arkham City Escape is that the game is not balanced. For a game featuring Batman you would assume that the game would lean towards Batman having the advantage. It turns out that the opposite is true in Batman: Arkham City Escape. The villains have a pretty significant advantage in the game.
I think most of the problems come from the fact that Batman never has enough combat cards. Batman can get combat cards in two different ways. Most of their cards will come from drawing one at the end of their turn. Batman can also get combat cards by rolling the draw two symbol on the XP die which is easier said than done. Therefore most turns the Batman player will only be able to add one combat card to their hand. This becomes a problem quickly as you almost always need more than one card to beat a villain. As each dice only gives Batman a 50% chance of success, you generally have to play cards that total at least twice the strength of the villain you are fighting. This means you have to sit back for several turns just to get enough cards to attack a villain. If you fail an attack you are in even worse shape because you literally just wasted several turns for no gain.
This is compounded by the fact that the villains also have an advantage when it comes to movement. The most obvious factor is the fact that the villains can have many characters on the board at the same time while Batman is all by himself. Therefore Batman has to cover a lot more ground just to stay even with the villain player. This is compounded by the fact that the villains can usually move further than Batman on a given turn. When revealed villains can move two spaces. At the same time Batman can only move one space unless he can take advantage of gargoyles or one of his gadgets. If you can get a good network of gargoyles out onto the gameboard this can help a lot. Otherwise you can use your gadgets but once they are used up you are stuck with moving only one space at a time. You will then have to stay near the exit reducing your mobility around the board.
When you combine these two things together, Batman is at a disadvantage before the game even begins. Without changing any of the rules Batman’s only chance is that they are quite a bit luckier than the villain player. Basically the Batman player needs to hope the other player rolls poorly when determining how many actions they will get to take each turn. If the villain player regularly gets zero or only one action each turn, the Batman player may be able to keep up as they will have time to draw more combat cards and navigate the board. This is dependent on the Batman player rolling well in combat though as they can’t waste combat cards. In one game I played as Batman and the villain player was actually having really bad luck with rolling for action points. This wasn’t enough to save me though because I had just as much bad luck rolling during combat. This lead to me losing the game as I couldn’t overcome Batman’s disadvantage.
This balancing issue almost ruins Batman: Arkham City Escape. Unless you are willing to go into the game knowing the Batman player will likely lose the game, you need to tweak the rules. One variant rule suggested by the game’s designer (Matt Hyra) is to allow Batman to draw two combat cards at the end of their turn. I don’t know if this will fix all of the balancing issues, but I would highly recommend using it as it should make the game a little more balanced. Getting two combat cards each turn will stop Batman from having to rest as often while also making failing fights a little more forgiving.
For the aforementioned reasons, I don’t think both sides of the game are equally fun to play. Even if both sides were completely balanced I still think the villains would be more fun to play. The reason for this is that the villain player has a lot more choices on their turn than the Batman player. Batman can basically do three things each turn. They can move which is not particularly interesting. They can use gadgets which run out of charges pretty quickly. Finally they have full control over the combat. The combat is the only area where the Batman player has quite a few choices to make as they decide which combat cards they want to use. For a game based around Batman I have to admit that playing as Batman is more boring than I would have expected.
The final complaint that I have with Batman: Arkham City Escape is that the components could have used some work. The game’s cards are not bad as the artwork is pretty good and they are designed pretty well. I wouldn’t say that they are anything special though. The dice have special symbols but they are only painted on instead of engraved. Otherwise the other components are pretty typical cardboard pieces. By far the biggest problem with the components comes from the gameboard. The gameboard is really large as it takes up most of a normal sized table. I don’t mind the size as it allows you to fit the cards firmly on the spaces. The problem is that it is solely responsible for the game having one of the largest board game boxes that I have ever seen. Most of the box is empty as the only reason it is so large is because of the gameboard. If one or two more creases could have been added to the gameboard I could see the box’s size being cut in half. With how big the box is it might be a turnoff for people that are space conscious.
Should You Buy Batman: Arkham City Escape?
Batman: Arkham City Escape is an interesting game that has some good ideas but also has quite a few flaws. For a board game based on a video game I actually think Batman: Arkham City Escape does a pretty good job. The game has two different roles and both feel unique. The villains try to overwhelm Batman while Batman has to be more methodical on how he eliminates the villains. There are interesting mechanics in Batman: Arkham City Escape which leads to a game that can be fun. Unfortunately it also has a lot of flaws. The biggest problem is that the game heavily favors the villain player. Without tweaking the rules the Batman player will rarely win the game. On top of this it is just more enjoyable playing as the villains as there is more that you can do. Finally the game’s box is way too large for what is included solely due to how large the gameboard is.
If you don’t really care for the Batman theme or don’t think the “tug of war” gameplay sounds that interesting, I don’t see Batman: Arkham City Escape being for you. If the game’s theme/concept interests you though I think you can have fun with it. You need to be willing to put in the time to find some house rules to fix some of the game’s problems though. If you could fix the balancing issues I could see adding a half or a full star to my final rating. For this reason I would probably recommend the game if you can get a good deal on it.