Full disclosure: A review copy of Batman: Gotham City Under Siege was provided by IDW Games.
Alright, back on the IDW Games train for a bit this month. Clearing out a few titles before Gen Con, we’re looking at Sonic the Hedgehog games, Towers of Arkhanos, and a Batman game. There may be even more, time permitting, but it’s most likely going to just be those until August. After August is a whole cornucopia of pain and opportunity, depending on how silly I get at Gen Con, but we’ll see about that when the time comes. Anyways, let’s talk Batman.
In Batman: Gotham City Under Siege, you play as the legendary Caped Crusader or his slightly-less-legendary-but-still-notable-hey-one-of-them-is-just-the-cops friends as they try to survive a few episodes of The Animated Series. Criminals are spreading all over Gotham with large and aggressive plans. You’re pretty sure you can thwart them, but you have more than just you to worry about; the city is in danger! Buildings and the civilians that occupy them need your assistance, and you can’t let them down. Will you be able to foil these villains before their dire machinations leave Gotham City in an even worse state than normal?
So there’s two kinds of setup: Game Setup and Round Setup. I’ll talk about Game Setup here and Round setup elsewhere.
To start, shuffle the City Block Cards and place buildings on top of them. This means you’ll have three left over; put them back in the box without looking at the side with text on them (the Destroyed side). The buildings should have about an inch of space between them:
Place the Gotham City track on one side of the Grid; that side is now North. Also place the Bat-Signal token on 2, the Explosion token on 5, and the Citizen token on 8:
The Act Setup Cards go next; shuffle each Act and then add one to a pile, making a set of four Act Cards:
Similarly, shuffle each set of Story Cards; you’ll need the ones for Act 1:
Place the Act 1 Story Cards next to the Act Setup card for Act 1. Now, place all the Villain tokens in the included bag and mix them up:
You should shuffle and set aside the Masterminds, as well:
Have each player choose a Hero:
They should take the board and the Skill Cards and Skill Tokens:
Also give them the Skill Dice in their color:
Set the white Bonus Dice aside, for now. Choose a player to be Act Leader (or give it to Batman, if Batman is in play), and in order, have each player choose a side to set their Mini on:
Super cool, right? You can choose the same side, just not the Rooftops. Once you’ve done that, you should be ready to start!
A game of Gotham City Under Siege is played over four Acts. Simply survive all four Acts, and you win! Naturally, that’s easier said than done. Let’s talk about the three phases in order, and ultimately how best to survive them and prevent Gotham City from going down in flames.
So, when you hit this phase (unless you’re just starting Act 1), you should return the Act Setup Cards and the Story Cards for that Act to the box and get out the relevant cards for the next Act. Then, pass the Act Leader token to the left.
Now, each player gets to plan a bit. Shuffle your Skill Cards deck, draw 2 Skill Cards, choose one, and play it face-up. Put the other one back on top of the deck.
Next up, reveal the Act Setup card for this phase. It’ll place some Villains, Story Cards, and Masterminds:
- Place Villains in order, starting at the North. Just place them one at a time in clockwise order.
- Place Masterminds in their indicated location. They come with their own Villains; add them to that location, as well.
- Some Story Cards place Villains. If that happens, place them like you were placing them from the Act Setup card. Start at the North, and place in clockwise order.
Some Story Cards have an Event for the Act Leader; resolve as needed.
Now, Heroes get to act. This is played simultaneously over a series of rounds, where each player acts independently to try and resolve Story Cards and defeat Villains.
Start by rolling your dice; this may include Bonus Dice you were given, and that’s totally fine. The dice in your color are Hero Dice; the white dice are Bonus Dice. Note that certain Story Cards require Hero Dice to be completed. To use Dice on cards, you must obey the following rules:
- The die placed must match the number on the card (unless otherwise stated).
- You may only place one die on a particular square. Some boxes are large and may hold more than one die, and that’s fine too.
- Each Hero has one Action on their board that may be activated as many times as you’d like. It’s generally less powerful, but what can you do.
- Some boxes require multiple dice to complete. Just read the descriptions.
- Follow the instructions exactly. The cards are actually pretty clear if you read the whole thing. Everything is written out and specifically required or optional.
- Also, some Story Cards may block specific rules or abilities. Be careful with those.
Some cards let you attack Villains or Masterminds; to do so, you must deal Damage equal to their Rank (1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5+) in order to discard them. You may discard multiple Villains of multiple types in one attack.
If you don’t like your dice rolls, you may spend Bat-Signal points to increase or decrease the value by 1. Just, it’s a cooperative game, so make sure everyone agrees that that’s what you should be spending your money on.
If you want a boost, you may also use one of your 2 Skill Tokens after a die roll for a bonus ability. They’re hard (but not impossible) to recover, so be careful with those!
Once you’ve resolved everything regarding placing a die, you must roll your other dice again. Continue doing this until you have no dice left. Once every player has no dice left, move on to the Crisis Phase.
Now, everything goes to hell. Hope you did a good job being a hero!
If you didn’t defeat Story Cards, their penalties activate now. They might work as follows:
- Casualties: Sometimes citizens get caught in the crossfire, but a hero does their best to save everyone. Move the Citizen token one space to the left (towards the 0) if a Casualty happens. Don’t hit 0, or you lose.
- Destruction Rolls: Sometimes you make what’s called a Destruction Roll. Roll a die; on a 1 / 3 / 5, you’ll destroy a building. More on that, well, below.
- Destroy a Building: When a building is destroyed, choose one (any of them) and remove it from the game, then flip over its City Block card for a bonus effect / penalty:
- Explosion: Move the Explosion Marker one space to the left (towards the 0). Like the Casualties, if it hits the 0, you lose.
- Combo: You can choose to either take Explosion or Casualty penalties. Neither are good, but hey, you at least have options?
- Empty Building: For some reason this building was totally empty, so it just kinda falls over. Call it an urban renewal project.
Then, the Villains attack! Each stack of Villains (by rank) and each distinct Mastermind will make a Destruction Roll. Again, it destroys a building if they roll a 1 / 3 / 5, but you might be able to stop them if you’re in their battlefield. When that happens, you attempt a Heroic Defense.
- For a Heroic Defense, place your mini on a stack / Mastermind and roll a die. On a 1, you’re Wounded. If you’re already Wounded, you lose the game. Careful with that. On a 2+, you deal that much damage to the stack, which might eliminate some or all of the Villains. If it does, skip the Destruction Roll; if not, do it anyways.
- In Act 4, the Villains perform a Deadly Assault. This means that if you roll a 1 on a Heroic Defense, you just lose the game (via 2 Wounds). Be even more careful!
If you haven’t lost after this step, start the next Act!
End of Game
The game can end in the following ways:
- Any player takes a Wound when already Wounded. The players lose.
- The Explosion / Casualty Marker hits 0. The players lose.
- The players complete Act 4 without losing. The players win!
Play until you hit one of those outcomes.
Player Count Differences
There aren’t really any, since you can play with any number (2+) of Heroes at any player count. It, like the Planet of the Apes, is fundamentally a play-by-committee cooperative game. That may be fine for some people and annoying for others, but it is what it is. Personally, I think three heroes is about the right balance for me regardless of player count; there isn’t too much going on for any one player to keep track of, but there’s enough variety to the heroes that we can pull through most of the issues that the game throws at us. That kind of limits the player count to <= 3, for me, but if you find that five players can effectively manage three characters or if you like larger, more chaotic games, more power to you.
- Get rid of Story Cards and Masterminds that have extra effects. You really don’t want to have those sticking around for the long-term; they can flip dice, reduce values, and generally make your characters less useful. You should power through them when you can.
- Unless one player has a really good set of abilities or choices available, I’d generally recommend splitting Bonus Dice evenly. You can often heap Bonus Dice on one player, but if their Hero Board fills up, then there’s not a whole lot that they can do besides using it to generically beat up criminals. If you spread them around, you may be able to leverage more players’ abilities, which is generally pretty useful.
- Losing a few buildings is okay. They’ve got insurance. Plus, they may be empty! Is what you hope, at least. Either way, you’re going to be hard-pressed to keep Gotham totally afloat during the game, so it’s also totally possible that you won’t have much of a choice, here. My best advice, though, is to assume that every building will provide the worst available outcome.
- As you might guess, the Story Cards that cause you to lose if you don’t complete them are pretty crucial. You can’t let those ones slip, even if it means letting a bunch of criminals run rampant. At least in the latter case, you only might lose the game (as opposed to definitely losing the game, in the other case). Keep an eye on your priorities and make sure that they include, you know, not dying.
- If you’re Wounded or in Round 4, maybe don’t go fight all the bad guys at the end of a round? Let someone else take care of those; you need to stay alive. Even if they make a bunch of Destruction Rolls, it should be okay.
- That said, don’t take Story Card penalties because you’re afraid of fighting bad guys. You’ll only take a Wound if you roll a 1, which, unlikelyish, so you can definitely punch some of them back. Besides, if you defeat them, they won’t hurt the city! Win-win.
- Don’t be shy about using your Skills. You can usually get one or two of them back over the course of the game (even more if Robin is rolling well), so using them early isn’t the worst thing if you think it’ll help you prevent a lot of damage within Gotham proper. Just make sure you’re not sitting on two unused Skills once the game ends (or once you lose).
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- If you like Batman-themed games, this is definitely one. Not meant to be a dig, but there aren’t that many Batman-themed board games that I can think of (maybe 5?), and I think most of them are competitive, so a nice cooperative game is a refreshing change of pace.
- I generally like cooperative games. They’re a nice genre; I wish I owned more of them.
- The minis look great. One thing that IDW has never disappointed with is the quality of their miniatures. I have so many from that Legend of Korra game and I love all of them.
- I like the buildings; good table presence and they nest within each other, which I appreciate. That was a nice touch from a storage perspective, which is always nice. I usually complain about inserts and the like but the way that they made the buildings was actually super good, so, thanks for that, whoever’s job that was.
- The Animated Series is such a good Batman time period to reference. It’s got so many good things. To be fair, I think it was really my first exposure to Batman, so I’ve also got a lot of nostalgia at play, here, but capitalizing on nostalgia is pretty much baked-in when you’re looking at a licensed game from IDW. Doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily good or bad, just that I feel like they do try pretty hard to make sure that the theme of the game is carried through the actual mechanics, which I appreciate.
- Can take a while. I think your first game will be a long one; the first Act in particular. It takes a while to figure out how your moves and the dice all gel with the Story Cards and your Skill Card and your player power. That’s not … bad, per se, but it may not inspire a lot of people to be chomping at the bit to play again once you finish.
- Lots of moving parts. There are just so many pieces. It’s not a particularly bad thing, but it can be a lot for one or two players to manage.
- Definitely seems daunting during the first round. There are a lot of things on the field to fight, and this will likely stress a lot of players out. That’s not a huge thing to worry about, though; y’all are pretty strong and you can take a hit without dying, so you should try and go for it.
- Don’t particularly love that the City Block Cards are randomized. Some of them are okay (nothing happens), and some of them are very bad. This means you should assume, on average, that they’re pretty bad, yes (or assume every card is The Worst so you’re prepared), but it’s still a bit annoying that they have unpredictable effects, since that may cost you the game.
- Definitely vulnerable to quarterbacking. That’s generally just the case with open-information cooperative games. If you want to fix it, make it so that every dispute is resolved by the Act Leader, which rotates during each Act (or something similar). That gives every player the chance to be the final say, even if one player wants to tell everyone else what to do.
- Catwoman’s ability is just … weird. I get how it’s thematic, but it’s almost an aggressive nerf that she can never be the first player to place on a Story Card. Maybe her Skill Cards are better than other players’ to compensate (I feel like that’s the case for the GCPD), but I haven’t gotten a particularly intense impression that that assumption rings true.
- Setting up each round is a huge pain. I think I mentioned something similar to this in my review of Code Triage some years ago, but generally speaking I’m of the opinion that you should never make players count higher than, like, 30. And technically you don’t! But you do end up having to pull that many (or more) random villains, depending on your game setup, and having to deal with 50+ pieces on or around the board for a fairly simple game can be frustrating, logistically. There are also many cards to deal with for each round’s setup, which means that it can be pretty variable but also pretty time-consuming? It helps if you’re not the only person setting it up, but since I’m usually the only person who’s read the rulebook, I usually am. (No disrespect to my game group; they just haven’t read the rules so they don’t know what to do.)
- There are also a number of rules to remember (with a bunch of small exceptions), so we’ve made a number of annoying mistakes. For instance, Masterminds place villain tokens differently than the Story Cards do, Heroic Defenses can lose you the game, but only in Round 4, some of the Story Cards add rules in a tiny font that can be easily misread or ignored, and you may have some weird interactions between Story Cards and Skill Cards (in that they may attempt to block each other). I’m pretty sure BGG has the lowdown on the rules clarifications, but these small (and necessary) changes to the rules are pretty easy to forget if you’re not pretty vigilant about making sure you’ve done everything correctly. It frustrates me a bit because I’m positive there are a few things that we did incorrectly in at least one game.
Overall: 6.75 / 10
Overall, Batman: Gotham City Under Siege is pretty fun! I think there are a lot of things to like about it — a diverse array of characters; a neat 3D setup; lots of cards, powers, and abilities for variable play; fun throwbacks and references; and even some fantastic minis. Those are all great things to put in a game you’re developing, and I’m super glad IDW has paid such attention to the license (though I’ve never found them to fall short in that area; I suppose that’s why they’re such good stewards for those licenses). The game itself isn’t my favorite cooperative game, yeah, but it’s occasionally fun to play. I think I’d prefer a shorter game with a more streamlined setup and gameplay process; I worry that this review is going to clock in at around 3000 words, and for a 45 – 60 minute game, that makes me think either I’m being too wordy (I am) or that the game has too much going on for its length. Or it could be both things. That’s not the worst thing in the world, though, as I think this game is a love letter to Batman: The Animated Series, which admittedly I haven’t seen much of (I was more of a Justice League / JLU kid), so fans of that will certainly feel seen by the game; I just think I wish it were a bit shorter. If that’s not something you’re concerned about or if Batman: The Animated Series was your favorite Batman media, I’d recommend checking out Batman: Gotham City Under Siege; it’s an interesting game and I’ve had fun playing it!