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Playing Games: Gotham City Chronicles

Venturing into my Thursday night gaming club this week, I was not expecting this, but one of the gang had just received his big boxes of The Gotham Chronicles. He said it weighed about 45 pounds and came in a box the size of a mini fridge (or a Caspar Mattress?). The main set consisted of two boxes, comprised mostly of very well laid out miniatures trays. Seriously, between the two boxes there must have been around 100 minis. I didn't count and haven't done the research.

He said there were another bunch of boxes, one which houses a massive, in-scale-to-the-minis batmobile which has an in-game play-as-character function, and also a giant T-Rex for one scenario. It's clear this kickstarter was very successful

The gameplay is based of the same engine that the Conan game from a couple years ago runs on. I'm not really familiar with that game, but in case you are, well, there's your short hand.

It's a scenario-based game (a big booklet of scenarios, ala Imperial Assault or Gloomhaven) but it is NOT campaign based (which seems almost a relief given how prevalent the campaign-based game has become and how much time they eat out of playing other tabletop games...that said I love a lot of campaign-based games). That said, I've just learned there is a mini-campaign you can play if you wish, and head-to-head play as well. It's versatile.

The main problem I have with The Gotham City Chronicles as we played it was that the scenarios seemed to dictate who you play in the game. The game plays up to 3 as good guys with one other player controlling the bad guys (again ala Imperial Assault). As a good guy you get to be player 1, 2 or 3. As P1 you get your choice of a couple specified characters (in the scenario we played, P1 could be Batman or Renee Montoya, P2 could be Catwoman or Bluebird, P3 could be Red Hood, Nightwing or a third option I've forgotten). There are about 25 different playable characters (you can even play as Batgirl, or Green Arrow, or Commissioner Gordon) but you're confined to who you can play based on the mission.

So if you wanted to be Nightwing all the time you're out of luck.

The play engine revolves around moving energy cubes (representing your stamina) from your passive to your active state, and assigning your cubes to different actions. The cubes give you dice to roll (plus any character-specific bonuses printed on your sheet, plus any accompanying weapons/bat-gear you may have ... we didn't know that we could equip ourselves with Bat gear last night, so we were handicapped and I think choosing and using bat gear would have been a really fun part of the game). The dice are the usual frustrating assortment where 2/6, 3/6 or 4/6 faces are blank on the die, so getting a complete miss happened a lot even with a trio of dice with 4/6 hit faces.

Getting the strategy down was hard as well. Your cubes run out quickly, and regaining some is a challenge since you have to declare your stance at the start of each round "action stance, or passive stance"... with the former you only regain one or two cubes, with the latter you get 5 (I'm not sure if these stats change based on character you're playing). You have to be in action stance to fight, or manipulate things (which are usually the objective), while in passive stance you can only move or pick stuff up. So pretty much you play one action turn, and then one rest turn. When your mission is only 7 rounds and half of those are eaten up by resting, it's pretty tough. I think with experience managing your energy cubes probably gets a bit more tactical, though probably still a key challenge in the game.

In hindsight, the whole cube system is actually pretty thematic in terms of consuming mental and physical energy as you fight or perform actions... I just didn't think it was involving enough to get into the play as the character, to really FEEL like you're the character you're playing. Since you're not upgrading or having any specific character objective beyond the shared mission your investment in Role Playing is pretty small. ...but maybe that's just because we were still learning.

The base set comes with four boards for the scenarios (two double sided boards) so the terrain seems like it could get pretty repetitive compared to modular boards which can mix and match like Imperial Assault (not that I'm holding IA up as a bastion of exquisite gaming, just comparing as it's my main point of reference for these kinds of games). But I also gather it will take playing many more scenarios to get testy about terrain.

I was a little frustrated with gameplay but some of that can be attributed to the owner missing a few key things (like us being able to stock some bat equipment on our utility belt, not knowing answers to what key symbols were, not knowing if there's scaling if we're playing as 2 heroes instead of 3 heroes...). It also took us almost 90 minutes to get started but that's because the game's owner had only a little familiarity and hadn't really prepped ahead of time.. and gameplay was about 75 for the mission which was ok, but is probably more like 60 minutes because there were a lot of distraction.

The reals sell of the game is its biggest strength: the Minis are gorgeous (they're what sold the game, naturally) and the character stats are well thought through and feel individualistic. I love the "console" that the bad guy uses as well, it's really nicely designed. I wish Imperial Assault had something like that.

I'm eager to play again while the gameplay is fresh in my mind, even though I wasn't necessarily wowed by the game from my first play. I'm a comic book nerd and thematically I do like how this presents itself.

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