Battleshed Diaries

Saturday 30 January 2016

A night in downtown Gotham city

I'm Batman. I was hoping to get the chance to say that in the iconic low, raspy voice during another first play of the week. This time the forces of good and evil were battling to expand their territory on the mean streets of Gotham city - the Batman Miniature Game.

This is a D6, small skirmish game from Knight Models based in Spain. It recreates DC comic's universe of heroes and villains on the tabletop. Gangs of between 4-10 miniatures duke it out using a plethora of hand weapons, firearms and character traits straight from the Batman mythos. 

As Knight Models have the official license they have delved deep into DC's universe, faithfully recreating an extensive range of 35mm white metal miniatures. Batman himself is even available in his different incarnations, from the cheesy Adam West character to the Frank Miller's darker vision.

This isn't my usual gaming fare and I freely acknowledge that I've never had much interest in the superhero genre. However, my brother-in-law, John, is a fan and collector of DC comics and the whole Batman thing. 

So it was no surprise when he announced he'd invested in this game and asked if I wanted to try it out. I suspect he has a mask and cape hidden in a wardrobe in his house. Maybe he secretly wears it when there's no one around. Actually, I'd rather not think about that. Now that image is in my head! Ugh!

I'm always keen to try out new gaming systems when I get the chance, so the chance for some scenario driven skirmishing in the dark streets of Gotham was intriguing. When I say 'dark' streets, I mean just that. 

This game is set in night-time Gotham city. Which means 'urban furniture' such as lamp posts and sewer covers have to be placed by the players pre-game. Line-of-sight is restricted to 30cm unless a character is standing within a 10cm radius of a street lamp! Characters can even enter and travel Gotham's sewers, popping up again elsewhere in the city, preceded by the metallic clanking of a heavy drain cover being removed and a blast of fetid air!

Having plenty of terrain to provide cover and vantage points is necessary to play, somewhat like Infinity. The game is scenario driven. We rolled the Secure the Area scenario from the 6 provided. 

I let John sort out the gangs. I ended up with The Joker's crew. Drat! No 'I'm Batman' then. The Joker was amusingly equipped with Exploding Teeth and a Poisoned Knife.

His villainous crew consisted of his sidekick Duela Dent and henchmen Contra-Auguste, Asker, Clown, Borgon and the Harley thug Punker. These all came armed with an assortment of makeshift weapons such a baseball bats, Hammers, Knives Chainsaw and Guns.

This gave me a crew Reputation (points) of 296. Typical games are 300 points. For every 150 points, you get $500 to spend on additional equipment for your crew.

The Joker's crew
John's crew was led by Dr. Harleen Frances Quinzel (Harley Quinn, Arkham Knight), free agent Waylon Jones (Killer Croc) and henchmen Worker, Brag, Ringmaster and Harley Quinn's Gatling Brute - who, funnily enough, was armed with an enormous Vulcan M61 gun!

Each miniature comes with a character card with it's basic stats - Willpower, Strength, Movement, Attack, Defence, Endurance, Special - along with assorted personal traits and rank. These character cards are central to this game as they are used to resource manage the miniature's available actions during a turn.

The Joker's character card
Yes, this game has a resource management system at its core. You get a number of counters equal to the character's Willpower to spend on Actions when Activated. This is done alternating between players until all the crew have been activated. The available action counters are reduced as the character takes damage.

For example, most characters have a single movement of 10cm and its Movement stat will stipulate how many 'moves' the character can make during its activation. This can be boosted by applying Action Counters from it's resource pool. The Joker has 2 Movement but if I boosted it with two counters he could move 20cm plus the result of 2D6.

Crucially, all the counters are reset at the start of each turn during the Raise the Plan phase, which is preceded by the Take the Lead phase. This is where counters, half for each crew depending on the number of scenario game turns, are randomly drawn from a bag. The player who draws their crew token gets to apply all their crew's Action Counters first - Raising the Plan!

It's a nice mechanic, with a random imitative at the start of the game but becoming more predictable - and tense - as the bag of turn counters is reduced.

Attacking and Shooting use a D6 against the character's Attack Value to Hit. Their victim can then spend Defence Counters to exchange for a D6 up to the character's Defensive Skill to try and Block the attack.

For any hits that get through, the attacker then rolls a D6 against it's Strength value. Any successes then translate into either Wounds or Stuns (or both!) depending on the type of weapon used. Stuns render the character incapable of using Action Counters until the end of the round. The Endurance skill determines how much damage a character can take before being Knocked Out.

Ranged weapons have a Rate of Fire which determines the number of Attack dice. Importantly, the amount of shooting attacks that can be performed by a character in the game is limited by the number of Ammunition Clips the character has. One shooting attack empties a clip, not by the number of shots.

So Duela Dent's Lipstick Gun, for example, only has one clip so can only shoot once in the game unless she is in base contact with an Ammo supply and uses an Action Counter to rearm!

Up to three Action Counters can be placed on the character's Special Skill too, which can be used to do things like Push and Grab or let Batman fire his Batclaw. Character and weapons also come with various traits and there are many game Effects that can be in play such as Poisoned, Hypnotized, Frozen or Pinned Down characters.

This mix of elements really does create a wonderful sense of the DC world. With colourful characters working to capture one of four types of objectives - Loot, Riddles, Ammo Crates and Titan Containers.

For our scenario, Secure the Area, our crews had to be split in two and deployed in opposite corners of the battlefield. Which meant there were crews in all four corners of the board! One objective marker was placed in the enemy's deployment zone and one in the central zone.

The remaining objectives were placed following the game's standard placement rules. The game length was 8 Rounds with VPs for various objectives or models (determined by rank) Knocked Out.

After the first couple of turns we soon got the hang of the Activation and Combat sequences. Our characters were soon either making for ammo crates or the Riddle markers whilst others were just looking for a rumble.

John made good use of the sewers to move his henchmen about, although this involved a bit of forward planning as normally only one character from a crew at a time can be in the sewers and they must spend a whole turn down there! VPs are totalled at the end of each turn, which helps focus players on the scenario objectives.

Our game ended with my crew, led by the Joker - well, until he was knocked out anyway - winning by a single VP! It was quite a tense last couple of rounds. With John knowing only his crew's turn counter was left in the Take the lead bag he needed to plan ahead to dislodge my henchmen obstinately clinging onto three objectives.

Out squeezed the hulking Killer Croc from the sewer in the central district with his huge Claws, Tough Skin and Hatred of law forces. However, after a flurry of combats my villains just managed to nab the prize!

I think this game is more orientated to the dedicated fan of the DC universe. The rulebook is a high quality hardback, if a tad pricey at around 46 euros. The white metal miniatures vary in price and size, usually between 30-40mm and typically around 15 euros. 

Yes, I did have an involuntary sharp intake of breath when I looked at Knight Model's online catalogue. However, a quick scan around the net showed more competitive prices are available. The initial outlay is high, even if the gang sizes are relatively small. And as the game is reliant on having suitable terrain it could be financially prohibitive for some, especially newcomers to tabletop wargaming.

I must admit, this was a fun game. I liked the mechanics and I think Knight Models have done justice to the DC licence. As John has evidently emptied his bank account given the number of miniatures he's collected I'm sure I'll be playing the Batman Miniatures Game again.

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