Updated: Aug 30
WBG Score: 8.5
Player Count: 1-2
Published by: Cryptozoic Entertainment
There is generally a new Batman re-boot announced every third Tuesday of the month. But the original re-boot was an 80's masterpiece, and inspired the rest. And importantly, it now exists in cardboard (and plastic) form.
The O.G. Dark Knight.
Batman The Dark Knight Returns is a Kickstarter game that fulfilled in Spring 2022. The game is based on the hugely popular graphic novel by Frank Miller from 1986. The story follows an even more dystopian Gotham, 10 years after the Batman's retirement/disappearance. Did he ever even exist? Yes! Yes, of course he did! Sorry... Where was I? Ah yes, due to rising temperatures and tensions, crime is rife in the city again. Bruce Wayne feels like it's time to don the old suit one last time to clear out the trash.
In the game, you play a 55 year old Batman, fighting your way through the four books from this original comic book series. Your powers are certainly not at their peak, but don't let this fool you. You are still the Dark Knight and a formidable force to be reckoned with! Playing as an aging Batman brings an interesting dynamic of stamina and grit. This is made real in the game in a deeply engrossing way.
Deluxe or Standard?
The game has two versions, the standard version with standees, and deluxe edition coming with a separate box full of gorgeous minis and a slip case to hold the two boxes together. The minis are very detailed and would be my preference but the standees in the main box are great too and do come with the original art from the comics so look better than the unpainted minis on the board in my opinion. The choice perhaps will come down to weather you are a painter or not?
The game itself plays over the four books from the series, and can be played as stand-alone chapters, or one long arduous campaign. Four books in the original comics are now four missions in this one new game. Your health, sanity, and grit carries over game to game, so you need to be tough to make it through! Although, one main criticism of this game is it is perhaps a little too easy. I won all four books on my first try relatively simply. But there are ways to adjust this for later tries with a normal and hard mode for each level. All of this plays very much as a solo experience, but one that will grip you from start to finish. There is also a VS. mode where you can ask a friend to control the adversaries Batman will face. Or perhaps you yourself would like to see if you can win against the Dark Knight!
But the main experience here is in a solo mode, fighting against the Two-Face, The Mutant Gang Leader, The Joker, and finally Superman himself as the Government sends him in to stop you. Controlling the board is a must as riots can break out easily. There is a 'Pandemic' feeling to what you are doing. Assessing the current danger, predicting the future problems, and trying your best to keep everything under control. This part plays very much like Pandemic. If you are fan of that, then you will love this.
The board itself is made up of a series of areas within districts. Each area has three spaces within it which can hold you, your enemies, and the media, police, and mutant tokens. If an area ever becomes full then a riot breaks out. If you run out of riot tokens this is one way to loose. You can also loose by running out of grit, health, or sanity, running out of time on the turn order before you have completed your mission, or if the doomsday clock every strikes midnight. All of this follows the comics very well, and keep very much in theme with the original story.
Over the course of the four books/games I found I was close to loosing a few times on the doomsdays clock but there are quite a few cards you can use to push it back in your favour. I was down to my final health in the battle with the Joker, but managed to hold on, but was otherwise un-troubled. After each chapter you can increase your health, grit or sanity and there are spaces on the board where you can do this too.
The way you win each chapter is by defeating the main boss you are up against that time. Apart from the final book where you are up against Superman and just need to survive. The man of steel is unbeatable after all. The final game was the only time I reached the end of the GCPD track, because that was the goal.
The game runs through various rounds, each with four tuns. Each book has a different degree of difficulty that affects how many adversaries you will add to the board at the end of each turn. There will also be other things added to this board, and when I say added, I really do mean that. Using the provided dry wipe pen, you actually write this all on the board itself. It feels odd to start with, but once you realise how high quality it all is, and see that it wipes off fine, with zero traces, it quickly becomes one of the coolest things about this experience.
Bat and Write.
You will also be marking down how many enemies will enter the fray each round, and making reminders for yourself as to what happens at what point. Such as above were you can see that after round two, turn eight is over, I move the story card to part two. The set up will tell you to do this, but this just reminds you at the right time to not forget this rule. It is a very clever system.
You will also me marking onto the main map area of the board. You can see below how each area is connected by pathways, but you can draw your own additional pathways between any two areas at various stages of the game which are kept on, game by game, chapter by chapter. You will also be striking off various spaces on the board when they are destroyed, and marking x2 symbols on some to increase their efficiencies. By the end, the board very much will be your own. But to start again, you just wipe it all off and go again. It is a very clever way to blend a legacy and campaign experience. Semi-Permanent changes to the board are made for your experience, but ones that can be easily reset to start a new campaign.
Each round begins by drawing 12 cards from the deck. You will then reveal the top three and choose one to go into the event deck for that round. Each card has two main functions. First, the top action which shows how the card can be used in the game either as a fight card or detective card. Fight cards are played rather inevitably, when fighting. Detective cards can be payed at any time that suits you. Second, there is the bottom half of the card which is how the card will be used if you chose it as an event for that round.
Once you have chosen which of the three cards you want to add to the event pile, you will then add the other two either to your hand, or to the fight deck if it is a fight card. You will do this four time, three cards at at a time, until all 12 cards have been sorted and you are left with four cards in the event pile. These are then shuffled and will be the events you draw and react to in each of the four turns this round. It is a clever mechanism by which you chose and know which cards are coming, but you don't quite know the order in which they will come.
Minis, Cards, Action!
You can then move your Batman standee or miniature as far as you like within your current district or to the next closest space in a neighbouring district. Detective cards may allow for additional or secondary movements at this point if required. You can then activate your ally. Each chapter has a different ally to work with. Commissioner Gordon, Robin, The Green Arrow. It is fun to have what is essentially a second character to control and work with. Using your ally is key to success, especially in the harder modes. The Green Arrows ability to clear the streets of Gotham of Police in Chapter four is especially pleasing. Particularly as if you keep rolling arrows, you can keep going!
Then it is time to activate Batman based on what space he is on. Will you fight the Police or a Mutant, will you sneak passed them? Is it time to take on the boss? Each round, you will have a different Batman, Boss, and enemies card showing you the specifics for each character. Nothing ever changes too drastically. It will all flow nicely game to game. These cards act as a handy guide to get you through each action as smoothly and quickly as possible. As such, each game only last around 45-60 minutes, which for a solo, is perfect for me. You can play multiple chapters back to back for a longer game, or up the difficulty, to tailor to your needs. Either way I played though, I found one constant. I was totally and utterly engrossed in the game throughout. Which for a solo, is rare for me. There was enough strategy to keep my enjoyment levels high. There was enough action and story to keep my focus.
Once you are done, there are plenty of ways to replay this game. Some may feel they are done with it. But with the vs. mode and hard mode, there are multiple ways to move beyond just the epilogue provided with the above pouch!
Playing through as the Batman in these brilliant stories brought me right back to the original comics. I was brought right back to the dark, foreboding, but exciting world Frank Miller created. The art is directly lifted from the comics, and the story follows all the major plot points. You really do feel like you are in it. If you are a fan, I heavily would encourage you to get the comic and read as you play. It was voted as one of Time top 10 comics of all time for good reason. The grey and blue Batman outfit does jar a bit after all the recent movies, but get past that and you will see how the Dark Knight was born. Reading along as you play just increasing the immersion into this gritty world. See below a card from chapter four and the subsequent page this is lifted from in the original comic.
I absolutely loved my time playing as Batman. And it really was just that. I did not feel I was playing a Batman game. More I was Batman, and needed to rid Gotham of the crime that had spread in my retirement. The game is utterly absorbing and one of the best solo experiences I have ever had.
The only negative thing I can think to say about this game is that it was impossible to get it all back in the box nicely after punching it. Something's just don't fit and with two large boxes, that is a little frustrating.
A massive thanks must go to Rod from extraordinaryinvestigations who leant me his copy to play, before he had even punched it. What a gent! Rod, I owe you a few glasses of Uisge beatha!