Batman Board Games Show the Difference Between Players and Collectors

The Batman Game? Not any good. If you’re interested, I know where there’s a copy on sale for $3.

Wizkids, the makers of the popular comic-book-themed Heroclix tabletop game, just released a new Batman board game. In Batman: The Gotham City Strategy Game, two to four players take on the roles of some of Batman’s greatest villains to exert criminal control over the city.

But the Dark Knight is always lurking in the shadows, and he may appear at any time—by playing certain cards—to bring the hammers of justice down on the bad guys and their henchmen.

From the mind of Spanish designer Paolo Mori, it’s a decent attempt at doing a hobby-market Batman game. The art, unfortunately, is terrible. With nearly 70 years of great Batman artwork—from comics and animated shows—it’s a shame that the decision was made to use the same illustrations that you’ll find on Batman coloring books, party favors and other chintzy character goods.

Wizkids’ Batman: The Gotham City Strategy Game is the latest—and best—Batman game to date. Note that the figures included can also be used with Wizkids’ Heroclix game. Also note that the artwork is the same as Batman birthday-party favors.

Still, it’s the best Batman game to date, despite its flaws. Despite the Batman’s huge perennial popularity, until now the only available Gotham City games have been not-so-great mass-market movie or TV show tie-ins. Sure, many of these games are quite collectible, but for those who actually want to play a great Batman game, there simply hasn’t been a quality option.

There are Caped Crusader editions of popular mainstream board and card games like Monopoly and Uno. There’s University Games’ The Batman Game from 1989, a title I’ve seen selling for as little as, … well, let’s just say I’ve seen people giving it away. 

The Adam West show was a huge hit in the 1960s, and it begat lots of merchandise, including such spurious examples as another game called The Batman Game, a rather-dramatically titled Batman Swoops Down and even a wooden labyrinth game bearing the Batman brand. The Christopher Nolan films also spawned a number of, frankly, quite junky licensed games, as did the Tim Burton films and their terrible, terrible follow-ups.

Many of these older games, or those made in quantities smaller than what big-box department stores might order, have value, but it’s chiefly as Batman ephemera for collectors of TV or superhero memorabilia. Batman collectors may put a premium on certain titles due to their scarcity or artwork, but for those who actually play games and are looking for value in terms of a genuine Batman experience, every one of these games is lacking.

Without exception.

This is also where the sharp distinction between people who play games and people who collect games because of their subject really comes into light. The Batman games that have been available prior to this most recent title are not really intended for serious hobbyists. They’re birthday presents bought by an aunt or uncle to give to a young niece or nephew. They’re picked up by someone who would buy anything with the particular brand on it to add to a larger collection. In short, most of the games like these Batman titles are marketing cash-ins, not legitimate attempts at communicating the Batman concept, characters and setting through the tabletop-gaming medium. 

Yep, of course they did. Is there anything they can’t “Monopolize”? Ironically, the artwork in this game is better than the new Batman: The Gotham City Strategy Game. On the right, I’m not quite sure how well the mechanics of Uno depict either the Dark Knight’s battle against Ra’s Al Ghul or his internal struggle
dealing with his parents’ murder.

Here’s the scoop on how licensed games like the Batman titles get to the shelf of your local department store: A company gets a contract to produce a game for an upcoming film or TV show. A designer or designers then hash out a simple game that may—or may not—have a connection between what you do in the game and what the property depicts. You might have a roll-and-move race game where every player is a different colored Batman. Or you may end up with a game where you collect sets of villain cards to score points in a simple Rummy variant. Or the design may just apply Batman artwork to an existing game like Uno.

Speaking as an enormous Batman fanatic and as a game player, I can confidently state that practically none of these games are regularly played by anyone today. 

Two Adam West–era Batman games from 1966. The artwork on the left is great and very likely to appeal to collectors. On the right, notice how Batman swooping down makes him look like a cheap plastic figurine.

The takeaway is that collecting themed games and playing them are often two very different things, and value changes accordingly. The new Batman game retails at $60 and is readily available, but a game player would not likely spend a third of that on any other Batman game ever published unless it’s solely as a conversation piece, collection item or curiosity. It comes down to what you actually value in a game—its collectibility or its playability. Hit both, and it’s a jackpot.

Michael Barnes is a lifelong game player, collector and enthusiast. He has parlayed his passion for games into several successful ventures, including a retail hobby store, two popular gaming Websites, and 10 years of widely read commentary and criticism about both tabletop and video games.

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