It’s finally here! A hardcover version of the rules for the Batman Miniature Game. To be honest, I’d have happily taken a softcover too. I’m just glad to have a new edition of the rules and in physical form to boot. It was great that the previous version of the rules were free to all. However, English is not the first language of Knight Models and so the rules could be quite confusing thanks to a mix of broken English, wrong verb tenses, different words for the same term/effect and the occasional bit of Spanglish. As great as the miniatures are, the explanation of the rules needed a little work. Knight Models knew this, so they hired a translator-slash-editor who used to work for Games Workshop with the full intent of making a high quality English version of the game’s rules. As someone who loves to paint figures for this game and who owns nearly thirty pieces for it (only eight are full painted. Hopefully nine by the time this goes live. I just have to choose to finish Catwoman or Talia). I was very excited for this. Those of you who have read my reviews/commentary on figures for the Batman Miniature Game know that I had high hopes for this. So was the BMG Rulebook everything I wanted it to be?
Well, not quite. The first thing I noticed when I got the book is that the spine is upside down. Instead of the name of the game going from top to bottom like every other tabletop gaming book (or book in general, really), this was printed upside down going from bottom to top, making it look like the book is upside down on your shelf and it looks really odd when place next to other tabletop gaming books. Of course, this is a minor error in the scheme of things, but it’s not the best first impression to give off. After all, if such an obvious printing mistake could occur, one has to wonder how good the editing/quality control on this print run actually was.
As I flipped through the book I did notice typos, grammatical errors, incorrect verb tenses and a few other issues that did indeed make it obvious that the book still suffers from editorial/translation issues, but these errors were dramatically reduced from previous versions of the rules. Honestly, the book has less errors than I’ve seen from some Catalyst Game Labs/Shadowrun releases and all of their writing/editorial team speaks English as their first language. So this really is impressive and a vast improvement when you look at things comparatively. Sure, the editorial team could have done a better job with the rulebook, but what’s here is no worse or no better than the majority of tabletop gaming releases that come out these days, which says a LOT about the lack of quality in the editorial department for the entire industry.
Although these previous two errors were primarily cosmetic or minor issues, there is one very big issue with the rulebook I take umbrage with. It’s the same HUGE problem that everyone has had with the Robotech RPG Tactics core rulebook, so I’m surprised that Knight Models made the same mistake as much of the Robotech fanbase crucified Palladium for this issue (amongst other things. There are a lot of reasons to be cranky at how that game turned out.) I’m talking about the lack of character stats in the book. This was very shocking and disappointing to me as this was pretty much a “must have” for any miniature game, be they skirmish or a full on wargame. Currently, the stats come bundled in with the minis you buy on a very thing and fragile piece of paper. If you lose the paper, you lose the stats and the character isn’t really playable. The good news is that the cards can be found and downloaded off of Knight Model’s website, so it’s not like Robotech where all the stats are printed on these tiny stamp sized cards and there is no way to replace them. Unfortunately, most of the cards in their current form on the website are so small you really can’t read them, and it doesn’t help if you’re someplace where you can’t access the internet. Knight Models REALLY needed to put stat blocks for all the currently available characters in the book. This could have been easily done because the actual rules for the game only take up ninety pages of the 168 in the rulebook. What are the other seventy-eight pages? Well, filler. It’s either pictures of currently made models or background/biographical information about characters. This seemed like a very odd choice to me, because who is going to play the Batman Miniature Game that needs four pages of explanatory text about who Batman is. If you’re playing this game and spending fourteen to twenty dollars on a single 35mm figure, you pretty much know who Batman, Robin, Alfred, Joker, Green Arrow, Riddler, Catwoman and everyone else is. Bane does not need four pages of biography, and this is coming from someone who is friends with Chuck Dixon. If you’re going to play a Batman game, you already know who these characters are. You don’t need their biographies in a RULEBOOK. That’s what you have comics, movies and cartoons for. These pages really could have been put to a lot better use. By providing all the stats in the book, you wouldn’t have to worry about printing off replacement cards or losing them in the first place. Sure, newer figures wouldn’t be in the book, but you could release a once a year supplement with all the new character stat blocks or update the book every few years to include the new figures. It’s what other miniature games too. Hell, Games Workshop has made a mint off regularly republishing Warhammer army books/codexes with only slight changes and new miniature stats added. Knight Models REALLY needed to have used these surplus seventy-eight pages in a better fashion. Besides stat blocks, they could have put in painting tips for people new to miniature games but chose this because of their love for DC comics. They could have talked about how to build sets for the game. They have wonderfully done theme parks and even an Arkham Asylum shown in pictures throughout the rulebook, but they aren’t for sale. For newcomers to the hobby just some hints and tips on these concepts would have really made the book far more friendly and inviting. Instead, the entire book reads like the audience has spent years playing games like Warhammer Hordes or Kings of War instead of realizing that this could have been a fantastic gateway book for new people into the world of miniature painting and/or wargaming. There is so much missed potential in the Batman Miniature Game Rulebook that is makes me mildly peeved just thinking about it.
Okay, deep breaths. We’ve spent two pages talking about the things that are really with the Batman Miniature Game Rulebook, now let’s talk about what is right, as I’d like this review to end on an upbeat positive happy note, because the book is really good aside from the previously mentioned issues.
First up – material wise, the rulebook is fantastic. The production materials are top of the line and perhaps the best I’ve seen out of a miniatures’ company save for Games Workshop’s The End Times releases. The cover is extremely sturdy and it has strategic embossing on Batman’s cape (front cover) and the Joke warband on the back that needs to be felt to truly appreciated. It sounds silly, but the cover is just fun to touch. The interior pages are of a high quality gloss paper stock and you can tell Knight Models spared no expense at putting this thing together. Of course, that is why the price tag is so high but oh man, is it ever worth it. The biding is sewn instead of glued, which is fantastic news for those of you used to your gaming books falling apart from regular use. Style-wise, I couldn’t have asked for a better book. It really is that worthy of praise.
Of course, substance is what counts with a gaming book and so now we turn to that. I’m happy to say that aside from my annoyance about stats not being in the book and that nearly have the pages are devoted to background information that really isn’t need, those first ninety pages of the book are a grand slam and should be the standard bearer for this part of the industry. You have a solid table of contents for easy of navigation and an index that leads you to specific pages for any term, stat, mechanic and piece of jargon in the game. Can’t remember what Amphibious does as a trait. You can easily find it on page 37 thanks to the index. Can’t remember what items a Green Arrow crew’s henchman can choose from? The index leads you to page 51.You’d be surprised how few miniature games actually have an index and for Knight Models to actually think of its customers by putting it in, shows how committed they are to making the rules easy to learn, even if you’re less experienced with the hobby. I absolutely love the layout and ease of navigation in this rulebook and I hope other publishers take note of the flow/format, because this really should be how things are done.
The other thing that really stands out is the explanation of the rules. Yes, there are ninety pages of rules, which probably sounds intimidating at first. Think about it though. Dungeons & Dragons requires three core rulebooks to play, each several hundred pages long. Most tabletop RPGs have a core rulebook of several hundred pages and then tons of supplements that a GM must keep track of in his or her head. When you compare that to the fact Batman Miniature Game has less than 100 pages, things sound a lot easier to learn and digest. Even better the rules are written in a straightforward, easy to follow way. After you the book once, you will be able to play almost instinctively with the only real checks being to see what some Traits do or to look up Henchmen equipment options. Best of all, if you want the rules boiled down to their purest format, you have a two page Reference Sheet which summarizes everything but Traits. This is fantastic and this takes a lot of pressure of newcomers to learn the rules, even if the book doesn’t help them with the concepts of painting, gluing or scenery. Sure the rules are written more for longtime wargamers, but the fact they put in a quick reference guide like this in addition to easily searchable indexes and a logical layout means that newcomers will have a much easier time learning this game than many of its contemporaries.
One of the best parts of the book is on Page 8 entitled, “Why So Serious?” which reminds people that Batman Miniature Game is just a game. It’s not something to get frustrated over or angry about. Just have fun with it and solve rules disputes with the flip of a coin. I love this, especially compared to every other miniature game on the market right now which take themselves so incredibly seriously, it’s a bit sad.
One of the most interesting things about the Batman Miniature Game rulebook is the way it repeats itself. No, it’s not the same few things spouted over and over until your eyes roll back in your head. It’s a repetition of the same concepts, terminology and mechanics throughout the book, but each time things are repeated, they are a little more in-depth or discussed more in detail. In many ways, this is like a book for a class you are taking. You are given base concepts and then you get more and more meat added to those concepts as you progress further into the text. I like this and I feel this really helps to make up for the writing style and brevity of early looks at the mechanics which may be over the head of younger or more casual gamers. The book starts off with a light explanation of what all you’ll need and how to play with the first chapter “Introduction: Welcome to Gotham.” Then the next chapter, “The Rules,” gives twenty pages of how the game flows, all your options for tactics and moves and how to win. After that, you get eight pages that discuss how to build your “crew” which is the BMG jargon for your warband.
Creating a Crew is really simple. There are four types of ranks in the game. Your Boss must either come from the Leader or Sidekick rank. There can only be a single Leader in your Crew so choose carefully. The Boss is all the more important as it also decides what you can pick for the rest of your band. All characters in your Crew must belong to the same Affiliate. So Alfred (who comes with the book) can only be part of a Batman oriented Crew since that is his affiliation. You couldn’t put him in a team run by Poison Ivy or Joker. After you pick your Boss, you then fill up the rest of your allotted points with other figures. You can have one Sidekick (or a second if your Boss was a Sidekick) any number of characters with the Henchmen rank and a free agent for every 150 points in your warband. So let’s do an example for you. I’ll make a quick 300 warband only using name characters
Boss: Batman (Frank Miller Version): 109 Points and Leader Rank
Nightwing: 85 Points and Sidekick Rank
Alfred: 30 Points and Henchmen Rank
Catwoman: 66 Points and Free Agent Rank.
Total Points: 290
Now you might be wondering if I can have someone like The Riddler on the same team as Batman. Great question. Well, the Riddler is a Free Agent. Free Agents can be on ANY team unless they have a HATRED trait towards a character. Hatred means they can never be part of a Crew with that character on it. So Riddler has Hatred: Batman. This means while he is a free agent and could join a Green Arrow led team, he couldn’t join a Batman one. Catwoman has Hatred: Joker, so the same issue occurs. Some characters have “Affinity: XYZ” which lets them join a team even if they aren’t an affiliate of that Crew or even if a slow is already filled. Let’s look at Swamp Thing. He has Affinity: Batman, so even though he is a Poison Ivy Crew member, he can be added to a Batman team. He also has Sidekick Rank, but he could still join a team that already has a sidekick like Nightwing, as long as there are enough points in your crew left to take him. Swampy does cost 150 points, but oh man is he worth it… This is just a quick look at creating a crew. This section of the book explains it a lot better and is well worth reading. They do a fantastic job of explaining all the options. Again, the particular verbiage might throw off someone new to miniature games, but as a veteran, I loved how this was laid out and it was written exactly the way I’ve come to want these books to flow. When my wife starts playing, I probably won’t hand her the book and have her learn that way, but I will use the book to demonstrate/explain things as I teach her.
After this comes “Advanced Rules” and it’s the largest section in the book, running a whopping twenty-seven pages long. Yes, it’s nearly a third of the book. Eleven of the pages are devoted to the list of traits and a description of what they mean. On the card for each character, you are just given a single word for the trait and you have to use the book to look up what these traits mean or how they work in-game. So when you first start playing, you will spend most of your time in these eleven pages. Eventually you’ll memorize traits for the characters you use most often but these eleven pages are definitely where you will spend the bulk of your time with this book. Again, everything is laid out wonderfully and well written. There are the occasional typo or bit of bad English but hey, it’s still easy to read and understand if you have experience with these type of games. The rest of the chapter looks at special attacks like Sneak Attack or Harley Quinn’s 360 degree mallet smash, attributes weapons can have and effects like Freeze or Poison. It’s very cut and dry but honestly, “Advanced Rules” is where you will spend 90% of your time with the book after your first readthrough.
The last actual chapter about rules is “Scenarios.” After that, it’s just background info, character biographies and stunning pictures of professionally painted Knight Models that are far better than anything I could ever do. The books gives you six suggestions for scenarios, but you can always create your own. It also tells you how to use scenery and objective markers. It’s a short but very helpful little chapter.
That’s pretty much the book my friends. While not perfect, the Batman Miniature Game Rulebook is still a great read and offers some of the easiest to learn rules out of any miniature game. I am annoyed the book doesn’t contain stats or any help for younger/newer/casual gamers in terms of painting or scenery and that it wastes nearly half the page count on biographies of characters you will already know by heart, but it is what it is. Half the book is absolutely fantastic and the other half is a waste of missed opportunity and unrealized potential. We will call it fun but flawed. The good parts of the book are amongst the best I’ve ever seen from this side of the gaming industry and it makes me glad that the new version of the rules are clearer and more concise for English speaker. It means the game is as much fun to play as the figures are to paint and display. This definitely is the best Skirmish Game on the market today and if you haven’t taken the plunge yet, $105 will buy you the book and the sample warband I put together in this review. That’s so much cheaper than most games where $100 will buy you only a fraction of a warband or sometimes only a single figure (I’m looking at you Nagash!). The book is filled with fantastic art and pages upon pages of painted minis. Even if you don’t play the game, it’s worth flipping through one to see how wonderfully put together this thing was. Yes, I have some notable issues with the end product, but the good definitely war outweighs the bad with this one. I definitely want to see more people playing this game, so pick it up if you get the chance! Where else can you pit Adam West’s Batman against Heath Ledger’s version of the Joker or team up Gotham‘s Penguin with his troops from Arkham City?