Saturday, 30 May 2015

Batman Fluxx: A First Impressions Review/Preview

As most UK-based gamers will be well aware, this weekend is the 2015 UK Games Expo: an annual event held at the Hilton Metropole Hotel at Birmingham's NEC.  This year was the second year that we were in attendance, and whilst a general write-up will be forthcoming, there was something else we wanted to report on first and foremost.

A couple of weeks ago whilst pootling about on Twitter, we saw a retweet of an announcement for Batman Fluxx.  As fans of both of those words, this got pulses racing a little here at Games & Tea HQ.  It's scheduled for release in early August, so it was put right at the top of our shopping list and no more was thought of it.
What we didn't realise was that this weekend Looney Labs would have a table at the UK Games Expo, and that Batman Fluxx would be one of the games available for demo (along with a couple of other Fluxx prototypes, which we can't mention due to the copyright negotiations still ongoing).  So we had the opportunity to have a look through the deck, play a game with Fluxx creator Andrew Looney himself, and take a few photos along the way!  Seeing as we completely overlooked the fact that is was Games & Tea's 2nd birthday just a few days ago, this felt very much like a belated present!

The head Looney himself - Andrew Looney - proudly showing off one of the latest additions to the Fluxx family!
Now whilst we have done reviews of games in development before, this is the first time we've reviewed a game after just a single playthrough, and without a reference copy in front of us.  For this reason we've branded this as a first impressions review/preview, and will be putting up a full review once we've gotten our grubby mitts on our very own copy, and put it through its paces to determine its replay value etc.

As with our last few Fluxx reviews, we'll be dispensing with the basic gameplay mechanics, and just address the elements of Batman Fluxx which make it stand out from the rest of the family.  For those unfamiliar with Fluxx on the whole, take a quick look at our Monty Python Fluxx review, in which we explained the game's core mechanic.

So to start with the basics, Batman Fluxx is Fluxx with a Batman theme - yes, this may sound like we're stating the obvious, but the point we're getting at is that you'll find the familiar New Rule and Action cards in the deck which are fairly universal, eg. Draw 4, Trash a New Rule, Draw 2 and Use 'Em, etc etc.  And - as with all other Fluxxes - the backs of the cards are of the same universal design, meaning that they can be integrated into other decks.

Yes, this means you can have Pirate Batman Fluxx.

"Bring me the Jokarr!"
On the front of the cards, the first thing to notice is the illustration style.  Fluxx has always had a cartoony element to it, which both adds to its charm and serves to remind players that it's supposed to be a casual, fun game at its heart.  Whilst the recent Love Letter: Batman Edition featured illustrations from the New52 comics series, such serious imagery would look very much out of place in a Fluxx deck.  Instead, Batman Fluxx is filled with illustrations in the style of Batman: The Animated Series, which fits in very well with the general Fluxx feel.  Combined with the classy art-deco style sidebar and font, and Batman Fluxx is a game which is aesthetically very pleasing to play.

The Keepers in Batman Fluxx cover a range or characters, gadgets and locations.  As with most recent Fluxx incarnations, many of the Keepers have additional rules and abilities, just to keep the game moving at a more interesting pace.  Bruce Wayne, for example (above), must be discarded if Batman ever hits the table.  The Batmobile can be discarded to take an extra turn.  The Bank increases your draw by 2, and so on.  Other Keepers we remember off the top of our heads included Robin, Batgirl, Commissioner Gordon, the Bat Signal, and Wayne Manor.

The Creepers (of which we sadly forgot to take any photos, due to being so caught up in the gameplay!) are where the game truly becomes interesting.  Each Creeper in Batman Fluxx is one of Gotham City's famous supervillains, and so there are a fair few of them in the deck.  The Joker, Harley Quinn, Poison Ivy, The Penguin and The Riddler are all out in force, to name a few, so the chances are your favourite villain will be in there somewhere!  Now the most Creeper-heavy Fluxx edition to date is Zombie Fluxx, and it worked very well because many of the game's Goals required Creepers in order to achieve victory.  Batman Fluxx works in a similar way, with Crazy Love, for example, giving the win to the player with The Joker and Harley Quinn.  Now the interesting thing with Batman Fluxx - and the thing which makes its Creepers unique - is that if the active Goal doesn't include Creepers then no one can win if there are Creepers on the table.  This is a wonderful mechanic, first of all in that it gives players a Batman-style task of cleaning up the crime in Gotham City, and secondly in adding a whole new tactical element, as win conditions generally become harder.

That's basically all there is to say at this point about the new additions to the game!  In terms of how it all works, it does really capture the Batman theme while keeping things casual.  Things like the "no one can win" rule with the Creepers, Bruce Wayne's exodus from the table as soon as Batman appears, and the Bat-Signal's ability to 'summon' the dark knight from an opponent all fit together nicely.  The Goals we saw during our game were all nice little references to the cartoon/comics lore, such as Secretly His Daughter for having Commisioner Gordon and Batgirl (we are fans of Babs over here).  And of course the overall aesthetic is very pleasing, feeling very much like the cherry on top.

If we had to nit-pick (and as game reviewers, we do feel it's our duty), the win-condition difficulty increase as a result of the Creepers did feel like it would steer games of Batman Fluxx more towards longer play times than shorter ones.  Fluxx has always been renowned for games lasting anywhere from 90 seconds to 90 minutes, but the Creeper rule does seem to skew things more towards the latter, which may put off a few players who would normally consider Fluxx to be a filler game.
One thing we will be interested to see, however, is whether it can convert a few non-Fluxx fans.  It's always been a Marmite game in the gaming community, and we come heavily down on the 'love it' side of the line.  With Batman being so wildly popular, we can genuinely picture a few folks being swayed over onto our side, where we will be ready to greet them with hugs, cake and "I told you so's".

With a normal review this is where we'd do a summary breaking down the pros and cons, the price, average play time and so on, but seeing as this only a first impressions review we'll dispense with that until the full review in a couple of months time.  We will, however, quite happily give it a preliminary score based on our overall feelings from the day...


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