When I was little, we didn’t go to the movies or rent movies. I only got to see a movie if it happened to be on TV when I happened to be watching, or if read through the TV schedule section in the newspaper and set the VCR to tape record it (seriously, this is the kind of thing we did back then). If a movie wasn’t on TV at all, I never got to see it.
At some point, when I was in college and finally had a computer with a DVD drive, I realized that I could check out any movie I wanted from the college library. I could finally watch all of the movies I kept hearing were great. I started with Citizen Kane and kept going from there.
Later on, I realized that I wasn’t limited to things I’d recently heard were great, I could go back to things I’d wanted to see in the past… things that I’d wanted to see when I was little but never got to. Which, one day, led to me bringing home Batman: Mask of the Phantasm.
Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, if you’re not familiar with it, was a theatrically released movie based on Batman: The Animated Series. I watched Batman: The Animated Series all the time as a child and so did all of my friends, and I remember distinctly when Mask of the Phantasm came out, but I’d never gotten to see it. The movie was itself something a phantasm—the closest I got to as a child was cutting an article about it out of a magazine (again, this is the kind of thing we did back then) and unsuccessfully trying to find the Phantasm action figure at every toy store.
It turned out that Mask of the Phantasm was great, too (and also, oddly enough, strongly influenced by Citizen Kane)—slightly darker than the series, filling in some of Batman’s backstory, and delivering some surprising revelations—everything you could possibly want from a movie based on a show. Seeing the missing piece of my favorite childhood TV series did not disappoint, even though it took me years to realize that I could just get the movie and watch it if I really wanted to.
For kids of a certain age, Batman: The Animated Series defined our childhood. When we played, we were always Batman and Robin. We had action figures, and Batmobiles, and Robin’s hang glider. We were experts on Batman’s different grappling hooks, from the regular to the needle-that-sticks-into-anything. I remember one time, on a field trip, a kid tried to attack me using the O-Nemuri Touch from the “Day of the Samurai” episode. I say “tried” because, hey, I’d seen the episode, of course it wasn’t going to work. (Also, it’s from a TV show—it’s not a real martial arts thing.)
Even as I grew up, I was never far from whisperings of Batman: The Animated Series. I remember girls in college saying they put the show on in their room and it got guys to come over—like some kind of guynip.
For kids of a certain age, Batman: The Animated Series has followed us all of our lives. Initially, it spawned Superman: The Animated Series, Justice League, Batman Beyond, and a host of other shows and direct-to-video films. The voice actors reprised their roles for the Arkham Asylum series of video games. Harley Quinn has ascended from sidekick created for the show to iconic part of the Batman mythos and America’s most popular Halloween costume.
Oddly enough, Batman: The Animated Series is having something of a renaissance in the form of board games, too. In 2015, Batman Fluxx was released. In 2016, Batman: The Animated Series Dice Game came out. And, this year, in 2017, Batman: The Animated Series Almost Got ‘im Card Game hit the market.
This is pretty weird, right? It’d be weird for even one game to be based on a 25-year-old children’s cartoon show, let alone three games, right? I can only surmise that the people making these games are like me and grew up watching it and still love it. (Also, maybe those girls from college went on to become savvy marketing executives in charge of licensing old TV series?)
In this series of reviews, I’ll be taking a look at these new games, starting with Batman Fluxx.
Batman Fluxx is a Batman-ified version of the two-to-six-player card game Fluxx from Looney Labs. At the beginning of the game, each player gets a hand of cards and there are two rules: each turn you draw one card and each turn you play one card. The different types of cards you play either go in front of you (“keepers”), perform actions (like discarding or exchanging cards), or manipulate the rules of the game. For example, new rule cards can change the number of cards you draw each turn, change the number of cards you play each turn, or even change the victory condition (“goal”) of the game. The winner is the first person to have the keeper cards on the current goal card.
There are many, many different versions of Fluxx, from the basic, ‘unthemed’ game with keepers like love, war, milk, and cookies to licensed versions for everything from Monty Python to Firefly. They’re all largely the same, but each version has its own unique twists, from special rule cards, to different mixes of card types, to new card types like “creepers” (cards that prevent you from winning) and “surprises” (cards you can play on other people’s turns).
In Batman Fluxx, the keeper cards are Batman, his allies, and his Bat-gadgets. The creeper cards are villains from the series. There are also little Batman specific touches everywhere, like the Batcomputer gives a boost to your abilities, and you’re not allowed to have the Bruce Wayne card and the Batman card at the same time, and sometimes discarded villains go to Arkham Asylum (and then sometimes they break out again, too).
Essentially, Fluxx is about manipulating the rules of the game to make it easier for you to win and harder for other people to win. For example, you might play new rules that allow you to draw a lot of cards, but not your opponents. Or you might change the goal so it doesn’t include any keepers held by your opponents.
The first time I played Fluxx, I hated it. I thought it was a terrible, poorly-designed, aggravating, un-fun game. However, subsequently, I have totally changed my mind.
When I first played, it was basic Fluxx, version 4.0. The basic Fluxx deck, especially the 4.0 version, is somewhat meaner than other Fluxx derivatives. It has cards like “Hand Limit Zero” that can force other players to discard everything. It also has several creeper cards that, once you get them, are very difficult to get rid of. In fact, Looney Labs actually toned down the meanness of the game for the 5.0 version.
Batman Fluxx doesn’t have the harshest cards from core Fluxx, and while it does have a host of villain creepers, it has lots of cards that make them easy to get rid of or win with. For example, many of the goals require specific villains. Also, having any member of the Bat-family as a keeper allows you to discard one villain per turn, so there’s kind of a game on top of the game where you’re using the good guys to bust the bad guys.
I mean, it doesn’t feel like you’re playing a whole new game where you’re Batman tracking down crooks from the rogue’s gallery and catching them. You still feel like you’re playing Fluxx. But, Batman Fluxx is an exceptionally good version of Fluxx. Maybe not quite good enough to win you over if you’re still in the camp of people who hate Fluxx, but it’s good.
In a manner of speaking, technically, Batman: The Animated Series never really existed. There was never actually a show with the title “Batman: The Animated Series” shown on screen. What we remember today as Batman: The Animated Series is one of two or three distinct but closely related shows. The series initially appeared with no title or words of any kind shown during the opening credits. During the second season, the opening was changed and the title shown as The Adventures of Batman and Robin. Two years later, a follow-on series—with slightly redesigned appearances for the characters—was produced with the title The New Batman Adventures.
Batman Fluxx uses these later character designs. Frankly, I don’t think they are quite as good as the originals, but they are the standard look for Batman in the original DC Animated Universe. Also, Scarecrow isn’t one of the villains in the game, so you aren’t subjected to the terrifying redesigned Scarecrow.
The backs of the cards are the familiar “Fluxx” design to allow you to mix this with other types of Fluxx, however the fronts have detailed art deco borders with a tiny Bat-symbol to match the “dark deco” look of the series.
The box is the standard Fluxx box: a nearly perfect two-piece box with finger cutouts for easy opening and no wasteful air space inside. The cards are standard Fluxx quality: i.e., not thick or linen finished.
If you’re going to get Batman Fluxx, you should get the promo cards. The promo cards are the icing on top of the game. (Also, thank you to Looney Labs for selling their promo cards on their webstore so that they’re actually obtainable for people who aren’t able to get them at conventions or stores or wherever else promos come from.)
The first promo released was the “Two Face Flip” action card. Whenever you get this card, you can flip the included Batman coin to double your hand or lose all of your cards. This is maybe the single most fun card in the entire game. I always flip for it.
The second promo was Clayface. This is maybe the single most powerful card in the entire game because it can be used in place of any other villain. For example, if the goal requires two specific villains, you only need to get one of them and Clayface. This helps to keep the game from going too long (which is occasionally an issue with Fluxx) and brings a lot of extra intrigue because this card is so powerful that everyone tries to steal it.
On the other hand, the third promo is Killer Croc. He’s just a basic villain with no exciting powers. Which, you know, kind of describes Killer Croc for real, so it’s well-designed. But, since it doesn’t add any new rules to the game, it’s not as essential as the other two promos.
I guess I’m finally old enough to be marketed to based on nostalgia. I remember when I was little, seeing advertisements on TV for things like Time Life boxed sets of 1960s music or commercials with people like Mickey Rooney, who I literally only knew from commercials. When you’re not the target audience, marketing based on nostalgia looks pretty transparent and pretty unappealing. However, now that I find myself on the receiving end of it, it looks a lot different.
Should I buy a card game based on a TV show I loved when I was in elementary school?
Back then, I couldn’t afford to buy every toy that was coming out based on Batman: The Animated Series. There were tons of them and I didn’t have an allowance that big (and sometimes I got into trouble and didn’t have any allowance).
Now, I set my own allowance.
Obviously nostalgia is a big selling point for Batman Fluxx. But there’s more to Batman Fluxx than just nostalgia; there’s an interesting game, too. Fluxx was originally released in 1997—it’s practically almost as old Batman: The Animated Series. Over the years, the game has been tweaked, polished, refined, and expounded upon. One end result of that is Batman Fluxx. If you like Batman and you’re looking for a fun, fast card game, this is well worth it.