Now it’s time for a look at the Almost Got ‘im Card Game from Cryptozoic. Unlike the previous titles, this is not a remake of an existing game. It’s a completely new game based on the acclaimed episode “Almost Got ‘im”—where the villains of Gotham City get together and play poker, but one of them is actually Batman in disguise.
Now, I have to say, out of all of the episodes of The Animated Series, “Almost Got ‘im” is not really my favorite. I acknowledge its greatness. It’s extremely well-written and animated, the inclusion of so many villains makes it a classic, and it has the best closing line of any episode. However, personally, I much prefer the mind-bending confusion of “Perchance to Dream,” the cosmic horror of “Avatar,” or the grown-man-cry-inducing pathos of “Beware the Gray Ghost.”
Still, “Almost Got ‘im” is a memorable episode and comes in first or second on nearly every best of episode list. Apparently, that was enough to make this game into a hit. Earlier this year, I was planning on buying this, but then a series of articles came out (such as Nerdist’s “Batman: The Animated Series‘ best episode is now a card game” and Gizmodo’s “One of Batman: The Animated Series‘ best episodes comes to life…”), and it sold out everywhere.
Now that it’s back in stock and I’ve finally gotten to play it, what do I think?
Almost Got ‘im Card Game
A quick synopsis of the episode (“the villains of Gotham City get together and play poker, but one of them is actually Batman in disguise”) is enough to tell you basically what’s going on. The Almost Got ‘im Card Game is a lot like Werewolf or Mafia, with a poker-ish layer on top. One player is secretly Batman. All of the other players are villains. Batman wins by “subduing” villains. The villains win by figuring out who Batman is.
Each player gets a public persona: one of Gotham City’s villains. Each player also gets a private persona: one player is “Batman in Disguise,” while the other players get attributes like “Crafty” (can give out extra cards) or “Watchful” (can protect players from being subdued).
Each player has a hand of five cards from an ordinary deck of cards and takes turns drawing and discarding. Each player’s secret role ability is activated by a specific poker hand. For example, Batman can subdue another player with two pair (subdued players are partially out of the game). After each round of drawing and discarding, there is a blackout phase where the poker hand abilities are activated by secretly showing cards to a moderator.
I played this game with people who are frequent players of games. We all encountered stumbling blocks. As far as I can tell, there are three main problems.
First, this game convoluted. There’s a huge amount to explain just to get off the ground.
Everyone has two roles to keep track of. Plus, both of their roles have special abilities that are activated by cards. Plus, over the course of the game, you’ve got some players who are subdued and can’t do anything—except they can still vote and draw cards.
Plus, you’ve got “The Brains” role that rotates among the players each round. Only The Brains can accuse someone of being Batman and trigger a vote.
Also, one of the secret roles is “Catwoman in Disguise,” who has a totally different winning condition. And, if you’ve got enough players in the game, there might be even more players with unique winning conditions.
Also, there’s that blackout phase that happens after every round. During the blackout phase, everyone closes their eyes and the moderator checks with each player to see if they have the hand to activate their ability. A significant portion of the actions in Almost Got ‘im are taken during the blackout, and everyone is doing something slightly different, which inevitably means questions are going to come up. But, if anyone needs to ask for clarification during the blackout, it can completely ruin an entire game.
You’ll notice I mentioned a moderator. The second, and possibly biggest issue, is the game requires a moderator to keep track of what’s going on. This means one player essentially doesn’t get to play. Other games in this vein have innovated ways to play without a moderator (The Resistance), or have automated the moderator as an app (One Night Ultimate Werewolf), or have incorporated the moderator as a player (Deception: Murder in Hong Kong).
It’s not even just that Almost Got ‘im requires a moderator, though. It’s that the implementation of the moderator is awkward and inelegant.
The moderator’s main role is to verify which players have formed the poker hand they need. So, basically, during the blackout, the moderator has to get up, walk around the table, silently meet with each player, and—if necessary—give them a new hand of cards and keep track of who they’re subduing/protecting/healing/etc. The problem is, during a given blackout phase, most players will not have a hand to activate, but the few who do will take a long time to exchange their cards and point out who else they’re affecting with their ability.
If you were the moderator, and you spent 30 seconds with one player, and then one second with every other player, and then announced that Batman has done something, it’s going to be obvious who Batman is.
So, that means you have to spend 29 extra seconds with every player, just standing around, wasting a lot of time, and making a lot of distracting background noises to try to keep other people from guessing what’s going on.
The actual game in Almost Got ‘im is supposed to be during the drawing, discarding, and voting phase. That’s where the interesting discussion and deduction take place! However, in practice, it feels like you spend most of the time with your eyes closed and the moderator standing there, shuffling around, trying to keep things mysterious.
To add on to the general complexity and clunkiness, we experienced what you might describe as a “bad game.”
In the first round, Batman got two pair and subdued a villain. After that, because of Batman’s total lack of a poker face, everyone was essentially positive who Batman was. However, at that point, the Batman player was also The Brains, and since only The Brains can make an accusation and Batman wasn’t going to accuse himself, the villains couldn’t act on their knowledge. Plus, to top it all off, Batman got two pair again and subdued a second villain for the win.
Essentially, it was impossible for the villains to win no matter what they did.
This got me to thinking. Was this just a fluke? How easy is it for Batman to form the poker hands he needs?
Poker hand probabilities are a frequently studied problem in mathematics. The probability of being dealt two pair (and/or four of a kind) in five card poker is around 5%. This would put your probability of being dealt one of those hands twice in a row at less than 0.03%. But, that probability jumps dramatically when you go from ordinary five card poker to Almost Got ‘im.
Calculating the exact probabilities of forming a hand in Almost Got ‘im is a little tricky because you have a deck with two jokers and a choice of drawing from any one of three face-up discard piles or a face-down draw pile. I’m kind of lazy, so I did what anyone would do and wrote a Perl 6 script that partially simulates 1,000 games of Almost Got ‘Im.
The probability of Batman getting two pair in both of the first two rounds of the game is around 18%.
That means that, in a four or five player game, Batman is practically unstoppable around 18% of the time: the villains will only ever get one chance to guess his identity before he wins.
Now, I know there are some nuances to this. Some of the other players also need two pair, so—if those particular roles are in the game—they have the same odds of getting a hand and using it to do something that could block Batman. Also, the villains can astronomically boost their odds of getting a good hand by openly discussing and cooperating and using the discard piles to give each other cards. Plus, Batman’s got a tough enough job trying to blend in; if it was any more difficult, maybe Batman would never win.
But how fun is the game if a reasonably-poker-faced player is practically guaranteed to win a fifth of the time?
I guess the flip side is, in a five player game, you always have at least a 20% chance of randomly guessing who Batman is. So the odds are kind of even? Then again, there’s always a 20% chance that Batman is going to be The Brains… Plus, if Batman has already subdued one player, a wrong guess is going to give Batman the win…
So, who knows. The game is probably fine. It just really irks me that everyone can still lose even if they figure out who Batman is.
I was so excited for this game to come out. I’m the target audience. I love Batman: The Animated Series. I love any game with secret roles.
This game does capture the feeling of Gotham City villains playing a poker game. It really does.
But I’m not loving this game.
I worry about people who bought this based on the articles that said things like “Hey, remember that great episode of the TV show you loved as a kid? Now it’s a fun card game you can play at home with your friends!”
No, it’s not. It’s really, really not.
If you just want a fun, easygoing card game based on Batman: The Animated Series, you should probably get the excellent Batman Fluxx.
I try to avoid a lot of jargon, but let’s call Almost Got ‘im what it is: it’s a complex social deduction game for people who want to play a complex social deduction game.
You should sit down a have a long think before buying this. If you—yes, you, the person who is reading this—buy this game, are you ever actually going to get to play it? It’s too involved to easily explain to someone else how to be the moderator, so chances are you will have to be the moderator every single time. You may never even actually get to experience it as a player. Is that what you really want, or not? Personally, I enjoy moderating and facilitating games. But I don’t want to be locked into doing that every single time.
I mean, clearly some people are playing Almost Got ‘im and having fun with it. More power to them. I do want to play this again, eventually. But, at this point, I don’t see how this game holds candle to, for example, The Resistance, or Bang, or Bang: The Dice Game, or Spyfall, or Deception: Murder in Hong Kong.
Maybe, if you happen to be part of a group that has played a ton of Werewolf or The Resistance, and you’re looking for something with a Batman spin that you can invest a lot of time into, and you’re interested enough to be on the web looking for articles about Almost Got ‘im, you would enjoy this. Just know what you’re getting into.