First created in 1939, Batman has become a popular character throughout the 20th and 21st Centuries. His origin story tells of a young orphan, Bruce Wayne, who fights crime using an object of fear to strike at the hearts of criminals in Gotham City. Over time, Batman’s rogues’ gallery has grown, featuring criminals who are a reflection of the character, culminating in the Joker, the yin to Batman’s yang. However, the Caped Crusader doesn’t fight for justice alone; at his side are his young assistants, Robin and Batgirl.
Batman appeared in a number of media since his first appearance, from cartoons to movie serials to television to feature film and even to tabletop games. Each iteration has its own take on the character and on the franchise. The 1966 Batman TV series starring Adam West took a camp look at the character while most* movies made after the 1989 Tim Burton Batman film take a more serious tone.
While the transition from comic to both television and film can be relatively straightforward, though difficult, the further away from a story-based medium one gets, the more difficult it can get to keep the tone. Looney Labs took a further step, adapting the franchise to its card game, Fluxx. Batman Fluxx isn’t the first time a game publisher adapted a work to a game, as the various specialty versions of Monopoly can attest to. The goal, though, is to keep the feel of both games intact.
Fluxx is a deceptively simple game. Each player gets a hand of three cards, and the basic rules, draw a card then play a card, placed out on the table. There are several different types of card; Actions, giving a player instructions on what to do; Keepers, elements that may be needed to win the game; Goals, showing what Keepers are needed to win; and Rules, which change the game away from the basic set. Some published sets,** including Batman Fluxx, also have Creepers, which prevent a player from winning unless a Goal says otherwise, and Surprises, which allow a player to act outside his or her turn.
What makes Batman Fluxx related to Batman is how the Keepers, Creepers, and Goals related to the franchise. The Keepers focus on characters, equipment, and locations from the comics. There is both a Bruce Wayne Keeper and a Batman Keeper; if Bruce Wayne is out when Batman is played, the former gets discarded. After all, no one ever sees Batman and Bruce Wayne out together. The Creepers are the villains and include the classics like the Joker, the Riddler, the Penguin, and Catwoman among the ne’er-do-wells that can appear. In a change from a regular game of Fluxx, where Creepers prevent the players who received them from winning, no one can win while the villains are about unless the Goal requires a Creeper. As the rule pamphlet says, “[Y]ou are on Batman’s side and must first clean up crime in Gotham City”. Even some of the new the rule cards reflect the game’s focus; the Arkham Asylum Rule forces all discarded Creepers to be placed under it instead. If the Arkham Asylum Rule is discarded, the villains are dealt back out to the players, reflecting the revolving door the institute has in the comics.
The game pulls from several sources. The artwork on the Keeper and Creeper cards is inspired by Batman: The Animated Series, which took some of its tone and direction from both the Tim Burton films and the comics being published at the time. Some of the Goals reflect the darker version of the Dark Knight, including “I Am the Night”, requiring Batman and the Bat-Signal. Others, though, come from the Adam West TV series and the older, pre-Dennis O’Neil comics; for example, “Stately Wayne Manor”, requiring Bruce Wayne and Wayne Manor. Even the variant lyrics for “Jingle Bells” come up, with “The Joker Got Away!”, requiring the Joker and the Batmobile.
The proof, though, comes through playing the game. Fluxx is a fast paced card game, with the stated time on the box being five to thirty minutes. It’s possible to go through the deck several times, especially with rules like “Draw 5” in play. The new cards do reinforce the feel of a Batman comic, though. While there are villains out, no one can win as crime continues in Gotham City. The Keepers Batman, Batgirl, and Robin allow a player to remove a Creeper from play, but the Commission Gordon card does not. The Bank Keeper card provides a bonus to the player with it in front of him or her, a bonus that makes the card worth taking. The Batcomputer provides bonuses to its owner. The Batcave prevents Surprise cards from being played on its owner. Players can start getting the feel of being Batman as the game progresses, at first stymied by villains before getting ahead of them.
Batman Fluxx combines two franchises well, keeping the flavour of both without either being overwhelmed by the other. The game holds up to replays thanks to the randomness of the cards while not getting dull.
* The exception being the Joel Schumacher helmed 1997 film, Batman & Robin.
** Cthulhu Fluxx includes Ungoals, which, if the conditions are met and the signs are right, end the game as the world is unmade and everyone loses.