The genre of fast, five to fifteen minute, card games is burgeoning almost as fast as crime in Gotham City, and appropriately, Batman seems to be the license most common to these games, with Love Letter Batman, Batman Trading Card Game, DC Deck Building Game: Rivals: Batman vs. Joker, and Batman Fluxx all being on the market as of this writing. Fast Batman card games were even popular when the genre of fast card games didn’t have its own section in Barnes and Noble or Target: there was Batman Uno, the Batman Returns Card Game, the Ideal Batman Card Game, and the Whitman Batman Card Game. A full set of Batman card games would probably set you back $300-$400 considering what the Ideal game is going for on collectors’ sites currently. Even Batman UNO is pretty pricy on Amazon right now.
Today we’re going to look at the 2015 release, Batman Fluxx, an inexpensive and satisfying quick card game that you can play two or three times between Settlers of Catan and Dungeons & Dragons and crush the Gotham City underworld while you do it. Batman Fluxx is a two to six player game that Looney Labs says is five to thirty minutes in length, but experienced gamers will crush a round of Fluxx in half that time. Sometimes it takes one minute.
If you’ve played one game of Fluxx, you’ve played them all; less figuratively, Fluxx fans will find there are, as usual, a lot of Keepers, Creepers, Goals, and other cards, unique to this iteration of the game.
If you’ve never played Fluxx, you’re in for a treat. Fluxx is a game that will satisfy the most casual or critical of gamers, as it is both a freeform game that can be played with very little thinking, and a deck building game that can be played with strategy and planning.
There is little to recommend the former over the latter, because you can be sitting pretty and certain of victory when the player before you draws the three cards they need to win by dumb luck. Alternatively—and this can make you groan a little louder—someone paying less attention to the game than you can play a card that gives another player the conditions of victory.
In fact, since I see no advantage to plotting out a win in Fluxx, I recommend that you play Fluxx in the easy breezy way, as it’s light-hearted and conducive to fun. Additionally, when playing this way, there is no greater reward than the amusing glares of death you receive by obliviously setting down a Goal that takes the victory away from your group’s compulsive winners.
To explain why planning matters so little in Fluxx, we’ll play an imaginary round.
At the start of the game, you deal every player three cards. Creeper cards are played face up immediately, and then new cards are distributed until each player holds three non-Creeper cards. Sometimes this results in a horde of Creepers on the table before starting the game. The Creeper cards are Batman villains, such as The Joker, The Riddler, Poison Ivy, etc., and drawing a submarine full of villains (my obligatory 1966 Batman movie reference) no doubt represents the entrenched corruption of Gotham City before Batman begins his campaign against crime. The Creeper rule continues throughout the game: any time you draw a Creeper, you play it in front of you immediately and then take another card into your hand to replace it.
The starting rule card, which says Draw One / Play One, is placed in the middle of the board and play begins. The first player follows the initial game rules, drawing a card from the deck and then playing one of the cards in their hand before player two takes their turn.
It sounds really simple, you say, but you’re just a tourist to the chaos of Gotham (and Fluxx). Let’s say I am player one, and for my Play One, I put down a New Rule card that says Play Two. That means now the rules of the game are Draw One / Play Two, which means after playing the Play Two card I get to immediately play another card, and every player after me then draws one card and plays two. For my second card, I put down a Keeper card, Batman, which has the advantage of knocking out another person’s Creeper from the game. I decide to knock out player two’s Catwoman.
Now it’s player two’s turn. Player two draws a card, and then decides to play two rules: Draw Four and Play All. This means she immediately gets to draw three more cards (having already drawn one that turn), and the player now has to play the five remaining cards left in her hand. The player then plays a Goal: Gotham City Sirens, which means that the player wins who has any two of either Poison Ivy, Harley Quinn, or Catwoman in play. Player Two had Catwoman and Poison Ivy at the start of the game, so I expect them to give me a venomous look (as I had Batman kick out that creeper), but their next card is an Action: Steal Something, which lets them steal someone else’s Keeper or Creeper. They steal player four’s Harley Quinn, which would let them win the game before player three and four get to go…
Except for the fact that player three plays a Surprise card: Cancelled Plans. Surprise cards can be played out of turn, and were probably created for the sole purpose of making sure that this quick card game doesn’t end before all four players take their first turn. Because events like I’ve just narrated actually happen in a game of Fluxx. The Cancelled Plans Surprise allows the user to discard a Goal that was just played, so they discard the Gotham City Sirens card and prevent player two from winning.
So you can see it’s extremely complex, so much so that the convolutions of it are outside the realm of normal human analysis. And player two still has three cards left to play before play proceeds to player three. For the sake of this review, we’ll assume the rest of the cards player two plays are Keepers: Batgirl, Comissioner Gordon, and the Batarang. Player two now has no cards in his hand, which is about to become a disadvantage, as it makes it more difficult to plan without available options. (If there is a strategy to Fluxx, it’s that it is best to keep your options open by holding on to as many cards as you possibly can, especially any Goals that would be good either for you or another player. If it’s a Goal that will let another player win, you obviously can’t play it unless you can take those Keepers or Creepers that fit the conditions of victory first. Remember, though, all this is only true if you’re under the delusion that planning can help you in Batman Fluxx. If you’re playing the easy and breezy way, it probably makes you feel light-footed and carefree to not have any cards.)
Player three draws four cards (currently the rules are Draw Four and Play All) and doesn’t want to get put in the same condition as player Two. Fortunately, he has a Play Three card in his hand. He sets the Play Three card down, which discards the Play All from the game. This means he only has to play two more cards of the six remaning cards in his hand. He decides to play a new rule, Keeper Limit 3 (this severely hampers player two, as they already have 3 Keepers in play), and a Keeper, The Bank, which adds 2 to his draw. He draws two more cards, ending his turn with six cards still in his hand, and then play commences to player four.
The rules are currently Draw Four, Play Three, and Keeper Limit Three. Player four draws four cards. He draws his cards, and decides to play an Action: Rule Reset. This wipes out all of the rules from the game and resets it to Draw One Play One. This means he gets to retain the other six cards in his hand, and player one begins again.
Look at how much chaos and upheaval there was in just one round of Fluxx, and we’ve just touched on the variations of a game that has 14 Keepers, 28 Goals, 18 Actions, 6 Surprises, 9 Creepers and 24 Rules. In a game that lasts six or seven turns around the table, there will be constant reversals of fortune that build up excitement. In any given round, no doubt every player has the conceit that they are one or two rounds away from victory. That Fluxx players can sense impending doom and unquestionable victory at every moment is one of the greatest design dynamics in Fluxx. Remember the name of the game is Fluxx, though, because your plans can be yanked out from under you, or you can be given by the charity of luck the exact cards you need to obtain a win.
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