GTM #232 - Designing Masterminds & Mayhem
by Richard Launius




One of my design approaches for cooperative games is that it needs to be highly expandable.   Since the inherent design provides the artificial intelligence of “the opponent”, the base game needs to gain additional options and strategies to match those that players gain through experience in their game plays. Sometimes players assume that expansion material is simply things that should have been added to the base game, but for me, that has not been the case. 

Each game I design, especially cooperative game designs, I put everything in the base game to make it the best thematic experience for the players with nothing held back. But then, after playing the base game several times, I begin to see that it becomes easier to win, less challenging and less interesting as the game AI continues to throw the same challenges at me. It is at this point that I begin to clearly see new things that can be added to the game to restore and expand the challenge and excitement level of the game, focused mostly on experienced players. This is certainly true with the Masterminds & Mayhem expansion Michael and I created for Batman the Animated Series – Gotham City Under Siege

The expansion started with brainstorming various approaches we could take. Michael has already started an interesting expansion design that would enable a player to take on the role of the Joker, moving game play from a pure cooperative game to one against many semi-coop. While the idea is a good one and hopefully something we do in the future, it did not seem the right approach to me for the initial expansion. We considered doing 4 completely new Acts, as some dedicated players were already posting some interesting acts online, but once again, I felt that was something best done at a later date. I even had an idea to change the game whereby the heroes were assaulting a villain lair and advancing each Act rather than defending, but this felt more like a whole new game that might bring in even more heroes from the DC Universe, so I pushed that idea back to hopefully be addressed later. 

In the end, we decided to do an expansion that touched most aspects of the game in a way to expand variety, increase uncertainty and story, bring in more of the Batman Animated masterminds and give the players the ability to set the level of difficulty for the game at the level of their player group. The end result of that decision is the Masterminds & Mayhem expansion. 

Masterminds: Let’s start with discussing the masterminds as they are a major focus of this expansion. There were two things we wanted to do with the masterminds in this expansion - firstly, we wanted to add several new masterminds that Batman faced in the animated series to provide a more varied rogues gallery. To that end, the expansion includes new masterminds like Hugo Strange, Baby Doll, Talia Al Ghul, The Ventriloquist, Lock-Up, the unique Kyodai Ken, the Condiment King and even Catwoman (if she is not a hero), just to name a few. Some of the Act Leaders can also show up now, including Ra’s Al Ghul, Scarecrow and the devious Joker! 

Additionally, there is one ally that can appear – The Grey Ghost that arrives at the Act Leader’s location. Not only do several new masterminds appear in the game, each has a special ability that is reflective of their powers and the mayhem they bring to Gotham City for Batman and his allies to overcome. The second goal for masterminds in this expansion was to enhance the abilities of the masterminds from the base game that did not have special skills by creating replacement upgraded cards. These replacement upgrade cards create new challenges for the heroes as they appear and more accurately represent their threat to Gotham City. 

For example, Two-Face now has a coin token he flips when defeated that can have dire consequences or let him escape to an adjacent battlefield. Poison Ivy has plants that grow around her as protection and the Riddler is only defeated by solving his riddle. The Man-Bat now appears on the rooftops and ambushes heroes that may be on the rooftops and may only be dispatched by an attack from a hero on the rooftops, creating a new challenge for the players. After playing with the new masterminds, I cannot imagine playing without them and I suspect fans of the game will feel the same - especially if they are also fans of the television show. 

Heroes: While the hero character cards do not change, each hero gains 2 new strategy cards, including some where they appear in their secret identity with some form of responsibility and reward to round out the characters more fully. The players will discard some Skill cards at the start of the game so they will not know exactly which skill cards they have available during play.


Villains: The villain tokens remain the same for the most part, but additional base tokens are added and there is a new token, the 4-strength armored car, added to the bag. When an armored car is drawn it will be placed on top of the Thug tokens stack, protecting the 1 strength Thugs until the token has been defeated. 

Act Story Cards: There are 2 new very challenging Story cards for each of the 4 Acts. These new cards are highly thematic and can work with masterminds when the right cards appear to significantly ramp up the difficulty. 

Block Tiles: 4 new Block tiles are added to the game for variability, as each of them has a special effect on the game as well as penalties. Some of these tiles grant tough decisions to the players, like the choice between the Act Leader’s hero becoming wounded or suffering 1 additional casualty. Our thought was that we should add more decision points where we can, enabling the players to form various strategies during game play. 

Event Cards: There are 4 event cards added to the game, 1 for each Act. These were actually the first item created for the expansion and one that creates great variability of play, as each card has 3 potential events that are established by a dice roll of the Act Leader instead of the static event printed on the base game’s Act Setup card. As with most items added to this expansion, players can decide whether or not to increase the variety of the events on the Act Setup cards each time they play. 

The end-result is that with the Masterminds & Mayhem expansion, players gain the ability to meaningfully scale the amount of variety and challenge to suit their play group and an even deeper thematic connection to the show’s devious villains. Hopefully all of you will enjoy this expansion as much as we do and, hopefully, we will be able to bring some of our other expansion ideas to life to continue the story! 

Richard Launius is a veteran game designer with an impressive collection of quintessential titles under his belt, including Arkham Horror, Defenders of the Realm, and Elder Sign. His co-designer on both Gotham City Under Siege and Masterminds & Mayhem, Michael Guigliano, is a relative newcomer, but is quickly proving his mettle in the industry.