Batman: Everybody Lies – Dark Detective Drama
Criminals are a superstitious and cowardly lot – if only it were that easy…..Warren Spacey, The Gotham City Gazette
Those that were once superstitious and cowardly have been bolstered against fear, against kindness, against honesty. The simple lie we tell ourselves is that a symbol will save us.
These opening words set the stage for the uneasy timbre featured in this story-based detective drama, set in the dark universe of the Caped Crusader. Batman: Everybody Lies is a creation of narrative heavyweights Ignacy Trzewiczek and Weronika Spyra of Portal Games.
From its first notes, Batman: Everybody Lies taps deeply into its roots in the award-winning Detective: A Modern Crime Board Game. The entire story takes place across four parts – a prologue and three episodes. We found the full episodes took a couple of hours to complete with healthy discussion among the players.
Each player selects a character: Selina Kyle, Vicki Vale, Harvey Bullock, or Warren Spacey. Any unplayed characters will still be available as NPC informants.
Set up the central board with Downtown, G.C.P.D. HQ, City Hall, and the Gotham City Gazette as available locations. Put the Investigation token at zero and separate the decks. Select the envelope and deck for the episode you want to play. (There may be special setup steps for the episode). But Batman: Everbody Lies is a hybrid board game. You’ll also need to log into the website to gather plot elements when instructed.
The envelopes hold a central plot sheet and a personalized sheet for each character. These give general and personalized goals for the party and players respectively. Batman: Everybody Lies is a cooperative game, so it’s the players’ choice whether they want to share their personal goals. Once everyone has read their plot sheets and followed any instructions, it’s time to gather leads and solve the mystery.
The Episode deck will be the source of most of the narrative for each episode. Cards in this deck continue the story, with more leads to follow and files to reference, which come from the Detective website.
The Scene deck provides comic-book style pictures of many of the locations the party travels to.
Finally, the Personal Goal deck provides additional information to help individual characters satisfy their personal agendas.
To begin, players discuss the initial narrative sheet (and potentially their personal goals) and discuss what they currently know. Based on this, the team will collectively decide to follow one of their available leads.
Episode cards always offer some exposition, giving the players another glimpse of the story. Most leads will provide an Evidence token. Some will also have the players draw Scene cards to flesh out the scene, or direct the players to the companion app to review some files.
Some Episode cards will provide additional leads for players to follow as well. Finally, cards may provide players the opportunity to spend player tokens to gather more information to fulfill their personal goals.
Leads may require the team of players to move to different locations in Gotham City to follow them. Some locations have a cost to visit, which players pay by having certain characters spend Evidence tokens for Access tokens. Most of these locations are also exhausted once they’re visited. Visiting an exhausted location costs more.
Players move the investigation token one space every time the team follows a lead. This game timer affects the team’s final score.
The objective of Everybody Lies is to answer a series of questions in the app. Players gather these answers by following leads presented in the available exposition. Whenever the group is comfortable they’ve solved the mystery, they can elect to answer the questions. The team’s final score is the sum of their correct answers, plus points for their space on the investigation track. The app even includes comparisons of the players’ performance as it compares to the global player pool.
What I Love
I was hooked on the story from the “Opening Crawl”. Given my love of Batman: The Animated Series, this is the setting where I most enjoy my Batman content. The team of Trzewiczek and Spyra carry the noir themes of Detective into this setting quite well.
There are no straight lines in this story; nearly nothing is as it seems. This leads to great discussion and collaboration between the players. Everyone flexes their mental muscles trying to line up the elements of the story to see what passes the sniff test.
Fans of Batman over the years will notice many familiar faces cropping up for one reason or another (“wait, does that corpse have an outlandish smile in that Scene card? Why could that be?”). In this regard, the team at Portal has done a terrific job pulling in a mountain of available references.
What I Want
One of the primary timing mechanics are the colored sections of the Investigation track. At each recap point, players should evaluate whether they are ready to solve the mystery or need more information. Finishing the game in later sections deducts points from the team’s final score, but the recap points themselves do not give any additional clues.
Here, I would have preferred a departure from the Detective mechanics. Given the setting, Everybody Lies will be picked up by non-gamers looking to experience Batman interactively.
At these recap points, I would have loved to have the opportunity to glean a clue from The World’s Greatest Detective or his superhero network (perhaps The Oracle). Our less-experienced players would have appreciated some anchoring of the narrative here – even if it cost some points. The surety of the plot for these players would have been worth it.
The Scene Deck, with only a few exceptions, seemed largely superfluous. It certainly added something to the setting, but usually left us wanting. Maybe more clue gathering from these scenes would have been helpful.
Finally, there’s also a fantastic map of Gotham City in the box. We never used it! This tantalizing asset features 36 (!) locations, but we only visit eight in the game. I want more!
What about Kids?
There is nothing explicit in the narrative (some light language) but the topics of corruption, drugs, and death do appear. Some Scene cards show blood but nothing particularly gory. If you’re willing to let your kids watch the Batman movies you won’t have any concerns about the content in this game. Portal Games has rated Everybody Lies for ages 14+ and this feels appropriate, mostly due to the complex narrative threads at play.
In many ways, Everybody Lies is a victim of the success of narrative board games, the incredible Detective system, and an IP so rich it’s impossible to completely plumb in one game. It’s hard to please every type of gamer, but the elements of this game appeal to many different types of player. Fans of the Detective series will want more content governed by that system; fans of Batman will want more content in that universe. But the preferences of these groups may not be the same.
The incredible app-integration of Lucky Duck’s Chronicles of Crime has set a new bar for investigative hybrid games that similar games are now held up to. Everybody Lies doesn’t quite harness that level of interactivity, but it’s a great journey through an amazing IP with a deep, layered, twisting story.
The Family Gamers received a copy of Batman: Everybody Lies from Portal Games for this review.
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Everybody Lies: Dark Detective Drama
Age Range: 14+
Number of Players: 2-4
Playtime: 2-3 hours per session