It’s another dark night in Gotham City. You’ve been called to unofficially help Jim Gordon with some cases in need of investigating—investigations he’s been told by his well-bribed superiors to stay away from. Gordon wants you to work with some odd, sketchy characters, but he must know what he’s doing, right?
In Batman: Everybody Lies, you’ll be playing as one of four characters: reporters Vicky Vale or Warren Spacey, Gotham PD’s Harvey Bullock, or Catwoman. Set against a backdrop of criminals, corruption, and strange substances, this is a story-driven game where you’ll travel around Gotham City following up on clues, gleaning information and seeing where each clue leads you. You’ll end each game by submitting a Final Report to Gordon with your findings. Get them right and you win.
This will be a Spoiler Free review, so expect fewer photos and a shorter section on the gameplay itself.
The Night is Darkest Just Before the Dawn
Place the game board on the table, placing the round Moon and Bat marker on the Intro space of the Investigation Track. Also place the markers for City Hall, Gotham City Gazette, the Police Headquarters, and Downtown on their spots on the board.
Set the remaining location tiles, access and evidence tokens to the side within easy reach of all players.
Each player chooses a character to play, taking their character’s tile and setting it next to themselves.
Place the Lead, Scene, and Personal Goal decks near the game board. Each deck should have their title card on the top of the deck at all times.
You’ll then need to log into the game’s website and select which chapter you’re going to play.
Have You Ever Danced With the Devil in the Moonlight?
You’ll start by opening the sealed envelope with the number of the chapter you’ll be playing. Read the contents of the folded team page aloud. It will tell you about the situation, what little is known about the case, and your team goal. Other pages in the envelope, each with a character on the front, will list individual goals for those characters.
At the bottom of the team page will be two or three options for starting your investigation. Each option has two components: a Location and a Number.
You’ll start by moving the Moon and Bat token over one space on the Investigation track. Each time you move to a new location in the story, you’ll need to move one space further on the Investigation track. (The earlier you solve the cases, the higher your score will be within the app, so following up on as many leads in a particular area is a good idea.)
Then you’ll search through the Lead deck and take the card with the number matching the Lead on the page. Read through the scene information on the card. Within the text, there may also be a document number for you to seek out within the online app, the number for a Scene card to take from that deck to accompany the text, the reward of an Evidence token, and/or additional locations and Lead deck numbers to investigate.
You will continue collecting and investigating Leads at different locations across the board. Those first four locations are free to visit. Later locations will require the equivalent of two Evidence tokens the first time you visit them and three Evidence tokens the second time.
When you feel you have enough information to answer the group goal as well as the individual character goals, you’ll go back to the app and click on the Final Report option. There you’ll answer multiple choice questions to see how well you solved the cases.
It’s Not Who I Am Underneath, But What I Do That Defines Me
My gaming group was psyched to play Batman: Everybody Lies. Are you kidding? Batman?! Gotham?! Mysteries to be solved?! Characters to take on?!
In silent expectation, we opened the sealed envelope for #00, the Introductory Case.
The lone sheet of folded paper had a long narrative that needed to be read aloud. The scene was set, a team goal was declared. Initial clue sites were offered.
Each clue site presented us with a card, a card that needed to be read aloud so we all knew what was going on.
That card led us to another card, which led us to yet another card, and another card. Each of which needed to be read aloud.
We lasted about 20 minutes before we all looked at each other and agreed: This. Was. Not. Working.
Seriously, this game is nothing but reading.
Now, as a former Librarian, I love reading. My life would start to lose meaning if I couldn’t read.
However, when playing a game, you want to read the rules (preferably ahead of time), set up the board, and then start taking actions, actions that build engagement based on the theme which interacts with the game’s mechanics that then present interesting choices.
In Batman: Everybody Lies, you will read: you will read the initial set up and goal of the game; you’ll read the individual character’s sheets and the individual goals; you’ll read the multitude of cards that characters can uncover by going from location to location.
All that reading simply did not work for my weekly gaming group.
For me, Batman: Everyone Lies would be best at one, maybe two players, provided you’re both good with reading and passing text-heavy cards back and forth. (With a second player, you’d have someone to discuss the findings and whodunnit theories with.) In this case, I recommend taking on all four characters to get the most out of the game.
It’s rare that I criticize a game’s name, but there are two problems with the name Batman: Everybody Lies that need to be addressed. First, Batman is conspicuously missing for the majority of these stories. Although The Batcave is a location on the board, in the limited opportunities you have to visit it, you’re just as likely to interact with Alfred as you are Batman.
Second, Everybody Lies should read Everyone Tells the Truth. Everyone you’ll come across is earnestly telling the unvarnished truth regardless of the character, situation, or mood. There’s no question of anyone’s honesty here, whether they’re at the Gotham Gazette or in Arkham Prison®, whether they’re a frightened informant or an angry arch criminal. (If you want an Are They or Aren’t They Telling the Truth game, check out my review of Rear Window.)
Sometimes the Truth Isn’t Good Enough. Sometimes People Deserve More. Sometimes People Deserve to Have Their Faith Rewarded
But what about the mysteries themselves?
Keep in mind my No Spoilers pledge requires me to be intentionally vague here. I can say that the stories were interesting and involved a lot of familiar names. Each mystery provided a great deal of information that needed processing (taking notes was helpful), with some clues being more subtle than others.
Despite this, even after reading through all the Lead cards, I never felt entirely confident in any of my final answers to any of the four cases. Sure, there were plenty of circumstantial connections, but there was never anything strong enough to send to the police, much less go to court with.
While I correctly answered all the Main Goals, (the app said that 90+% of people did as well) I would have preferred some clever connections that would busted each case wide open.
Including a web site means you’re limited to where you can play this game. It requires a lifelong dedication on behalf of the publisher to keep the online files alive and active well beyond the game’s shelf life. (My disappointment in the Barker’s Row How to Play video is only exceeded by Whitehall Mystery’s abandoning their Jack Helper’s Guide.) Save for one, unnecessary, 8-second ‘video’ clip, there was simply no need to include an online element to this game.
As a writer, I’m always interested in different ways of telling a story. It’s one of the reasons (Dark Knight aside) that I was eager to play Batman: Everybody Lies.
However, my initial interest in the storytelling technique employed within the game was quickly tempered in those initial 20 minutes with my gaming group.
“This feels like a Choose Your Own Adventure book,” my friend Paul said.
Almost. In the Choose Your Own Adventure books, you have multiple paths that led to a variety of different endings. In Batman: Everybody Lies, you chase the clues from one Lead card to another in search of a single set of conclusions. As such, my choices ended up feeling largely predetermined, leaving me feeling a bit manipulated to follow a fairly narrow path to get to all the clues necessary to make my final guesses.
However, looking at Batman: Everybody Lies as an example of storytelling, I was fully engaged once I played on my own. The hours I spent with each story were immersive: our dining room table was covered with character goal sheets, stacks of cards both read and unread, tokens, and my personal notes scrawled on a pad of paper.
That being said, I’m not sure I would play any future additional cases that might come in the inevitable expansion. I didn’t have much agency within the game meaning there were no interesting choices to be made. While I dove deep into the stories, by the end of the fourth one I felt a bit too much sameness in the way Leads led to Leads which led to more Leads which…well, you get the idea.
Finally, keep in mind this game has zero replayability. You can, however, reset the cards and pass it along to a friend who would like to play. However, at around fifty bucks, they better be mighty good friends.