Batman: Everybody Lies is a big improvement on the Detective board game formula

I’ve barely scratched the surface of Batman: Everybody Lies, the latest in the Detective series from Portal Games, and this clever little board game already has me intrigued. Players never take on the role of the caped crusader himself, but the experience feels every bit like crawling inside the panels of your favorite comic book and snooping around. Best of all, it rewards playing along with your friends — a feature that was not necessarily top of mind when designing the original game, which was much easier to finish solo.

Everybody Lies drops 2-4 players into the role of classic DC characters nominally aligned with the Batman — journalists Warren Spacey and Vicki Vale, detective Harvey Bullock, and Catwoman. Together they make up a special task force recruited by Jim Gordon with the purview to dig into contemporaneous cases that have the Gotham City Police Department stumped. Three such cases come bundled with the base game, for a total playtime of six to nine hours out of the box.

Mechanically, Everybody Lies is mediated by a simple unlock system that requires players to trade influence for fresh leads. It’s a welcome simplification of the original Detective: A Modern Crime Board Game, which was — at least in my opinion — unnecessarily complex. Meanwhile, a similarly simple timer counts down to the end of the game with every player action. The result is a tense, but not frantic, pace that keeps everyone at the table engaged.

Clearly the Scene Deck was produced at great expense. I expect it will support the weight of the overall narrative, with stretches from the Prologue all the way to the third and final case inside the box.
Photo: Charlie Hall/Polygon

Part of that increased engagement is due to the game’s emphasis on comic book logic rather than realistic simulation. The original Detective openly displayed an egregious misunderstanding of American police work. While the cases and their associated clues were clever, the construct of the National Intelligence Agency made little to no sense in and of itself, let alone in relation to the FBI, the CIA, and other allied agencies featured in the game. Similarly, the stress mechanic — a penalty assessed when players worked overtime — just didn’t jive with the stereotypical grizzled police officer archetype that the game was gunning for.

In contrast, Everybody Lies plays on genre expectations wonderfully. Everyone at the table has a sordid backstory to contend with. While there’s room for quarterbacking (letting one player direct everyone’s actions) to rear its ugly head, at least no one’s actually playing as Batman. In this way, the game shows remarkable restraint. Players can call in the Dark Knight himself to move a case along with his gruff demeanor and assortment of high-tech investigative tools. The necessary narrative hand-waving that Detective games must perform to move the action along therefore becomes a feature, not a bug.

My biggest disappointment, however, is with the game’s required web integration. Clues and other narrative bits in Everybody Lies get pulled from several decks of cards. Those cards will often direct you to a special website for additional information. But the website itself — at least the pre-release version available to the press — is clumsy, with a challenging user interface and a fairly slow response time. I’m about one case in and I have yet to encounter anything that couldn’t have been rendered as another physical object in the game box. Essentially, the web app adds nothing to the experience, and in some cases, detracts from it — but I imagine it does make the game a lot less expensive to produce.

Batman: Everybody Lies should be available at retail stores starting on May 19 for $50.00. Pre-orders are available now at the Portal Games website.

Batman: Everybody Lies was previewed using a retail copy provided by Portal Games. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.

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