Inkle, the developer of nuanced, authoritative games such as 80 Days, Heaven’s Vault and Pendragon, has not only surprisingly announced a new game, but released it. The game is overboard! and as I’ve found out this week, it’s a lot of fun to play.
It’s a murder mystery, but in the opposite direction. In other words, you’re the killer. You are Veronica Villensey, a fading star of the 1930s, and you are sailing from England to New York with your husband in search of a new life. Money has left you at home. But the thing is, you do not like your husband very much, so you do the only reasonable thing and throw him overboard. Splosh! This is how the game begins.
How it unfolds from there, however, is up to you. You have about eight hours until the boat pulls into New York harbor where you can cover your tracks, stop people talking and get away with murder.
This is not as simple as it sounds. There are several passengers, and they have all seen or heard different things, and need handling in different ways. Do you reveal their secrets or blackmail them in any way? Or simply, do you shut up?
Whatever you decide, it will take time: time for research and time to experiment. And unfortunately, time is the only thing you always run out of. Every action drains it. Talk to someone and time flies; move around the ship and time ticks away; fall asleep on your bed and time obviously ticks away. It’s the big limiter, time, and it’s simply not enough to do everything at once.
The idea is to have many walks. To refine your travel strategy, go for it. Think of it as Groundhog day: you will fail, but then you will run around knowing more than you did last time, and in the end you will not set foot wrong.
It’s a wonderfully compelling idea for a game, and it’s instantly cheerful and fun. The moment you wake up in your cabin, for example to a helmsman knocking on the door, you can choose to do things like pretend to be your husband or make up lies about him being in the bathtub. Or you can throw all his clothes out of the bunk for no apparent reason, or steal a piece of paper. Or you can just lie down on the bed and fall asleep.
Why you do a lot of it, you do not know completely. Some things will be useful, some things will not. But the point is: you can. You can satisfy the voice in your head, ‘I wonder if I can do this …’ Yes, you can drug anyone. Yes, you can talk to someone a little. Yes, you can throw someone else overboard. It’s a fun game to push the boundaries.
But it gets a little thin after a while. The jokes are muted every time, and on the sixth time it can start to feel difficult to see pretty much the same interactions again. However, it is a joy to suddenly discover a new result. And I should mention that everything is done to make reruns painless. Previous selections are remembered and highlighted, and you can lean on a forward button to quickly scroll through scenes you do not want to tamper with.
In addition, the only reason you play for the sixth time is because the game is surprisingly complicated. The goal you originally had for getting away with murder will develop into something more difficult when you reach it, and it’s apparently a third evolution I’ve not seen yet. There are probably several hours of play here, maybe more.
Maybe some of this is due to overboard! to be a relatively quickly made game. The development did not start until January this year, so it came together in just a few months. Actually, it was never meant to be something so big. It went from being a jam-style game from the ongoing Scottish Highland project – a game about the magic of walking, and the stories that come from it – to a complete game. And it was a way to lift the team’s mood when we moved into a gloomy Covid New Year. And it has done so: Give the energy to the team. You can feel it in the game.
“The core of this surprise launch is that it’s about joy, ‘Overboard! author and director, and Inkle co-founder, Jon Ingold, tells me. “We’ve all had a miserable year, and everyone, including us, could only do with a moment of joy. And there’s something very gratifying about just saying, ‘You know what?’ [here’s our game]. “No marketing, no wish lists, just a game you can enjoy right now. And I hope you do. Overboard! Can be exactly what you’re looking for.