“I know kung fu.”
One of the most quoted lines (at least at my house) from a pretty good movie, The Matrix. This line is said when Keanu (yes, I know that’s not his character name, but he’s Keanu) gets knowledge directly uploaded to his brain through a port in his head.
Many people say that it would be fantastic if we could learn information with just a simple click. However, they fail to think about the issues. I mean, how easy are things hacked in this world? With all the different digital break-ins you hear about, I’m pretty sure my social security number is posted in about 15 places online. Just imagine having someone hack into your brain. Somebody might try to make me view a friend as evil, or give me the memories of some horrible criminal, or *gasp* make me remember the other Matrix movies!
(Yes, cheap shot.)
What Ya Wanna Do?
It seems that Josh Cappel and Daryl Chow have thought about this possible future and brought it to life in their game In Too Deep, coming to Kickstarter from Burnt Island Games. The game is set in a future reminiscent of Blade Runner in which the central government has collapsed. You are an agent, desperately trying to keep the city safe.
This will prove tough, as criminals have been upgraded with cybernetic implants, giving them abilities that allow them to more easily wreak havoc. However, they should’ve gotten virus protection on those bad boys, because you are able to hack into those implants and take over their actions.
Why would you want to be a criminal? Well, it’s the ultimate undercover. By inhabiting these wrongdoers, you’ll be able to get your hands on evidence that will be key in ensuring that justice is served.
However, living in the dark world of crime has its costs. The longer you inhabit these criminals and the more heinous the crimes you commit, your mental state will suffer. If you’re not careful, you may cross the line, going… IN TOO DEEP!
Wanna Be Hackers?
I usually don’t take that kind of time to explain the story of a game, but I personally found this one to be fascinating. The mechanics of the game also weave into this theme pretty well, so I found myself engrossed throughout our time with In Too Deep, even though we were playing a digital preview.
While the story can be explained pretty succinctly, that’s much more difficult to do when explaining the rules. Basically, players will be hooking into criminals and moving around a rondel-style board to different locations to complete different tasks that are on cards that they are dealt. These tasks usually involve having some specific arrangement of characters and/or items at specific locations. When these tasks are completed, you’ll collect and file evidence that will help to take down the criminals.
There are several criminals whom you can hook into, and each one has a special ability that you can utilize as you increase your “grip” on that individual. Some allow you to move more quickly around the board. Some allow you to manipulate the Blockades on the board which normally prevent travel between spaces. You’ll be limited in how many criminals you can be hooked into at any one time, so you’ll have to carefully decide what combination of powers you need in order to complete missions.
All players will be contributing to two collective evidence pools – one that needs to be completed each round, and one that needs to be completed by the end of the game. If the criteria for completion are met, those who contributed get points; if they are not met, some people will likely lose points. It’s an interesting not-quite-cooperative component of the game that can cause some major swings in points if used correctly.
The evidence takes the form of tokens that represent a specific type of information you have collected – money or locations, for instance. These tokens provide a set collection element to the game. The more prevalent an evidence type is in the overall pool, the more points that any evidence you hang on to will be worth at the end of the game. You have to find a balance of contribution and collection in order to maximize your points.
But don’t forget about the mental toll that committing these crimes will take on you. Each time you complete a crime, you’ll become a little more corrupt, which is represented by special Dilemma cards that you will draw. Each dilemma provides you with some sort of possible reward, but also comes with a corruption value. Throughout the game, you’ll have to make decisions on keeping or getting rid of these cards, and the appropriate balance must be struck. If you end the game with the most corruption, it’s possible that you’ll lose quite a few points.
While I’ve described some of the main mechanics of the game, I haven’t even begun to get into the details. And honestly, I don’t think that’s possible in a written review without essentially writing out the rulebook.
Just know that there are many mechanics that weave well together. Different game elements like boosts, Tolerance, side crimes, location-specific actions, and the Sentinel will enable you to manipulate the game in your favor, or at least to the detriment of other players.
What makes In Too Deep such an interesting game is the way in which all the elements make you feel like you’re in total control of your game. This is important, as you need to be very careful in the way that you play in order to maximize the points that you obtain. With your crimes, you can’t be too corrupt, but you can’t be too safe. You can’t just use a handful of criminals for each mission because you’ll get bonus points based on your lowest “grip” level. You can’t throw all of your evidence into the collection because then you won’t have any yourself that will score you points. Everything in the game is about balance.
It’s All About…
In Too Deep is a game that I would classify as medium weight, mostly because of the time that it takes to explain all the rules. I would say that you’re definitely looking at thirty minutes being spent to learn all the ins and outs of the game. Once you begin the game, however, you’ll get the hang of what to do on each turn pretty quickly. We played through the first act of a game, and while it took us about an hour to do so, I feel that we would’ve moved through the rest of the acts much more quickly. That being said, if you’re playing with three to four players, there will definitely be some occasions when you’re sitting and waiting for your next turn for about five minutes. Most people don’t mind, but I will say that my short attention span generally means that I forget what my plan was by the time the action gets back around to me.
Yet I would play In Too Deep again in a heartbeat. It’s just so… cool! The theme is evident in nearly element of the game, and the artwork and components bring it to life even more. I also love the fact that I have so much control in a game. Each player has some sway in the overall outcome of the game beyond their personal player tableau, and I love that.
This seems like one of those games where the score will not appropriately tell how close everything was. You could lose by dozens of points by simply being short one piece of evidence in the overall pool, or having one more point of corruption than everyone else.
This game is certainly not for everyone, and I think you need to be careful if you have a gaming group that suffers from a lot of analysis paralysis. However, if you’re looking for a unique blend of mechanics and a solid gameplay experience, you should certainly check out In Too Deep.
In Too Deep is being relaunched on Kickstarter September 15, 2020.
We play tested this game on Tabletop Simulator with one of the members of the Burnt Island Games team. Photos of artwork and game components are not finalized.