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In Too Deep

With In Too Deep, Josh Cappel and Daryl Chow have managed to come up with an unusual game where you're not drafting cards or dice or tokens but the actual characters on the board! The premise of this dystopian cyberpunk game from Burnt Island, with art by Dominik Mayer, is that players are all working for a secret agency tackling a sinister crime syndicate. You'll be scoring points by taking control of the criminals at large and manipulating them to meet the objectives set out on the various mission cards.

Each turn, the first thing you'll probably do is 'hook' one of the five criminals so that you can have them pick up and deliver objects and/or trigger the powers of specific locations. You may initially find it disconcerting that you don't permanently control any of the characters. You may hook a criminal and have it under your control but, other than in very special circumstances, another player can take control of that character from you, albeit at the cost of paying you Intel, which is the currency of the game and, in effect, a victory point. Control of characters will ebb and flow constantly throughout the course of a game, as does the board state...

The game is played on a modular board made up of eight locations that form a rondel. Objectives will often require characters and equipment tokens to be in specific locations or to be in a specific proximity to other characters, locations or objects, including the barriers that bar ordinary movement and the sentinel figure that can move those barriers. There are collective objectives involving 'evidence collection' that give In Too Deep the semblance of a semi-cooperative game, but don't be fooled. In reality, players are all competing to amass the most Intel/victory points and players are all trying to complete missions that are bound to involve manipulation of the board state. Tho' you're unlikely to be deliberately 'attacking' another player, there's a high probability that the actions of other players will accidentally screw you over because the plan you had to drop off an object to complete a mission is now no longer feasible because the board state has changed too much by the time your next turn comes along. You get a sense of achievement whenever you chalk up a successful mission (or 'story crime' according to the theme of the game) but In Too Deep can also be frustrating on the many occasions when things don't go quite according to your cunning plan.

And, of course, the changing board state means it's often impossible to realistically plan your actions ahead of your next turn. That's increasingly the case as you raise the player count. Even with just three players, the changes made by others can seriously throw a spanner in the works. With four or five, the board state changes can feel downright chaotic!

In addition to the Intel and evidence tokens that players will be collecting, there are end-game set collection bonuses to be won for the dilemma cards you are awarded for completing missions. These can be a mixed blessing, however: the dilemma cards all have a 'corruption' value, and you'll be totting these up at the end of the game. If collectively you've met the evidence-collection requirements, the player with the highest amount of corruption is judged to be 'In Too Deep' and has to deduct that amount from their score. This adds a distinctive push-your-luck element to the game, especially as whenever you complete a mission you get to choose whether to go for a safe 'Restrained' reward or a higher risk 'Reckless' reward: the latter will typically give you more Intel and more dilemma card draws... If you've collected a lot of dilemma cards and potentially racked up a high corruption score, it'll be in your interest to tank the collective win criteria to avoid the corruption penalty. Players won't tho' have perfect information about what evidence has been logged by others because they'll be playing some of their evidence tokens face down rather than face up...

There's a lot going on in this game. Aside from the various tokens and cards you're collecting, with evidence tokens playable to different areas of the board, there's a lot of iconography to take in. Aside from the standard move and pick up actions, you can activate the power of the zone in which you have a criminal which you control. Except that these powers are only available if the zone has no 'heat', represented by yellow cylinders in the standard retail edition and yellow plastic robots in the deluxe edition that was available to Kickstarter backers. When you activate a zone power, three heat pieces are taken from other zones and placed in the zone just activated; another key board state change. You earn 'grit' for each character you control and when the grit level for a character reaches a certain level you get to use as an action that character's special ability. The game comes with 10 different characters, and you use five or six in the game (depending on the number of players), so there is variation between games. The deluxe version (shown in our Board's Eye View 360) has some great minis for the 10 characters; the retail edition has standees, which are perfectly good and don't, of course, require painting! Our only regret is that the retail edition has cardboard tokens representing the criminals that are 'hooked'. Since these tokens are likely to be passed between players quite a bit during play, we much preferred the rather more robust wooden versions supplied in the deluxe edition.

When grit gets to a certain level, you can spend it to buy an additional action. Normally, turns are limited to just two actions but if you can set up a turn when you can take three or four then that can certainly give you the edge in being able to complete missions despite the changes in board state since you planned your turn...

We've used words like 'frustrating' and 'chaotic' but don't take that as a criticism. It's really just a warning about the way the game works. In Too Deep is a challenging puzzle game which s all about coping with the chaos. That said, we much preferred it as a two-, three-player and solitaire game (where you're using only four criminals and competing against an 'Echo' AI). And with fewer players you are likely to build up grit that much quicker, which means you'll have more opportunity to cash in grit for those often critical mission-clinching extra actions.

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