Overboard! The Thrill of Murder, The Smoothness of Solitaire
Set on an 1930's Atlantic crossing, Overboard! allows me to be the wicked murderer and the self-serving player-detective. Attempting to get away with my crimes, I search for clues to incriminate others, win a pile of cash playing cards, have a romantic tryst and…attempt to kill every single other person on board the ship. Overboard! turns the tropes of Agatha Christie whodunnits inside out.
And… if I fail to get away with murder, the ease of re-starting the game from scratch reminds me of Solitaire. Don’t like the results? Forget about that round, toss in your cards, and play again.
If I fail to get away with murder, the ease of re-starting the game from scratch reminds me of Solitaire. Don’t like the results? Forget about that round, toss in your cards, and play again.
What are the game play mechanics that activate this classic murder mystery? The duality of being a murderer/detective, a mischievous wisecrackin’ tone, plenty of branching narrative choices, the quick pace of replays, and ultimately for me—the achievement badges.
The comic tone is set from the opening cinematic where the player avatar laughs as they flippantly kill their philandering, fascist, bankrupt husband. After that first murder, the player is given the option to keep pushing people overboard.
I have to ask myself, is this necessary to get away with murder, or… am I killing people just for fun? Video games have historically been criticized for indiscriminate violence. In Overboard! the murders are calculated, repetitive, and ridiculous.
The character design re-imagines Christie-esque mid-world war fashions and class and cultural stereotypes in a clarified and elevated cartoon style. The sound design combines music reminiscent of the period, creaky environmental soundscapes, and the occasional hilarious non-verbal bark grunt, scream, or sigh from the player avatar and the NPCs.
The branching narrative options are deep enough to keep me guessing about my choices even after over twenty play-throughs. In several, I played the card game Pontoon (a variation on 21) against the English ne’er-do-well Mr. Carstairs. As Carstairs deals, I tried to repeat my wins and avoid my losses from previous play-throughs. I still don't know if the card selection is randomly generated. Or… are the myriad branching options baffling me?
Quick replays are facilitated in several ways including: the option to immediately replay a scene, the option to quit and reset the game to 8am at any time, the option to increase the reading speed of the scene dialogue on the setting dashboard, as well as the option to hold down an arrow icon and zoom through the scene dialogue and action choices.
Another helpful tool is what I call the "Murderer's Cheat Sheet". In the upper left hand corner there's a checklist reminding me of possible goals for this play-through. Much to my disappointment these tasks may or may not correlate to earning badges.
I love achievement badges. I like getting them accidentally when I play a game the first few times. Now coming back to Overboard! a year later, I love reading about the badges that I haven’t gotten. I like trying to figure out what actions, in precisely what sequence I need to earn them.
This motivates me to keep playing, to dig deeper, and earn my badges. Let’s face it, I have had this problem since I was a girl scout in elementary school. I needed a sash full of badges! I want a physical demonstration of my skill and prowess. Overboard! badges extend my gameplay time significantly. Doing this I learned a lot more about character backstories. I played with making less obvious decisions. And I had a lot of fun. So… game devs out there, more badges, please!