By Joey Vigour (Designer, Chaosmos & GROWL)
To celebrate the INSANE FINAL DAY of my Kickstarter game GROWL I am reposting a hugely updated version of my social deduction/hidden roles game list.
Despite what some hardcore tabletop gamer “friends” may say, social deduction is NOT a withering genre, but an ever-evolving one. The mysteries are not unlocking to reveal aged rusted mechanisms within, they are blooming and propagating into new generations of infinite variation and beauty… a new mini-renaissance of the “old school” deduction games of yesteryear. I’m going to mention just some of the lighter, more casual games in the social deduction/hidden roles genre. (If you are a more dedicated detective and deceiver, check out Battlestar Galactica by Corey Konieczka, or its baby cousin, Dark Moon by Evan Derrick.)
Werewolf/Mafia is the classic but takes hours to play, and eliminated players just have to sit there and wait, sometimes for hours. Bang! by Emiliano Sciarra sort of improves this a tiny bit by shortening the game, but it also distracts from the actual hidden roles and makes it more card-driven. Honestly I don’t think Bang! is anywhere near as good as Werewolf. But it also came out in 2002, so it is practically as old as Werewolf and deserves a pass for inspiring many other games.
A quick shout to WitchHunt by Kyle Brockman for slightly improving Werewolf by letting the dead players have some voting powers and the ability to try to protect some of their living teammates (villagers), or cause more chaos from beyond the grave (witches).
Red Riding Hood: Full Moon Rising is a new prototype from Ta-Te Wu, liking hitting the scene late this year or early next year. It’s a definite improvement on the Bang! style mechanics of being able to shoot players and deduce their role, etc. There’s bombs and things, and it’s a hoot and a howl (excuse the pun). [image: Red Riding Hood]
One Night Ultimate Werewolf from Ted Alspach and Akihisa Okuiis may be the go-to these days… but I think there’s some issues with it (still requires a moderator/phone app, too complicated for casual gamers, suffers from the “alpha gamer problem” where the loudest players often take charge). It doesn’t really work with my group for some reason. One Night Ultimate Alien is better, but a bit complicated for the casual crowd. He has a new game coming to Kickstarter next week called One Week Ultimate Alien, which appears to add a board and area movement of some kind to the basic ONUWW system.
Crossfire by Emerson Matsuuchi is very similar to One Night, but even shorter. It takes place in exactly 3 minutes. Players have more hard information and a few various powers. Players simultaneously point their finger to “shoot” someone, and then roles are revealed. Definitely worth a look.
2 Rooms and a Boom (by Alan Gerding and Sean McCoy) improves on the live action role play elements of Werewolf in many ways, and introduces a two-location area-movement mechanic, and players physically move and are “traded” into the other room, where information is gleaned slowly while a clock counts down only 15 or so minutes. One team wants the Bomber to be in the same room as the President after 3 rounds of moving people. The game is wonderful but an extremely uneven experience because of the dozens of weirdly-interacting roles/powers. I would have preferred only a few tightly balanced card sets (although there are several suggestions in the rulebook and online).
Mafia de Cuba by Philippe des Pallières, Loïc Lamy is a very clever “light” game which comes in a cigar box. Players take turns secretly stealing diamonds or a poker chip with a secret role (thus you get to choose a hidden role from whatever is left in the box). The Godfather and his minions try to root out the betrayers.
Salem 1692 by Travis Hancock is one of my favorites of the “new generation” – I personally prefer it to Secret Hitler (and I mildly prefer Secret Hitler over The Resistance, and I prefer The Resistance to Coup, and I prefer Coup to Mascarade). Players have 3-5 tryal (trial) cards, depending on the number of players. The village’s goal is to locate and reveal all the tryal cards labeled “Witch” (the remaining ones say “not a witch). You can place Accusation tokens one people you suspect, and when they get too many they are forced to reveal one of their tryal cards (at the discretion of the last player who accused them).
Deception: Murder in Hong Kong by Tobey Ho is a bit like Dixit or Mysterium, in that there’s art images that you are using to convey information to certain players (in this case information about a crime), but with the added delight of some simple hidden roles like Accomplice and Witness.
Everyone knows about Spyfall by Alexandr Ushan, a wonderful little inversion where there’s a traitor who is trying to “fit in” and several related games like The Chameleon and A Fake Artist Goes to New York. I won’t get into too many “traitor mechanic” games but I mention Spyfall because it naturally leads into an amazing “inversion” of the traitor mechanic… Fall Guy.
Fall Guy is an amazing and very simple prototype game by Jon Perry, coming next year from [xxxx not allowed to say xxxx]. We’re criminals and one of us is the “fall guy” we are trying to pin the crime on. Our role card says who the fall guy is, but one of our role cards is LYING to us! What a genius mechanism! So we’re going through the game and we are all trying to quietly communicate via our actions and purposely confusing sentences, making sure we are on the same page and trying to each get the right card in hand to pin the crime. But whoever happens to be the fall guy has to “go to the police” before we pin the crime. The game is probably coming out next year and it is fantastic.
Good Cop Bad Cop by Brian Henk/Clayton Skancke is a 52 card hidden identity, deduction game where each player takes on the role of a law enforcement officer in a corrupt district. Players must investigate others to figure out who is on their side, grab one of the 2-3 guns on the table, and shoot the opposing leader to win the game. There’s alternate versions themed as Leaders of Euphoria and a prototype based around Total Recall.
Tradecraft print-and-play by Steven Cole uses a cool system where the roles are only part of what gives you points (you also get points if you stay alive and if you have certain points-giving cards. Really interesting game but I haven’t been able to get my group into it.
Timebomb [also called Don’t Mess With Cthulhu, and also Tempel des Schreckens] by 佐藤 雄介(Yusuke Sato) is a great, very simple game you can even make at home. We’re on a bomb squad trying to clip the red wires and then deactivate the bomb. The Terrorists want to have the bomb flipped (go off) before the bomb squad activates it. But we don’t know who the terrorists are. Players have 5 cards to start. they look at them but then shuffle them up and place them out in front of themselves. The cards are all blank except 3 red wires and the bomb. On your turn you reach out and flip up a card. If the bomb goes off before the 3 wires are flipped, the terrorists win. After each player has flipped a card, the round starts over, minus the cards already flipped, so the total number of cards each round is reduced. Very exciting and brilliant design.
Mayday Mayday by Stephanie Brandl is also very clean and simple – each player on an airplane is either Honest or an Infiltrator. You know your role because you have 3 cards and whichever role you have 2 of is your true team. Players spend their turn looking at one other role card and speaking/lying about what they see.
Human Punishment from Godot Games uses a similar (but more complex) system to define your role (you have 3 role cards. if you have 2 of one type, Humans or Machines, then you are that role, and if all 3 role cards are different then you are an Outlaw, meaning you want all non-outlaws to die.
Patriots and Redcoats combines elements of The Resistance and the 3 card role aspect of Mayday Mayday, with the 2 Rooms and a Boom concept of getting the Assassin and Leader together to end the game. I haven’t played it but it looks most similar to Secret Hitler, but with a lot of interesting twists and interacting powers (like everyone having to pass one of their three roles to the left, etc.). Also a twist in that if one of your role cards is a Leader (George Washington/King George) then you are secretly that leader’s faction, even if your other two roles are the opposite faction.
Transylvanian Pickup is a prototype from Dave “Get Bit” Chalker, and I believe it has been at Unpub in the past. There’s 18 cards featuring monsters and your current role is the monster pointing at you. On your turn you either draw a new card or cast a vote for another player (you can change it next turn if you get one). When all players have cast a vote, or instead if the deck is empty, you check for a winner based on the powers and objectives of each monster.
Shadow Hunters is a 2005 game from Yasutaka Ikeda, and it has 3 different teams you can be on, and introduces an area movement mechanic. There are several other games that have been released since that are inspired by this one.
Rick and Morty Total Rickall – some of you are parasites, some are real people. The basic mode is a simple cooperative game, but the advanced mode is full-on social deduction. There’s a bunch of characters in the middle of the table and we need to decide who to shoot. When you shoot a “real person” your hand size goes down permanently.
If a 4th “real person” character is shot, the player (and therefore team) that shot that last real character loses. Players have a small hand of action cards, and they commit to their action simultaneously but get to select their target when their turn comes around. Player identities/allegiances can shift frequently. There’s no player elimination since we are shooting NPCs instead of each other.
My new game is called GROWL. Here your hand of cards determines if you are human or a werewolf. If you ever have 3 Bite cards you are turned into a werewolf. A Charm cancels a Bite, and there are also Salves, which cancel Wounds, etc. During the game you don’t play cards from your hand, you take the top (face-up) card from the middle of the table and publicly give it to someone. So we all get to see how players’ roles are slowly being influenced. When a Night card pops up, all players get to pass a card from their hand face-down to the left, and also a card from their hand face-down to the right. Players shuffle the two cards they receive from their neighbors, so if you get bitten you won’t know for sure which neighbor bit you. At the end of the third night all wolves start growling (yes, out loud!) and the goal for humans is to have at least one human left alive (and wolves of course want no humans left alive). Check it out if interested, on Kickstarter now!
Just like any fun genre of game, social deduction hidden roles games just keep evolving and each new design inspires others. Is there ONE ultimate game of this type? No, because like any infinite magisterium, beauty can be found in strange places. Each player might be seeking something different and every game on this list might be somebody’s favorite. So go explore this exciting new world of mysterious identities and wicked deceivers!