The Rookery

Madeline's thoughts on social deduction games, forum/community meta, and any other philosophical musings
 Thumb up

Social Deduction Schema - Part One

msg tools
No mountains, no valleys
Never argue with idiots; they'll drag you down to their level and then beat you on experience.
Microbadge: Paint userMicrobadge: Myst fanMicrobadge: Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events fanMicrobadge: I was in MATHCOUNTS!Microbadge: Lyrics fan
How do we describe social deduction games? Beyond the obvious breakdown of "the ones I like" and "all the others," there seem to be a couple more underlying dimensions that can categorize them in ways that make it easier for me to articulate what I do and don't like. I wouldn't say they're full-scale dimensions that are completely independent of each other, but rather various adjectives that can in some cases be opposites, or in some cases label a specific category.

I consider Werewolf to be the progenitor of the modern social deduction genre, with perhaps a time jump separating it from spinoffs such as Bang! and The Resistance. There are also a couple games that seem to fall near, but not exactly under, this umbrella (New Salem). As a starting point, let's say that a social deduction game is one where you're issued a secret identity near the start of the game, these identities determine your win condition, and some or all of them fall into factions/teams.

Closed versus Open

Most traditional, competitive board games have very discrete turns. On my turn, I move my pawn or draw two cards or place a worker, and then it's the next player's turn. Sometimes this fosters indirect interaction ("hey, you took my spot!"). And sometimes, the turns are more open-ended; in Catan, even when it's "my turn," I can open the floor to anyone who's willing to trade with me, which is a more direct form of interaction.

In social deduction games, there can be a lot more "free-for-all"ness. The long "day" phases of werewolf feature very little turn-taking, although players are forced to make a decision when voting phases come along. But mostly players are left to talk amongst themselves to root out evils, or deceive goods, in their own way and at their own volume. I'll call this an open game.

Something like Emergence, however, is more closed: players have fixed rules for what actions they can take, when, and where. Of course you can argue and accuse people in between this, but once I've indicated my action, I need to move to an adjacent hex and possibly claim a resource.

Purity and lack thereof

In standard werewolf, the win conditions are pretty easy to define: the village wins by eliminating all the werewolves, and the werewolves win if this doesn't happen (within a certain number of rounds). Basic Resistance is a bit more complex, but in the same vein: the rebels will win if they send three passing missions, which will certainly happen if they can correctly identify all the other rebels (although it can also happen if a couple spies float early on, collide and double-pass, etc). However, the spies will win if they send three failing missions, which they will do if even one spy is continuously trusted by most rebels enough to get on the last mission! Avalon, Hunters, etc. complicate this.

I'll call these games relatively pure, not in the sense that they are necessarily more enjoyable or morally superior than others, but that their win conditions are fairly simple to describe. Uninformed majority: wants to discover who's who, informed minority: wants to prevent this. The informed minority's goal, therefore, is to act as much like a member of the uninformed majority as possible, to gain trust.

From now on I'll probably use "good" and "evil" interchangeably with "uninformed majority" and "informed minority," if the game in question has these factions (not all of them do!). Werewolves are not "evil" because they eat villagers (some villagers are tasty, they had it coming), but because they have to lie and pretend to be villagers. And many people find that kind of lying more cognitively demanding than the deduction process of being a villager.

So I think most people would agree that, although it has teams, werewolf is not a cooperative game. The basic mechanic requires a lynch mob (or whatever the politically correct term for it these days). Yet, there are several games that meet my definition of "social deduction" that could also be called "cooperative with a traitor." Shadows over Camelot and Dark Moon are examples of these. I'll call them crunchy games (by the standards of social deduction!).

In some ways, these are similar to true cooperative games like Pandemic, where the struggle is that of all the players versus the board. In Shadows over Camelot people are running around gathering swords and removing catapults, in Dark Moon repairing systems and resolving crises. (Dead of Winter is similar, but with some caveats. See part II.) These have significantly more crunch than "I think A is a rebel so I want her to go on the team, thumbs up." For the good guys, the win condition is achieved by beating the game, which requires cooperation and teamwork. For the bad guys, the win condition is not letting this happen.

But the bad guys don't need to stay hidden to win! In fact, they can win even after being exposed as bad guys, and in some cases gain new powers. This can make it fun to play the second half of the game as a revealed traitor. (Source: I seem to draw traitor all the time in these.)

There is a downside, however, which comes in the first half of the game. Sometimes goods will just get a bad hand of cards, and they'll have to say "well, I couldn't contribute much to that round, but it's just bad luck, I really am good please trust me. " This is necessary in order for there to be genuine uncertainty about who is evil. But on the evil's part, they have to play like an incompetent villager: "oh I just tried to find the Holy Grail but I tripped over my horse oopsies" This is subjective, but I think the challenge of playing "like a good guy who just has terrible cards" is less engaging overall than the challenge of "I really am a villager, here is me hunting and looking shiny" while eating people at night. (The latter is hard. But interesting!)

Not all games even have the concept of an informed minority. In Two Rooms and a Boom, the Blue Team and the Red Team have (roughly) equal character powers; in Shadow Hunters, the Shadows and the Hunters are chosen to be equal in number. You might consider bombing heads of state or being a vampire to be thematically evil actions, but, you know, from their point of view the political establishment is evil. Let's call these symmetric examples of the social deduction genre.

And there are also examples of games that feature an "informed majority!" Maybe they're not all informed of each other (that would be pretty broken), but they're all in on a secret that the uninformed minority has to act like they know. (Spyfall, Fake Artist.) I'll call these inverted since they switch up the usual uninformed majority/informed minority paradigm.

For iterative, obscurant, and “almost-but-not-quite social deduction” games, stay tuned for part II!
Twitter Facebook
Subscribe sub options Tue Jul 2, 2019 3:55 am
Post Rolls
  • [+] Dice rolls
Loading... | Locked Hide Show Unlock Lock Comment     View Previous {{limitCount(numprevitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
    View More Comments {{limitCount(numnextitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} / {{numnextitems_calculated}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}