The Rookery

Madeline's thoughts on social deduction games, forum/community meta, and any other philosophical musings
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Social Deduction Schema - Part Two

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So now, an overview of some of the social deduction games I've played in recent years!

Werewolf: very open, very pure. Kind of the founder of the genre, everything else has sort of evolved from there. Lots of complex implementations (especially online), which make things slightly less open with regards to complexity of night actions.

The Resistance: Moderately open, mostly pure. A lot of the game is discussion and argument between rounds, with actual proposals and voting a small percentage of that; if you can't hold your own or don't like the debate, you probably won't have a good experience. The base game, as I've said, is very much "resistance will win if they identify each other," but Avalon roles complicate that. (That said, the assassination phase in Avalon boils down to a "spies discussing together" open format.)

One Night Ultimate Werewolf: The night phase is closed, but then the entire day phase is open: lots of back and forth arguing, claims, retracts. It's also not super pure: people can stumble into victory without necessarily identifying their entire team (or indeed, even knowing what team they're on!)

I'll give this the uncomplimentary tag of obscurant: players' win condition in many cases is hidden from them themselves, so it's hard to know how to advance towards it. As you might have guessed, I really dislike these kinds of games. Some people don't! Some people are like "yeah, you have to think on your feet and know when to back into and out of claims, that's the fun of it." If that kind of spontaneity works for you, that's great, but that kind of time-pressure thinking is not what attracts me to social deduction games.

Shadow Hunters: Symmetric, closed. Although the Hunter/Shadow conflict is where the symmetry comes from, this game excels because of the neutrals. The fact that there won't always be the same ones in the game make it much more replayable than Bang (see below), and lessens the incentive for everyone reveal on the first turn. (But once people do reveal, the symmetry makes it less stressful than werewolf for people who don't like to be informed-minority.)

BANG!: closed. Vaguely symmetric? After a few rounds it'll become pretty clear who's who, with maybe some uncertainty on the part of the Renegade. At which point, the "social deduction" aspect is lost. Good for some thematic laughs but my biased review is it doesn't really do anything Shadow Hunters doesn't do better.

Crossfire: Also obscurant, and close to symmetric despite a slight edge to blue.

Werewords: On paper somewhat pure (villagers need to find werewolves, werewolves need to find seer), but feels kind of crunchy in practice (someone is playing 20 questions...but badly!).

Saboteur: Symmetric at least in the second edition with red and blue teams. We could also call it iterative in that, to compensate for the lightness/arbitrariness of an individual round, the official suggestion is to score for one round, then go again with new roles and compete for highest total score. This edges it out of true social deduction (your role in one game has nothing to do with your role in the next), and if people took it too seriously, could probably lead to some degenerate cases/kingmaking. So the fact that it's suggested feels like a copout of "welp, an individual round is pretty random, if you don't want to be stuck with it here's another :/ option." I did warn you this would be a subjective list.

Spyfall: inverted (maybe one of the originators of this subgenre?) I don't really like the inverted format because it can be easy to fall into groupthink and be suspicious of someone just because their manner of obscuring the secret isn't the same as yours. As I always say, if I wanted to be suspected for not conforming with groupthink I'd go play another futile game, like Talking To Neurotypicals.

A Fake Artist Goes to New York: inverted, see above.

Emergence: A Game of Teamwork and Deception: Closed, somewhat crunchy. I like this game! Maybe it's because the (informed) minority wins by doing the same thing the majority does--reaching a number of accumulated chips in the chip box proportionate to the number of their players. So it has a bit more of a pure feel, to me? Like instead of being "lousy at harvesting cubes," the puny humans are trying to efficiently get cubes and convert them just like the glorious robots--they just happen to put the chips in the wrong side of the box. (Or not, if they want to bluff!)

Deception: Murder in Hong Kong: pure, open. In some ways this is like werewolf, so why don't I like it? Maybe because the groups I play it with have been a little lax about the rules for who can speak when, so it devolves into a free-for-all that's weighted towards good. So the official rules try to help evil by delimiting "okay now someone theorizes, now someone else goes, now time's up, stop," but that feels kind of arbitrary.

Witch Hunt: pure, open. This is basically werewolf but slightly more closed with regards to special roles/night actions, and slightly more open with regards to "you better talk fast because day is ending now!" Plus the dead people, who have to coordinate together without letting on "this is one group of ghosts" "this is another." The futility of that can make it feel almost too open.

Latitude 90: The Origin: Win conditions fairly pure, beyond that hard to say. The mechanics of sending and receiving information is potentially very closed, but if you're like "uhh, don't trust anyone, what to do" that can be kind of open in the unpleasant, futile way. (There's probably a different issue for conversion games, I know there's been plenty of debate about those!)

GROWL: Closed. Win conditions don't really fit into any of these: there's no informedness, potentially no elimination, villagers don't necessarily have to deduce anything either. Probably goes with Latitude 90 under "conversion is weird," only much lighter.

...Wait, never mind, it's iterative! That was the point of gold. Okay, there we go.

Are You the Traitor?: Very light and open, also iterative.

Two Rooms and a Boom: Symmetric, open. Can lead to feelings of "well, now what" futility, and the "coin-flip" degenerative issues make it a nope for me.

Secret Hitler: Somewhat more closed than Resistance, probably? And also crunchier, in that the drawing of cards/discarding allows for the "evil hiding as good with an unlucky hand" strategy.

Dark Moon: closed, very crunchy.

Shadows over Camelot: ditto

Games I only played a couple times years ago and barely remember:

Blood Bound: Symmetric

Ultimate Werewolf: Inquisition: Closed, crunchy.

The Last Banquet: I'm not sure what my issues with it were; it's possible there were just too many people, which could make even a closed game feel like "well, I have nothing to do, better wait for these dozen people to go." But there's also an open aspect of "who's gonna be the assassin" "uhhhh" that wasn't engaging either. Symmetric, anyway.

Games that are probably not social deduction, but share some features in common:

Mascarade--obscurant, but no teams or allegiances. First to thirteen points wins, independently of role.

Betrayal at House on the Hill--once the traitor is revealed, it's an asymmetric all-against-one game, but there's no mystery about who that is. (The Legacy version may add some twists to the original, I only played a couple games there so I can't say.)

Lifeboat players have secret objectives which identify their win conditions, but again, individual winner.

Edge cases:

Dead of Winter: mechanically it plays a lot like the "crunchy" examples, and could be described as "co-op with a hidden traitor," but the individual goals (for traitors as well as good guys) complicate things. Part of the goods' goal is to find and neutralize the traitor, but that's not a necessary or sufficient win condition.

New Salem: Second Edition: it's a "most points wins" individual type of game, but in order to even be in the running to win, Puritans/Witches need the village to have low/high quantities of Doom, respectively. So in some respects it plays a bit like a pure game where everyone, majority or minority, is trying to say "I'm part of the majority team, please leave me alone so we can work towards our common goals, such as identifying the witches and putting them on trial." I like that kind of thing, though!
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