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Subject: Secret Hitler Made Me Change My Mind About Social Deduction Games rss

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Raf Cordero
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Social deduction games are usually not my thing. I like Coup quite a bit because it’s more bluffing than deduction, but games like Werewolf, Mafia, or The Resistance are just OK in my book. In fact, The Resistance is one of the few games that I will politely decline. I was not excited for Secret Hitler; I agreed to play at GenCon mostly because a number of my friends wanted to try it. I assumed its success hinged on an edgy theme and that I’d find myself longing for Coup or Skull. I was wrong, so wrong. Secret Hitler is not only a fantastic game but it is one of my top games of the year.



A snake in Parliament


I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it given how similar it is in structure to The Resistance. It’s still a series of rounds where a leader nominates fellow players to join them in some secretive skullduggery. The rest of the players still have to approve the team by vote with plenty of spirited discussion about who should be allowed on the team. I love Secret Hitler because this game shrinks the team. There are no teams of 5 for the bad guys to hide in. Like the light from a single bulb hanging in a dank room in the basement of the Reichstag, the focus in Secret Hitler is only ever on two people. Two people scrambling to argue, entreat, tell the truth, or lie to everyone else around the table.

Teams in Secret Hitler are made up of two important roles. The role of the President passes around the table from person to person, just like the leader in The Resistance. The President nominates a player to assume the critical mantle of Chancellor. These two form the legislative body that will determine whether the Fascists or the Liberals advance their agendas and these are the two who are about to face extreme scrutiny. This decision could even end the game, as the Fascists win immediately if Hitler is elected Chancellor at any point after 3 fascist laws have been passed. Complicating this is the fact that Hitler only knows that he is Hitler. The identity of who his proto-Nazi colleagues are is as hidden from him as it is from the Liberals.

Laws are the outcome of these two-person legislative sessions. A stack of cardboard tiles sits to the side of the embossed player boards and is made up of a number of Fascist laws and a lesser number of Liberal laws. Liberals are hoping to get 5 liberal laws passed before the Fascists can pass 6. Alternatively, they could just kill Hitler. There are various player powers afforded to the President when a Fascist law is passed; while their availability varies with player count, entering the “Hitler Danger Zone” brings with it both the risk of an instant win for the Hitlerites and an “Assassination” power.



Laws are Secret Hitler's greatest feature


These laws are the quiet brilliance of Secret Hitler. They ground the information and give you something concrete to point to as you build your web of truth or deceit. The President draws three and secretly discards one before passing the remaining two to the Chancellor. They also secretly discard one before revealing the remaining tile. This is the law that’s passed. It’s possible, even probable, that the President drew 3 fascist laws and a pair of good little Liberals were just forced to advance Hitler’s rise to power. It’s also possible, maybe probable, that the President burned a Liberal law and is lying to their Chancellor and everyone else.

These direct pieces of information, provided by two players who are immediately put into an interrogation by their opponents, serve to build a precarious house of cards. One of them is lying. Both of them are lying. If Tyler is lying that makes Susan a fascist. Wait, maybe Tyler isn’t lying but he’s actually Hitler playing as a Liberal. After all, we don’t trust Chris and he seems to be rather keen to get Tyler elected as Chancellor. The foundation to this pyramid of deceit is always grounded in a single known fact. The law sits there on the board for the whole world to examine while hiding the far more important motivation that put it there.

There are reasons, good reasons, for Fascists to pass Liberal laws. There are also reasons, good reasons, for Liberals to pass a Fascist law. After all, someone around the table is a totalitarian megalomaniac masquerading as a squeaky clean Liberal. Fascist laws give the President those series of clever powers, from putting the screws to someone by peeking at their faction card (another opportunity to lie) to singling out a single player for the assassin’s bullet. Tension and deceit are everywhere in Secret Hitler. Every decision comes with the opportunity to bluff, to lie, to directly test loyalties, and to cast aspersions on a fellow player.

Too many social deduction games break down into communal logic puzzles. The tension evaporates as votes are cast or actions taken. The decision space shrinks as more information is gained. Secret Hitler reverses that. With each play the tensions rise. Both parties creep together toward victory as the Law Stack’s known probabilities favor each team in turn. The stakes increase with every round and knees rarely stop bouncing. There’s a dark evil in Parliament who must be eliminated and the only way to do so is to pick up on subtleties, watch your opponents, look them in the face and call them a liar, and finally point to a friend and say “You’re dead”.





There’s no way to get around it. I love Secret Hitler. I love the grounded knowledge but I love how it still isn’t complete. You might be confident in your accusation but you’re never 100% sure. Rooting out the fascists and Hitler make you feel clever and smart. As Hitler, convincing your opponents you’re one of them feels wonderfully devious. And as the Fascists, helping the player who has no idea that you’re on their team or finding ways to feed them that information makes you feel like the consummate puppet master.

Secret Hitler is a can’t miss game. While better at higher player counts, the game works very well even with 5. There is a certain appeal to games that allow you to indulge in bold faced lies and manipulative deception and Secret Hitler sits at the top of that pile. Whether you’re building coalitions of trust or working to tear them apart, no one sits out a game of Secret Hitler.



Voting Cards. Choose carefully

___

This review was originally posted on Ding & Dent! A list of my reviews that you can subscribe to can be found here.

We have now done an in depth podcast review, that can be found here!
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Dan Allen
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Nice review. Worth noting that Hitler does know who the other fascist is at 5-6 players.
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Clyde W
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I have played both Resistance (Avalon) and Secret Hitler many times. Avalon is far, far superior a game in my opinion.
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Curt Frantz
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Good review! A couple points/queries:

You really find this more enjoyable with higher player counts? My group found that if you're late in the turn order, you often have nothing to do...accusations yes, but not so much being president/chancellor. With fewer players, at least everyone gets to experience the game a bit more.

We also found that the game kind of played itself. It's my opinion that fascists should always act as liberals early in the game because the game is designed for the fascists to progress their victory condition whether or not they're actively sabotaging. The only sabotage should come at the very end of the game when the fascists are one step away from winning. The risk of being identified as a fascist early in the game isn't worth it when the game is designed to help you so much.
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Dan Allen
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tribefan07 wrote:
It's my opinion that fascists should always act as liberals early in the game because the game is designed for the fascists to progress their victory condition whether or not they're actively sabotaging. The only sabotage should come at the very end of the game when the fascists are one step away from winning. The risk of being identified as a fascist early in the game isn't worth it when the game is designed to help you so much.


I completely agree when you have a lower player count (5-6) since it's easier to find Hitler by observing who collaborates with them if the fascist outs themselves early on. Once you have 2 fascists and Hitler in the mix, it's sometimes advantageous to out yourself as a fascist (or at least draw more attention to yourself via creating conflicts) in order to make the other fascist and Hitler remain hidden to the group.
 
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BC Wendel
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clydeiii wrote:
I have played both Resistance (Avalon) and Secret Hitler many times. Avalon is far, far superior a game in my opinion.


And I have played Avalon a couple of times, and hated it so much I never want to play a social deduction game again. If I take your word, this game must be utter hell.
 
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Raf Cordero
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ktfod wrote:
Nice review. Worth noting that Hitler does know who the other fascist is at 5-6 players.


Yep! Thank you for pointing that out. I couldn't squeeze it in in a way I liked and it didn't feel critical to capturing why I like the game. It is a very different way to play as Hitler though.

tribefan07 wrote:
Good review! A couple points/queries:

You really find this more enjoyable with higher player counts? My group found that if you're late in the turn order, you often have nothing to do...accusations yes, but not so much being president/chancellor. With fewer players, at least everyone gets to experience the game a bit more.


I do. Because the President can't (usually) pick the person who came before them and Chancellor can be chosen from all over, I don't find situations where someone never gets to do anything very common. Additionally, even players who haven't participated can still monitor the accusations and statements going around to build their understanding. I've sat on the far end of the table before; while it's certainly more fun to have one of the roles I have never felt like a non-participant.

Quote:

I completely agree when you have a lower player count (5-6) since it's easier to find Hitler by observing who collaborates with them if the fascist outs themselves early on. Once you have 2 fascists and Hitler in the mix, it's sometimes advantageous to out yourself as a fascist (or at least draw more attention to yourself via creating conflicts) in order to make the other fascist and Hitler remain hidden to the group.


Combining responses here. I played another bunch of times today with 6, and twice the fascists lost to the Liberals passing 5 laws precisely because they waited too long to spike a legislative session. In both cases, both fascist players were given the opportunity to either bury a liberal law as president or choose a fascist one as Chancellor early in the game. Both tried to play as a Liberal and it ended with the Liberals winning. Chance does come into play a bit with the deck, but that's always true in this game. As I mentioned in the review, I've seen a couple times where a Liberal threw a session in order to gain the Presidential power and that can be a very good move.

Part of why I enjoy with more players is that with 5 or 6 players, not only do you not have additional Presidential powers but you can end up in an unfortunate situation where two Liberals are killed via assassination. When you're down to 4 players this means the Fascists can just vote no on every team forcing it down to chance. Stats favor them in this scenario even if they don't convince a liberal to go with them. If they can, it dramatically favors them.

KevinMask wrote:
clydeiii wrote:
I have played both Resistance (Avalon) and Secret Hitler many times. Avalon is far, far superior a game in my opinion.


And I have played Avalon a couple of times, and hated it so much I never want to play a social deduction game again. If I take your word, this game must be utter hell.


Again combining responses. As I mentioned, The Resistance (and Avalon) are two of the very very few games that I would rather sit out than play. Obviously I can't provide any guarantee that everyone who hates those games will love SH but I'm an example of someone in that situation.
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Ben Rubinstein

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KevinMask wrote:
clydeiii wrote:
I have played both Resistance (Avalon) and Secret Hitler many times. Avalon is far, far superior a game in my opinion.


And I have played Avalon a couple of times, and hated it so much I never want to play a social deduction game again. If I take your word, this game must be utter hell.


Erm, you might wan to read the OP a bit more closely.
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Ashish Nair
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To me, your last three paragraphs apply perfectly to avalon (ESP with a full complement of special roles being played). Having played secret Hitler, I feel it is a better game (albeit a differently flavoured) to vanilla Resistance, but Avalon, played well, is just way better ime.
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Geoff Conn
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Interesting review/thread because I am a big fan of social deduction games. Will print n play now because the game is more involved than I thought until now.
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Robert McKittrick
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Zhalfrin wrote:
To me, your last three paragraphs apply perfectly to avalon (ESP with a full complement of special roles being played). Having played secret Hitler, I feel it is a better game (albeit a differently flavoured) to vanilla Resistance, but Avalon, played well, is just way better ime.


Man, I wish I had your experience with Avalon. Virtually every time we play (at higher player counts) the spies win. That has ended up being the single biggest turnoff for my group to bringing it to the table anymore.
 
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Clyde W
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Rfresh wrote:
Zhalfrin wrote:
To me, your last three paragraphs apply perfectly to avalon (ESP with a full complement of special roles being played). Having played secret Hitler, I feel it is a better game (albeit a differently flavoured) to vanilla Resistance, but Avalon, played well, is just way better ime.


Man, I wish I had your experience with Avalon. Virtually every time we play (at higher player counts) the spies win. That has ended up being the single biggest turnoff for my group to bringing it to the table anymore.
Once everyone knows what they're doing, the win ratios between good and evil are pretty even, I've found.
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Ashish Nair
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Overall, I found it 50/50, as long as the group consists of people who play their roles well. For us, Merlin and Percival are played quite strongly (usually with a third acting as a Percival too), and it more often than not it comes down to the Assassin guessing correctly at the end, rather than the spies winning their 3 missions. I realise now I don't regularly play with Morgana and Oberon, but use everyone else (we're just used it this way). I'm guessing you've already tried altering the included roles in favour of good/resistance? (e.g. Merlin and Percival, and Assassin, Oberon, to skew maximally in favour of good)

I will say that having everyone play their roles well is kind of rare (my group is a mix of a few close family friends who I've 'converted' to 'deeper' gaming and the rest just when we happen to meet at a party).

So I really enjoy games of 5-7, sometimes 8, because at those numbers it's highly likely that everyone is engaged throughout and making use of their role powers. 8-10 usually what happens is there is too much going on, and too easy for people to disengage. In that sense I really feel like Avalon is a gamers game ideally, whereas Secret Hitler is (much?) more forgiving to new players and thus is more 'casual' friendly.






 
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Raf Cordero
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This conversation touches a little bit on why I'm not a big Avalon fan. Because the roles are secret and there are a number of unique ones, the game is very opaque for new players. The game is best with many roles but it takes a lot of games to understand what they all are, how to play them, how to look out for who is who, etc. It's part of why I have had very few games where I actually had any fun.

Secret Hitler doesn't have that (other than Hitler) and all the powers are public and afforded to the president, not a specific individual. All the games I played yesterday (~10 or so) were all with new players, some of whom had never played a deduction/bluffing game. The amount of time taken to grok it and feel proficient enough to enjoy is measured in rounds not games, and you are playing the full game from the start.
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Curt Frantz
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captainraffi wrote:
This conversation touches a little bit on why I'm not a big Avalon fan. Because the roles are secret and there are a number of unique ones, the game is very opaque for new players. The game is best with many roles but it takes a lot of games to understand what they all are, how to play them, how to look out for who is who, etc. It's part of why I have had very few games where I actually had any fun.

Secret Hitler doesn't have that (other than Hitler) and all the powers are public and afforded to the president, not a specific individual. All the games I played yesterday (~10 or so) were all with new players, some of whom had never played a deduction/bluffing game. The amount of time taken to grok it and feel proficient enough to enjoy is measured in rounds not games, and you are playing the full game from the start.


It's definitely much easier for beginners to learn. That's not really up for debate. I just think the first 90% of the game plays itself. I think you're sacrificing a LOT of strategy to make the game more accessible. Is that a good thing? To me, no, but it's a matter of personal preference.
 
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Robert McKittrick
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Zhalfrin wrote:
Overall, I found it 50/50, as long as the group consists of people who play their roles well. For us, Merlin and Percival are played quite strongly (usually with a third acting as a Percival too), and it more often than not it comes down to the Assassin guessing correctly at the end, rather than the spies winning their 3 missions. I realise now I don't regularly play with Morgana and Oberon, but use everyone else (we're just used it this way). I'm guessing you've already tried altering the included roles in favour of good/resistance? (e.g. Merlin and Percival, and Assassin, Oberon, to skew maximally in favour of good)

I will say that having everyone play their roles well is kind of rare (my group is a mix of a few close family friends who I've 'converted' to 'deeper' gaming and the rest just when we happen to meet at a party).

So I really enjoy games of 5-7, sometimes 8, because at those numbers it's highly likely that everyone is engaged throughout and making use of their role powers. 8-10 usually what happens is there is too much going on, and too easy for people to disengage. In that sense I really feel like Avalon is a gamers game ideally, whereas Secret Hitler is (much?) more forgiving to new players and thus is more 'casual' friendly.


My group typically plays with 8+ players (usually 10), with most of the special roles (we don't use the Mordred or Morgana equivalent), which I have found to be heavily skewed toward spies. And I think the reason is because there simply isn't enough information for the non-special-role-Resistance players to go on. They must rely so much on who is the Commander/Bodyguard. So then it becomes less about "deduction of information to reliably figure out who the spies are," and more about the "deduction of who Merlin/Commander are so you can take their lead and/or give them cover." If the spies play smart (and in my group they almost without exception do), the only hope you have is a good Merlin/Commander.

So I agree that the skill cap for Resistance is higher, but I actually think it's higher in the wrong way. It requires everyone to be good at specifically Commander and Bodyguard, should they get that role. But if every Resistance member is good except for your Commander or Bodyguard you are basically screwed. Or at least that's been my experience.

In Secret Hitler, I have managed to piece together the puzzle as a liberal, and I have managed to jumble up the puzzle as a fascist, and I have found both to be more satisfying. When winning Resistance as a spy it feels somewhat hollow, because the spies are (at least in my group) heavily favored, and when I'm a Resistance member, if I'm not the Commander or Bodyguard, I definitely sigh a little bit in frustration. If there was a more reliable way to suss out information as a vanilla Resistance member without relying on one person who already knows all of it, it would make the entire experience much more satisfying.

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Ashish Nair
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Rfresh wrote:
Zhalfrin wrote:
Overall, I found it 50/50, as long as the group consists of people who play their roles well. For us, Merlin and Percival are played quite strongly (usually with a third acting as a Percival too), and it more often than not it comes down to the Assassin guessing correctly at the end, rather than the spies winning their 3 missions. I realise now I don't regularly play with Morgana and Oberon, but use everyone else (we're just used it this way). I'm guessing you've already tried altering the included roles in favour of good/resistance? (e.g. Merlin and Percival, and Assassin, Oberon, to skew maximally in favour of good)

I will say that having everyone play their roles well is kind of rare (my group is a mix of a few close family friends who I've 'converted' to 'deeper' gaming and the rest just when we happen to meet at a party).

So I really enjoy games of 5-7, sometimes 8, because at those numbers it's highly likely that everyone is engaged throughout and making use of their role powers. 8-10 usually what happens is there is too much going on, and too easy for people to disengage. In that sense I really feel like Avalon is a gamers game ideally, whereas Secret Hitler is (much?) more forgiving to new players and thus is more 'casual' friendly.


My group typically plays with 8+ players (usually 10), with most of the special roles (we don't use the Mordred or Morgana equivalent), which I have found to be heavily skewed toward spies. And I think the reason is because there simply isn't enough information for the non-special-role-Resistance players to go on. They must rely so much on who is the Commander/Bodyguard. So then it becomes less about "deduction of information to reliably figure out who the spies are," and more about the "deduction of who Merlin/Commander are so you can take their lead and/or give them cover." If the spies play smart (and in my group they almost without exception do), the only hope you have is a good Merlin/Commander.

So I agree that the skill cap for Resistance is higher, but I actually think it's higher in the wrong way. It requires everyone to be good at specifically Commander and Bodyguard, should they get that role. But if every Resistance member is good except for your Commander or Bodyguard you are basically screwed. Or at least that's been my experience.

In Secret Hitler, I have managed to piece together the puzzle as a liberal, and I have managed to jumble up the puzzle as a fascist, and I have found both to be more satisfying. When winning Resistance as a spy it feels somewhat hollow, because the spies are (at least in my group) heavily favored, and when I'm a Resistance member, if I'm not the Commander or Bodyguard, I definitely sigh a little bit in frustration. If there was a more reliable way to suss out information as a vanilla Resistance member without relying on one person who already knows all of it, it would make the entire experience much more satisfying.



I agree with what you said in the first paragraph to a large degree, and definitely will agree with your second paragraph (though I disagree that the skill cap is increased in the wrong way, given that Merlin in part of the base game and thus everyone should ideally be accustomed to playing him, and consequently covering for him ala Percival). I think a lot of the issue is because you're playing with 8-10 imo; I've found them generally too chaotic to keep track of things.

Despite being a vanilla Resistance member, a lot of the fun for me is in sussing Merlin out and following their lead, as you said, whilst casting suspicion away from him, and this is easier in my games because everyone tends to play Merlin and Percival strongly (i.e. giving away tells, gestures, comments, voting, etc. without making it obvious enough to the Assassin) and vanilla members automatically play Percival-type role to cast more doubt in the Assassin.

If you want more information, there is the Lady of the Lake token variant in the rules; have you tried that? (It can be used after the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th rounds for a total of 3 times, and by three different people and cannot be used on those who have used it already). Though I guess with a 8-10 player game it may not help too much if you don't get a chance to use it.

One thing I have tried that may help is getting to choose the missions out of order, because we can test specific groupings of people when we want, and it does provide more information and keeps the game a little fresher.

 
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Raf Cordero
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For those interested in audio discussion, we've done an in depth review on Secret Hitler on the Ding & Dent podcast. My cohost is an Avalon fan and discussed it. He still places Avalon a bit higher, but I go into some of my reasons why I disagree.
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