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Subject: Careful before you buy this: it's a fragile game that may not work for your group rss

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Chris G
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I was really excited when I got my copy of insider. As an avid fan of social deduction games including Avalon, deception and others, this sounded like a great concept that was right up my alley. The reviews were great, the box was small and portable, and I was sold. Probably many of you who are interested in this game feel similarly.

Let's see if I can convince you to hold off a little longer.

For me, insider is easily one of the weakest social deduction games and it went down poorly with my group of frequent social deduction players.

The concept, if you're not familiar with it, can be summed up incredibly quickly: 20 questions meets werewolf/mafia. One person guessing already knows the answer to the question, the others have to figure out who it is after the 20 questions part is over. The insider needs to nudge people in the right direction, without giving themselves away. It's a really neat idea. Simple, novel, cool. So what's the problem?

Let me ask you: did you ever need an insider to win at 20 questions?

The "merlin" mechanic (where one person has secret knowledge that they have to use to influence the game without getting caught) works well in games such as Avalon because there is an incentive for Merlin to try to disseminate information. Between all the deception and trickery, it is entirely possible that the good side will be fooled or just mistaken. Merlin has an obvious incentive to counteract that and help the good side win.

So what about insider? My experience was that most games we played, people just played 20 questions as intended: trying to guess the answer in the normal fashion. And each time this happened, people just ended up guessing the answer relatively quickly, as tends to happen in actual 20 questions too. In this context, what incentive is there for the insider to try to influence the game at all? During the questions part of the game, the good side just wants to answer correctly: if they don't, they lose too! The only way the insider has any incentive to risk revealing their identity is if the good side is not going to win without them doing so. Most games we played, this just never happened: because the good side would eventually find the answer without insider input, the insider only gave incredibly innocuous clues, or none at all, and we almost never guessed who the insider was correctly except by dumb luck. It wasn't fun.

So then how do you adjust to give the insider incentive? There are two ways of doing this. The first is modifying the time constraints or choosing more difficult words. This works up to a point, but you can only reduce the timeframe by so much and choose words that aren't too obscure before the game becomes problematic. These modifications are, I think the necessary first steps, but they weren't enough on its own for my group to eliminate the problem.

The second way is through "optimal play": by being cunning on the good side and guessing less well to try to force the insider's hand. This makes the 20 questions portion less fun than it might otherwise be, but that could be compensated for by the hidden role intrigue later. Yet there is a much more fundamental issue with this approach: if the correct answer to the 20 questions portion of the game is not guessed, neither side wins. Clearly neither side wants to lose, but in this scenario, either the good side eventually tries harder at the last minute and ends up guessing to save the day or the insider caves and ends up revealing their identity with an obvious nudge. In other words, the game becomes a case of meta-chicken with the question being who is willing to play sub-optimally to ensure that we don't all lose? Clearly that is not fun.

Here you might quite rightly argue that this isn't really the spirit of the game: it's a simple party game, you shouldn't be overthinking optimal play or min/maxing your approach to it. "The good guys should guess well and the insider should nudge them the right direction a intended." That's certainly true. But when we tried to play the game simply in the way intended (which is usually how we play anyway), the insider just didn't have that incentive to influence the game and so the insider never lost. Which brings us back the original problem we were trying to solve.

Now here's the catch: I don't think that these are flaws that were overlooked by other groups, because they were significant enough to completely ruin the gameplay experience for us. Instead, I don't think groups that enjoyed the game experienced those flaws at all: they were able to play the game in a way that they felt that the insider had incentive to influence the game in notable ways that were not just "because that's the way the game should be played." Honestly, I don't understand what the difference was between us and them: I am not suggesting that these other groups are just worse at 20 questions and therefore the insider had to work more and the game worked better for them. But I do think they were able to find a set of constraints and circumstances (such as time limit, word selection etc) that worked for their group and made their insider feel an incentive to be active in attempting to influence the game. Or maybe the constraints out of the box just worked for them in a way that they didn't for us. Some groups are just going to be able to enjoy this one in a different way.

I really don't know why it is that the game worked better for them and honestly I'm a little jealous: they are getting the experience I wanted to have with this game. But for whatever reasons, their game group is just better suited to getting the enjoyment out of this game than ours was. If anyone has any suggestions to why this might be, I'd love to hear them.

So then should you buy this game? My answer isn't "no". Some groups are clearly having a great time with this game and absolutely love it. Our group did not. I did not. I wish I was able to pinpoint exactly what the difference is between groups that enjoy this game and groups that don't is and it's possible that replies to this might speculate that our group is full of dry min-maxers or in some way unable to "just enjoy" games. I don't think that's true at all: my group loves hanabi, spyfall, cosmic encounter, the resistance - tons of games similar to this one in weight and relatively casual mindset. But this one didn't hit the mark for us. And for groups that this game is not a hit for, it's not just "ok" either. It fundamentally does not work.

Will it be a hit for your group? I honestly have no idea. But what I can say based off of my experience: I'd strongly suggest you try before you buy this one.

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Mark Jackson
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Just curious, are you playing with an actual copy or pnp/coming up with your own words/whatever? Just thinking that if you're using really easy words or something it could skew the experience.
 
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Paul Glickman
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This is certainly a party game, not a robust game - but it's an excellent one!

By "robust" I mean "can withstand repeated plays and scrutiny where players are trying to optimize their win chance."

So if you play this game with a group with an emphasis on winning and optimal play (which my group often is), this game is a bust - but that warning has been enough to allow my group to have tons of fun with it. This is the Telestrations of social deduction games (well, that's A Fake Artist Goes to New York, but close enough)... This is the Reverse Charades of social deduction. Fun, but you can't emphasize winning because at its core the game doesn't make sense.
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Chris G
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Played with the actual copy.

To reiterate, my group wasn't trying to min max, but when we played it casually, it didn't work. So we tried playing "competitively" and it still didn't work. It probably wouldn't stand up as a robust game for most groups, but there are also groups who like casual games who this game will break for.

We love telestrations btw
 
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Eric Knauer
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Sounds like Bezier may have improved this system:

https://opinionatedgamers.com/2017/04/10/chriss-gathering-su...

Quote:
There’s a two-way tossup right now for my favorite game of the convention, and Werewords is one of the contenders. Ted Alspach and Bezier Games have extended their werewolf intellectual property into a word-based social deduction game. I’ll be doing a full review in the next few weeks, but here’s a quick overview.

One player is the mayor, and he or she will select a word — the app gives you several choices — and then, during the main part of gameplay, answer questions by handing out yes/no/maybe tokens. The mayor also has one of the other roles in the game.

The other roles are: (1) the werewolf, who is trying to mislead the village, (2) the seer, who is trying to guide the village, and (3) the villagers, who are trying to ask questions to guess the word and/or identify the werewolf. The werewolf and the seer both know the word.

If the village guesses the word in time, the Werewolf wins if they can find the seer. If the village doesn’t win in time, they can still win if they find the werewolf.

I’ve played this four times, and I’m impressed. The game is brilliant, an awesome mashup of a word game and a social deduction game. The comparison to Insider is obvious, but I think this is substantially different and substantially better. It is simply more fun and effective to have one player working for the team (the seer) and one working against it (the werewolf) than just one person taking on both roles (as in Insider).

Werewords is streamlined and intuitive, and the app makes a huge different in moving gameplay along. I especially like that you can pick the difficulty of the word.

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Just call him
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Werewords sounds like it could be easily replicated using Insider and some tokens, so I might give this a try next time we play
 
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Jack Sparrrrow
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I don't know why you need yes/no/maybe tokens in Werewords, but you could easily simulate having both Werewolf and Seer using Insider components.
Simply decide who answers question beforehands, deal the cards and make the Insider (Werewolf) work against Commons (Villagers), while Master (Seer) knows the word but can't expose himself for Insider.
In description of Werewords there is also information that even player answering questions has additional role. I don't see how it would work if he is Seer or Werewolf, so perhaps there are other roles for him.
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Just call him
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The tokens are the clock on the game. Rather than being realtime you get a fixed number of yes/no responses. The tokens also go in front of the player who asked the question, presumably to aid in finding the werewolf
 
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Charles Waterman
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chg21012 wrote:


Let me ask you: did you ever need an insider to win at 20 questions?


No - but it's fun trying to play two games at the same time. You have to do double deduction, and not lose track of one while doing the other!

<snip>

chg21012 wrote:
My experience was that most games we played, people just played 20 questions as intended: trying to guess the answer in the normal fashion.

Sure, but somebody was asking questions just a little bit better than others were. Or more stupidly. Either way, a suspicious move.

chg21012 wrote:
And each time this happened, people just ended up guessing the answer relatively quickly, as tends to happen in actual 20 questions too.


Hmmm.. Did you get any of these words? "shadow", "Olympics", "roof terrace", "residential area", "civilization"? Those are also some of the words on the cards.

chg21012 wrote:
The only way the insider has any incentive to risk revealing their identity is if the good side is not going to win without them doing so.


That's true. I'd say that either A) the words on the cards are too easy, or B) Your group is too good at social deduction for this game! Congratulations!

chg21012 wrote:
...and we almost never guessed who the insider was correctly except by dumb luck. It wasn't fun.


Yessssss, I didn't have any fun either! Signed, The Insider. Muuuuhahahahahahhhhhh!!!!

chg21012 wrote:
Yet there is a much more fundamental issue with this approach: if the correct answer to the 20 questions portion of the game is not guessed, neither side wins.


There is only a *side* to be on **after** the word is guessed. If the Insider doesn't help, she loses along with everyone else. **That's** not fun. If the Insider decides to not help, I'd think they'd be suspicious just for that alone!

chg21012 wrote:
In other words, the game becomes a case of meta-chicken with the question being who is willing to play sub-optimally to ensure that we don't all lose? Clearly that is not fun.


I wouldn't describe playing Werewolf by talking very little as
sub-optimal play. If you play Insider **as a blended game**, meta-chicken can be a BLAST!

It seems like some of your Insiders may have been trying to win at all costs - including letting everyone else lose. This game can't be enjoyed that way. It requires an unspoken agreement that we're not going to purposely lose points for everyone else if we can help it, Insider or not.

On the other hand, being cautious while questioning can be good.

Also, if someone is normally good at guessing and they're suddenly dumb - what's going on Mr. Insider? If someone isn't good at guessing and they suddenly make some astute guesses...where did that come from?

I guess I'm wondering why your group couldn't guess who the Insiders were.
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JJ Breese
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Have you tried with writing down your own word yet? We found that more uncommon words/things really did improve the guessing aspect of the game (but still no 100% guarantee the word won't be guessed quickly). It's also led to some really funny/weird moments during our games. One time the master picked another player in the room as his secret word, and was guessed within 5 guesses by a non-insider.
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Nick B
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I played this with six people tonight, and we were running into some of the same issues other people were having. Basically, we were figuring out the word too early, and even if we tried to take our time, it was more or less impossible to figure out the Insider unless we just got lucky. We were discussing possible ways to make the game a little more fun for us, and the following variant worked wonders:

Once the Master and Insider have both seen the answer, but before everyone opens their eyes, the Master pulls out a few more cards (we did it so the number of cards on the table equaled the number of players) and shuffles them around on the table.

This made it SO MUCH more fun to try to get the answer; everyone had to ask more general questions to even try to narrow it down to the right card, and even then there were lots of possible answers on other cards. It made the Insider's job a little more interesting, as leading people towards the right card is somewhat less obvious than leading people to the right word, and it also gave us commons more to work with when trying to guess the Insider's identity. Give it a try if you find yourself a little disappointed by the rules as written!
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Mark Jackson
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nickbudz wrote:
I played this with six people tonight, and we were running into some of the same issues other people were having. Basically, we were figuring out the word too early, and even if we tried to take our time, it was more or less impossible to figure out the Insider unless we just got lucky. We were discussing possible ways to make the game a little more fun for us, and the following variant worked wonders:

Once the Master and Insider have both seen the answer, but before everyone opens their eyes, the Master pulls out a few more cards (we did it so the number of cards on the table equaled the number of players) and shuffles them around on the table.

This made it SO MUCH more fun to try to get the answer; everyone had to ask more general questions to even try to narrow it down to the right card, and even then there were lots of possible answers on other cards. It made the Insider's job a little more interesting, as leading people towards the right card is somewhat less obvious than leading people to the right word, and it also gave us commons more to work with when trying to guess the Insider's identity. Give it a try if you find yourself a little disappointed by the rules as written!


Wait you know you're not supposed to show the card to the players right? Only the master and insider get to see the card.
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Nick B
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Ah_Pook wrote:

Wait you know you're not supposed to show the card to the players right? Only the master and insider get to see the card.

HO. LEE. CRAP.

Geeze, leave it to me to screw up the rules for a game that only has maybe five of them. Once I saw that you were supposed to cover up the number of the word, I didn't even realize that you also hid the card. What's the point of covering the number, then?

Well, I guess we've created a completely different game using the same components. WHAT A DEAL!

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Charles Waterman
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Great creativity, Nick! Wonder how you'll like the standard rules. Meantime, you've given the rest of us an idea for an interesting variant - Thanks!
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Matthew Hyzer
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Agree! How can you not win with 5 minutes of questions. My group figured out each word in 30 seconds or so regardless of the Insider.
 
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Nick Stables
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One thing I'm starting to wonder is if a rule is overlooked: only the person who answered correctly is being judged as the insider.
 
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Daniel Corban
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I’m also wondering if anyone tried the advanced rules, where it’s possible that there is no insider.

This isn’t “20 questions” where you want to solve the mystery in as few questions as possible. You need to speak carefully to force the insider to contribute. When the time is running low, the insider will be pressured.

If you are finding the answer in 30 seconds, you are playing the wrong game.
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