Among Us is a multiplayer strategy game built by Innersloth. I played the game on iOS, but the game supports mobile (Android and iOS), PC (Windows), and popular consoles (Nintendo Switch, PlayStation, Xbox One and Series X/S).
With its cartoon-like graphics and simple gameplay, Among Us is designed for even young audiences: while originally given a 16+ age rating, it is currently rated safe for 9+ year old players, with fantasy violence and mild graphic themes. The strategic tropes and reliance on discussion and debates (which often get heated) to achieve the game’s primary goals makes the game best suited for teenagers and young adults. The largest age demographic in the player base is 14 to 30 year olds.
Notable Elements of the Game
Among Us can be played with 4 through 15 players. Players are divided into two primary groups: crewmates and impostors. There can be between 1 and 3 impostors, and the remaining players are crewmates; in practice, an impostor-to-crewmate ratio of 1:5 leads to the most balanced (yet challenging) games.
A group of players create a lobby, and can then customize their avatars, which are all cartoon-like astronauts with distinct body colors. A lobby can play any number of games, with no state carried over between games (though players will typically keep the same colors between games). At the beginning of each game, the players are split into the two groups (crewmates or impostors) by a random algorithm (at least that’s the party line to discourage rage-quits after a dozen games of not becoming an impostor). Each game consists of any number of rounds, which are demarcated by voting sessions where players can vote-off or eliminate players that they think might be impostors.
Thematically, all players are aboard a spaceship which needs some upkeep in the form of minigame-like tasks of varying difficulty. The two groups have distinct abilities, strategies, and win conditions. The crewmates’ goal is to complete all their tasks to keep the ship running, while the impostors’ goal is to sabotage the crewmates’ progress and kill them off. The game adds a strategy element to this simple concept by allowing crewmates to identify and vote-out players who they think might be impostors during voting sessions, which creates an incentive for impostors to obfuscate their identities and displace blame onto others. So, a crewmate can get eliminated or “die” by either getting killed by an impostor, or get voted off (by a simple majority of the alive players), while an impostor stays in play till they are voted off. This leads us to the win conditions: crewmates can win by either completing all their tasks before getting killed, or voting out all the impostors; impostors win when the number of alive crewmates is less than or equal to the number of impostors, or when the crewmates fail to complete certain special “sabotage” tasks that are time-sensitive.
Gameplay can be divided into rounds, each divided into two sessions: play session, and voting session. During the play session, crewmates and impostors work towards their respective primary goals: completing tasks, and killing crewmates. During voting sessions, players discuss their progress, debate on who they think are impostors, and can vote-out players. Only alive players can contribute during voting sessions. During play sessions, eliminated crewmates can work on their tasks, while eliminated impostors can trigger sabotages. Voting sessions can be triggered in two ways: a player can report a dead body (left when an impostor kills a crewmate, and cleared at the beginning of the next play session), or call an “emergency meeting” (lobbies typically limit the number of emergency meetings each player can call).
Cooperation. While crewmates’ tasks and impostors’ kills are individual actions, there often arise situations where cooperation between players adds to the overall complexity of, and challenge in, the game. For instance, two impostors can cooperate to double-kill two crewmates at nearly the same time, before either of the victims can report the other’s dead body.
Outwitting and Diplomacy. Impostors have to outwit crewmates in an attempt to hide their identities. This can involve lying about their location to physically distance them from the place where a dead body was reported, or trying to secure an alibi and gain the trust of an innocent crewmate by sticking with them without killing them. Gaining a crewmate’s trust can help an impostor get another crewmate voted out, which increases the impostors’ chances of winning.
Resource Limits. The number of times crewmates can call emergency meetings is an important resource, since the game does not allow open communication during play sessions. So, these limits in turn limit the amount of discussion time available to players, making the game more equitable for impostors, who may be far outnumbered by crewmates in large lobbies.
Among Us is similar to social games like Mafia in that certain “innocent” players are trying to identify and vote out impostors who are trying to kill all other players. Game rounds in Mafia include the day session, which parallels the voting session in Among Us, and a night session, where the mafia members decide who they want to kill. Mafia includes an additional storytelling component, with a third kind of player, a narrator, who assigns roles to the other players and ties the happenings of the voting sessions into a narrative. Among Us abstracts away this third role into the app, and heavily embellishes Mafia’s night session to create an actual play session where innocent players (the crewmates) can participate in tasks and contribute towards the additional win condition of completing all their tasks.
Other such video games like Project Winter embellish the “chase” by giving the characters weapons with which they can duel each and allow innocent players to potentially survive an impostors’ attempt to kill them. These games are more focused on the video game dynamics instead of the strategy and social deception element: a player who is better at shooting games may enjoy and excel at Project Winter, but their aiming skills would not help them in Among Us. I personally enjoy such games because of the strategy element, so these mechanics detract from the allure of the game for me.
I think the game is quite fun, because the simple mechanics and straightforward rules leave ample space for innovation on the strategies that players employ. Certain specific game mechanics lead to particular moments of success: for instance, impostors can sabotage the lights on the ship, heavily reducing the field of vision for crewmates without affecting the impostors. This means that impostors can kill crewmates without getting noticed, but they must be careful not to mention anything they saw because of their more expansive vision during voting sessions.
One problem with the game in its original form is that playing as a crewmate can get boring, especially because the odds of becoming an impostor are so low that most players in a lobby will be crewmates for several games in a row. In order to reduce monotony for crewmates, game modifications built by third-party developers introduce special roles for crewmates. These can include, for instance, a scientist who can detect immediately when a crewmate dies (as against the standard mechanic of chancing upon a dead body); or a jester, who has no special abilities, but an additional win condition: a jester can win if they get voted out, which complicates games and adds a level of detective work for the impostors as well. Such crewmate roles add flair to the game and make it more fun for players, and making them part of the core game would lead to the biggest improvement to players’ experience.