Critical Play: Bluffing, Judging and Getting Vulnerable — Blake Sharp

I am choosing to analyze Secret Hitler. From what I can tell, the game was designed by Max Temkin, Michael Boxleiter, and Tommy Maranges and is published by Goat, Wolf, & Cabbage in Chicago. The game is available as a board game or as a Print and Play version on their website.

The target audience is anyone over thirteen, but the game is mostly marketed as a social game for small groups of liberal twentysomethings. Since the game revolves around the connotations of Hitler, fascism, and liberalism, it is important that everyone in the group feels comfortable with the rhetoric.

The game is made for five to ten players. Each player is given a role and an identity card. The role indicates if you are Hitler or not and the identity cards indicate whether you are a liberal or a fascist. Each round lasts around 45 minutes. The liberals win if they do not elect Hitler as president when the fascists have passed half their agenda or they pass their full agenda. The fascists win if they elect Hitler as president when they have passed half their agenda or if they pass their full agenda.

The game begins with a chancellor nominating a president. Then the chancellor draws three cards and passes two to the president. The president then puts one card onto the game board. This seems straightforward, but this is where a lot of the lying and deceit comes in. During the process, the players have to be silent, but once the card is down they can begin to make accusations. If the president puts down a liberal card, then they can be presumed to be “liberal”, but they could also be putting one liberal card down so they can be trusted later. Then when they are trusted later they could nominate Hitler as president or pass fascist agenda items. Additionally, if the chancellor is fascist, they could pass the president two fascist cards and when the president puts down a fascist card, the chancellor could claim they gave one liberal and one fascist to “test” the president. The president could deny this but then it becomes a “he says, she says” and who is the better liar. There are so many layers of deceit in the game. The next turn occurs when the chancellor is passed to the chancellor’s right and they nominate a new president.

Secret Hitler has fellowship and challenge as types of fun. The fellowship comes from working in teams to defeat the opposing ideology. The challenge fun comes from attempting to outwit and lie to the other players or convince other players that you are on their side. One element of the game that leads it to be very compelling is that you cannot show your identity card to other players. This ensures you have to rely on your own convincing nature to coerce people into believing you.

One facet that makes this game really hard is that the liberals are playing completely in the dark. The fascists are privy to more information, which in my opinion, can make their job easier. I have never played this way, but I think it could be interesting to see what happens if the fascists do not get to know who the other fascists are. Another iteration would be if only Hitler knows who the other fascists are.

The primary reason this game is different than other deception games is that both sides are working to accomplish a goal and the “bad” guys have more information than the “good” guys. I think it is one of the best versions of a deception game. I have never left any other game feeling so emotionally taxed. I also like the multiple turns, because your strategy has to change as you get further into the game. You do not have to get very vulnerable with this game because you are acting as a role outside yourself.

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