Critical Play: Bluffing, Judging and Getting Vulnerable..


For this critical play focused on bluffing, judging and getting vulnerable, I played Secret Hitler. The social-deduction game was created in 2016 by Max Temkin, Mike Boxleiter, and Tommy Maranges; all three of them make up the company Goat, Wolf, and Cabbage LLC [source]. Initially, the game was centered around being an analog,board game, however there are versions of it online as well. For my critical play, I played the board game version of Secret Hitler

As I played the game, I thought about the context of the game and the environment it creates. Given that this game draws inspiration from a ruthless dictator, Hitler, and political ideologies such as facism and liberalism, I found that the target audience is most likely anyone 13+ years old. My hypothesis about the target audience is founded in my perception of the required level of sophistication or education one should have to understand the game and its mechanics. As the game advertises, the fascists must work together secretly to enact fascist policies without being discovered by liberals as fascist players. Moreover, if a player is a fascist and wants to push for fascist policies without being discovered, they would need to devise complex plans to do so. I felt that younger children below 13 years of age would most likely not enjoy or possibly understand what fascist or liberal policies are and how to detect them, therefore compromising key mechanics of the game. 

Lastly, the game allows for players to kill off people they suspect of being fascists after a certain point in the game’s progress. This level of community violence against an individual, although not to the level of a shooter game, adds to my perception that Secret Hitler might be more appropriate to target a 13+ year old crowd versus any younger. 

Formal Elements

Players – According to the game’s website and instructions, this game is best for 5-10 people. In terms of roles, all players have a liberal or fascist role, however one player in the group will have the role of also being “Hitler.” The player with the Hitler card would also have a fascist card in their envelope. 

Within the game, there are also the roles of President and Chancellor; these roles change since the President placard moves clockwise from player to player (i.e. every player gets to be president). Each president can elect a Chancellor from the group, so not every player is guaranteed to be a chancellor, however is it a possibility to have this role. 

Outcomes – This is a zero sum game in which either the liberals or the fascists win. One option for winning is that whichever team that can pass 5 liberal policies or 6 fascist policies, first, wins. An alternative method to winning is if the player who is secretly Hitler becomes elected chancellor after 3 fascist policies have been implemented in the government, the fascists automatically win. Another alternative is if the liberals assassinate Hitler after 3 fascist policies have been enacted, the liberals win automatically.

Rules – All players receive an envelope, and within each envelope is an “affiliation card” indicating whether a player is a fascist or a liberal. Therefore, there are two player groups. The liberal group is in the majority always. During the initial setup of the game, all players close their eyes and then the fascists open their eyes to familiarize themselves with who is on their team; therefore liberals do not know who are liberals or fascists, but fascists know who their teammates are. *note: there are more rules than this and/or more in-depth explanations, but I excluded them for brevity

In terms of President and Chancellor, the last two players who had these roles cannot be elected to be Chancellor. 

Procedures To progress the game, the President placard moves clockwise and all players vote for the chosen Chancellor by the President using cards from their envelope that say “Nein” or “Ja!.” If the Chancellor receives the majority of votes, they are the Chancellor. Otherwise, the President placard moves to the next player and the process is repeated. This is one way a “round” works. 

A President then draws policy cards from the deck and hands them to the Chancellor. The Chancellor must then make a decision on which policy out of the cards they were given they would like to implement in the government. Once they choose what type of policy they would like to push forth, the Chancellor places the “liberal” or “fascist” policy card on the board. This marks the end of one round. The President placard moves to the next person and the process continues. 

ObjectivesThe objective of the game is for liberals to figure out who they can trust (other liberals) and fascists to figure out how to deceive the liberals. This is a classic case of fascists needing to outwit the liberals, making them believe that one is not a fascist when one truly is. This makes all players within the game, particularly the liberals, prone to paranoia and suspicion of each other, creating a tense relationship dynamic. 

Resources – Liberals have the key resource of being able to kill off characters or investigate them after 3 fascist policies have been implemented in the government. If player A investigates another player, player B, player A can see what affiliation player B is.  Player A can lie about player B’s affiliation as well. This allows fellow fascist players to support each other possibly, liberal players to support each other, or liberal/fascist players to frame each other. 

ConflictThe conflict of this game comes from the challenge of trying to deduce from people’s body language, their speech and their behavior in the game what their motives are. Depending on which team a player is on, one’s motives change: liberals face the conflict of not being able to trust anyone and must test all payers to see who they can rely on; fascists must avoid suspicion by strategically operating in ways to appear liberal (such as passing liberal policies initially) but still help the fascists win the game. 


Secret Hitler is definitely centered on the fellowship type of fun with a sprinkle of the challenge type of fun. This game is based on players working together to overcome obstacles, discussing within micro groups (liberals, suspected fascists, president+chancellor etc) what to do next, who to suspect, who to kill, who to align with etc. Secret Hitler seems bent on bringing people together and inducing camaraderie despite its ironically suspicion-inducing premise.

The elements of players being on teams, fascists knowing who each other are, and liberals having to find each other and create trust are manners in which players connect and find solidarity. Furthermore, the aspect of all players voting for a Chancellor and discussing why or why this candidate is a good/bad choice evokes conversation and familiarization between players.

Why does this game work?

There’s an old adage from Benjamin Franklin that says “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.”

Not only does this game have simple rules which make it quick to pick up (I just learned how to play recently), but since the game relies on social interaction, I had to be involved with other players. Seeing then navigate complex mechanics made learning the game fun and low-friction to learn.

How could it be improved?

I think this game could be improved in one specific way: requiring that every player be Chancellor at one point. Despite mechanics surrounding the Chancellor being the Hitler player, I felt like some players were left out of being Chancellor and could feel dejected, especially in a social setting where someone doesn’t know their fellow players well. In a situation similar to the one I was in, I didn’t know the other players as well as they knew each other. As a result, the other players were more likely to suggest someone they knew to be Chancellor rather than someone they didn’t know well. This opens the possibility for someone to never be suggested to be Chancellor. 


This game is similar to Mafia and Werewolf in the social deduction aspect and focus on fellowship. The main differences are that this game has far more mechanics that the two games I previously mentioned; examples of such mechanics include the idea of implementing policies in a government that could be liberal or facist, more than 3 policies changing the rules, players can be investigated to discover their affiliation, etc. 

I believe that this game is better in that it does not generate an environment where the loudest voices in the room can simply accuse people and eliminate them. In Werewolf and Mafia, if player(s) just pile on and accuse a specific player, there is not much “behavior” or concrete evidence to draw upon for those accusations, making them feel more ad-hominem i.e. “you seem paranoid…you seem quiet… you appear nervous.” In Secret Hitler, we can see specific behavior such as a suspected fascist player implementing a fascist policy to make accusations. Therefore, when players decide to inspect a player in Secret Hitler, it feels more fair and founded in evidence rather than profiling a person and making assumptions. . 


Vulnerability-wise, I think I felt that because I did not know the players in the game well, personally, I was more open to accusations than the others. They naturally suspected me of being a fascist more, and my lack of a firm grasp on the rules seemed to indicate I was nervous. Therefore, I had to make sure to appear strong in my stance as a liberal when I was being accused of being a fascist, even when I was not. 

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