Critical Play: Bluffing, Judging and Getting Vulnerable…

Game: Secret Hitler,

Designers: Max Temkin; Mike Boxleiter; Tommy Maranges

Target Audience: People over the age of 15 who want a challenging and creative game experience and who have taken 1+ history class about WWII

Formal Elements:

  • 5-10 players
  • Players assigned “fascist,” “liberal,” or “Hitler”
  • Majority of players are liberal but do not know who each other are
  • Fascists know who each other are and know who Hitler is
  • Hitler doesn’t know who the fascists or liberals are
  • Each round, the players rotate who is President. The President nominates a Chancellor, and the other players vote to elect the Chancellor. If the Chancellor is elected, the President draws three cards from the pile of polices, discards one, and hands two to the Chancellor. The Chancellor then plays one policy.
  • The liberals win if five liberal policies are played or if Hitler is assassinated
  • The fascists win if six fascist policies are enacted or if Hitler is elected chancellor after at least three fascist policies are played

Kinds of Fun:

  • Challenge: The challenge of hiding your identity and achieving your end goal.
  • Fellowship: The bond you build with your fellow fascists. When you play the game multiple times in one night, you also build bonds with your play group as you all learn how each other lie/deflect attention.
  • Expression: The fun of creating a false identity when you are a fascist pretending to be a liberal. You have to lie and accuse others of being a fascist in order to win the game.


Why does this game work? How could it be improved?

This game works because of how complex the deception is. The game creates many opportunities for players to lie/be lied to. This means that every game a new puzzle of who is a fascist is generated. No two people lie in the same way, so it’s up to everyone in the game to identify each other’s tells and patterns. Fun is generated when the liberals successfully identify who the fascists are and stop them from passing fascist policies and electing Hitler as Chancellor. On the other hand, fun is also generated when the fascists manage to create enough confusion that they can successfully pass fascist policies undetected and elect Hitler as Chancellor. Finally, the game generates fun because it creates so much space for spirited debate. Accusing each other of being a fascist and trying to justify why creates excitement.

Compared to other games

This game is like Mafia and Spyfall. However, Secret Hitler is much more complicated, which makes it more fun and more repeatable. On the other hand, Secret Hitler requires a lot more set-up and explanation, making it less accessible. You need to have the bored to play and it takes a long time to explain the game to a newcomer. The low activation energy of Mafia and Spyfall make them easier to start and mean they can be played anywhere.

How vulnerable do you need to get?

This game doesn’t require any vulnerability. Since the point of the game is to assume an identity and defend it, you aren’t really playing as yourself. You don’t need to divulge any personal information; you only need to lean into the role of liberal/fascist.

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