Critical Play: Secret Hitler

I played Secret Hitler for my Critical Play. It was developed by Goat, Wolf, & Cabbage LLC, and I played the physical version of the game with my friend who owns it.

The game’s theming, graphic design, and advertising are targeted towards adults and older teens. The name of the game and the game mechanics of ‘liberal’ and ‘fascist’ players expect some historical and political knowledge that will likely not attract younger teens and children. The name is also somewhat controversial, and the target audience of the game is a player base that appreciates the strong choice of ironic theming without taking personal offense.

The game can be played by 5 to 10 players. The actions a player can take depends on their secret role assigned at the start of the game, as well as the public role they have in a given round. Fascist players are trying to pass as much fascist policy as possible without attracting suspicion of liberals. Liberals are trying to pass as much liberal policy as possible and suss out the fascist players. The fascists know who the other fascist players are, but the player assigned the role of Hitler doesn’t know who the fascists are. In each round, the role of President is passed around the circle to each player, and the President has the power to nominate a Chancellor. The other players need to vote with a majority to approve the Chancellor. If they’re approved, then the President takes the top three cards from the deck, secretly discards one, and hands the remaining two to the Chancellor, who picks one policy from the two. Certain abilities and events are triggered by increasing policies, such as the power of a President to assassinate a player, the power of Veto, peaking at the top of the deck, etc. If Hitler is elected Chancellor after a certain point, then the fascists win the game automatically. If Hitler is assassinated by a President, then the liberals win the game automatically.

This game is a type of ‘imposter’ game where one or more players have a secret role that is antagonistic to the other players. It’s comparable, in this way, to Mafia, One-Night-Werewolf, Among Us, etc. but I liked the strong choices this game made that differentiated it from the crowd. In particular, I appreciate that there’s less emphasis on the elimination of other players from the game. In the other games I mentioned, the method of sussing out imposter players is through their behavior in relation to eliminated players. In Secret Hitler, the suspicious behavior is linked instead to passing policy, which has the benefit of keeping more players invested in the game for longer. (In our class play of Mafia, I was the first person killed in the first round, and I consequently spent the twenty minutes of the game uninvested in the gameplay. That’s not possible Secret Hitler to the same degree, which is a great spin on the ‘imposter’ structure.)

I had a great experience with the game. I played with a large group of close friends and played multiple rounds, taking on both liberal and fascist roles and succeeding in both. I guess being victorious always makes the game more fun 😛 but seriously, it’s a well-structured game for creating controversy very quickly between people. I would be interested in playing this game with strangers, and seeing how the deliberations about ~who the fascists are~ would play out. Being close friends is always good lubricant for lively discussion, but I feel as though this game would be a good way to get to know new people and relieve tension.

A moment of particular failing that I thought was interesting was in a round where two fascist players didn’t see who had the Hitler role. Normally, the player assigned Hitler keeps their eyes closed and keeps their thumb up for the fascist players to see so that they can protect him. However, that player didn’t raise their thumb high enough, so the fascist players had to guess who Hitler was for the whole game. The liberals ended up winning, possibly as a direct result of this, but the fascists said the game was still fun despite being confused on that aspect. I also was proud of my playing style, since I got the chance to be a liberal in the first round and fascist in the second, which let me observe the behaviors of fascists in the last round so I knew what to avoid doing. I was part of the discussion and accusation, and even accused my fellow fascist briefly in order to confuse other people, which luckily ended up working for the better.

There were moments in my game where players would get up from where they were sitting and pace about the room in frustration or in anger, either to shift blame or to give an accusation more flair. These moments felt like an expansion of the game boundaries, which grew larger than the circle of huddled college students and grew into the entire room-become-political office.

One thing that surprised me in my gameplay was when one person who had a lot of experience playing the game revealed they were trying to ‘card count’, since they were the President at the end of a deck and were keeping track of what cards were supposed to be in the deck based on players’ testimonials. I don’t know how well this strategy works in practice, but I wonder if there would be some way of combatting this by having a larger deck of policies, or redesigning the policy selection system altogether. Also, something I like about other games like One-Night-Werewolf is the variety of roles a group can inject into a game. I feel as though, with many liberal players, gameplay can become a bit stale after a while of just trying to figure out fascists from the group. Perhaps different liberal roles would increase replay-ability.

I haven’t played the online version of the game, but I also really appreciate the design of the physical edition (shown above). The box, boards, pieces, and cards all felt very well-designed and sturdy, as though it was meant to last a long time as part of someone’s game collection. It’s always nice to appeal to sensory aesthetics, beyond just challenge, fellowship, and fantasy aesthetics.

Overall, I loved the game. I’ll be playing it again when I’m at my friend’s house. Or I might steal it from her.

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