Our game is a combination of social deduction and drawing. Thus, for this critical play, I examined Town of Salem, an online social deduction game published by BlankMediaGames in 2014. The game is, at its core, a variant of Mafia designed for 15 players, where each player has a unique role with their own set of responsibilities and clues to remember.
One of the core mechanics of the game is the day and night phase. During the day phase, players may discuss their theories and evidence, and vote to execute one player. During the night phase, players will carry out tasks assigned to their specific role, such as investigating who visits another player during the night, or body-guarding another player. The mafia will attempt to kill a player during the night. During the day, players will use what they have learned in the night phase to nominate a suspect during the day, as well as coordinate with fellow players what to do during the next night phase. The mafia will need to attempt to blend in and impersonate another role. Players can write a “will” that will be revealed upon their death, containing notes that may be helpful to other players.
These elements make the game very similar to Mafia, Werewolf, and other social deduction games – the players must band together and exchange information to catch the evil players, while the evil players attempt to blend in. However, Town of Salem differs from other social deduction games in that it has an expansive set of possible roles and abilities, which gives each player a large quantity of mechanics to commit to memory. This places a very heavy emphasis on the challenge aspect of social deduction games, as opposed to the “fellowship” aspect of fun that social deduction games often place emphasis on. Players even use shorthand and lingo when speaking with each other, a testament to the “challenge” type of fun that the game heavily emphasizes. Below, you can see an instance where players combined their information to catch the last remaining mafia member, a successful instance of mechanically-knowledgeable players understanding who the mafia member must be only via sharing a small amount of information collected during the night.
There are certain problems that arise from the complex mechanics and increased challenge in comparison to other social deduction games. It can be difficult for newer players to learn which information to keep track of and what they should do in their role. In one instance, a bodyguard player did not protect a player that more experienced players would have known to protect. This caused the other players to suspect them and execute them, when they were in fact innocent. While the player will know better in the future, the game was effectively tilted in favor of the mafia. This could be avoided by perhaps giving each player a card of sorts with common strategies employed by their role.