My love of deep strategy games may never fade, but I am finding social deduction games to be the most fun. They can fail spectacularly based on who you’re playing with, but they seem to have both a high average and high highs.
Deception is the latest one I learned, and it is a lot of fun. Players are detectives, and one of them is the murderer. Find the murderer and the evidence to win (or else the murderer wins). That is more or less the setup of most social deduction games, what makes this one special?
The game starts with information. One of the investigators is the forensic scientist. The game setup is that each player has four murder weapons and four clues in front of them. After everyone closes their eyes, the murderer points to one of his weapons and clues. Now the forensic scientist knows, and they can communicate only by selecting one from a set of clue boards like “scene of the crime” or “relationship to the victim.” Players then discuss these clues and try to deduce the murderer. (The forensic scientist is likely the least fun role, as it misses all the discussion of the game and needs a poker face to avoid giving away information. The forensic scientist can be the MVP or the cad based on quality of information provided.)
The fun of the game is trying to deduce what was supposed to be communicated, given limited communications options. Which murder weapons seem most like the cause of death, and would you have chosen that cause of death as a description of this weapon? For example, “severe injury” covers a lot more range than “poisoned,” and the murder weapon probably was not plague if anything other than “disease” was chosen (if “disease” was a choice). Committing murder during surgery is obvious if the location option “hospital” comes up, but what do you pick as the forensic scientist if that wasn’t one of the options this game? It matters what the scientist “said” and what was not said, along with how they expected those answer to be interpreted, mixed with the open question of whether that clue was supposed to refer to the blue or the brown card in this murderer’s combination.
The other great fun is trying to put together a story for the murder based on fairly random evidence. “Okay, the victim was killed with … a locked room, where the clue left behind was … timber. So, what, he was left to starve to death at a construction site?” Okay, that one was dull, but weapons include mad dogs and chainsaws, and evidence left behind can be quite random. That story also mutates with the clues, because the forensic scientist is trying to fill in the blanks, and some of the clue cards will have nothing useful at all, so then folks are wondering how “winter” fits into this story.
Balance seems to be pretty good, in that online commentary says the murderer almost always wins and that the murderer almost never wins. Granted, I won five games in a row, murderer and investigator, so I might be biased and would start thinking otherwise if my group was a bunch of foolish investigators who kept throwing it to the murderer. But our small set of games showed that both sides could win, under a variety of game sizes and circumstances (for example, optionally adding the accomplice and witness roles).
Hardest problem: avoiding meta-gaming. It does not seem to be a big problem, but we openly acknowledged around the table that some of the things we were doing were not exactly 100% fair to both sides, like discussing the forensic scientist’s clues while they were picking. Acknowledge that you could spoil that and take steps to avoid meta-gaming, such as making noise to mask movement while the murderer reveals hidden info.