Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Secret Hitler

Plays: 8Px3.

The Game

Secret Hitler is a Kickstarter game. It's a secret identity team game. Most would call it a social deduction game. There seems to be more and more such games nowadays. Werewolf and BANG were among the earlier ones. Then there were The Message: Emissary Crisis and Saboteur. More recently we had Don't Mess With Cthulhu and Templar Intrigue. The popular ones which I have not played are Coup and The Resistance.

Secret Hitler is loosely based on Germany before World War II. The game supports 6 to 10 players. I played with 8, so I'm going to explain the game based on 8 players. On the surface, everyone is a liberal. However in secret, three of the players are fascists. One of those three is Hitler himself. During the course of the game new laws will be enacted. Some laws are fascist laws and some are liberal laws. The liberals win if 5 liberal laws are enacted. The fascists win if 6 fascist laws are enacted. Both sides have an instant win condition. If the fascists manage to get Hitler elected as chancellor, they win immediately. If the liberals manage to kill Hitler, they win.

At the start of the game everyone gets an envelope like this. It contains two cards, a party membership card and an identity card. For the liberals, there is only one type of identity card, but for the fascists, you might be a regular fascist party member or you might be Hitler.

Before the first round starts, everyone closes his eyes. The two fascist party members open their eyes to identify each other. Then Hitler raises his thumb (eyes still closed) so that his supporters know who he is. Hitler knows he has two supporters, but not who they are. The liberals know nothing at all.

Every round one player becomes the president. You take turns to play president, in clockwise order. The president must propose another player to become chancellor, and then everyone casts a yes/no vote. If the candidate fails the election, the round ends early. Otherwise, the president and the newly elected chancellor proceed to enact a new law. The president draws three law cards, then discard one facedown. The remaining two are passed to the chancellor, who then discards one facedown, and enacts the last one. Most cards in the deck are fascist laws. If the law being enacted is fascist, the president might bemoan that all three cards he had drawn were fascist, so he had no choice. The chancellor might say the same. However, the president might say to the chancellor, hey I gave you a good and a bad law, why did you pass the bad one? The chancellor might retort, what? You gave me two bad laws, and now you are trying to frame me? If such a thing happens, one of these two is probably a fascist. Even if the two legislators are in alignment, you can't be sure both are liberals. They might both be fascists and they might have have discarded liberal laws without anyone else knowing. Or the chancellor might be fascist, and he is passing the liberal law so that he doesn't arouse the suspicion of the president.

These two boards indicate how many fascist (red) and liberal (blue) laws have been enacted.

When a new fascist law is enacted, special actions need to be performed, or new rules come into play. These are indicated on the board. When the second fascist law is enacted, the president gets to see the party membership card of another player. When the fourth and fifth fascist law is enacted, the president gets to kill another player. This is how the liberals can kill Hitler. Naturally, this only works if they manage to find out who Hitler is, and also if the president that round happens to be a liberal. After three fascist laws are enacted, if Hitler gets elected to be chancellor, the fascists immediately win. From mid game onwards, you need to be much more careful when voting.

The procedure in the game revolves around electing a chancellor and then passing laws, but throughout all these actions, what is most important for the liberals in to find out who is who. For the fascists, it is best to stay in hiding for as long as possible, and use deceit to mislead and to sow mistrust among the liberals.

The Play

We played three games one after another. I experienced being both liberal and fascist, and the feeling is very different. There are more liberals, but the fascist has one important advantage - the party members know who is who. It is crucial they make good use of this information, and even more crucial that they make use of the ignorance of the liberals. The fascists need to sow doubt and stay hidden. Hitler doesn't know who his supporters are, and needs to be alert of clues. There are ways for his supporters to communicate with him. E.g. when Hitler is president and he has picked a fascist member to be chancellor, he can pass one fascist law and one liberal law to the chancellor to test him. The fascist member knows Hitler's identity, and will safely pass the fascist law while bemoaning that both the laws given to him are fascist laws. Upon hearing this, Hitler will know the chancellor is his fellow fascist.

The liberals need to find out who the fascists are. It is not easy to pass 5 liberal laws, since the number of liberal laws in the deck is low. They need to be careful not to allow fellow liberals to be killed when the fourth and fifth fascist laws are passed, and they need to make sure Hitler doesn't get elected to be chancellor. When the president and the chancellor say different things, it is usually a good sign. It normally means one of them cannot be trusted. If you want to play safe, trust neither. The fascists will do their best to appear liberal, even to the extent of passing liberal laws. The liberals need to discuss openly and be critical of every little clue and suspicious action. There will be paranoia, as the fascists try to complicate matters by throwing accusations and suggesting reasonings on why so-and-so should not be trusted.

The president's job of proposing a candidate for the position of chancellor is a heavy responsibility.

The most impressive game components in the game are the hefty wooden signs for president and chancellor. You can kill a cat with them.

Kareem was the unluckiest player in our game. No one ever believed what he said. When he was a liberal and spoke out against a fascist, providing sound reasoning, everyone thought he himself was the suspicious one. When he was a fascist and tried to frame a liberal, everyone trusted the liberal instead. It was all because he already had a reputation as a strong player, so everyone was wary of him, even though what role got assigned was completely out of his control. It was hilarious (but maybe not to him) how many times he was frustrated.

During the setup phase of one of our games, when everyone except for the fascist party members had their eyes closed and the moderator announced that Hitler was to make a thumbs-up sign, one player responded "OK". The rest of us burst into laughter. Did Hitler just inadvertently reveal himself? We almost restarted that game. Eventually, the person who OK'ed was not the real Hitler. He was probably just trying to sow confusion even at the setup phase of the game. Jeez... these gamers... so calculative and cunning!

Secret Hitler is a noisy game, with speculations and accusations flying everywhere. The fascists are a minority, but they have important information which gives them an edge. The liberals need to work together and pay attention to every detail to root out the fascists. They rely on open discussion and they need to be careful in judging who can be trusted.

The Thoughts

Secret Hitler is a fine social deduction game. I had expected that having played quite a few of these, any new game would feel similar. I was pleasantly surprised that I found something new to like in this game. If you don't like this genre, Secret Hitler won't change your mind. If you like this genre, I encourage you to give it a go. Throughout the game you can observe and collect little tit bits to help you deduce who is who. However logic alone is often not sufficient. Often you need to make judgement calls on who to trust. You need to rely on your instincts. This is how psychology comes into play. This is where the human interaction is.

If you ask me what's different about Secret Hitler compared to other social deduction games, I would say it's the chancellor election and the law passing. These are its ways of presenting information for you to work on. Some social deduction games give you little to work on, e.g. Templar Intrigue, Werewolf. Some give you more, e.g. BANG, Saboteur. How they differ is the control of information - who knows what, who doesn't, and how the the information is gradually revealed to more players. The game progresses to a climax as more and more information becomes known.

In Secret Hitler, the two sudden death victory conditions - executing Hitler and Hitler becoming chancellor - make the game exciting. Regardless of the number of laws passed, the game can take an unexpected turn at the last minute. I find the game slightly more complex than other similar games, in particular the special actions and additional rules that come into play when a specific number of fascist laws are enacted. That will take a while for new players to digest and incorporate into their strategic planning. When teaching the game, one needs to regularly remind the new players to take into account these actions and rules.

No comments: