04 December 2017
Does the darkly comic social deduction game leave a sour taste?
Inspired by the ghoulish real-life events of the Donner-Reed Party in the mid 19th-century, who resorted to eating their companions to stay alive, Donner Dinner Party mixes interesting social deduction with a jet-black dose of comedy.
The components boast fetching art, despite the fragile thinness of the cards, and the diddly metal frying pan used to track rounds on the oversized central campfire board is thematically charming, if a little unnecessary for such a straightforward setup.
Donner Dinner Party leans towards the lighter end of the social deduction scale, with a simple breakdown into two phrases where players hunt for food – or sabotage the gatherings of others, if they’re a hidden cannibal with poison to hand – and potentially vote to eat someone, if there’s not enough food to go around.
Luck plays a significant role, with players only able to play from a limited selection of cards. This can result in unpredictable twists as cannibals are forced to help out or innocent pioneers turn up empty-handed, which can be both exciting and frustrating compared to the more deliberate motives of other games in the genre. It works in terms of the harsh atmosphere, but dilutes the tension when outcomes can be dictated by a poor draw – even when a limited deck of single-use supply cards works to remedy too many unfortunate situations.
Increasing the drama is the chance for the changing camp leader to see one card contributed to the middle each round, ratcheting up the tension in a way that feels natural and well-paced as loyalties are called into question. Player elimination is softened by the option to include ghosts, who can veto votes of the living once, but it’s still not particularly amusing to find yourself sat out of the action.
Donner Dinner Party is an interesting enough half an hour for those new to deceiving their friends, but it doesn’t have the weight or spark to match up to better entries in the genre. It’s an amuse-bouche – nothing more, nothing less.
Publisher: Chronicle Books
Genre: Social deduction
This review originally appeared in the October/November 2017 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here – or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.