21 February 2017
It’s a resounding ‘Ja!’ for this historical spin on deceiving your friends
It’s often proposed as a thought experiment: if you could go back in time and kill Hitler, would you? What if the question wasn’t ‘would you’, but ‘could you’?
Secret Hitler is a social deduction game akin to The Resistance in historical dressing. Up to 10 players are randomly assigned secret role cards that cast them as a specific number of liberals and fascists in 1930s Germany – with one taking on the titular hidden dictator.
Oh, by the way, all of the fascists in the game are fittingly portrayed as reptiles, with Hitler himself transformed into a dinosaur-like creature. It’s a way of making a clear political statement (the rulebook features a poem by eminently anti-fascist writer Bertolt Brecht as an epilogue, if the sentiment wasn’t obvious enough) and commenting on the light similarities to Hitler’s real-life rise to power without detracting from the required party jollity.
Once the players know their allegiances, the fascists and Hitler silently identify each other during the conventional close eyes-open eyes-close eyes setup stage and the game begins proper. Each turn, a player is made president and selects a chancellor to support their policy-making. The group votes to approve or reject the election, with a denial passing the presidential power onto the next clockwise player. Once approved, the president draws three shuffled policy tiles facedown, discards one and passes them to the chancellor, who discards one and enacts the remaining tile. The tile can be either a fascist or liberal policy – five liberal policies or six fascist policies win the game for the respective side, but the liberals can also win by working out who the Secret Hitler is and assassinating them, while the fascists win (most of the time) by electing Hitler chancellor once they have three fascist policies enacted.
The different tactics to winning – as well as the split liberal and fascist policy boards – allow Secret Hitler to feel very different turn-to-turn to games such as The Resistance, which are a straight case of winning the majority of rounds before your opponent.
As the number of fascist policies enacted creep up, different powers unlock for the president to deploy, ranging from the ability to look at a player’s party membership card (separate to their role card, safeguarding the cheap identification of Hitler) to the chance to kill a player and remove them from the game completely (or allow the liberals to win, if it was Hitler). The powers available increase with bigger groups, making more players preferable if possible – this also results in Hitler not knowing who their fellow fascists are with games of seven people and above, inviting a greater diversity of playing experiences.
The other major factor that differs to The Resistance is the drawing of random policy tiles, which catalyse further debate over who has ulterior motives. Leaving a chancellor with two fascist policies to ‘choose’ from can be an effective strategy for a fascist president, while ending up with nothing but your opponent’s policies to enact (more likely to be all fascist) can scupper your trust with fellow liberals. The funny thing is, blaming it on the deck only flies so many times – even if your false accusation is down to little more than bad luck.
While the roles – other than Hitler – are non-unique in comparison with the individual abilities of Resistance spin-off Avalon or One Night Ultimate Werewolf, the presidential powers put a tighter focus on the group’s co-operation and the tension of electing the right person for both roles – can you trust the president to use their authority for good?
By smartly bringing in the historical theme (who doesn’t want to give Hitler a kicking?) and augmenting tried-and-tested social deduction mechanics with a unique flow of discussion and revelation, Secret Hitler is a standout entry in the genre – and a hell of a lot of fun to play.
Cleverly twisting the social deduction genre into a new form, Secret Hitler is a fantastic excuse to lie to your friends for both newcomers and category diehards alike. It’s accessible, brilliantly themed and – best of all – leads to exactly the right level of tension, analysis and outright joy.
Publisher: Goat, Wolf & Cabbage
Genre: Social deduction
Time: 45 minutes
This review originally appeared in the February 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.
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