Fake news. 5th-dimensional chess. Authoritarian power grabs. Game theory. Outright lies.
Sure, these are buzzwords I’ve seen ad infinitum on my Twitter feed over the past few months. But they’re also grist for the mill in my favorite game right now (and fast becoming one of my favorite games ever), “Secret Hitler.”
It’s a social deduction game like “Two Rooms and a Boom,” which I wrote about not too long ago, and bears hallmarks of “The Resistance,” a prominent social deduction game.
But there are a couple more wrinkles to “Secret Hitler” that give it just a bit more flavor than “The Resistance.” And just as dystopian fiction like “1984” is climbing the best seller charts, “Secret Hitler” invokes our current moment of political disquiet with a blatant Nazi Germany theme and by putting you around a table looking either to thwart a dark, creeping evil … or riding that evil all the way to domination.
A game of “Secret Hitler” starts with questions and, while it dishes out an answer here and there, most often it’s smothering you with more questions. At setup, all players (5 – 10 of them) are given an envelope with a secret party affiliation. You’re either a liberal or a fascist, and liberals always outnumber fascists. Before the round begins, all players close their eyes. The fascists open their eyes while the liberals keep their closed. The liberals have the numbers, but the fascists have the information.
The fascists do have one small liability: their secret leader, Secret Hitler, whose role is also determined at setup. Secret Hitler waves her thumb in the air as the fascists identify each other, but doesn’t get to open her eyes. Team Fascist has to help Secret Hitler without exposing Secret Hitler, all while Secret Hitler tries to masquerade as a doe-eyed liberal.
Everyone then opens their eyes and the madness begins.
One players starts as the president and nominates another player to be the chancellor. Each player votes on this new government. If the government passes, the president and chancellor get to pass a piece of legislation. The president begins by picking up three tiles from a pile of policies, discards one, then passes the remaining two to the chancellor, who discards one and enacts the other.
But here’s a twist: some of the policies are liberal, some of them (in fact, a bigger percentage of them) are fascist. Did the president discard a liberal policy and hand two fascist ones to the chancellor? Was the chancellor given a choice of liberal vs. fascist? Did two liberals get screwed over by the deck (our group uses the eloquent term “deckf—ed”)? Fingers get pointed, conclusions are drawn, reactions are judged. The presidency moves around to the next player and another round begins.
At this point, the politicking usually begins. Liberals, without any knowledge, strive to tell the truth and trust each other while the fascists sow doubt and mistrust. If you’re a liberal, why did you pass that fascist policy? If you’re not a fascist, why did you vote for this other person, who is clearly a fascist (which is obviously something a fascist would say)?
The fascists get some more goodies, too. As their policies fill the scoreboard, they trigger a few special powers that are used by the president. The president might get to see another player’s party affiliation (but not their role) or assassinate another player. These powers can come in handy for the liberals too.
As policies pass, the parties move closer toward their goals. For the liberals, that means passing five liberal policies or assassinating Secret Hitler. For the fascists, that means passing a certain number of fascist policies or electing Secret Hitler as chancellor after the midpoint of the game.
With the passage of every policy, the politicking twists and turns further. Every chancellor nomination takes on increased scrutiny. The votes for a government begin to read like tea leaves. And sometimes, you just have to tell a bald-faced lie. A big ol’ whopper. This could come in the form of investigating your fascist teammate and declaring them a liberal, or maybe you reveal they’re a fascist for a “fall guy” strategy. Some people might remain quiet, listening for tells and tics… or is that maybe Secret Hitler behavior?
The shouting, the finger pointing, the name calling, the frustrating lack of good knowledge, the conniving, the hopeless choices of where to put your trust … Not only do they make “Secret Hitler” one of the most raucous and fun gaming experiences you could undertake, they also make it one that feels very, very interesting right now.