Our gaming group has occasional weekend get-togethers where 10 to 15 of us meet up and play board games for an entire weekend. We split off into groups of 3, 4, 5 or 6 to play games throughout the day, but usually a the end of the evening we join up and play a large multi-player game.
Over the years the go-to game for this part of the evening is Werewolves of Millers Hollow. It allows large groups of players, involves lots of accusation, arguing, denial and lynchings in the pursuit of the werewolves (or the pursuit of the poor, innocent villagers).
I was very interested to see whether Secret Hitler could come close or even supplant Werewolves as the end of evening many-player game.
About Secret Hitler
Secret Hitler was a Kickstarter funded game that managed to raise nearly $1.5 million after aiming for a modest $54,450 target. The interest and hype around the game was enough for it to reach it’s goal 27 times over. I’m sure it helped that it was created by the creator of the runaway success that is Cards Against Humanity.
Secret Hitler is a board game for 6 to 10 players. Each player is given a role in secret as either a liberal, a fascist or Hitler. They are all members of the parliament, and parliament is responsible for passing policies into law. They can either pass liberal policies or fascist policies. The aim of the liberals is to pass 5 liberal policies, the aim of the fascists is to pass 6 fascist policies or get Hitler elected as Chancellor when the time is right.
Each turn a President is named (this position rotates round the table) who can select a Chancellor. The rest of the parliament vote as to whether they approve of the selection of Chancellor, and if not the next player becomes President and selects a Chancellor candidate for the players to vote on.
Once a Chancellor is voted in the President and Chancellor select a policy to pass into law. The President selects the top 3 policies, discards 1 and passes them on to the Chancellor. The Chancellor selects one to be passed into law. This mechanic has been used before is various games, but is the touchstone in Secret Hitler and the main cause of arguments and mistrust that makes the game so enjoyable. Although the President and Chancellor know what their own choices were, if a fascist policy was eventually passed they must convince the other players that they had no choice but to play it.
This is the foundation for the accusations and recriminations that will inevitably follow as the game progresses. While some other rules are brought into play later on, the bulk of the game is played out through the elections and policy choosing, and they form the basis for some lying, cheating and skulduggery.
Each game probably takes around 20-30 minutes – ideal for a late night multi-player. As you’d expect, the game takes slightly longer the more players involved, but that just adds to the enjoyment.
More players = more uncertainty = more arguments = more fun.
The number of Liberals and fascists in the game depends on the number of players in the game. I’ve done a quick calculation of the percentage of fascists in in the game depending on the number of players.
The percentage of the players who are fascists tends to higher for games with an odd number of players. It mostly seems balanced except perhaps for the 33.3% fascists in the 6-player game which favours the liberals and the 44.4% fascists in a 9-player game which favours the fascists.
Admittedly we haven’t play-tested the game enough to really test the balance, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say the 9-player version is too-biased towards the fascists, just from experience of playing a few games.
I haven’t played this out as a thought game, but with 9 players including 3 fascists and Hitler, I wonder whether by declaring themselves immediately, could the liberals actually stop them? I think they probably could, but the fact that I’m not certain leads me to think that the balance isn’t quite right for 9 players.
The other major balancing factor is that there are more fascist policies than liberal policies in the policy deck. This is the bias that embeds the mistrust in the game. Too often a liberal President gets 3 fascist policies in hand and must pass fascist policies to his Chancellor. Or indeed, the chance is fairly high so a fascist President can pretend this is the case.
The options for deception are myriad and exciting and the entire ebb and flow of the game depends on how the players explain away what are sometimes impossible choices.
All the games we played had a lot of discussion and accusation, but all ended up being fairly well balanced and could have gone either way. I think the liberals won twice and the fascists twice.
As I’ve suggested earlier, the game requires and encourages a lot of speculation about the identities of the fascists. Without the uncertainty brought about by the balance of the rules this wouldn’t exist.
On multiple plays if the game you get to see patterns of play that could signify certain things, but luckily, even with these insights it’s still hard to be sure.
Unlike Werewolves, nobody dies until quite late on in the game so generally people remain interested throughout.
To me, a game like this it should favour the Liberals (or the villagers in Werewolves). The fascists / werewolves should have to play well to be able to win.
So far, after a few plays of the game it seems balanced. So far it’s very enjoyable and keeps everyone interested until the end.
It would be great to see the game expanded to cope with 12 players to cater for even more of our end of evening scenarios.
Overall I would definitely recommend “Secret Hitler”.