Betray your friends without all the stress.
Some statements are easy to accept as truth -- like the fact that we’ve never, ever lost at a board game. (OK, we were expecting applause, not laughter, in response there. Since when did the entire board gaming community become professional sleuths?)
For some of us, lying to our friends' faces is as easy as rolling dice. To others, however, the very idea of being called out is enough to kick off a perspiration problem that’ll leave your head looking like a particularly salty mountain spring. Hidden-role games of secret traitors and social deduction can therefore prove a bit of a challenge. If lying isn’t your forte, then discreetly checking your role card to discover that you’re a werewolf/traitor/spy can feel like a death sentence. It’s hard to form a compelling case -- innocent or otherwise -- while a waterfall erupts from your forehead. But that doesn’t mean the genre is entirely off limits.
Hidden-role games for the cowardly board gamer
While the likes of Werewolf and The Resistance may be arsenic to dreadful liars, there are plenty of excellent games out there for the nervous board gamers of the world. And this time we’re really being honest! The games below will let you enjoy the thrill of hoodwinking your pals, all without the accompanying fear (and drenched brows) that you might usually expect.
If you’ve played Spyfall, you’ll know that it’s one of the finest bluffing games around. You’ll probably also know, however, that finding out you’re the spy at the start of a round is about as nerve-wracking as actually being asked to infiltrate a foreign embassy. Thankfully, for those of us who apparently missed the school class covering deceit and dishonesty, Chameleon offers a far less terrifying alternative.
For those familiar, the premise is very similar. Each round all players are dealt out secret sheets which identify a topic from a publicly visible pool of words. Taking it in turns, everyone then says something that they believe to be related. As you might have guessed, the catch is that one player -- the chameleon -- doesn’t know which word is the topic, instead receiving a blank sheet without clues. The others must attempt to identify who is bluffing, while the chameleon tries to remain undercover and deduce the topic. So far, so Spyfall. The difference here is that players need only ever give a single, related word on their turn.
The result is a game in which rounds are over in a flash, with minimal time spent on interrogation and bluffing. Where Spyfall has you stumbling over improvised explanations -- is it sensible to bring children here? But what if it’s the Space Station? Oh no, it’s the Crusader Army, isn’t it? -- Chameleon simply asks you to convincingly deliver one word. You’ll usually get plenty of time to plan your choice in advance, and can use your friends’ responses to hone in a bit further.
You’ll still need to defend yourself in a brief end-of-round discussion and voting stage, but Chameleon’s format eases that pressure valve open just enough to make it a palatable experience for the most timid-hearted liars. Losing your composure isn’t game over either, as when outed, the chameleon still has a chance to guess the topic and win!
Sweat-o-meter: A gentle sauna
There’s no need to worry about bluffing when you don’t even know who you are. That’s the approach Secrets applies to the hidden-role formula anyway, creating a game that’s more about chaos and guesswork than convincing mistruths.
As things kick off, players are secretly assigned to CIA, KGB, or Hippy teams via satisfyingly weighty chips. CIA and KGB players are in a race to earn victory points, while the Hippies are aiming to net the lowest individual score. It sounds simple, but over the course of the game these alignments will be chopped and changed around so often that you’ll probably give up trying to track who is who.
A turn sees the lead player picking between two public role cards, then offering their hidden selection to someone else at the table. Accepting a card will grant you access to abilities like swapping alignment tokens or peeking at a disc on the table but could equally lump you with a chunk of negative (or positive) points. Rejecting it, however, will send it back to the player holding it, making each turn a test of trust. Are they presenting that card as your ally or hoping you’ll reject it so they can score the points or power for themself?
Some rounds of Secrets will see factions identified within minutes, while others will have everyone scratching their heads for the full duration. Either way, it only takes one player making an unexpected role swap to turn the entire results on their head. With so much mayhem, you’ll barely have time to worry about bluffing.
Sweat-o-meter: More fiasco than fluster
The werewolf wagon has been rolled out in so many games over the years that the hinges are starting to buckle under the weight of hairy bodies. But trust when we say that 2017’s Werewords is one of the freshest takes on the formula.
As usual, players are out to rid their town of a werewolf menace, with the innocent villager team aiming to identify and oust the wolves hiding in their midst. Instead of lynching, however, this civilized society determines traitors through team-building exercises. At the start of a round, one player will be assigned as the Mayor. They must choose a secret word that the rest of the group will be trying to guess through yes or no questions, 20 Questions style.
The trick is that the werewolves will also get a look at the word, and must attempt to mislead the discussion without giving themselves away The villagers aren’t helpless either, as one of their players -- the Seer -- also gets a look at the word, this time trying to guide the collective to success.
The real genius of Werewords comes in the ending rules. If the team manages to guess the word within the time limit, the villagers win. Unless, that is, the werewolves can identify the Seer. Fail to guess the word in time and the wolves win, unless the villagers can form a majority vote on a werewolf. This balancing act forces both sides in the know to restrain themselves but doesn’t put any pressure on players to concoct lies or face questions. Since the hidden players know more, not less, than the other players, there’s much less strain on them throughout.
Sweat-o-meter: A lovely day in the village, even if you’re a werewolf
A Fake Artist Goes to New York
If your drawing skills are akin to a monkey smashing chalk on a wall, you’re in luck! A Fake Artist Goes to New York is the perfect game for abominable scribblers. Another box based on the Spyfall concept and likely the most stressful game on this list, A Fake Artist Goes to New York sees players collaboratively adding lines to a shared drawing. As usual, one of the players is clueless to the concept and must bluff their way through two additions on the page.
By dropping the chit-chat for cartoons, the panic level is seriously reduced each time your turn rolls around. No one will want to give away what it is you’re collectively drawing, so if all else fails, you can just add a small circle and blame your terrible artistic skills during the later discussion. Better yet for the fearful folk out there, the fake artist is not alone. One player will be coming up with the concept each round, and their aim is to help the undercover agent win. This encourages them not to pick too cruel of a subject, and they’ll also get the chance to share a public theme as well.
Compared to the other games on this list, A Fake Artist definitely cranks the tension handle round an extra turn. But with your lying kept to penmanship instead of parley, it’s still a far more manageable experience than most hidden-role games. And if one of your group still finds it too stressful, they can still join in the fun as the idea creator and fake artist’s teammate.
Sweat-o-meter: Anxious artwork
If you’re after more games along similar lines to those listed above, consider checking out these releases as well:
Deception: Murder in Hong Kong
As hard-boiled investigators, players collaboratively attempt to solve a murder, except one of them is the killer! Based on clues from a silent forensic scientist, the investigators must pitch theories and accusations relating to potential murder evidence in front of each player. It’s like your favorite crime drama, only here the killings are just as likely to be performed using a bug as a machete.
Joining Fake Artist as another contender from Oink Games, Insider sees all players working towards guessing a secret word within a time limit. One of the group is an insider who knows the word and needs to guide the team to success without giving themselves away. Easy to teach and even simpler to learn, Insider is pretty much Werewords for board gaming babies.
Congratulations! If you’re still reading here then we’ve yet to scare you off with our suggestions. Discovered any other hidden-role games that proved suitable for your timid demeanor? Share them with us on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.
When he’s not losing himself as a mercenary in Gloomhaven, Henry Stenhouse can be found gobbling up all the latest and greatest party games, then wondering why he can never find the time to actually play them with friends. Share your love of deckbuilders with him on Twitter @Fernoface or drop an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.