What Are the Best Social Deduction Party Games?
Whether you call them social deduction or hidden identity games, these adventures challenge players to deceive their way to victory. Most incorporate randomly chosen traitors who blend in with the other players, feigning cooperation while secretly working towards their own nefarious goals.
Social deduction titles make great party games since they're not overly complicated, can incorporate several players, and don't require a huge time commitment. But with dozens of character-concealing options available, which most deserve your time? These are the ten best social deduction games!
10 Great Social Deduction Games
- Shadows Over Camelot
- Love Letter
- A Fake Artist Goes to New York
- Witch Hunt
- Coup: Reformation
- Secret Hitler
- Ultimate Werewolf: Deluxe Edition
- The Resistance: Avalon
Players: Variable (but have at least five)
Length: Variable (more players equals longer games)
Mafia was arguably the first mainstream social deduction game, and it still enjoys some advantages over its peers. The theme is fun, with at least one player assigned as a secret gangster who kills others during the night phase. Meanwhile, regular law-abiding citizens vote on who they want to execute in the day phase and are aided by doctors (who can save one person each night) and cops (who gain clues about players' identities).
Mafia's admittedly less fun if you're killed early and have to spectate, but you can use lower player counts to remedy this with quicker matches. Also, one participant is needed to act as a "narrator" or "moderator" who determines the action, but I find this an engaging role, especially if you're a creative storyteller. Best of all, while retail copies are available, you can play Mafia with a simple deck of cards (assign black Aces as mafia members, the Queen of Hearts as the doctor, and so on), making it the most affordable item on today's list.
9. Shadows Over Camelot
Players: 3 to 7
Length: 60 to 90 minutes
This is definitely today's heaviest entry, so pass if you're a casual gamer or don't want longer matches. However, Shadows Over Camelot can be played with fewer participants than most deception games, and its dynamics of maybe having a traitor will expertly mess with your mind.
During your turn, you get to perform several heroic actions that guide the good team toward victory, but you also have to perform one of three evil actions that edge Camelot closer to defeat. And (assuming you're not a traitor yourself), the whole time, you'll be questioning whether or not your allies are really who they claim to be. Plus, even if a traitor is discovered, they can still win, keeping the stakes high throughout your match. Essentially, if you want to blend a meatier strategy title with co-op and possible deduction, Camelot's an excellent pick.
8. Love Letter
Players: 2 to 4
Length: 20 minutes
Infusing a memory challenge with deception and risk, Love Letter offers a great option for smaller playing groups or double date nights. You draw and play one card (representing different characters) each turn with the goal of impressing the princess (and intercepting rival notes), and by process of elimination, you can start speculating what cards your opponents may have.
Stronger cards get your message closer to the princess, but weaker units often carry powerful abilities that can potentially knock your opponents out of the round, affording several different strategies. Plus, with a compact package and lower player count, this one's an excellent travel option for gaming on the go.
7. A Fake Artist Goes to New York
Players: 5 to 10
Length: 20 minutes
Created by a Japanese designer, A Fake Artist blends social deduction with drawing, making it a fun romp if you enjoy games like Telestrations, and its family-friendly theme works great when playing with kids.
Players take turns drawing parts of a shared clue on a collective whiteboard. However, one artist is secretly a fake, and they don't know what the category is—they'll have to infer based on what's already been drawn and try to blend in. Meanwhile, the real artists want to draw well enough that they don't appear to be the fake, but without outright revealing the category, creating a fast and colorful bluffing experience. And don't worry if (like me) your artistic skills are lacking—stick figures will do the job just fine.
6. Witch Hunt
Players: 7 to 22
Length: 30 to 90 minutes
While lower player counts work great for small groups, Witch Hunt's larger numbers let you play in bigger gatherings, which is excellent for club meetings or parties. Similar to Mafia, a secret group of witches work to kill townsfolk each round; however, Witch Hunt (sometimes spelled Witchhunt) distinguishes itself by letting dead players on both sides continue participating, ensuring no one misses out on the fun.
Additionally, players (including witches) have special powers that diversify matches, preventing staleness and letting you play with different strategies each game. One of the most criminally underestimated social deductions that I still frequently enjoy, don't let this gem slip through your radar, especially since it costs less than twenty dollars!
Players: 5 to 10
Length: 5 to 10 minutes
Set in the world of Specter Ops (which I also recommend), Crossfire features two teams, one working to assassinate a VIP while the other attempts to protect them. Everyone's identities are secret, but you'll gain a little knowledge at the start of the game by seeing the player's card to your left, meaning you're not totally clueless.
Then, a timer of three minutes starts, and players rotate their role card to whatever role they're claiming to be—which may or may not be a lie. In your 180 seconds, everyone's free to debate (and deceive) over which roles they have, and when time runs out, you point a "gun" (finger) at the player you wish to target. Then, shots are fired, and winners are determined. However, it's not as simple as who is and isn't wounded—a variety of unique characters expand the game, including some who want to be aimed at and some who defend rather than injure their target.
With a ridiculously fast play time, different game modes, and a variety of special characters to help balance overpowered teams, Crossfire offers a fantastic light option to ease newer players into the group.
4. Coup: Reformation
Players: 2 to 10
Length: 15 minutes
Coup is a great deception game on its own, but I'm particularly fond of its Reformation expansion, which adds in a new allegiance mechanic plus some new character types. Either way, players each have two face-down characters, which both offer special abilities, and on your turn, you can take different actions. However, you can even perform effects of characters you don't possess—but doing so is risky, as opponents can call your bluff and immediately remove one of your characters if they're right.
Your goal is to be the last player standing, and you'll be rushing to acquire enough money to hire assassins or perform coups on opponents. With an adaptable player count, quick game time, and awesome expansion, Coup deserves its renown, standing as one of the best-selling hidden identity titles.
3. Secret Hitler
Players: 5 to 10
Length: 45 minutes
While I'm not as fond of this game's theme as most players, I can't deny its entertainment value (and distinguishing Hitler's fascists as literal reptiles is a fun interpretation). Players are randomly assigned as either liberals combating Hitler, fascists working for him, or as Hitler himself. At the beginning of the game, fascists reveal themselves to each other, and they know who Hitler is, but Hitler doesn't know who they are.
In other words, both the liberals and Hitler have to determine who their real allies are as the fascists try to blend in. Throw in the ever-shifting president and chancellor roles (which let two players choose which faction's bill succeeds that round), and you have an engaging game that fans of The Resistance will find familiar.
2. Ultimate Werewolf: Deluxe Edition
Players: 5 to 75
Length: 30 minutes (more with larger player counts)
That's right, this title can accommodate a whopping 75 players, but I've found it's best with 10 to 20. Ultimate Werewolf functions in a similar way as Mafia, with a secret sect of nefarious werewolves hidden among the innocent townsfolk while a neutral moderator regulates the action. However, it distinguishes itself with larger possible groups, better production values, and more special characters, meaning you're rarely, if ever, stuck with "just a townsfolk," as nearly all units (including the wolves) offer individual powers.
Arguably the most popular social deduction game of all time, Werewolf enjoys many different forms, like its One Night Ultimate Werewolf variant (which works better for smaller gatherings who want quicker games), Ultimate Werewolf Inquisition (which features no elimination and different town powers), and Ultimate Werewolf Legacy, where you experience a longer campaign in which past games impact your current chapter.
1. The Resistance: Avalon
Players: 5 to 10
Length: 20 minutes
The Resistance is already a stellar social deduction title, but I prefer its Avalon rendition for both the added theme and refined gameplay mechanics. Players never die, so you don't run the Mafia risk of having someone miss out on the fun thanks to an early death.
You're assigned a secret role at the start, either working as a loyal servant of King Arthur or a treacherous minion of Mordred. Players take turns selecting different teams to go on missions, where each selected player secretly inserts a pass or fail card into a shared pool. Those cards are shuffled and revealed; all passes mean the good team is one step closer to victory, while a single fail gives the point to evil.
Learning Avalon's rules doesn't take long, no one ever dies, and its unique character powers grant replayability (for instance, Merlin knows who all the evil players are but can't reveal himself). Plus, they also let you tweak your game and even the odds if one team keeps winning. An experience I bring out at most of my own game nights, you can obtain your own Avalon copy for less than $15!
Advantages of Social Deduction Games
Calling these titles "board games" can be misleading, as many only utilize cards. However, this lowers their manufacturing costs, meaning social deduction games are generally cheaper than other tabletop games. And since most encourage banter and deception, you'll have plenty of excuses to converse—and that constant interactivity will offer plenty of laughs for your group.
With several options to fit your group's size and many expansions available, you have dozens of ways to enjoy the best hidden role highlights. But for now, as we eagerly await future social deduction titles, vote for your favorite entry, and I'll see you at our next gaming countdown!
© 2018 Jeremy Gill
Jeremy Gill (author) from Louisiana on November 09, 2019:
Haven't played it yet but I'm looking forward to it!
Susan on November 06, 2019:
Have you heard of or played Blood on the Clocktower? Making waves in social deduction games!!