Often we select and play games based solely off of a game mechanic that we enjoy more than others. For me, one of my go to mechanics is the hidden role mechanic, especially if it is combined with a traitor element. I love the thrill of not knowing who to trust and how much you can trust those playing the game. The emotional highs and lows that come from winning and losing this style of game creates far more lasting memories for me than a lot of other games. Yes, I remember playing games and having great times, but remembering key moments and exact experiences are more vivid with these hidden role games.
One element I look for in a great hidden role/traitor game is a higher player count. This allows for more options of mistrust and trust opportunities to occur. This interaction of which players I can trust and which ones I should not trust is more rewarding when there are more players involved in the game.
Two of my all-time favorite hidden role games are Battlestar Galactica and Shadows Over Camelot. In both Battlestar and Shadows, there are times when the traitor players want to help the opposing team succeed in some of the trials. Sometimes this help is an effort to gain trust early to be poised to betray that trust later when it can be more devastating to the other players, or sometimes it is to gain the needed amount of swords for the round table to bring a victory to the traitor.
There are simpler hidden role games too, card games like Coup and The Resistance, or The Resistance: Avalon if you prefer the fantasy theme. Coup is is a game where players are dealt two secret role cards and then players go around the table claiming they have whatever role they want. Players can call another’s bluff, but if you are incorrect the accusing player loses one of his or her role cards. This game goes until only one player remains. Short, simple, and great to play. The Resistance is a team game similar to Battlestar and Shadows, however, this is much shorter and plays very differently. Players are dealt team cards secretly and each round a new leader must select a team to attempt missions. The trick is trying to pick those loyal to your side and be the first team to win the needed missions to be declared the winner.
Two final games I want to hit on are also short and simple and all have a very similar playing style, probably because they are both designed by the same game designer, Yusuke Sato. These games are Time Bomb Evolution and Don’t Mess With Cthulhu. In both of these games players are assigned a secret role. In Don’t Mess With Cthulhu, there are cultists and investigators. In Time Bomb Evolution there are terrorist and swat members.
In both games players will be dealt cards that are face down in front of them. Each player looks at those cards and then has the opportunity to share information about those cards. There will be a number of cards equal to the number of players, and the goal is for the good guys to find and collect the required Elder Signs in Don’t Mess, and Successes in Time Bomb. The clever factor of these games is that it is very possible for good guys and bad guys both to lie about what is in front of them. I could have an Elder Sign in front of me, but I also may have the Cthulhu card in front of me. If that Cthulhu card is ever revealed the investigators lose. At the same time a terrorist may have Cthulhu in front of them and will bait the investigators by announcing they have multiple Elder Signs without mentioning that the Cthulhu card is there.
Is hidden role my favorite game mechanic? I would say no. It is really hard for me to definitely say which game mechanic is my favorite. However, I do gravitate to these games and very much enjoy the experience of playing these games. I can say that the hidden role game mechanic is one of my favorites, along with several others. I will hit on those another time.
Until next time, we'll see you at the game table!