Social Deduction: The Top 10 Games that Have Shaped the Genre

My next review is going to be about The Resistance: Avalon, one of the top-ranked social deduction games on BoardGameGeek’s Top 100 list. In anticipation of that review, here’s a brief history of the social deduction genre, as told by the 10 games that have shaped it most:

  1. Mafia (~1987)  The original social deduction game, Mafia established the foundation of the hidden role and bluffing mechanics that define the genre. Original Mafia rules are simple, with players divided into two teams. The mafiosos are outnumbered, but they know everyone’s role while the innocents must figure out who they can trust.
  2. Werewolf (~1997) – Werewolf took Mafia to the next level, adding a number of individual roles and powers within the “Villager” team and the “Werewolf” team. For about a decade, Werewolf primarily existed as a folk game rather than a commercial product, and the specific roles often varied from one group to another.
  3. BANG! (2002) – BANG! advanced the ideas of social deduction gaming by giving each player a greater level of agency. Players do not simply vote as in Mafia and Werewolf. Instead, they must collect and play cards in order to protect themselves and injure their opponents, to ultimately outlast them. The Sheriff is known to all, and he must eliminate the Outlaws and the Renegade. Meanwhile, those ill-intentioned players must choose the right moment to stop masquerading as Deputies and take aim at the man with the star.
  4. Battlestar Galactica (2008) – This game addressed what was perhaps the biggest issue with social deduction games up to that point: player elimination. Rather than ‘killing off’ players to determine who wins, players must successfully perform missions, while the bad apples (the ‘Cylons’, in this case) must sabotage enough of the missions to ensure that the Galactica never reaches Earth. This way, no one is relegated to sit and watch while others get to have all the fun.
  5. The Resistance (2009) – This game is like a distilled version of Battlestar Galactica, and it exhibits why less is sometimes more. While BSG can take 2-3 hours, The Resistance can be played in 10 minutes or less. The theme is largely stripped away, and the outcome of the generic missions are determined by secret “pass/fail” votes from the nominated mission team rather than requiring specific actions. With a low barrier to entry and short learning curve, this game represented a large leap forward in popularizing social deduction among casual gamers.
  6. Love Letter & Coup (2012) – Both of these games came out around the same time and feature a similar development. In these games, your role (and powers) can actually change as you draw and discard, and you must avoid letting others deduce your current role. More importantly, these games require no components beyond a few cards — far fewer than even a standard card deck. They can fit in a pocket or a purse, and are really entertaining. Perfect games to take on the go.
  7. The Resistance: Avalon (2012) – The growing prevalence of mainstream social deduction games gave designers room to explore some new creative twists. It’s largely the same game as “vanilla Resistance”, but with a Camelot theme and added roles. The key development involves a wrinkle where one good player (“Merlin”) knows who the bad guys are, but he must be subtle in how he convinces his teammates. The bad players get one chance at the end to identify Merlin, and if successful they automatically win. This same ‘witness’ mechanic has since appeared in other social deduction games such as Deception: Murder in Hong Kong.
  8. Dead of Winter (2014) – Dead of Winter represented a merger between the popular genres of cooperative gaming and social deduction. At the start of the game, players are given a shared public objective and individual private objectives. There’s sometimes a traitor in the midst who wants the rest of the survivors to fail, but you also have to watch out for non-traitors whose secret objectives cause them to act selfishly to the detriment of the group. All while trying not to get eaten by zombies.
  9. One Night Ultimate Werewolf (2014) – This game’s big development is the use of a companion app to handle the role of the narrator. This way no one has to sit out or memorize what all the different roles do. Huge implications for social deduction games (and board gaming in general).
  10. Ultimate Werewolf Legacy (Coming 2017) – With legacy games as hot as they are right now, it was only a matter of time until someone attempted to make a legacy social deduction game. It doesn’t hurt that the creative minds behind this game happen to be Ted Alspach (Ultimate Werewolf, ONUW) and Rob Daviau (Pandemic Legacy, Risk Legacy). This game has not been released yet, but I’m definitely looking forward to checking it out at soon as I can.

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