Who is the Traitor? Talking about Social Deduction and Hidden Role Games

You know your role, your goal, but know there is a traitor in your midst (or is that traitor you?). Who do you trust? How do you find out? These are the questions that you might have playing Social Deduction and Hidden Role games. These popular games range from the classic game of Mafia, Emergence, Resistance, or Secret Hitler. These games are popular for parties and casual game nights across the US. One of my good friend’s requested that this morning, we examine the similarities and differences between the games of the popular genre: Social Deduction/Hidden Role games.


In Social Deduction and Hidden Role games there are at least 2 groups of people, the honest role, the role that is assumed to be every player, and the traitor role: a player or group of players who are working against the honest players.This leads to the players wondering who amongst them is one of the traitors while the traitors are trying to subvert the honest players to fight amongst themselves. These games tend to also be great for larger groups of players numbering 5 or more making them great for parties. Finally, these games are social by nature; promoting communication, discussion, and personal intrigue.


Mechanically these game have a number of similarities between them as mentioned in the basics section and these can be divided into a few patterns: the hidden roles of players, asymmetric goals for the teams, and a reveal of betrayal by players. The first part of this pattern is that there are two teams of players that are randomly assigned and hidden from other players. I have describe these groups as honest and traitor earlier and to clarify: the honest role is the blanket role that all players assume while the traitor role works antithetical to the honest role. In all of these games the traitors (with some minor exceptions) know each other so that they can better coordinate. Also the balance of these teams is numerically in the honest team’s advantage. These teams also have asymmetric goals: in Mafia the mafia player(s) (traitor team) want to be the last ones standing while the townsfolk (honest team) want to find and eliminate all of the players. In Emergence, the AI (honest team) are trying to score the most points as are the humans (traitor team) but the humans also win if all of the hexes on the board are clear of resource cubes. Another goal that is similar is that frequently the elimination of the traitor(s) is a win condition for the honest team. Finally, one of the key mechanics of the game is that there is a reveal of actions/scoring that causes players to distrust one another, in Secret Hitler, Avalon, and Resistance for instance a choice to either advance the honest team’s score or the traitor teams score is determined causes players to suspect one another. How this choice is made is different from game to game and will be explained.

With the similar patterns laid out now let us talk about the differences of these games mechanically. First and foremost in some of these games there can be a voting process in order to make decisions on who will act/how a group might score. These votes can be secret for the decision itself or an open vote based on who will make the choice/act. This voting is seen in games like Mafia, Resistance, Avalon, and Secret Hitler but not in games like Emergence. Also in these games there might or might not be unique roles provided. In Mafia there is a narrator for instance who acts as a moderator as well as optional player roles that can protect people or have additional information. These extra roles can provide additional win conditions as well such as eliminating a certain player or a player being a choice maker at the right time like in Secret Hitler. There are also additional rules that can be triggered to add additional choices and topics of debate in the game. These games also do not require there to be voting or heavy discussion as seen in Emergence with its use of a board instead of just cards or tokens. All of these differences help make each game a unique experience and differentiate themselves along a common intent of design.

Final Thoughts

Personally, I feel that Social Deduction and Hidden Role games can be fun in the right groups of people. They are a genre that takes a bit of time to figure out how to make the right choices and understand the motivations on the various sides of a given game and thus are ideally played with players who have some experience or all of the players who are new to the game. These game prize information as a key resource and the differences in player level can easily be exploited. These games are great for parties and large game nights since their social elements help keep players involved (until they are eliminated of course) though might be frustrating in settings of mixed skill levels. The mechanics of these games are similar enough that they can easily picked up from game to game (though still difficult to master) and different enough that they are still interesting.

But these are just my thoughts this morning I would love to hear yours and I hope you have a good day!

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