Secret Hitler is a social deduction game in which players have to find and kill the Secret Hitler. The game is set in 1930’s Germany and all players play as government officials who try to enact policies to further their cause. The group is divided into two opposing parties, Fascists and Liberals. No one knows who to trust and you must lie your way to the top or find Secret Hitler before it’s too late.
Designed by Max Temkin, creator of the popular game Cards Against Humanity, Secret Hitler was funded through kickstarter in 2015 and was nominated for Best Party Game by Golden Geek in 2016. The game was sold at their booth at Gencon and can now be purchased online from buyers in the US. But don’t fret, the game is licensed under Creative Commons and is free to play for anyone willing to spend time printing out the cards. There is also a popular online version.
The creators intended for the game to critique real world political events and conspiracies, and have even thought about sending a copy of the game to every US senator. Reviewer Kirk Hamilton said, “Secret Hitler’s mechanics often reflect real world situations to an impressive degree.”
Some slight controversy around this game is that it critiques politics by painting the Liberal party as direct opposition to Fascism. This may cause friction with other parties such as the Conservatives. In their defense, the premise of the game is not exactly tasteful and it’s elements should be critiqued knowing Max Temkin’s serious attitude, or lack there of.
Due to the Creative Commons license, some players have made their own versions of the game for their own use. One alternative is to use Progressive party instead of Liberal (some players have also created the Secret Trump mod).
The game is very aesthetically pleasing, featuring art by Makenzie Schubert. The pieces are simplistic and slick, and the boards have delicate reflective elements. There aren’t many fancy pieces to this game, but there are just as many as you need. The secret cards that describe the characters identity and party are placed inside manila envelopes, which add to the secret-document feel. The president and chancellor also are designated by large wooden placards, which they place in front of them during the game. These placards are beautifully crafted and are the heaviest pieces in the game. It truly makes you feel special and powerful to have one of these in front of you.
The game has a relatively low degree of abstraction. There’s not much more detail you could put into a game about political policies being passed. Everyone is tensely siting around a table, as if they are truly part of a parliament. The public unrest is one element of abstraction, because it suggests that the course of the game takes place over a longer amount of time, enough for the common people to become uneasy with their government. Of course no one is really Hitler and no one actually gets shot for real, but players are encouraged to act things out dramatically.
In case you haven’t already guessed, the degree of confrontation is very high in this game. The game cannot be played without some quality bickering and some solid lies. The entire game is about interacting with the other players and reading their moves to deduce their alignment. Players are constantly spouting theories over who they should trust and who they shouldn’t, and trying to make themselves seem trustworthy.
One reviewer on The Player’s Aid gave the game a 5/5 for components, mechanisms, and replayability, but only 4/5 on strategy. Reason being that players are usually unpredictable, making formulating strategy hard. He goes on to say “For a social deduction game, it’s got about as much strategy as you can pack into one.” I agree that playing a game with new players often has this unpredictable, and therefor less strategic tendency, but that unpredictability falls away as players become more adjusted to the game and begin thinking critically and forming stronger plays.
This is one of the most tense and mentally intriguing games I’ve come across. I’m itching to play it again and am considering spending the time to make a printed copy for our class to experience.