Friday, July 27, 2018

Dave Reviews: Fun With Fascists

Secret Hitler

This one's been out for a little while, with all the fanfare that anything which says "Hitler" is going to obtain. I just got a chance to play it, though. So let's write the 379th review on the Internet about:

How Fun Is Hitler?

Secret Hitler is, as the name very strongly indicates, a hidden role game. To my surprise, it doesn't just resemble other hidden role games; it's damn near a re-skin of The Resistance. If you're going to basically copy a game, of course, The Resistance is a fine one to use as a basis. Then again, you're setting the bar awfully damned high for anyone who recognizes the core mechanics.

Let's go over those mechanics, vis a vis The Resistance.

  • Two teams: check. 
  • Plucky blue-colored good guys versus the terrible red power: check.
  • Rotating leadership position: check.
  • Voting for teams: pseudo-check. Where The Resistance had a vote for a proposed team, Secret Hitler has a single Chancellor to vote on.
  • Target number of 'wins' for victory: check. Secret Hitler requires more—six for Fascists, five for Liberals, versus three for either side in The Resistance—but the rounds are shorter.
There are differences, but they're really adjustments to the same core gameplay. The biggest change is the alternate victory conditions that become possible once there are three Fascist policies on the board. From then on, voting Hitler in as Chancellor makes him Chancellor for Life, and the Fascists win. However, every time a new Fascist policy is enacted, the President has to assassinate a player. If the President assassinates Hitler, the Liberals automatically win.

Policies are enacted by the President and Chancellor. The President picks up the top three policy tiles from the stack, discards one face down, and hands the other two to the Chancellor. The Chancellor then discards another one face down, and plays the last one face up. The stack contains eleven Fascist and six Liberal policies; as the game goes on, especially if the Liberals get a lead, it can become very easy to draw three Fascist policies and be forced to use one even if you're a Liberal President and Chancellor.

There's one rule that I haven't figured out the logic behind: during the policy-making stage, the President and Chancellor can't talk. However, once the policy is played, they can lie about what tiles were available. So what's the point of not letting them talk or otherwise telegraph what's in their hands during the policy phase? If they're allowed to say it afterwards, there's no material difference if they're allowed to speak during the phase as well. Their messages will be the same, and players will have the same data to base their judgments on.

I wanted to like Secret Hitler, and I kind of do. However, I can't shake the feeling that Secret Hitler is fun because including Hitler in silly games is fun. The difference between this and the Resistance is that in Secret Hitler, the decisions are much simpler—do I trust this Chancellor or no? And, especially if there aren't many Fascist policies left, do I trust this President not to throw a Liberal one out if they see it? After that, it's mainly a numbers game. If the Liberal President/Chancellor combo (which is what you usually get) see a Liberal policy, they're going to pass it, so you're just hoping the good guys see what they need. Or don't, if you're a horrible Fascist.

On the other hand, The Resistance requires you to solve the entire proposed team while not nixing so many teams that the government automatically wins. There are more strings to pull when you know the odds are, especially later on, that someone on the team is a government spy unless your team has figured out everyone's identity, and even then there's usually a bit of everyone holding their breath until the mission votes are cast. Everything revolves around your capacity to solve the puzzle of your fellow players.

Some people will like the relative simplicity of Secret Hitler, and that's fine. It's not bad. Just know that's what you're getting.

Score: A filibuster-proof 77 Fascists out of 100 U.S. Senators.

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