Social deduction games are probably our favorite kind of games. They are sometimes also called social deception games, because they typically involve a lot of deception and hidden information. They are great party games and provide endless fun. In this article we rank the best social deduction games of all time.
1. One Night: Ultimate Werewolf
The best social deduction game of all time is One Night: Ultimate Werewolf. It’s essentially the classic game Werewolf compressed into one night.
How to play
Players get dealt character roles. The game starts with a night in which all players secretly perform their character actions (the seer sees, the robber robs, the werewolves see look at each other, etc.). When everyone wakes up it is day and at the end of the day the players will vote who gets killed. The player that gets the most votes is killed. If the killed player is a werewolf, the villagers win; if the killed player is a villager, the werewolves win. That’s it.
Better than Werewolf
One Night manages to pack 100% of the deceptive fun of the classic Werewolf game into a single night. The major upsides of One Night are that it takes much shorter (10-15 minutes) and that players can’t die and then have to wait multiple nights for the game to end, because there is only one night.
Furthermore, in Werewolf the beginning of the game can be boring if you’re a villager because you have almost no information. In One Night, most villagers have special abilities (such as the seer and the robber). And in One Night it’s important for villagers to lie often, and villagers often have the deciding vote. Therefore, all players will try to convince them of their story and they have to judge who is lying. So vanilla villagers still have a great time in One Night.
As you get better at One Night you’ll be able to set up more intricate plots and schemes to ensure victory. You’ll recognize situations, tell half-truths to provoke reactions and deceive your opponents to share more information than they should. If you’re fellow players grow with you there is no ceiling to how skilled you can get at this game. That’s why One Night is definitely the best social deduction game of all time.
Spyfall is one of our favorite social deduction games. It’s so simple and yet so exciting. If you are the spy you might feel your heart beating in your throat while you try to answer questions you definitely don’t know the answer to. (Try answering ‘How often do you come here’ when you know you’re either at the zoo, on Mars or in prison…)
How to play
In Spyfall everyone is dealt the same location except the spy, who is dealt a blank card. The spy wants to find out the location, the other players want to identify the spy. The players do this by asking other players questions that can verify that they know the location. For example if you’re on the North Pole you might answer a player how the weather is. If he answers that the weather is good, he’s probably the spy. But, beware that you don’t give away the location to the spy through your answers. If you answer that it’s freezing, you give the spy a lot of information. Instead, try answering something more cryptic, like ‘well, at least it’s not raining!’ (because it can’t rain on the North Pole), or ‘this weather has our fate sealed (get it? Seal?).
How to Spy
As the spy you can’t constantly check the cheat sheet with the locations, as that can give you away. Therefore, you have to memorize all the possible locations. But with the default everyday locations (bank, grocery market, etc.) that’s very hard because those locations are not very memorable. That’s why we created a list of extra movie locations, in which every location is a famous movie. This is much better because movies are much more memorable. When someone inevitably answers a question with I’ll be back, you won’t have to check the cheat sheet to know you’re in the Terminator.
Spyfall is also quite hard for the spy if you play with a small group. The game becomes easier for the spy if you play with a larger group though, because there are more suspects, and fewer of the questions will be directed at the spy. This gives the spy more information and less opportunities to accidentally reveal himself. We think that Spyfall is most fun when played with more than 4 players.
Spyfall is a fantastic social deduction game. It’s actually also one of the best party games. We recommend this game for pretty much all groups and situations.
3. Secret Hitler
If you want to make your friends out for Nazi, Fascist or Hitler, then this is the game for you. At its core, Secret Hitler is a solid social deduction game, but of course the theme is the kicker. Set in 1933’s Germany, the fascists are trying to seize political power. It’s up to the liberals to stop them.
How to play
The game mechanics are almost the same as in the Resistance (number 4 in this list), except that the success of missions (or in this case: whether bills get passed in the senate) is not completely deterministic. This makes luck relatively important in the game, but it also adds some ‘noise’ to the data of how many bills each player passed. This makes the numeric deduction that features so heavily in the Resistance less important and leaves room for more social deduction.
The game functions best with 8 players or less. Larger groups make it too easy for a small group of Liberals to find each other and play it safe by only forming coalitions with each other. This makes the game hard for Fascists and especially frustrating for Liberals who by chance were left out of the coalition and can hardly participate in the game, even though they never did anything wrong.
Secret Hitler is all about the theme. If you like the theme, you love the game. Otherwise, definitely don’t buy it.
4. The Resistance
In The Resistance, all players collaborate to perform missions against the Empire. Except, a minority of the players are Imperial spies and want the missions to fail. The Imperial Spies know of each other who they are; the regular Resistance agents don’t know who is a spy and who isn’t.
The Resistance takes the classic social deduction concept of an informed minority vs. an uninformed majority and adds to this that these themes have to engage with each other in missions. This engagement makes the game dynamic and gives the Resistance agents more information about who may be Imperial Spies.
But, the deduction involved in the Resistance is rather simple and in some games can feel more like doing simple numeric calculation than actual social deduction. Simply counting up how many times a mission failed while a player was in it, gives you a good idea about whether that player is a spy or not.
Of course, skilled spies know this and can maneuver their way around easy detection by sometimes not sabotaging the missions they are in; but the tools that spies have are limited. Their primary strategy is always to strike a balance between sabotaging enough missions to win the game while not sabotaging so many missions that they can easily be detected. And performing this strategy every game can become a bit stale.
Avalon was originally released as an expansion to the Resistance, but it’s actually a standalone game.
Extra character roles
Avalon has a King Arthur theme and introduces extra character roles that grant players different pieces of information. For example, Merlin gets to know from the start who all the evil players are, and the Assassin can try to assassinate Merlin at the end of the game to win the game for the evil team.
These roles mean that there is so much more going on than in the Resistance, because the good team will need to hide Merlin and probably a team member needs to fake that he is Merlin, the evil team will set up traps to discover Merlin, and so forth.
The information asymmetry that Avalon adds to the Resistance makes it much more dynamic, fun and strategic. Although the Resistance will for always be a classic social deduction game, we recommend getting Avalon.
5. A Fake artist goes to New York
A fake artist goes to New York is a game for people love drawing, making association games and guessing who drew what.
How to play
A fake artist goes to New York is almost a combination of Spyfall and Dixit. One player, the master, ‘orders’ a painting by dealing the other players, the artists, cards with his order on it. The order consists of a word that the artists need to draw together. Every artist contributes one continuous stroke to the painting.
The catch is that one player, the fake artist, received a blank card instead of the order and will thus have to contribute to the painting without knowing the order. The fake artist and the master win if the fake artist isn’t discovered, or if the fake artist can guess what the order was.
Alternative Game Mode
In an alternative game mode, each player tries to draw the order individually. This is much harder for the spy because he has no information about the order at all, whereas in the standard game mode he can at least see the lines that the other players already drew. But at the same time, guessing what the order was becomes easier for the spy because he can guess based on multiple paintings. We prefer this game mode because it allows each player to follow their own creative associations in their depiction of the order.
A fake artist goes to New York isn’t really a social deduction game like the others in this list. Artists need to deduce who the spy is, but there are no intricate deception like in other social deduction games. This is a pro or a con depending on who you are playing with.
For experienced social deduction gamers, this game may feel fun but too simple. But, A fake artist goes to New York is much better suited for large parties that include non-experienced gamers, because it’s more light and simply fun. This also makes it one of the better social deduction games to play with children.
Insider is a fun party game. It’s similar to games like 21 questions in that one player, the master, receives a word that the other players must guess while only asking yes-or-no questions. The words in Insider are typically very hard to guess and the players only have 5 minutes to guess it.
The twist is that one player, the insider, already knows the word and can guide the discussion in the right direction. But, the insider cannot do so in an obvious manner because after the players have correctly guessed the word, they will discuss the game and try to identify the insider. If they succeed, they win and the insider loses, if they fail, only the insider wins the game.
Insider is a great party game because it’s short, easy to explain and can be played with arbitrarily large groups (although the larger the group, the harder it is to identify the insider).
Our only criticism of this game is that although it’s fun, you wouldn’t play it more than ten times in a row. Compared to the other social deduction games in this list, it’s just not as exciting. Lying, bluffing and deception aren’t a big part of the game. There are no intricate plots. That being said, Insider is a great game to play with non-gamers or if you’re waiting for people to arrive.
7. Deception: Murder in Hong Kong
How to play
The players are Investigators in a murder case, but one of the investigators committed the murder. The Forensic Scientist knows who committed the murder and tries to communicate this information to the Investigators using hints. The Investigators have all been dealt words, such as ‘Blender’ or ‘Curtains’. The Forensic Scientist has a series of cards in front of him that all contain multiple words. For each card the Forensic Scientist will try to select the word that he associated the most with the words in front of the Murderer.
For example, if one of his cards contains the words ‘Kitchen’, ‘Sofa’ and ‘Television’ and the Murdered has the word ‘Blender’, the Forensic Scientist might pick the kitchen. The Investigators have to pick up on the associations of the Forensic Scientist to discover the Murderer.
Obviously, if you like Codenames and you like social deduction games, then Deception: Murder in Hong Kong is for you. It has all the word association fun of Codenames and you have to be on your toes as the Murderer tries to lead the discussion astray.
The difference with other social deduction games is that there’s much more information available for the Investigators, because of all the clues that the Forensic Scientist gives. On one hand this is nice because social deduction games can sometimes have too little information for interesting investigations to gain footing. But, on the other hand, it makes the game very difficult for the spy.
Larger groups make it easier for the spy because there are more suspects, but you basically need at least 7 players for the spy to have a chance.
Further, the game isn’t very fun for the Forensic Scientist, for two reasons. Firstly, he can’t speak, and that just isn’t fun when you’re with your friends (this is the same problem as Codenames has). Secondly, he can only give clues by pointing to words on cards in front of him. He cannot, like in Codenames, freely think of any word that best describes the Murderer. (If he could, the game would be even harder to win for the Murderer.) So the process is less creative and in our opinion less fun.
If you like Codenames, this is the social deduction game for you. Otherwise, you’re better off with a game that’s ranked higher in this list.
Honourable mention: Werewolf / Mafia
Before we end this article we feel obliged to mention the classic social deduction game: Werewolf.
Werewolf was released in 1986 and although it was a great and innovative game that is still loved by many, more modern social deduction games have far improved its initial concept of an informed minority battling an uninformed majority. But Werewolf also had three major problems:
- Games take a long time.
- The ‘vanilla villager’ role can be quite boring
- Players can die and then be out of the game for so long that it ruins their board game night.
All social deduction games listed above are continuations of the Werewolf concept but have solved these problems to various degrees.