Social deduction games, deception games, hidden role games, traitor games – all different terms for the same great game type. Social deduction games are some of our favorites for their quick game play and social aspects. In this ranking, we’ll share what we think are the best social deduction games as well as some deduction games you might not have heard of yet.
If you’re in a hurry, skip on over to the section about the social deduction game that attracts your interest:
- One Night: Ultimate Werewolf
- Secret Hitler
- Witch Hunt
- The Resistance: Avalon
- Spyfall 2
- Deception: Murder in Hong Kong
- A fake artist goes to New York
- Two Rooms and a Boom
- The Resistance
- Honorable Mentions
If the game you’re looking for is not in this list, make sure to check out the honorable mentions section. That’s where we discuss well known social deduction games that almost made our ranking.
One Night: Ultimate Werewolf is about villagers, but there are werewolves among them. The villagers try to find out who the werewolves are and the werewolves use deception to avoid this. After one night a player is voted to death and the game ends. If the dead player was a werewolf the villagers win, and vice versa.
Lovers of the classic social deduction game Werewolf will love One Night, as it’s essentially the same great deception game compressed into one night and without it’s downsides: no player elimination, no moderator, no boring roles and no way to long games.
We think One Night is the best social deduction game, because it’s so easy to learn and yet so intricate and replayable. Even without the expansions, each game will feel new as players adopt new strategies and narratives to hide their identities. One Night is the first social deduction game we recommend everyone to get. (Read full review.)
Secret Hitler is a controversial social deduction game that pits liberals against fascists in a power struggle. The fascists try to use lying and deception to adopt fascist legislation and ultimately elect Hitler as BundesKanselier. The liberals have to find out who secretly are the fascists and either kill Hitler or adopt sufficient liberal legislation.
Secret Hitler has a similar voting mechanic as The Resistance, but better. In both games all players elect who gets to be in office or running the current mission. This election is great because through carefully watching the votes you get a sense of who’s teaming together. But, unlike in The Resistance, in Secret Hitler, liberals aren’t always able to successfully pass liberal legislation. This is great because it makes it harder to detect who the good guys are from merely looking at the outcome of each round, so you have to watch the social cues more carefully.
While this is inarguably a great social deduction game due to its mechanics, it continues to get mixed reactions due to its theme. If you are even slightly offended by the theme or have friends or family who would be, just avoid this deduction game. The thing about Secret Hitler is that you will shout at your friends that they’re definitely fascist and probably Hitler. If that’s funny to you, you need this game. If you don’t see the humor in this, that’s fine too, but then you need a different game for sure. (Read full review.)
Witch Hunt is the only modern social deduction game that has round based elimination like Werewolf. Each night, the witches kill a villager, and each day the villagers try to burn a witch. So Witch Hunt is very similar to Werewolf, but it fixes two of Werewolf’s major problems.
Firstly, in Werewolf games could be boring when you were a good-for-nothing villager. In Witch Hunt each player has a its own simple ability, that they can leverage for their strategy. For example, one player gets an extra life, while another is always the tie breaker in votes.
Secondly, in Werewolves you can be completely eliminated, and then you can’t play for a long time. In Witch Hunt, dead Villagers turn into Angels and dead Witches into Demons, that still influence the game in major ways. So everyone gets to play the game through to the end in some way, shape or form!
We love Witch Hunt because it’s the only social deduction game that does the original round based elimination format well. And multiple rounds make for deeper strategies and deceptions. So with Which Hunt you get that classic thrilling board game night – without any downsides.
Chameleon is a light social deduction game, and in our opinion it’s the best one in this category. It’s the easiest to learn and it’s fun right away during the first game.
Each player is given a card with 16 related words, such as a set of foods or a set of countries. Except the Chameleon player, who gets a blank card. Then, one of the words is selected through a dice throw, and all players except the Chameleon now know the secret word. The players proceed to give a one word clue about the secret word, to show the others that they actually know the location. The players win if the identify the Chameleon, and the Chameleon wins if he discovers the secret location.
Chameleon is very similar to Spyfall with its mechanic of detecting the one ignorant spy. And although Spyfall is also great, we like Chameleon better because it’s much quicker to set up and easier for people to learn quickly. Also, we like the mechanic of describing the word with a one word clue (that Chameleon clearly stole from Codenames) better than the question asking mechanic of Spyfall. If you like Codenames and social deduction games, you got to check out Chameleon!
Avalon pits Arthur’s servants against the forces of Evil. It’s mostly a classic social deduction game like Secret Hitler or The Resistance. The players collectively try to complete missions while a hidden minority of evil players tries to sabotage them.
What’s interesting about Avalon is its extra characters. Merlin, a good guy, knows who all the Evil players are. But, Merlin must hide his identity, because if the Assassin kills him the evil team wins. This mechanic adds an extra layer of deception to the game and makes Avalon stand out from more traditional social deduction games.
Merlin, a servant of Arthur, knows who all the evil players are. But, he can’t communicate this straightforwardly, because if the assassin kills Merlin the evil forces win.
Avalon is the successor of The Resistance. It’s compatible with the original The Resistance, but it can also be played standalone. And we actually recommend that you buy Avalon as a standalone, because you don’t need the original game and the themes of the two games (King Arthur and Star Wars-ish) don’t blend together.
In Spyfall he players are in a location that is known to everyone except the spy. The players interrogate each other about the location in order to find out who the spy is, or if you’re the spy, to find out what the location is. To win the players have to reveal the spy’s identity before the spy discovers the location.
Spyfall is simply a very fun social deduction game. You’re guaranteed to have a few laughs over spies that out themselves with ridiculously misplaced answers to questions. And sometimes the spy surprises you by discovering the location, while you thought your hints we’re unbreakable enigma’s.
What’s especially great about Spyfall is that it’s so simple and quick to set up. You can play it at family birthdays with groups of people that aren’t fanatical board gamers. And on board game night you can squeeze in a few games while you wait for other people to arrive. Spyfall is so fun and versatile that it’s a must have for everyone’s collection! (Real full review.)
Deception: Murder in Hong Kong blends word association with social deduction. A murder’s been committed, and the forensic scientist know who dunnit. But, he can only communicate with the other investigators by giving one word clues. With these clues he tries to describe the words that lie in front of the murderer, rather than those in front of the other players.
Despite its name, the amount of deception in this game is moderate at best. The murderer will try to misinterpret the clues that the the forensic scientist gives to mislead the other players, but that’s about it.
Nevertheless, Deception: Murder in Hong Kong is a good game. It’s very easy to teach and appealing to a wide audience. It’s great to bring to parties and jam out a few sessions before moving on to something else. If you like Codenames, this is one of the best social deduction games to try next! (Read full review.)
A fake artist goes to New York is about word association, drawing, picture association and a little bit of deception.
The master player orders a drawing by selecting a set of words. The other players collaboratively make that drawing. The catch is that one player, the fake artist, doesn’t know which words to draw. But he has to fake that he does so that he doesn’t get found out.
A Fake Artist Goes To New York is truly a fantastic game. It combines the best elements of popular board games like Codenames (word association), Dixit (picture guessing) and Spyfall (one spy versus the group). The only reason that it’s not higher in this ranking is that it’s obviously much lighter on the social deduction game aspects and deception than the other board games we list. (Read full review.)
Two Rooms and a Boom features two rooms, a president and a bomb. The red team wants the president and the bomb in the same room in the final round, the blue team doesn’t.
Every round the players in each room vote for a leader who sends out a few people to the other room. Both teams try to use deception to cunningly maneuver themselves and their team mates into the right room to ultimately move the bomb player and the president player into the same room in the final round (or to avoid exactly that). Players can ask for other players’ identities and choose to reveal their own identity, if they think this suits their cause.
What’s great about Two Rooms and a Boom is that it’s one of the only social deduction games on this list that is playable with really large groups. It’s playable with up to 30 people and it still works reasonably well. To be fair, with more than 20 people there’s a lot of randomness involved in who actually wins the game, but that’s besides the point. Every player can still try to exercise their own little game plan, form teams, and work towards their goals. Add to this that it’s just fun to move from room to room in someone else’s house, and Two Rooms and a Boom is a fantastic social deduction game for large groups.
Insider is similar to games like 21 questions in that one player receives a word that the other players must guess while only asking yes-or-no questions.
The twist that makes this a social deduction game 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.
The Insider is simple enough to explain to a large group of non board gamers, yet fun enough to rack up a few games in a row. It’s a great pick if you’re looking for a light deception game for large groups.
The Resistance performs 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 is a classic in the social deduction genre, but it’s no longer one of the best. The strategy for the resistance players doesn’t go much deeper than letting a few missions succeed in the beginning to gain favor, and then ruining some missions later.
Newer social deduction games add much more strategic depth by adding characters with special abilities. So you’re much better off picking for example One Night, or even The Resistance: Avalon.
Other Social Deduction Games (Honorable Mentions)
There’s several social deduction games that you may have heard about but that we don’t include in our ranking. But, we don’t want you to think that our ranking is incomplete because someone you know is fanatically enthusiastic about a game that’s not in here.
Therefore, here’s our honorable mentions list for social deduction games that didn’t quite make it into our ranking.
Werewolf (also published under the name Mafia) is the first social deduction game. It’s the ultimate classic.
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.
Salem 1692 is a social deduction game with a historic witch hunt theme. It comes in a nice box too.
Unfortunately, it still relies on player elimination, which is just no fun for the eliminated players. And the game is also a lot about which cards you draw and play, rather than purely about talking and convincing other people of your story, which is the great part of most social deduction games.
Coup is a great social deduction game that combines all the great aspects of the classic card game Bluff (or BS if you are in my family) with a dystopian future. It is an elimination game which can rob the fun for new players who just keep getting knocked out early, but it is quickly gaining popularity as one of the better social deduction games on the market right now.
Bang! is a decently fun social deduction game with a nice western theme.
However, the deduction in it is fairly limited because most characters are revealed pretty early on tin the game. Generally, we think Bang! is a pretty fun game, but not one that you’ll play over and over again like the others in this list.
Game of Thrones: Oath Breaker is probably the social deduction game with the most complicated rule set. There’s mission cards, influence tracks, and personal ambitions of each character to keep track off.
Being complicated isn’t bad; general at BoardGameTheories we actually really like complicated games, because they involve a lot of strategy and a have a high skill cap.
However, you can’t replay Oath Breaker very often, because it becomes less fun when you get to know the secret ambitions of each character. After a few games you can sometimes easily deduce the ambitions of your fellow players and this kind of breaks the game.
Oath Breaker is still a pretty good game and if you’re into the Game of Thrones theme you can pick it up. But, the combination of being very complicated yet not having tons of replay value keeps it off our ranking.
Love Letter is another classic deception game that involves a lot of bluffing. It’s still good, but we just think the newer social deduction games are better. Especially Coup, which has a very similar theme.
Werewords is an extremely similiar social deception game to Insider. It is by the same guy behind One Night but less emphasis on Werewolfs. It includes some of the better aspects of social deduction games like a hidden role and deception while keeping the rules and gameplay simple enough for new players to be able to jump right in.
Based on the hit TV show, Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game is a social deduction game wrapped in fancy packaging where secret Cylons within your group are trying to destroy humanity. Hidden roles, deception and more! There are even some interesting expansions already out for this game if the original interests you. If you are just looking for a social deception game, there are better options above, but if you are big fan of Battlestar Galactica, you can scratch that itch at the same time!
Very similar to the gameplay mechanics of Coup, Mascarade is a social deduction card game based on deception and bluffing. Who can amass the most coins at the end wins! This is a great, fast paced social deduction game that can be played by large groups.
Knights of the round table and social deduction? What’s not to love! Shadows over Camelot lets you team up to protect Camelot and go on quests like the search for Excalibur all the while looking over your shoulder because one of the people in your group is a TRAITOR. For whatever reason, this game is getting hard to find so if it is available at the link above, it is probably an expensive collector item at this point. Luckily for us, there is a more recent card game version of this social deduction game that is much more price friendly.
Miners versus Saboteurs?! Welcome to the fun social deduction game for the whole family! Saboteur is highly regarded for its appeal to new players, younger players and its fast paced gameplay. Definitely worth checking out for your next family game night!
Dracula’s Feast invites you and your friends to dinner but unfortunately monsters have decided to crash the party. This is where the social deduction comes into play as you try to guess everyone’s identity and sniff out the monsters before it is too late!
What is a social deduction game?
To put it simply, social deduction games involve deception, hidden roles and deduction to try to figure it all out. Players attempt to uncover each other’s hidden roles throughout the game because most, if not all, social deduction games rely on a lot of deception and lying. The concept of lying or bluffing as a strategy has been of component of games since the beginning but these games make sure that the strategy of lying is a requirement and the social deduction is the goal! You can read a full breakdown of what a social deduction game is in our dedicated article here.
Best social deduction game for 3 or 4 players
If you have a smaller group playing, we like to play social deduction games that don’t involve player elimination. This keeps everyone in the game until the end and keeps everyone engaged and having fun. One Night Ultimate Werewolf is definitely our recommendation for the best social deduction game for 3 or 4 players.
Best social deduction game for large groups
So you got a large group over for game night? Don’t split people up into a bunch of different games! Get everyone in on the deception, lying and manipulation! Spyfall 2 is our recommendation for the best social deduction game for large groups because it has wide appeal, simple mechanics and is easy enough to pick up by non-fanatical gamers.
We hope our ranking helps you to find the best social deduction game for you and your next game night.
If our ranking leaves any of your questions unanswered, please shoot us a message through our contact form. We’re happy to include the answer to your question so we can help future readers decide which social deduction game to buy even better.
Good luck with lying to and deceiving your friends!