Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Game Review: Are You the Traitor?

I played an interesting game last week called Are You the Traitor? It was pretty fun as a party game, reminiscent of Werewolf (described here) which I'd played with friends a couple years ago. The premise is that everybody has a secret role (wizard, guard, key bearer, traitor), and the roles are split up into two sides, and each player is trying to figure out who's on the other side while deceiving everyone else about his or her own role and side. There's really no "game" to it in the traditional sense - sure, you score points via treasures that you collect, but that part seems only designed to give the game an ending point. The rest of the game is just guessing about the roles of the other players - basically, figuring out who's bluffing and who's telling the truth.

This has a long history in games, of course - any game with hidden information involves some degree of bluffing, and even pure strategy games with perfect information and no luck involved can involve bluffing (e.g. "if you move there, I'll definitely not attack this space."). But this game (and those from which it's likely derived) have bluffing as really the only part of it. There's no way to get enough information to decide well - you either believe or don't believe.

The story is moderately interesting - something about a key that wizards are vying for (see yesterday's post about game metaphors), but there's not really enough of a game there to develop it on. So, you're left with the only game mechanic being listening to your fellow players declare themselves innocent or guilty, and then either making a call yourself, or wimping out and waiting for another player to take a stand.

That can be pretty fun, especially if you play a couple rounds (or know the other players well enough) to get a sense if your fellow players are likely to lie or tell the truth. But it didn't seem like enough to sustain a game. I found myself occasionally, when everybody was just sitting there staring quizzically at each other, fairly bored, and willing to make a accusation just because nothing was happening.

So, what would I add or change? That's hard to say. I think there should be more to it. The natural-feeling thing to me would be to give the players some kind of resources, and then let them make bets about other people's roles. In this way, you could gradually reveal more information (as you do in poker) while still forcing people to stay in or out as you go. Maybe the cards get revealed in a particular order, from the least important to the most, and each round players place bets on who is the key-bearer or Chosen One or whatever. If they bet on the player who goes out, they're out too. And then you could change your choice between rounds. I don't know. But something like that would allow for some clever guessing and clues to follow without every round being an all-or-nothing bluff-off.

It was interesting to play, though, and very easy to learn. I just didn't feel like the fun-per-minute ratio was very high. Just my two cents - your mileage may vary.

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