Almost everyone has played some style of social deduction games. You know the type; Werewolf/Mafia/Resistance – big group games where a few people in the group have hidden identities and it is up to the majority to argue over who among them are not peaceful villagers but are in fact bloodthirsty werewolves who keep eating people. There are many variants on the theme, but they almost always boil down to animated arguments with your friends about who needs to be lynched because you are absolutely sure Jordan is a vampire or whatever this time. They’re good fun, for a certain definition of fun, but mostly lean on the silliness of the group for their laughs and rarely really extend deeply into actual ‘game’ territory.
Jess: Which is fine! Not knocking any of those games, really. But they aren’t always, you know, the most engaging for just ever-so-slightly-more serious gamers.
Andrew: Yep. But then there’s Deception: Murder in Hong Kong. And what we have here is, I think, a social deduction game that works for folks who are looking for a just-barely-deeper experience than others of its ilk. And it’s definitely my favorite of the many I’ve played.
Deception is a noir take on the classic Social Deduction formula – a group of detectives have gathered around a body, trying to piece together the identity of the killer. Of course, in the proud tradition of gritty cop dramas everywhere, one of the assembled investigators is in fact the murderer and is trying to divert attention from themselves by disrupting the investigation.
One player, the Forensic Scientist, knows precisely whodunit, as it were, and is trying to communicate that information to the investigators using clues to describe the ‘Key Evidence’ and the ‘Means of Murder’ (both of which are needed to pin the crime on the guilty party), but can’t do so obviously because it would tip off the corrupt cop, tanking the investigation.
Like the world’s worst potluck, each investigator arrives at the scene having discovered 4 Evidence cards and 4 Means of Murder cards. These cards sit in front of the investigators and, at the beginning of the game, the murderer will secretly indicate to the forensic scientists which of their 4 clues is the ‘key evidence’ and which ‘means of murder’ they used to kill the victim. It is then up to the silent scientist to try and get the other, less murdery investigators to figure out who among them killed the victim, how they did it, and what key piece of evidence will lock up the case.
Andrew: The way this is done is my favorite part of Deception. The Forensic Scientist can’t speak to the investigators at all about what she knows. The only way for her to communicate is through Scene tiles.
Over the course of Deception’s 3 rounds, the forensic scientist uses several randomly drawn Scene tiles to describe the details of the crime. They do this by placing markers (clever little wooden bullets) on each of the Scene tiles. These tiles may describe the condition of the corpse, the weather, the duration of the crime, or many other potentially relevant details. It is up to the Forensic Scientist to pick answers that will guide the players to the murderer’s identity.
Jess: It can be really hard! Sometimes the Scene tiles you draw for the round aren’t immediately relevant, so the FS has to be clever with how they tie it all together.
Andrew: Right! And the order and way you place your bullet markers can communicate information too. Did the murderer use an ax? You may want to very decisively put down that marker next to “Incomplete” on the ‘Corpse Condition’ scene card (and maybe not place the next marker so quickly), to really draw the players’ attention to the fact that the murder must have been messy indeed.
Once the scene has been described using the tiles, investigators get to work, sorting out possible weapons and bits of evidence that will hopefully guide them toward the solution to the crime. Of course, the murderer will continuously spit out bad ideas, misinformation, and false accusations, muddying the logic of the investigators and compromising all their hard work.
If, after a brief period of discussion (determined by the group), there is no clear consensus on who the killer is, what they used, and what key evidence will tie it all together, the Forensic Scientist discards one of the Scene tiles, draws a fresh one, and has another chance to move her tokens around to further help the investigators along.
If the murderer can filibuster for 3 full rounds, then they have managed to delay the investigators enough to make a clean getaway. Everyone else loses and the murderer is free to do a reasonable amount of pointing and laughing.
However, at any time during the 3 rounds, each investigator can make a single formal accusation. Betting their badge, literally, on their hunch, they will indicate which key evidence and murder weapon they believe implicate the murderer. If they are correct, the good guys win and the Forensic Scientist may run around the table, giving out high-fives as requested. If not, however, the FS will only say ‘No’ (not even revealing if the accuser got at least part of the solution) and the accusing officer turns in his badge, never to try and solve a crime again (although they can keep weighing in on the evidence as it is given).
Andrew: Deception is different than most other social deduction game’s I’ve ever played. The whole ‘Scene’ tile aspect gives players something meaningful to discuss as they try and sort out the crime laid before them. As in most of these games, accusations fly back and forth constantly in Deception, but unlike in something like Werewolf, these accusations are logical ones rather than just “Seriously guys, Jordan is totally the monster this time. His foot twitched funny when I looked at him just now”.
Jess: It’s never Jordan! You two just like accusing each other!
There are even a couple of in-box variants for Deception. The Event tiles come into play in the second or third round of investigation and spike in some really great complications (either for or against the investigators), adding a little delicious chaos. There are also additional roles, the Accomplice and Witness, which are used at higher player counts and add even more to the mix.
Andrew: All in all, I think Deception: Murder in Hong Kong is as solid a social deduction game as I have played. It is still a talky, light game which will have a roomful of people laughing and yelling in no-time, but it is just a little bit more ‘gamey’ in a really good way. Given the choice between this and any number of its variants, I think I’d pick Deception every time.
Jess: I think you’re right on all that. Does it lose a bit of its ‘party’ lightheartedness that other games like Werewolf thrive on? Sure, a little, but honestly, it’s a stronger game for it and it can still totally play 12 slightly tipsy detectives just fine – if that’s not a party, I don’t know what is.
If you’d like to take a shot at figuring out who, you know, took the shot (or administered the poison, or dropped the piano or whatever), then snag yourself Deception: Murder in Hong Kong and get to sleuthing!
(Gameosity purchased a copy of this game at a reduced price for this review. We were not otherwise compensated.)