When Murder is the Name of the Game

When Murder is the Name of the Game

Lying, trickery, murder. With up to 11 of your friends talking past each other, trying to hint and push each other to incriminate someone else. Dramatic accusations and hilarious denials. Loose logic and double-takes.

All in less than 30 minutes, most of the time.

Deception: Murder in Hong Kong is a grand way to rope in some of your friends who may be a bit reticent about board games and get them to sit down at the table. It’s also perfect for larger groups – simple to learn and with plenty of social interaction. Turns are fluid, so you’re never waiting or pulling out the cellphone to kill time as someone draws their way through a deck or ponders a 12-move masterpiece to pick up another victory point.

Instead, Deception slaps all of you with roles, has one poor soul lay out some clues and guide the game through to its mysterious conclusion, and then backs away and lets you argue it out. Cards in front of each player give the means of the murder and hints as to what was found at the scene, like board-less version of Clue. Most of the players are innocent investigators, but one is the murderer, only nobody knows who. The murderer, therefore, must keep accusations pointing in other directions, deriving plausible explanations for other’s cards while denying his or her own guilt. If you’re skittish about playing poker with your friends, this game is a great way to learn whether they can bluff worth a damn.

The player tasked with laying out the clues must use general hints, such as a list of conditions of the victim’s clothes (“neat”, “shabby”, “bizarre”, for example) to try and point parties to the murderer’s tools. For example, if the killing was done through poison and a rolex was found at the scene, they might choose “nice”. There’s almost always several options that could fit the crime, and thus the game becomes as much about reading your friend’s faces, their words and reactions as it is about the cards in front of them.

I mentioned the length of the game above, but I’m going to come back to it here – this game can be short. You can complete games in 10-15 minutes or less, depending on the clues and the ability of the murderer to keep themselves hidden. The speed of these playthroughs, and that they’re still entertaining despite the brevity, gives everyone a chance at different roles. The setup time is minuscule. You break this game out and you’ll play it three or more times before people get bored. And if you ever tire of the core game, Deception comes with plenty of variants too.

If there’s a note of caution, it’s that this is a social game, and that anyone who isn’t fond of making things up, presenting arguments, or bluffing could find themselves uncomfortable. Thankfully, the short play time means they won’t be sad for long. Deception also, when played with a Witness character (an optional variant suggested for larger groups), makes it very easy for the murderer to be identified. While without a witness, we guessed wrong or really had to work to identify the suspect, a witness put the murderer on their heels immediately. So I’d try it without the witness, at least at first, if you can.

Overall, though, Deception is a light, fun game that’s playable by just about anyone in your group or family. It’s inexpensive, with tons of replayability. If you’re looking for something new to burn through some holiday afternoons, you could do a lot worse than this one.

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