A few months ago, a computer and mobile social game called Among Us looked like it was on a one-way road trip obscurity with little fanfare. Popular streamers discovered this game out of sheer luck, and the game took off overnight. It was so popular that the devs canceled plans to create a sequel, so they can focus on updating the original game. Classic Werewolf also gained some traction thanks to programs like Zoom and Discord making it easy to play the game over the internet.
As someone who has been playing social deduction games for quite some time, I’m thrilled to see some spotlight on this genre. Not only does it show how great social games can be, but that there is a viable market for these games.
Since I’m also into board games, I thought it would be a great idea to create a list of board games similar to these two juggernauts.
One Night Ultimate Werewolf
This is a distilled and shortened version of the original Werewolf. It is an app-driven experience lasting close to 10 minutes with no moderation or player elimination. Instead of a series of days and nights, the entire game is played in one round.
At the start, everyone looks at their roles and goes to “sleep.” During the night phase, the app instructs particular roles to wake up and perform their powers. Powers such as Troublemaker swapping player roles, Seer peeking one player’s role card, Werewolves looking at each other, and so forth.
After the night phase, the day phase begins with everyone waking up and not looking at their role cards. The day phase is where the discussion begins as everyone theorizes what happened by claiming roles, saying what they did at night, and challenging each other to get to the bottom of this confusing mystery. Once the timer has run out, everyone votes simultaneously by pointing at someone. The most voted players will reveal themselves. The villagers want to pick a werewolf while the werewolves attempt to pin the blame on an unfortunate villager. That’s the entire game.
It’s a clear-cut game that isn’t challenging to play or understand thanks to the app doing the heavy lifting. There are numerous roles in the game, so there is plenty of replayability through mixing the different powers, and it’s one of the few social games enjoyable with just as little as 5 people. There are also many variations of the One Night series such as Aliens, Vampires, and Superheroes with their own twists to the formula.
You can purchase this game at Amazon US
Published by Plaid Hat Games, Crossfire is a cyberpunk game that didn’t leave much of an impression on the tabletop community. It’s unfortunate because this is a enjoyable little game.
Like most social deduction games, there are various roles here with their own agenda. Bodyguards protect the VIP while the Assassins are hunting the VIP. The lovable Drone wants to be shot, and the Bystanders, like most people, don’t want to be on the other side of a firearm. If this sounds too simple, there are advanced roles to mix things up and favor particular playstyles.
There is no moderator and no night phase. The game only lasts three minutes, and no one knows who is on their team. At most, players might have some information on their neighbors. After three minutes of discussion and wild claims, everyone will start pointing finger guns at each other, but only “armed” roles will fire.
Even though the reviews are lukewarm, I still recommend this as a travel game since it doesn’t need a moderator or an app. It’s a handful of cards and a sand timer. That’s it.
Bang the Dice Game
Based on the 2002 card game Bang!, this game is about a sheriff, a few outlaws, and a renegade gunning each other down to achieve spaghetti western dominance. Replacing the cards with dice and each die face giving a different action, such as firing at your friends or throwing explosive dynamite.
Like any decent Cowboy story, there is plenty of backstabbing here. At the start of the game, everyone gets one role card but the only revealed role is the Sheriff. If you are lucky enough to be the Deputy, your job is to make sure everyone but the Sheriff dies. Outlaws want a dead Sheriff, while the Renegade wants to go one on one with the Sheriff after eliminating everyone else. Throw in individual player powers, and you have a decent 15-20 minute filler.
However, a quick gander at the theme, and you can tell this game does have player elimination. It is quite possible, although unlikely, for player elimination to occur in the first round. If your group has a problem with that, this may not be the best pick. For those of you who aren’t bothered by such a feature, this is one I would recommend, and there are plenty of expansions if you want to get into more complex gameplay.
You can purchase this game at Amazon US
In 2009, the social deduction genre transformed forever with the release of The Resistance. Critics praised it for being an amazing variation of Werewolf that not only removed player elimination but added various mechanisms such as voting. While it might not sound much, it created a deduction layer on top of the usual social cues, allowing players who aren’t talkative to take part in this puzzle-solving. Yet, I wouldn’t recommend it.
Instead, go for the Avalon version. While I prefer the cyberpunk aesthetics of the original, Avalon adds player powers that perfect the formula crafted by its older brother. These powers introduce more layers and mechanisms for players to toy around with, creating an underlying tension lurking within the game’s roots that influences back to back discussions. There is a reason why this 8-year-old game still inspires game designers today, and players view this as the gold standard of social deduction games.
It’s such a popular game that people have designed their own online projects dedicated to this. My personal favorite is Avalon.fun (https://avalon.fun/) and a “Jackbox” style variation called Republic of Jungle (https://republicofjungle.com/)
You can purchase this game through Amazon US
I’m not a fan of most Kickstarter games since they often focus on aesthetics over mechanisms. From my experience, the grey detailed miniatures serve more like a smokescreen for mediocre game design. Nemesis is different, and underneath this chrome hood is some clever engineering.
Although a bit of a tabletop meme at this point, Nemesis is an unlicensed Aliens board game no matter how much Awaken Realms wants to deny it. You and your friends wake up from cryosleep due to aliens deciding to make your ship their new home. Like most aliens, they will rip humans to shreds given the opportunity. Also, the ship is on a self-destruct sequence since safety regulations are too expensive. Let’s not forget the potentially broken engines and the malfunctioning navigation system that could be pointing to a hostile planet.
While other games would crumble beneath all of this weight, the rules here make this easy to digest. It’s not a simple game or something you can teach to grandma, yet it is surprisingly intuitive. The social deduction aspect comes into play as agenda cards. At the start of the game, the agenda cards will tell you what your goal is. Some of these goals aren’t exactly “crew friendly” such as making sure a particular crew member doesn’t escape and that’s where the paranoia kicks in. You start questioning everyone’s intentions, yet you also need to cooperate with them as well creating this fantastic narrative struggle.
Of course, I do have to mention that due to the elaborate components, the price on this one is easily within the three-digit category. It is an expensive game and a noticeable time frame to set up and teardown. Also, the game can take over 2 or 3 hours. Despite those issues, this is an incredible sci-fi deduction game.
Blood on the Clocktower
I wrote a review of this one a few months ago, and my impressions have not changed. It is still my favorite social deduction game, and I would consider it to be one of the best werewolf alternatives out there. It keeps the traditional werewolf formula while adding twists to keep everyone’s attention throughout the entire experience.
Unlike Werewolf, everyone has a unique power ranging from gathering information during the night to being immune from attacks. Due to this setup, everyone has their own gimmick they can leverage throughout a game session. Player elimination is not a thing since executed players can still talk. Their only penalties are their powers are no longer active and they can only vote once more for the rest of the game.
The moderator plays a major role as well instead of parroting the procedures. There are plenty of powers and situations where their influence comes into play. One of the innovations is not showing all of the roles in the game. The only thing the players know is what roles can be in the game, but the moderator is the one who crafts the undisclosed cast.
Unfortunately, people are still waiting for the retail release of this one. To remedy this, fans of the game have created Tabletop Simulator scripted modules for the world to enjoy. If you want a taste of the experience, there is also a web version of the game, although with heavily altered rules at https://lycanthropic.org/
If Blood on the Clocktower never existed, this would be my preferred social deduction game, and I reviewed this one a few months ago as well.
What makes Witch Hunt stand out is player powers and elimination. Unlike Blood on the Clocktower or Werewolf, your power is not connected with your team. Due to this major change, it means each game will have various tools for both teams, creating a new challenge for everyone to overcome.
Getting killed is not the end. Depending on what team you were on, you become either an Angel or a Demon. Throughout the night, the Angels will pick a character to protect from a kill attempt while the Demons will hex people to mess with the protection. Players in the afterlife also observe everything at night but can’t talk with the living players.
Yet, I cannot recommend this one to new players of the social deduction genre due the complexities. It is a hard game to manage due to the various powers the moderator must keep track of. There is a web-based app, but the interface is tricky to navigate. It baffles me that there isn’t an automated online version of this, considering this game would heavily benefit from such a project. If you are up for the task, you will find something special in this underrated game.
Dark Moon is the closest to Among Us on this list. It involves a sci-fi setting, a panicked crew, and a few traitors. Like Among Us, the game’s progression is based on completing tasks.
The good news is there is no player elimination. In its place, the traitor will try to sabotage any attempts to complete the tasks. Each failed task leads to a deteriorating state of the ship, such as weakening shields or critical injuries that will cascade into more problems.
The gimmick here is the player cardboard shields and dice rolls. If a crew member attempts to complete the task, they roll their dice behind their shield and must submit at least one die to the task. The dice have numbers on them, and the players are trying to beat a difficulty number.
That would be easy if the dice weren’t slanted towards negative numbers, and this is where the spores of misinformation fill the air. Crew members trying to be helpful will appear suspect due to their bad die submissions, while the traitors will use the odds as an excuse. It’s enough information to have an educated guess, but not enough to feel confident about it.
Just a bit of warning that the rulebook makes this a challenge to learn. It’s not formatted very well, and information ping-pongs all over the place. The better choice is to learn the game by watching How-To-Play videos.
There is also an expansion that does add some nice chunky features to make the game more complex and difficult. Nice things like dismemberment, hidden agendas, an escape ship, and a new traitor character competing against the infected and crew.
You can purchase this game at Amazon US