by Max Temkin
A social deduction game for 5-10 players about finding and stopping the Secret Hitler.
Secret Hitler is a dramatic game of political intrigue and betrayal set in 1930’s Germany. Players are secretly divided into two teams – liberals and fascists. Known only to each other, the Fascists coordinate to sow distrust and install their cold-blooded leader. The liberals must find and stop the Secret Hitler before it’s too late.
Each round, players elect a President and a Chancellor who will work together to enact a law from a random deck. If the government passes a fascist law, players must try to figure out if they were betrayed or simply unlucky. Secret Hitler also features government powers that come into play as fascism advances. The fascists will use those powers to create chaos unless liberals can pull the nation back from the brink of war.
Secret Hitler is designed by Max Temkin (Cards Against Humanity, Humans vs. Zombies) Mike Boxleiter (Solipskier, TouchTone), Tommy Maranges (Philosophy Bro) and illustrated by Mackenzie Schubert (Letter Tycoon, Penny Press).
In Secret Hitler, each player is randomly assigned to be a liberal or a fascist, and one player is Secret Hitler. The liberal team always has a majority. At the beginning of the game, players close their eyes, and the fascists reveal themselves to one another. Secret Hitler keeps his eyes closed, but puts his thumb up so the fascists can see who he is. The fascists learn who Hitler is, but Hitler doesn’t know who his fellow fascists are, and the liberals don’t know who anyone is.
The objective of the liberal team is to pass 5 liberal policies or assassinate Secret Hitler. The objective of the fascist team is to pass 6 fascist policies or elect Secret Hitler chancellor after 3 fascist policies have passed.
Each round, the President selects a Chancellor. The whole table votes “Ja!” or “Nein!” on their ticket; if a majority of players vote “Ja!,” the elected President and Chancellor take the following actions to pass a new policy:
- The President draws 3 policies from a random deck.
- The President discards 1 policy and passes 2 to the Chancellor.
- The Chancellor discards 1 policy and enacts the final one as law.
If a fascist policy passes, the President gains a new power that she must use immediately. These include:
If Hitler is executed, the game ends immediately in a Liberal Victory.
We’re also hosting regular live games on Twitch!
Here’s two full games from this Saturday:
Secret Hitler introduces new mechanics to the hidden-identity game genre.
The first is the element of randomness. When laws are passed, the President draws three policies, passes two to the Chancellor, and the Chancellor enacts one. Only the enacted policy is revealed, so players have to rely on the President and Chancellor’s word to know what got discarded. The deck has a known initial composition (11 Fascist policies, 6 Liberal policies), and players can roughly track deck contents based on what the President and Chancellor report, though someone might have lied about what was discarded. That means players can form reasonable expectations and plan around probability, but they can also manipulate future probabilities and expectations in a way that benefits their team.
The second new mechanic is the “Hitler” identity: If Hitler is elected as Chancellor after the third fascist policy has already been enacted, the game ends immediately and the fascists win. This means Hitler will spend most of the game playing as a liberal to gain players’ trust. Once the third fascist policy is enacted, anyone who has helped the group becomes immediately suspect; if the liberals make a wrong move at this point, they lose immediately. This creates incredible moments of tension and relief in the game.
Secret Hitler is a love letter to hidden identity games like Werewolf/Mafia, The Resistance, and Avalon, but it’s also a new design that fixes some of our biggest problems with those games.
- No moderator: Secret Hitler doesn’t require a moderator – everyone can join in the game.
- No early player elimination: We love the suspense of player elimination, but Secret Hitler saves that drama for the very end – assassinated players will rarely have to wait more than ten minutes before the game ends.
In games like Werewolf, you can only act on your gut feeling. Secret Hitler creates a much more heady experience – there’s almost enough information that you can solve the game like a puzzle, but not quite enough. Players always have enough information to make meaningful choices, but we’ve simplified the decisions to avoid analysis paralysis; each round the President nominates a Chancellor, and the table votes yes or no to that ticket.
Secret Hitler is enormously replayable because the ways the presidential powers are used and the table position of the players is never the same twice. We’ve played hundreds of rounds of Secret Hitler, and the metagame is still evolving in very exciting ways.
Why is Secret Hitler set in 1933 Germany? We believe that the theme and setting of a game work best when they help explain the story and mechanics.
Hitler and his allies spent years manipulating the levers of democracy, accumulating power in a snowball effect. He divided and intimidated his rivals. He used national crises to strengthen his own position. His followers were organized and brutal, and his rise was equally engineered and opportunistic. There were good men who didn’t understand how dangerous he was until it was too late, and there were bad men who wanted power for themselves but were outmaneuvered.
We set out to make a game to help us reflect on the ways that others – good, bad, indifferent – were complicit in Hitler’s rise to power. Our game doesn’t model the specifics of German parliamentary politics. Instead, we try to model the paranoia and distrust he exploited, the opportunism that his rivals failed to account for, and the disastrous temptation to solve systemic problems by giving more power to the “right people.”
Secret Hitler has a unique capacity to create intense, memorable play sessions. Frankly, none of us has ever playtested a game that gets this kind of a reaction.
At Gen Con this year, we were shocked to see demo sets of Secret Hitler sweep through an industry party full of game designers. By the end of the night, every single table was playing, with people jumping out of their seats to shout and and cheer at the end of each game.
We played Secret Hitler at San Diego Comic Con with Richard Stevens (creator of Diesel Sweeties) who monitored his heart rate on a Apple watch throughout the game. By the end, he was registering 121 BPM – that’s on the high end of what an astronaut will experience during a shuttle launch.
Here’s what some of our playtesters had to say about the game: