Werewolf is a game known by many names, but it always has the same core function: A group of people sit in a circle; someone can eliminate other players with a surreptitious gesture (I played sticking out my tongue); the victim has to drop dead; and everyone else goes on high alert to figure out who the killer is. The game goes by Mafia or Assassin or countless other branded names that tweak and add to this basic formula.
Secret Hitler is one such variation. Published this year by Goat Wolf & Cabbage (an outfit of designers Mike Boxleiter and Tommy Maranges and Cards Against Humanity’s Max Temkin), this tweak takes the form of the historical-yet-sadly-relevant concept of fascism. One player is assigned to play as Hitler and tries to pass fascist policies. Three other players are fascists who help Hitler rise to power. The rest, and majority, are liberals, who don’t want to pass fascist policies and are out to determine who Hitler and the fascists are. (The fascists know who Hitler is, but everyone else is in the dark.) Policies are randomly selected, and players take turns holding the positions of chancellor and president, stations that bestow the final pick on the “ja” or “nein” votes to pass a policy. This is a bluffing game that makes bluffing incredible fun, as every round of Secret Hitler inevitably devolves into accusations, rebuffs, sabotage, and lies, lies, lies.
The clever mechanics made the game addictive fun when I played an early version more than a year ago. Since then, the United States has seen the rise and election of Donald Trump, a man who’s given every indication of having a strong fascist bent. It gives Secret Hitler’s bare-bones demonstration of how a fascist passes their agenda and rises to power an eerie prescience, with the very simple rules standing in for the larger political climate. No matter how many players are in the game, there are more liberals than fascists, and yet out of the several times I played it, the scores were roughly even. Why is it so hard to weed out the fascists and halt their agenda? There were more people against Trump than supporting him—as evidenced by his having lost the popular vote—so why weren’t his opponents able to stop him? In the game, once five fascist policies are passed, the liberals lose, and it’s time to pack it up or play again. Unfortunately, the real-world consequences of a fascist agenda taking hold in the U.S. won’t be wiped away when the game is over.
Although Secret Hitler is currently out of stock on Amazon, it’s available for purchase on its website. For a cheaper version, the pieces and rulebook are available for free under a Creative Commons License. It’s worth dropping $35 for the real thing, though, as the game’s beautiful constructivist-inspired art deserves to live on high-quality card stock, and it comes with downright presidential name blocks for the chancellor and president. There’s also an online tabletop version.
Previously in the 2016 Odds And Ends series: