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Deception: Murder in Hong Kong Board Game Review

WBG Score: 8

Player Count:4-12

You’ll like this if you like: Night of the Ninja, Werewolf

Published by: Grey Fox Games

Designed by: Tobey Ho

By Steve Godfrey

If you live in the UK and are well versed in home grown detective shows then you’ll assume that a small town, village or island are probably best avoided due to the high crime rates which, weirdly enough never seem to affect their tourism stats! Anyway, if you’ve ever felt like you want to join a long line of quirky detectives that get everyone in a room together to solve a crime which is increasingly ludicrous, ridiculously elaborate for a normal person to have come up with on the spot and, let be honest, going to be really difficult to make any of the “evidence” stick in court, then Deception: Murder in Hong Kong may just help scratch that itch.

Scene of the Crime

Each player will get a badge token, four “means of murder” cards and four “key evidence” cards which they display in front of themselves in sight of the whole table. Then give each player a secret role. The player who received the forensic scientist role reveals their role and who’ll be running the game. They then lay out the cause of death tile, a randomly selected “location of death” tile and then four random scene tiles. All these tiles are made up of six words each relating to the subject of the tile. For example “weather” or “duration of crime”.

Everyone will close their eyes and the forensic scientist or FS as I’ll now call them because it’s easier to type!, will call for the murderer and the accomplice, if being used, to open their eyes. The murderer will then point to one means of murder card in front of them and one evidence card, they’ll then close their eyes. If the witness is in the game they open their eyes and the FS will reveal who the murderer and the accomplice are.

The FS will then place one bullet token onto a word on each of the tiles that best points to the cards that the murderer chose. At this point the group can start a discussion as to who they think the murderer may be based on the clues given. After a brief period, the discussion will stop and each player will have 30 uninterrupted seconds to give their pitch on who they think the murderer is. After every player has been. The next round begins. The FS will draw a new tile and replace an existing tile with it and place a bullet on a new word. This will go on until the end of round three. At any point a player can try and solve the crime by holding their badge up and stating “let me solve the crime” (this is also the only way you can interrupt a players pitch) If they guess correctly then the game is over. If one thing they said was wrong then the game carries on. They hand in their badge and can no longer make a guess but they are still in the game and play as normal. If, after round three no one has guessed the murderer then they and their accomplice win. If the Witness is in the game and the murderer and their cards have been correctly guessed then they have one last chance at freedom and victory. If the murderer can correctly guess who the witness is, then the witness mysteriously fails to turn up to court that day and the murderer, sorry, wrongly accused citizen goes free.

Gather everyone in a room together, I want to show off.

I love a good social deduction game, especially with the right, fun group. But there are two things that I find can be a bit of a barrier when it comes to new players to the game and both of these are things that I think Deception does a really good job at attempting to mitigate.

First, being a new player and having to face that panic inducing moment when you realise you’re the murderer/traitor etc and realising that you can’t ask the question “so how does the murderer win again?” for fear of rousing suspicion can be pretty stress inducing. Well here you don’t necessarily need to be good at lying, you just need to know how to weigh up the evidence in front of you and make a convincing argument for someone else. It’s a mechanism that uses a different skill set and one that I think more people will be comfortable with.

You could even bluff people and admit that, yes they do make a good case and that you could be the murderer. It’s a classic case of “yes, but….” At any point you could also even accuse someone else and throw people off that way.

This gets better with the accomplice in the game because they’ll be there backing you up with your arguments.

Second is the random accusations. There’s nothing worse than in games like Werewolf, where someone is calling you out as a the werewolf purely because you screwed them over in another game, or because you were the werewolf that one time or just because she’s your sister and god forbid you can ever actually be civil to one another in a game like this…..ahem. Needless to say we don’t get a lot of One Night Werewolf plays in our house these days. So, yes, you can still get that here, however, since this is pretty much evidence based, those types of accusations don’t usually stick unless the cards and the clues line up against you. But more often than not there’s going to be an equally good case to be made for someone else as well. Again this takes the pressure off of anyone who doesn’t like lying.

Both of these things could easily bring some bad feelings to some social deduction games but I love the way that Deception has tried to navigate around this. I don’t know if this was deliberate or just a happy accident but either way I’ll take it as a win.

A likely story!

I love how this game takes social deduction and throws in some twists that elevate it beyond that. The idea that you have one player that has perfect information but has limited communication is brilliant but the way they communicate is what really opens up the game. Just having a few vague words to go on really lets players tell a story and be creative when they're making connections. The mix of sometimes dark and sometimes bizarre cards really add to that. Have you ever thought about how you could kill someone with a games console? If you answered yes then don’t be surprised if I decline your invitations to come and play PlayStation with you! But those bizarre stories you start to weave together, just from a few generic words is one of the things that really make this game stand out. But not only for everyone trying to solve this thing, but for the forensic scientist as well. You now get to sit there and be entertained by your friends as they conjure more and more ridiculous theories of how this thing went down. How can you not be entertained by the idea of a jilted lover being murdered in the pub by having been administered poison by a cat (if any showrunners from Death in Paradise are reading this, I am available) It could easily be frustrating if the words you have don’t really align with any of the two cards, but because things tend to escalate you can't help but sit back and enjoy the ride. The only thing you need to remember is to not get too wrapped up and keep the game moving.

As a starter game (or lower player counts) it tells you to only use the Forensic scientist, murderer and the investigators and that’s probably good advice. However, I would say to try and get the witness and the accomplice into the mix as soon as possible. They’re not difficult roles to integrate and they really make the game, especially at larger player counts and it tips the balance back to more of an equal footing for the murderer. The accomplice provides some much needed back up especially with bigger numbers and with a group which are leaning heavily to one player, It may be some much needed relief. The witness brings a much needed second win condition. Being the murderer could easily feel like you’re in a no win situation if the clues and the cards align against you. Having the witness not only gives you a way to sneak victory, but also gives you your own deduction game to play on the side.

You’re Nicked.

Like similar games, Deception: Murder in Hong Kong is group dependent. If you get a group that aren’t really willing to take this in their stride then it could easily fall flat. Also, you do need a forensic scientist who can control the game. If you let the discussion go on for too long then the game can run for longer than it needs to. If I’ve got new players in a game then I’ll volunteer myself as the FS or see if anyone wants to take the role. Since we tend to play this at least twice in a session then I’ll just shuffle it in for the second game. The highest player count I’ve had for this is 10 players and if the game is under control then it still moves along at a good pace. Probably about half an hour per game at that player count.

Deception has been around for nine years at the time of writing this and it still holds up as one of the great social deduction games for me. If you want a social deduction game that relieves pressure for new gamers, lets you tell stories and find out ways that your friends are secretly plotting to murder you, then this is the game you need.

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