Critical Play: Secret Hitler

Our game DupliCITY initially took inspiration from Secret Hitler, a social mediation game that focuses heavily on the asymmetry of information and hidden identity. The game is set in post First World War Germany when the government was fragile alongside the rise of the Nazi Party. Players play as members of the congress and are divided into two groups, the Fascists and the Liberals. For both sides, their first objective is to pass as many laws that are labeled on their side as possible through congress. For the Fascists, they can also win by having Hitler, a special character among the Fascists, to be voted as chancellor after three Fascist laws have been passed.

Mechanics

Based on democratic congress, Secret Hitler’s core mechanics are discussion and voting under the theme of identity concealment. For every round, every player will rotate to be the president, who has to appoint a chancellor for that round based on player votes. The chancellor and president play a decisive role in which laws get passed as the president will first pick three laws from the pile and the chancellor will make the final decision. Each round starts with players discussing who should be the chancellor followed by a round of voting. All players, especially Hitler, tend to pretend to be a liberal so that they can be elected chancellor. For the Fascists, the game forces them to find each other secretly through subtle communication.

Fun

Secret Hitler promises the fantasy of having players go back in time and play as highly contentious factions and characters that are still relevant today. Being able to fulfill such a fantasy, as well as participating in a policy-making setting, could be exciting for some players. While playing, the two factions compete and try to outsmart each other. Winning the game can also bring the fun of competition as players outmaneuver each other.

As a board game, Secret Hitler provides a great variety of cards to add immersion and a sense of ritual to player actions. The liberal and fascist policies are labeled in bright blue and red while being placed on the center of the table. Players will also each get a voting card saying “yes” or “no” in German.

Secret Hitler’s cards

To add an extra sense of playfulness, player identity cards are drawn in animals to be less serious.

Player identity cards and faction card design, portraying a clear good and evil

Abuse

Given today’s political setting, Secret Hitler is meant to be played among friends who feel safe about playing in the fantasy setting. The game has made an effort to express its casualness by drawing the cards in a cartoonish style with animal characters. In addition, every player gets an equal vote when it comes to important decisions, and the president, arguably the most powerful character in the game, rotates every round to keep the dominant voices in check while adding more possibilities of strategy. From my playing experience, Secret Hitler has done a great job in facilitating lively discussions while providing the least constraints to what a player can say. My only catch is that because the terms are still relevant today, players, especially close friends, tend to make inferences based on their impressions of each other in real life, which is more or less an unintended consequence of the game.

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Tony Jiang

Tony Jiang

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