Why do I hear ‘Ugh, another Social Deduction game?’ 10 times more than ‘Really? Another Euro?’
Social deduction games are a bit of a mixed bag. It is also a term that is in my opinion overused to describe a lot of games.
Games like Mysterium are not Social Deduction to me. Everyone knows each others role. Yes, there is deduction involved, but it’s not the same as playing a role and having others try and work out what you are doing.
It’s like when people say The Simpson’s is for kids because it’s animated – look deeper and you will see something different to what you originally assumed.
This puts Social Deduction games in a bit of a weird position. While many share similarities in play just as Werewolf and The Resistance, there are many that have their own unique twists to the genre such as Good Cop, Bad Cop and Bang!.
It surprises just how many people hear the words Social Deduction and just tune out to the actual game in front of them. And I don’t mean just players in this criticism.
I have seen many reviewers wave off a game as ‘another social deduction game’ without even mentioning any of the unique features of those games.
But bite a player once – especially a new player – and that can destroy a genre for them. It’s just human nature.
A few years ago The Resistance was all the rage with my games group, and Avalon took hold because of the extra roles over the original.
After a while, I tried to introduce new rules with the Hidden Agenda and Hostile Intent expansions and was met with resistance (no pun intended). Learning new rules to a game people already knew was ‘too hard’, but because Avalon looked like a different game learning the new rules was easier to accept.
People can just be like that – they have one learned opinion, and getting them to look at something differently without judging based on assumptions can be a blind spot.
Enter Human Punishment – Social Deduction 2.0
So in 2017 Godot Games launched a Kickstarter for a game called Human Punishment. At the time, I didn’t look too closely for a couple of reasons.
Firstly, I was on the edge of ‘coming back’ to Kickstarter after a bit of a hiatus.
Secondly, the basic gameplay resembled Good Cop, Bad Cop – a game I was having a lot of trouble getting to the table. But it also included role elements of games like Bang! meaning you had multiple layers.
Human Punishment looked really interesting, and the art was amazing, but it wasn’t enough to push me over the edge for backing it.
A very quick (and oversimplified) synopsis is you are dealt an ID and 2 loyalty cards at the beginning of each game. If you have more Human (blue) cards, you are a human player trying to wipe out the Machines and Outlaws. If you have more Machine (red) cards, wipe out the humans. If you are an Outlaw (grey), be the last player standing.
Each turn, you play a single action that will either give you information on another players loyalties or get you closer to picking up a weapon to help you eliminate another player.
You have to be careful about eliminating other players though. You don’t know for certain what team anyone else is on, you only know that someone is going to eliminate you eventually!
I also love that unlike Werewolf, there is no moderator. If you are eliminated, you will get a snapshot of the game state as everyone secretly tells you where their loyalties are.
So this went into the ‘keep an eye out for, but not this time’ Kickstarter pile, and that was that. Or so I thought.
Project: Hell Gate, the expansion for Human Punishment is currently on Kickstarter, and I have been having a look. On its own, the expansion adds new scenarios, roles and abilities – grounds for buying if you enjoy the base game.
But it also adds Boss fights – and from the looks of it, not just for the sake of it. Thematically the situation has gotten dire for the human side, and in desperation, they activate an old weapon known only as Hell Gate.
They were losing, what did they have to lose?
As you can see from the video, quite the impression has been made on many players. I already enjoy Good Cop, Bad Cop and I absolutely love Bang! the Dice Game, so a game that combines the best of both worlds – why wouldn’t I be in?
Multiple roles, changing game states, betrayal both intentional and incidental – these elements can make an amazing social night with the right group of players.
And that is another advantage of Human Punishment. The minimum number of players you need is 4, with 5-6 being the opening sweet spot from all reports.
I know from experience that 5 players are a strange number for games nights. It’s not quite enough to split into two groups, but not enough for bigger games. I have games for this player count, but they tend to be filler or longer involved affairs – not always great for games night.
Yes, you can play The Resistance with 5 players, as well as a number of Social Deduction games. But bottom line, most of these games do not start to shine without 8 to 10 people, so while they are options they aren’t high on my list.
So I have backed the core game and the Project: Hell Gate expansion, and I am looking forward to playing it myself later this year.
As usual, there is a catch. There is a lot to weigh up if you should back Human Punishment. If you are light on social deduction games, this looks like it will be a good fit for many groups. The theme isn’t super original, but for this type of game that works in its favour – let your players build a story as they play. You don’t have to ‘sell’ a world, almost everyone knows the Man vs Machine mythos.
There are a lot of roles and programs that will add complexity to the game, and if this is your first time running such a game you will want to ignore a lot of the extra items (like the fourth and fifth ‘factions’).
This extra functionality is partially why I haven’t gone into fine detail talking about this project. The parts that truly attract me aren’t for first time players, but the base game is a very strong foundation to build on. This means you will be able to play and keep adding elements to Human Punishment for many games to come.
If you are interested, The Rules Girl from The Dice Tower did a quick and concise 3-minute rules explanation for the original Kickstarter campaign:
While I think only certain types of people will back Human Punishment for whatever reason, I think the majority of people would enjoy playing it.
On that basis, if any of what I have described has piqued your interest then check out the Kickstarter Project and let me know what you think!
Until next time,