Stop the Train! Social Deduction on Kickstarter

Stop the Train Box Art

The problem with most social deduction games is getting players to invest in the experience. Stop the Train! solves this problem beautifully.

I enjoy Social Deduction games. They aren’t for everyone, though. Being forced to lie about your role/motives/whatever causes stress for some players, and this is understandable. A lot of players will play games that they don’t realise are social deduction games though, such as Dead of Winter.

Why do they do this? In my experience, it tends to be because the game gives them a framework to play in. Even without looking at player motives, the game has set goals that everyone has to overcome.

These games tend to come with a complication cost. I can’t imagine a game of Dead of Winter that goes less than two hours, with a heap of setup and tear down on top of that. Simpler games like One Night Werewolf are quick to play but have ways of winning too easily.

Step in Escape Plan! (they love their exclamation marks) that has bought what looks like the best of both worlds.

Stop the Train Components
It looks like a lot, but I am keen on the simplicity of the board setup

Introducing Stop the Train!

The premise is simple – you are on a train headed to Paris, and a Saboteur is trying to get it to crash into the Paris station. Your goal (unless you want it to crash) is to stop this from happening.

So gameplay sounds simple – see who wants the train to keep going faster, and throw them off the train. Simple, right?

Well, no. And this is why I bought up Dead of Winter. Each character also has their own goals. There is a speedster that wants to break the land speed record. The engineer wants to take a particular route. The Mi6 agent wants the saboteur alive for questioning, so doesn’t want them thrown from the train.

So unlike Werewolf where there are a bunch of ‘Wow. I’m here. Great.’ characters, everyone has their own goals to keep in mind. There is always a reason to play in the game, and the board gives everyone a tangible focus.

Stop the Train Passengers
Anyone that has played Social Deduction games will be familiar with the character types
Stop the Train Passengers 2
You can see where the conflicting goals work for and against you
Stop the Train Passengers 3
The mix of roles will make repeated gameplay interesting

OK. I’m listening.

The preview rules are up on the Kickstarter campaign, and it feels like a great game. There are multiple ‘outs’ for the saboteur as well, something that doesn’t always happen with these games.

What do I mean by outs? There are plenty of characters that will be ‘helping’ them as they try to fulfil their objectives. Also, even if you get thrown from the train, you can still win. The others still need to slow down the train, so it doesn’t crash.

The best part? Even a teaching game, where people will be taking time to learn the timings and flow, cant be more than 45 minutes.

I can’t see how the game works?

They have you covered. As well as having the rules available, there is a quick video showing some gameplay highlights on the campaign page.

So as you can see, there is plenty of confusion for the saboteur to work within. There are also mechanics like interventions to help players settle in their roles.

Are you backing it?

Yes. As I said, I love social deduction games. Add the semi-cooperative nature of the game, and this is a game that players like myself and Harls can have a great time.

When this article goes up, there will still be almost two days to jump in on the early bird specials as well. I can see a lot of fun with Stop the Train! on many game nights.

For more information and to check it out yourself, jump over to the campaign page here.

What about you? Are you excited for a new social deduction/semi cooperative game, or do you think there are enough already?

Let me know in the comments, or hit me up on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram!

Until next time,

JohnHQLD

Crossfire Review

Crossfire Cover Art
Crossfire Cover Art
Released 2017
Designer Emerson Matsuuchi
Publisher Plaid Hat Games (Website)
Players 5-10 (best around 8)
Playing Time 5 minutes
Category Social Deduction
Bluffing
BoardGameGeek View on BGG

How well do you know your friends? Social Deduction games can put this to the test!

Got a large group of people (10+) and want to play a game? Social deduction party games like Werewolf, Two Rooms and a Boom and Deception: Murder in Hong Kong are great.

If you don’t have quite that many people, games like The Resistance, Bang: The Dice Game and the One Night series are a lot of fun.

Only have 3-4 players? Coup, Saboteur and Love Letter are excellent choices as well.

But what is a social deduction game? Almost all of them involve hidden roles and bluffing mechanics. The goal is usually to determine who is a particular role or group. At the same time, some players work against you for their own purposes. This is where the bluffing comes in.

Almost all social deduction games start the same way – What do we do?

All of these games I mentioned share one underlying problem for new and experienced players alike. On the very first turn, what do you do? Who do you trust? In most of the games, only the ‘bad guys’ have information to work with, and everyone else is going in blind.

This makes social deduction games very stressful for some players. Being asked to instantly lie about what they are doing, also while learning a new game, destroys the experience for them. Most people that I see say they don’t like these sorts of games had that experience cemented right here.

There is also a problem, especially in the large group games of playtime. This can be remedied with experienced host players, but if you go out on the first round of a 20 player game of Werewolf, prepare to do something else for 2 hours!

One Night Ultimate Werewolf Box
One Night Ultimate Werewolf

Well, why does anyone play these games?

Because when done right, they are a lot of fun. I personally love new groups playing Werewolf and Bang The Dice Game because of social engagement.

But these games and situations aren’t for everyone. Being forced to talk to a group of strangers for two hours usually is my definition of torture.

However, I can host Werewolf for two hours for a group of complete strangers at the drop of a hat. I will play if I know the host is experienced almost anytime. I prefer Bang The Dice Game usually because I can also actively play and I don’t need as many people.

In today’s review, we have a look at Crossfire from Plaid Hat Games, that fixes a lot of these problems while creating a unique new problem.

Finally, the game! So what is Crossfire?

Crossfire is actually two games, which makes describing it hard. There is the crossfire mode, which is a reasonably standard team-based deduction game. Then there is Sniper mode, where one player is the Sniper, and everyone else argues who gets shot by the Sniper.

Talking to different people about Crossfire, I was surprised that people weren’t taught or told about both modes. This means people were arguing about the game they played and telling others they ‘played it wrong’.

The core of both games is very similar. There is a team that doesn’t want to be shot and a team that wants to shoot them. It’s not exactly high brow plot ūüôā

The two games play very differently, and that is where the confusion in describing the game can come from. So first, I am going to talk about the game in a general sense, then get into the different game modes.

Crossfire is set in the Specter Ops universe

What does this mean for the game? Apart from influencing the art style, nothing. Both games were designed by Emerson Matsuuchi, but you don’t need to know one to play the other.

This is similar to how The Resistance and Coup are both set in the Dystopian Universe. The art style and some terms are the same, but playing the other game doesn’t give you an advantage.

Specter Ops Broken Covenant Box Art

What do you get in the box?

You get the rule book, a deck of cards and a timer. That’s it. One of the great things about Crossfire is that you don’t need a lot of components.

One thing I will always do in hidden information games whenever possible is sleeving my cards. Most of the time, if you choose to sleeve for a bit of extra protection, it’s a personal choice. But if you need to hide information, sleeving to me is compulsory.

Not sleeving cards means that during play, cards will become ‘marked’. It’s one of the reasons I rarely play Skull with my own copy. Each card is unique, but I played Skull so often at previous game nights that I knew most of the marks on the skulls, giving me an unfair advantage.

Crossfire Components
There isn't much to show. It's a deck of cards and a timer. But it's so much fun!

While card stock has improved, I wish in small games like these sleeves were included.

Crossfire Mode

There are two central teams, the Blue team and Red team. The blue team has a VIP that needs to be protected by agents, and the red team has Assassins that want to shoot the VIP.

There are also other roles for extra players and advanced play. These all have their Crossfire mode victory conditions on the card. You can have Bystanders that mustn’t be harmed or Decoys that present themselves as VIPs.

Advanced cards are roles like that the Enforcer that acts as an agent, but get to shoot two times per round. Another example is the Bodyguard that protects the person they aim at rather than killing them.

Crossfire Advanced Roles
Some of the extra roles you get in the box

Setup – the solution and new problem

Depending on the number of players, a dealer shuffles a predetermined number of cards and deals one to each player. Everyone looks at their cards, but the setup isn’t finished yet.

Generally in a social deduction game, the play devolves into no one talking about their role and wondering how to get information. Crossfire handles this with the second setup step.

Crossfire Setup Rules
It sounds confusing, but works well. These pages should have a couple of reads though.

Starting with the dealer, they take the cards to their left and right, shuffle them and redeal them face down. Those three players look at their new cards, and going clockwise the player three positions from the dealer repeats the process. This happens until everyone has had their cards shuffled and seen a selection of those results.

This turns setup into multiple games of find the lady/three-card monte. This gives the players something to work with, as most players have seen their first card, and it’s possible to track where roles have gone.

It does make explaining the game to new gamers a little confusing, as there are a lot of mechanics to take in at once. I usually handle this with a dummy round, and if people still have trouble do another dummy setup face up.

This isn’t a perfect solution, though. I have still had players get stumped because as they focus on the perfect information rather than following the theory.

Playing Crossfire Mode

Here is where the timer comes in. The table now has three minutes to work out who is the VIP and who are Assassins. The Agents need to find out who the Assassins are to shoot them, and the Assassins want to kill the VIP.

During this stage, players can turn their card in the direction of who they claim to be. Don’t worry, one of these positions is undeclared – you don’t have to start bluffing immediately.

Agents then reveal their cards and shoot their targets. People that have been shot put their hands down and show their cards.

The VIP then shows their card, and if someone is still pointing to them, they are shot.

Not counting special win conditions on individual cards, that’s it. Five minutes, and the game is done. No player elimination, no real downtime, just quick rounds and everyone is ready for a quick reset if you want to play again.

Crossfire Declarations
The Agent did well, getting the Assassin with their one shot

This adds an amount of tension to the game. Why would someone undeclared by targeting an agent? Why is that Agent I trusted knowing I was the VIP pointing at me?

Then the dealer reads a set script. It boils down to this. Only Agents and Assassins can shoot (denoted by a pistol on their card), and everyone else puts their hands down.

Bystanders don’t want to be shot, nor does the VIP. Assassins tend to hide as Bystanders, Agents or Undeclared. This is where the number of roles comes into play. If you are playing a 7 person game, everyone knows for example, that there is only one bystander. If there are 2 being declared, someone is lying. Here are the bluffing and deduction parts of the game.

Once the three minutes are up, everyone points to their target simultaneously. One go – don’t go changing targets when the hands are up!

Wrong Role Counts
2 VIPs, 3 Agents and a Bystander. I don't think so.

Playing Sniper Mode

Sniper mode is almost the same, except there is one sniper that is the only one that shoots.

Setup is very similar to Crossfire mode. According to the rules, the Sniper is pre-selected and given their role face up. If no one wants to be the Sniper (or everyone does), I usually do the pick a dealer and include the Sniper in the shuffle. When everyone has that first look, the Sniper reveals themselves.

Then you do the find the lady information setup, except the Sniper is excluded from this. The Sniper is then given some shot cards equal to the number of assassins, and everyone tries to work out the Assassins in three minutes.

Once the time is up, the Sniper puts a shot card in front of their targets. When all shots are ‘fired’, people targeted reveal their cards. If a Bystander or the VIP is shot, red team wins. If all of the Assassins are shot, blue team wins.

Crossfire Sniper So Close
The Sniper took out one Assassin! But also a Bystander. Instant loss.

If neither team has won at this point, the surviving Assasins then try and shoot the VIP. They point at the player they believe to be the VIP, and those players reveal their cards. If the Assassins kill the VIP without shooting a bystander, they win. If they hit a Bystander or missed the VIP, the Blue team wins.

Wait, so multiple people can win?

Yes. Because this is a ‘team’ based game, conditions tend to lean towards team victory conditions. When you start using some of the advanced roles, this can get a little messy. When starting to play games like this, stick with the primary characters to keep it simple.

Overall Thoughts

Crossfire is a great Social Deduction game, as long as you know what you are getting into. The setup can be confusing, and while the rules try to make the process clear, I have seen lots of groups make mistakes. Getting this setup wrong will ruin the play.

I also really like the inclusion of the Sniper mode. If you have someone with a lot of experience as the Sniper with people learning, this can be an excellent tutorial mode. Letting new players watch the higher level play with little of the Win/Lose pressure is a great idea.

My number one complaint with Crossfire is shared by almost all of these games – you need at least five players. This makes for a fun game, but means it can’t get to the table very often under normal circumstances.

Overall
7.5/10
7.5/10

Pros

  • Quick game play
  • No player elimination
  • Two great game modes

Cons

  • Game setup is a lot of shuffling
  • Player count too high for an anytime game
  • As a genre, Social Deduction isn’t for everyone

Until next time,

JohnHQLD

Human Punishment expansion Project: Hell Gate Live on Kickstarter

Human Punishment Project Hell Gate Cover Art

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.

To me, a social deduction game is when you are trying to divine a players team or role.  Games like Werewolf (Ultimate or One Night) or The Resistance are good examples of this.

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.

The Resistance Third Edition Cover Art
The Resistance earned its place in Social Deduction history - but there are other games as well!

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 Рa 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!

Human Punishment Core Game
Human Punishment - at the time, I passed but it looked interesting. Image from Project Hell Gate Kickstarter Page.

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 Рgrounds for buying if you enjoy the base game.

But it also adds Boss fights Рand 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.

Human Punishment Standard Base and Expansion
The Standard Edition Base game and Project Hell Gate Expansion. Image from Project Hell Gate Kickstarter Page.

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,

JohnHQLD

Watching the Blood on the Clocktower

Blood on the Clocktower Box Art

**QUICK UPDATE: Blood on the Clocktower’s Kickstarter is now live – go check it out!

I’m just a villager.¬† Wait wrong game!

Social Deduction and Hidden Role games are great to play with a wide range of different people.  Get a dozen or so people together, and watch the shenanigans commence!

The most common examples are Ultimate Werewolf (or the Werewolves of Millers Hollow!) and Mafia, and while they are great to play they share some fundamental problems.

So common problems with these types of games:

  1. Player Elimination – these games can go for over an hour, so if you are the first one out you are going to be really bored for a while.
  2. Little initial information – the first round is normally along the lines of “Hey, you’re wearing a red shirt.¬† We vote to eliminate you!”.¬† It takes a few rounds to start getting some real information, so the first few people eliminated are out for no real reason.¬† This can put people off playing.
  3. It’s a commitment to play – These types of games tend to not allow people to join later or leave if required as it can harm ‘the balance’.¬† Even if you do just throw someone in, they tend to be the next victim just because they can be which isn’t fun.

So all this in mind, why play these games?  Because once you are in the game, they really are a lot of fun.  But you have to be into the game.  If you are in a group that knows the negatives, having people prepared to sit or play filler games like Love Letter means no one is really put out.  Also, if you do play as an end of the night game, eliminated players can leave without guilt if they so choose.

Newer games like WitchHunt and Two Rooms and a Boom have come a long way in trying to address such issues.  But today I am interested in Blood on the Clocktower, a game by Steven Medway and his Sydney Australian Based team currently being demoed at Origins!

So what makes me so excited about Blood on the Clocktower?

  1. No player elimination – even when you ‘die’, you are still in the game.¬† And the dead break ties!
  2. Drop in mechanics cooked in – someone gets stuck in traffic, or a random sees you playing and asks what you are doing?¬† No problem!¬† Each new player is a Traveller with fixed powers, but if they are ‘good’ or ‘bad’ is to be determined.
  3. No role reveal Рexperience werewolf players, for example, have an idea of how many werewolves are in a game based on player numbers.  When someone is eliminated and confirms their role, the card counter players get more and more of an advantage while playing.  Not anymore!
  4. Almost all players can bluff that they are someone else – everyone has a ‘cheat sheet’ of all roles, so you can refer to the rules at any time instead of having to try and memorise a bunch of roles immediately.
  5. Drunk and Poison mechanics – I already play this way a little bit when moderating Werewolf, but it’s great to see it actually in the ruleset.¬† Basically, if you are drunk or poisoned, the moderator can lie to you.¬† This allows the group to have fun poisoning their teammates (or giving them drinks to get them drunk), and the moderator then has the power to lie to those players.¬† Personally, I know a few players I will be buying drinks for, just to add to the realism of course ūüėÄ
Blood on the Clocktower Contents
The game definitely does a great job of setting the mood. And simple components!
Blood on the Clocktower Townsfolk
Some of the 'good' townsfolk
Blood on the Clocktower Demons
Some Demons from Blood on the Clocktower, or the 'evil' team

So if you have played Werewolf or Mafia type games, you basically already know the basics of how to play the first game Trouble Brewing.  But here is a video of the game being played and their reactions, which really sells the game more than my words ever could.

Wait you said first game?  What are you talking about John?

There will be multiple editions or essentially expansions¬†for the game, with Trouble Brewing as seen in the video being the first or three planned editions.¬† The expansion titles are ‘Sex and Violence’ and ‘Bad Moon Rising’, so they have my pun vote at the very least!

Altogether, the three titles will give players around 90 characters to play, so changing up games will not be an issue.¬† And all three editions will be available¬†when the game is released on Kickstarter!¬† The downside is the Kickstarter looks like it won’t be running until December, so patience will be required.

Or will it?

If you check out the Blood on the Clocktower website, there are regular game sessions in Sydney that you can play now!  These sessions are in Surrey Hills and run on the first and third Thursday of the month.  Check out their Facebook page for more information if you would like to attend.

I may see a Thursday night flight down to Sydney one long weekend in the near future…

Be sure that I will be posting more about Blood on the Clocktower over the next few months, including when the Kickstarter is available.

Until next time,

JohnHQLD