Best Social Deduction Board Games

In social deduction board games, everyone has a role--often kept secret--and players gather information throughout the game to figure out who's who. Players or teams are often pitted against each other to achieve a common or individual goal, and this goal helps them win the game. Logic, bluffing, strategy and often some kind of special ability or skill help you along the road--but if logic and strategy aren't your strong suit, don't worry! A little bluffing (and throwing your friends under the bus) can go a long way. There truly is something for everyone of every age in this genre, and it's a great one to turn to for big groups, parties and even ice breakers. We outlined our top 10 social deduction board games below, and we chose them based on their engagement, creativity, replayability, innovation and sheer amount of fun. These just scratch the surface, though. There are many more out there, just waiting for you to play them, too!

Best Social Deduction Board Games Comparison Table

(Click the Thumbnail Image to Jump to the Review)

Image

Game 

Players

Time

Price

Our Rating

The Resistance Avalon Review

5-10

30 mins.

$

Bang The Dice Game

3-8

15 mins.

$

5-10

45 mins.

$$

Deception board game review

4-12

20 mins.

$$

2-6

15 mins.

$

2-12

30 mins.

$

2-13

30 mins.

$$

2-5

100 mins.

$$$

2-9

20-40 mins.

$

2-4

20 mins.

$

Our Rating:

The Resistance Avalon Review

We love Avalon. In fact, we love it so much, we play it nearly every time the six of us are together. It's a fantastic small group game for 5-10 players and takes only about 30 minutes (although, for us, we spend so much time yelling over each other and arguing, games can last up to an hour). Set in the time of Arthur, everyone is given a secret role of good or evil, and some have special powers. 

Over five quests (rounds), good and evil battle to win the quests. Evil wins if it completes (fails) three quests, and good wins if it completes (passes) three quests.

Avalon is quite simple in design, but notsomuch in execution. Players take turns being the leader and selecting people to go on quests. Everyone has a say in whether those people actually go on quests. However, if the selection process fails three times, that quest becomes a win for evil.

Here's where the real deduction begins. Once on a quest, the questing players secretly vote to pass or fail the mission. Good always votes to pass, but evil can vote to pass or fail. Choose wisely, because if you're on a mission with another evil, you have to have your wits about you to ensure you both don't give yourselves away. You want to be sent on missions again by voting pass while still failing missions along the way, so you need to decide when to pass and fail. 

We love Avalon because of its simplicity and its purity in deduction. You can change up the game by selecting different roles and by using The Lady of the Lake card, but the game's roots stay the same. Avalon always presents a challenge and it always brings fun to the table. Our favourite part is casting suspicion onto our friends, and watching their game unravel. With little to go on but each other's word, talking is key to deducing who's who. Be careful, though! While some good knows evil and evil knows evil, you run the risk of exposing your role--and good losing Merlin if he is found and assassinated.

If you're looking for a social deduction game you can play over and over, a game you can use to introduce people to the genre, a game that's easy to learn, or even a filler game, Avalon is a great choice. There's so much good about this game, and for us, it's one of the best learning games, which is why it tops our best social deduction games.

Our Rating:

Bang The Dice Game

Three words: SO MUCH FUN. We know a lot of people don't enjoy the original Bang!, and we feel the dice version is a vast improvement. In the wild west, outlaws, renegades, deputies and a sheriff are fighting to keep order in their town. Only the sheriff is revealed, while any deputies, outlaws and renegades are kept secret, left for everyone to deduce who's restoring order and who's creating chaos. Each player gets a role and a character. The character is a fun wild west card that defines how many life points and what special abilities you have. With the dice and the extra character abilities (which can seriously alter outcomes), Bang! The Dice Game is a little more complex than Avalon (although still fairly simple to learn and play).

On their turn, players roll five dice with maximum two re-rolls. Each die is beneficial or harmful to you or other players. Some hurt other players, some hurt you, some hurt is immediate while some may be postponed or gotten rid of. Some die can even help you or other players. If you're a deputy or sheriff, you're a team and you're trying to kill the renegades and outlaws. If you're an outlaw, you work with other outlaws to kill everyone else including renegades. And if you're a renegade, you work to kill everyone else including other renegades.

The trick, and where social deduction plays in: you only know who the sheriff is. People can die quite quickly in this game, so it's important to strategically help and hurt other players in order to survive and not give yourself away. Sometimes that means as a deputy, you hurt your sheriff. Sometimes as an outlaw, you help who you think is a deputy. The winner depends on who survived and who died, so it's not a cut and dry outcome. It's a clever game, and with the roles and characters, you're not often the same person with the same ability twice. There's a lot more player engagement in this game, although a lot more chance as well with the dice rolls. Bang! The Dice Game can be played several times in a row without getting stale, and even if you're killed off, you share your role and still contribute to the chaos of deducing who wants who dead. It's a quick, light and fun game, and is a great intro to social deduction for adults and kids alike.

Our Rating:

Secret Hitler is designed for an older audience (17+) and is a longer social deduction game (about 45 minutes). You'll need at least five players for it, but it's a lot of fun, and it really keeps your brain engaged throughout the game. The group is divided secretly into fascists and liberals (there are always more liberals), and one Hitler. Each team is working towards securing their team's government via a tracking board to win the game. While the fascists know Hitler, Hitler (usually) doesn't know them, and the liberals are completely in the dark. 

Similar to Avalon, each round consists of selecting, talking, voting and success or failure. To start, a President is randomly selected, and thereafter, the outgoing President selects another President to begin the next round. The current President nominates someone else to be Chancellor and everyone, including nominated players, votes Ja! or Nein (yes or no, to you non-German speaking folk) to keep this current government. If the vote fails, the nominee President moves clockwise to the next player. Too many fails in a row throws the government into upheaval. If the vote succeeds, the President pulls three policy cards from a deck. Cards are either fascist or liberal policies, and they're kept secret from the group. The President discards one card, and passes the remaining two to the Chancellor who selects one card and reveals it to enact that policy. Each fascist or liberal policy furthers its party's goal to seizing power.

There are more fascist policy cards than liberal, and as the cards are selected in secret, nobody truly knows if the Chancellor or President selected those policies out of desire or lack of choice. We love this part. The social deduction is tough and ongoing. Maybe both leaders are on the same team with a different agenda, but don't know it. Maybe the President is trying to throw the Chancellor under the bus. Maybe all three cards were fascist policies. As everyone lies, there is SO MUCH ARGUING. Sometimes the President and Chancellor even argue about what cards they had (we can't trust anything Ryan says in either of these roles!). It's complete chaos, and it's fantastic. The absolute best part? As the fascist policies are enacted, a specific power comes into play, including the President viewing another player's party (fascist or liberal) and assassinating other players. These powers are huge, and only for fascist policies, so even the liberals want to enact these! It creates difficulties for everyone, as you want to stay true to your party, you want to win, and you don't want to get caught!

We love the ease of learning Secret Hitler coupled with its complexities and special abilities that make this game such a fun brainteaser. It isn't always easy to win. Liberals need five policies enacted, while fascists need six or Hitler nominated as Chancellor after three fascist policies. There's a lot happening, but not so much that your brain is mush after one play (ahem, Agricola). This is a great group game, and you don't need to know your group to play because you never know who's lying. If you want a fun, engaging social deduction game with a bit more depth or length than Avalon, Secret Hitler is it. (P.S. If you don't want to wait for its reprint, you can print it yourself on their website. Win!)

Deception board game review


This is a very cool and creative game. We love the blend of mystery and whodunnit with role play and social deduction. (See Charlene's review.) It's a quick game, usually lasting only 20 minutes, and plays with as few as four and as many as 12. A murder was committed, and as investigators, you must work together to find the means and clue left by the murderer in your group. At the start of the game, everyone is dealt face-up four means and four clue cards, and a secret identity (except for the forensic scientist, known to everyone). The murderer reveals himself secretly to the forensic scientist and identifies a means and clue card in his hand. It is then up to the forensic scientist to lead the investigators over three rounds to find these cards.

During each round, the forensic scientist lays six tiles face-up that have lists of random items that can be helpful or useless. The scientist then places one bullet on an item from each tile that he thinks will help his investigators solve the crime. After the forensic scientist is done, every player has about 30 seconds to share their opinion and deductions--no exceptions, so the murderer best be prepared with a good story! If anyone thinks they know the means and clue, they get one guess. If they're wrong, they can still share their opinions, but they no longer get to guess again. If nobody gets both clue and means right after three rounds, the murderer wins.

The best twist about this game is the forensic scientist isn't allowed to talk. At all. For blabbermouths like Whitney, it's extremely difficult not to nod, squeak, wriggle eyebrows or make any indication that the investigators are on the right or wrong track. We love this additional complexity, and we also love that everyone gets time to talk uninterrupted. Quieter players can often be overshadowed in social deduction games, and Deception: Murder in Hong Kong ensures this doesn't happen. It's a great game that gives everyone equal footing and equal opportunity to participate. Because there are so many hint tiles for the forensic scientist and so many clues and means cards, every game is different and a lot of fun. Even though the theme is more mature, it's a great game for families and friends alike.

5. Coup

Our Rating:

Rounding out our top five social deduction games, Coup is practically the definition of social deduction. It's a mini game consisting only of cards and coins, and it can be played in 15 minutes or less. Everyone gets two secret role cards, a few dollars, and a random player goes first. Your purpose is to be the last one standing by either paying to assassinate other players, collecting enough coins (by taking from the bank or stealing from players) to call a coup on someone else, or by flying under the radar until everyone else is dead. Each role has different powers from stealing other players' money, taking extra cash from the bank, assassinating or blocking assassinations, trading roles, and more. Each role has a counteraction, and you can counter any action on any turn--it doesn't have to affect you, or even be your turn! Strategic kindness can pay off for you in the long run. This is probably our favourite part. It's infuriating to have someone destroy your strategy and reveal your intent, especially when it doesn't affect them, but it's so satisfying to be the one to destroy someone else's strategy and reveal their intent. 

Coup is a light and fun game, and it's not intimidating to people new to board games. It's a perfect introduction game, easy to teach and can be learned in five minutes. Its complexity lies in the actions and counteractions of each role, but even that is easy with the reference card each player has. Despite its simplicity, Coup's social deduction aspect is challenging for vets and fun enough to play several games in a row. You can play easily with kids and adults alike, and is the perfect gateway to the more complex games on our best social deduction board games list.

Our Rating:

Saboteur 2 is a bit of an oddball in the social deduction world. It's partially a bluffing game, partially a cooperative game and partially a social deduction game. It's also more complex and has more happening than its mother, Saboteur (which you'll need to play the expansion). If you've played the original but not the sequel, trust us and don't judge Saboteur 2 without first playing it.

Over three rounds, your aim is to collect as much gold as possible while sabotaging your fellow players. Every round, every player gets a secret role, and it isn't necessarily the same each time. There are teams and independent roles, and each has a different aim to collect the gold. A round begins with three goal cards placed face-down, seven spaces from the face-up start card. Of the three goal cards, only one shows a gold nugget which, when reached, signals the round end. Everyone works semi-cooperatively to create a path from the start to a goal card. On your turn, you choose one of four actions to take: exchanging cards, flipping and placing a path card, playing an action card or discarding two cards to remove a card in front of you.

Action cards include thieving, stopping theft, jailing other players (preventing them from playing and potentially preventing them from getting any gold), freeing from jail, swapping hands, peeking at other players' cards, and even changing roles. As you can tell, getting to the gold isn't an easy or simple excursion--and even when you do arrive, there's the potential that you or your team may not get to collect, depending on the cards played!

We really enjoy this game. We're big on bluffing and secrecy and casting suspicion, and all of these elements come into play in Saboteur 2. It creates some havoc and a lot of discussion, and many side-eye stares. More, with its play over three rounds and with all the different roles, each round is a challenge and your strategy must change every time. Nobody knows who their teammates are, and even if someone seems to work with you, their aims may be different, and you may lose in the end. Saboteur 2 isn't overly complicated to learn or play, but it's always a lot of fun, and it's always different because of the cards available to play. This is a great filler game and great with small and large groups alike.

Our Rating:

Mascarade is a fun and brain-twisting social deduction game. Its rules, actions and goals are simple, but of course, winning the game is not. Everyone is dealt a role and six coins, with the aim to be the first to collect 13 coins. Roles are laid face up, players get to look and memorize everyone's role, and then the cards are flipped face-down. On your turn, you choose one of three actions: perform the special ability associated with your (supposed) role, take someone else's role card and switch it with yours (or pretend to!), or look at your role.

If you want to take your role's special ability, you announce who you are (judge, king, fool, etc.) and then every player in clockwise order either says nothing or argues that they are that role. When everyone has had their opportunity, every player who said they are also that role flips their card. Any player who isn't that role pays a fine of one gold coin, and the player who is that role gets the ability--whether or not it's their turn. Abilities run the gamut from looking at other players' roles, stealing money and switching other players' roles to collecting all fines, collecting gold coins and swapping gold coin piles.

It's a hectic game and while there isn't a lot of complexity, there is a lot happening and it's enjoyable for players of all ages. With so many characters, it can be almost impossible at times to keep track. However, if you like secrecy and bluffing, trademarks of social deduction, Mascarade is right up your alley. It's more difficult as more players are involved, but it's also more chaotic fun. Games are usually quick so you can play a few in succession, and because there is so much role-swapping and player engagement, you'll hardly have time to be bored--all reasons why Mascarade is one of our top social deduction board games.

Our Rating:

This is a very cool game, but it's also quite lengthy and complex. If you have some time to dedicate, Dead of Winter is a good investment and a good exercise for your brain. It's a semi-cooperative, semi-social deduction board game. As a colony, you and your friends are trying to survive after a zombie apocalypse, but as a leader, you're also in charge of a group of survivors with your own secret objective. You only win if you complete your secret objective, and the game ends if the colony objective is complete, if morale reaches zero or if the rounds are over. What's more, one of the players may be given a betrayer objective, so they'll appear to work with the colony while secretly working against everyone. These betrayer objectives aren't a guarantee, so you never know if someone is actually with or against you--and sometimes their objectives clash with yours, so they may seem like a traitor even if they're not.

As you're dealing with the objectives and scrutinizing everyone else's moves, you also need to manage the colony, similar to a worker placement game. Supplies, waste and crises all need to be considered. Each turn, players pull a crisis card to manage and a crossroads card that may or may not be good. They also may take actions that include moving survivors, managing food, spreading bites and so on. Searching the colony, exiling, finding survivors and killing others are all part of the game as well.

Honestly, there's so much happening in this game, we can't explain it all. Suffice to say, it's a lot, and it can be overwhelming, but we really enjoy the blend of different game genres to make Dead of Winter an out-of-the-ordinary social deduction/co-op game. It took a couple of plays for us to get a good rhythm going and a feel for the game. It isn't as creepy as Betrayal at House on the Hill so wussies like Whitney can play easily, but if you're not a fan of gore or violence, it may be a game you want to skip. It isn't necessarily kid-friendly either, but the more violent cards are marked so they can be removed if you want to play with kids--and we love that the creators thought of this. If you have some time, though, and you want a challenge with a bit of secrecy, treachery and adventure built in, Dead of Winter is a great bet.

Our Rating:

As a pirate in 1667, you and your crew plan to rob a Spanish Galleon and split the treasure--only, you have no intention of keeping your word. And, you're pretty sure your mates intend to mutiny against you.

At the beginning of the game, every player is dealt a French, British or Dutch loyalty card which is kept secret. Each nationality is trying to collect the most gold to win, but loyalties are only revealed at the end of the game so you can never be certain who is playing for which country. Each pirate (arr, matey!) gets only one action per turn. Depending on your position on either ship or the island of Tortuga, you can do different things, like resolving event cards (they're kept face-down, so they may be a surprise), peeking at event cards, switching ships, marooning crew, calling for mutinies or attacks or brawls (which are voted on), and stealing treasure. Each turn is a thinker, as there's always so much to do and so much you want to do, but you have to be strategic. Knowledge is power in this game, but it can be difficult for your team to win if you can't trust what anyone says. Even then, even if you think you've figured it out, sometimes loyalties change and you have to start all over again to deduce who's who.

In the case of a tie during an odd-numbered player game, the lone Dutchman wins. It's a great twist and something we love. The Dutchman can play both sides but change it up at the end, pulling out a win for himself--so really, you can't trust anyone! Tortuga is a fairly simple game to learn and play, but it's full of deception, thievery, bluffing and luring others into a false sense of security. You can use your knowledge of the event cards to hurt people you think are against you or help those you think are on your team. If the game gets easy, you can add more starred event cards which creates more chaos. We love the pirate theme which is consistently strong throughout, and all the pirate-y goodness that comes with it. Who doesn't dream of being the Captain of the Flying Dutchman or Jolly Roger? More, who doesn't dream of leading a mutiny and marooning a captain on a deserted island? We always have fun with this game, and it's a great one to add a little more depth and complexity if you're a fan of social deduction games. You can play with all ages, something we appreciate with all the kids in our lives, but it isn't so tame or childish that it doesn't appeal to the big kids. The only downside? It's hard to get, but if you check out its Kickstarter campaign, you should find one that suits your budget.

Our Rating:

Smitten with the Princess, you are trying to get your love letter to her to gain her attention. As she's been devastated by her mother's arrest, she refuses to see any suitors, so you must rely on a court messenger to deliver your letter. 

Love Letter is a simple game to play and easy to learn. Of the 16 cards, one is discarded without anyone knowing its identity, and every player is dealt one role card. Each role is numbered, with the highest being the closest to the Princess and most likely to win the Princess' favour. The round ends when the deck runs out, and the game ends when a player collects a certain number of favour tokens (this fluctuates based on number of players). On their turn, players draw one card from the deck and choose one of their two cards to play, face-up, and apply its effects. Effects include trading cards, forcing other players to discard their card, looking at another player's card, and more. Everyone is aiming to stay in the round or be last one standing when the deck runs out, but the crucial part? Your card needs to have the highest number to win--hence the swapping, peeking, discarding and treachery. 

There's a lot of trickery, deception and bluffing in this game, and it's usually a quick game. Depending on your cards, you can deduce with fairly strong certainty who's who, but sometimes all the swapping and discarding gets to be too much and you lose track. You're never quite sure how the game will go, rounds are never the same, and even if your role is the same, you can always try different strategies. It's a solid learning game for the social deduction genre, and we like that you can play with kids and adults alike. Love Letter has several editions including an upcoming holiday version, a Batman spin-off and a version to include more players, so there are options for days! It's a fun, simple game and a great filler, even one that works to take on trips or camping. It's a good, basic game for your collection and  a great intro and learning game for those new to the social deduction genre, making it last but not least on our top 10 social deduction board games list.

Conclusion

From pirates and zombies, Merlin and spaghetti westerns, to role playing, detective work and overthrowing dictators, social deduction games have something for everyone. Many are quick games, good to play while waiting for other games to finish or even while waiting for your flight to some exotic locale. Some are intense, some are light, some require teamwork, and all need your sleuthing skills. But, even if you aren't the next Sherlock Holmes, a little luck and a little risk-taking can pay big rewards. There's a lot of fun to be had with social deduction board games, and we hope you find one you love on this list.

Did we miss one? Have some thoughts about our list? Let us know--we want to hear from you!

About the author

HexaGamers

We are the HexaGamers. Six good friends that love all things game related that gets us together to enjoy each other's company.

1comment
Mark Rickert - October 21, 2017

I would add One Night Ultimate Werewolf and/or One Night Revolution, and The End is Nigh to the list. The End is Nigh was a Kickstarter project that probably has limited availability.

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