Many board games on the market allow for careful teamwork and cooperation, while others focus on strategic decisions and carefully orchestrated competitive battles. But another branch of games focus their gameplay purely on the social dynamic between players, with a particular focus on deception and conversations. Many bluffing games virtually demand that you lie to the faces of your friends and family with whom you’re playing, setting up sometimes complex webs of deceit. Others are faster, all about split-second decisions where you must decide if your fellow player is trying to pull the wool over your eyes. In addition, many bluffing games can support much larger groups than other tabletop games, allowing eight, twelve, or even thirty people to join in on some party fun.
The genre of bluffing games is surprisingly thrilling for many players, often appealing to individuals who simply can’t get into more traditional tabletop games. But give them a chance to play in an intricate web of social interactions, and they become immediately engaged.
Simultaneously, a fair warning – my experience suggests there’s a certain segment of potential players who actively hate bluffing games. The need to deceive and mislead, even in the context of a game, can be off-putting. My recommendation? The first time you play any of these recommended games (or any other bluffing games), take a minute to ease everyone’s conscience and concerns – point out that the game is about pretending and taking on a role, and it’s okay to embrace the allure of breaking the social convention against overt deceit. These are just games, after all.
If all of that sounds like something you and your friends would like to try, check out some of my favorites below, all of which offer a fun twist on the bluffing dynamic. If the games below appeal, I have good news – there are dozens more out there to discover.
The Werewolves of Miller’s Hollow
An oldie but definitely a goodie. The Werewolves of Miller’s Hollow is one of any number of variants of the “Werewolf” formula. The simple design, clear roles, and free-form play structure make this my personal favorite. One player conducts the action, while a large group (10 or more is ideal) of other players each take on the role of a village inhabitant. One or more werewolves has infiltrated the village, and over the course of successive nights (during which everyone closes their eyes) the werewolves kill off other villagers. During the day, everyone debates who the killer could be. Even in large groups, games unfold quickly, allowing for multiple playthroughs as roles flip between different players. Conversation-focused and light on rules, this classic game of deception is addictive and offers a strange, macabre thrill.
Werewolf (including this version) is the definitive classic bluffing game, and if you want to know why these types of games are so popular, you owe it to yourself to try it at some point.
I’d be remiss not to mention one of my other favorites in the same milieu. If you like the idea of a Werewolf game, but you’d prefer not to have a dedicated moderator, check out One-Night Ultimate Werewolf, best run with a digital app that handles the heavy-lifting and timekeeping.
Publisher: Goat Wolf & Cabbage
This recent addition to the canon of deception-focused games is intricately structured and always engaging, but also manages to sneak in some not-so-subtle political jabs, and offers an articulate argument about the dangers of fascism and the ways in which it can sneak into a society.
Players take on the role of political figures in 1930s Germany. Each individual is randomly assigned a role as either a liberal, a fascist, or the Secret Hitler. Over a series of rounds, the fascists aim to pass oppressive laws that teeter the country toward war, while the liberal wing desperately tries to halt the rise of fascism, or simply uncover the identity of Secret Hitler and assassinate him.
Unique among most bluffing games I’ve played, Secret Hitler manages to ride the line between social commentary and remarkably balanced and fun play. The game plays well for 5 to 10 players, and a single session tends to last a little under an hour. If you’re curious, it also happens to have a completely free version you can download and play before committing to the boxed version.
The Resistance: Avalon
Publisher: Indie Boards & Cards
An evolution of a prior game with a sci-fi setting, Avalon launches players back into the mythic age of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Arthur’s allies aim to complete quests, while those aligned with the dastardly Mordred attempt to thwart the heroic knights.
Players are allowed to take on a specific role, from a dangerous assassin to the all-knowing Merlin, while other roles are optional additions to help keep things fresh. Games unfold in rounds as players attempt to gather groups and complete quests. If one of Mordred’s agents manages to make his way onto a team, they can sabotage the quest and keep it from completing.
Avalon tends to foster complex lie strings that extend over the whole course of a game session, and, depending on the group, also encourages an emergent narrative element where players really embrace the familiar fiction and its implications. Even if you completely ignore the Camelot theme, the game’s hidden loyalty elements make for great deceptive fun. Avalon is a favorite among several Game Informer editors thanks to its high replayability, excellent game components, and smartly-paced play structure. My experience suggests seven or eight players is best, but the game supports up to 10.
Cash ‘n Guns
Not every bluffing game relies on conversations – sometimes it’s just about a steady gaze and a straight face. Cash ‘n Guns is a simple-to-learn game of greed and showdowns. You and your buddies are criminals that just hit it big with a massive score of cash. The trouble is, you’re all criminals, and you don’t like to share.
Every player is given a life-sized foam pistol, and the job of hoarding as much money as you can. On each turn, loot is arrayed on the table, from simple cash, to healing cards, to paintings that rise in value as you gain more of them. After evaluating the rewards on offer, the group counts down from three and then raises their pistols to aim at someone else around the table.
Here’s the trick – players only have a few bullets (represented by Bang! Cards) and most of the time the gun isn’t loaded (represented by Click… cards). Is your buddy really going to wound you, or are they just bluffing? How much do they want the current loot selection? You can dive for cover, but you won’t get any loot. But stay in the round, and you risk getting a wound, which locks you out of the loot anyway.
Cash ‘n Guns is my preferred introduction to bluffing games for players new to the experience. If players enjoy the game, your next stop can be one of the more involved role-driven hidden loyalty games. There’s no complex social interactions to navigate, and the action moves fast. The foam gun props add a lot to the fun, as everyone inevitably mimes their gun firing actions. Laughter ensues.
Two Rooms and a Boom
Publisher: Tuesday Knight Games
Have a massive group of potential players (up to 30), and need a good option to keep everyone engaged? Let me introduce you to Two Rooms and a Boom. With seemingly endless optional roles to include, no player elimination, and an unusual dynamic that sets the players apart into two separate play spaces, it’s a game that maintains many of the traditions of great bluffing games, but still feels unique.
At its core, Two Rooms and a Boom is all about two players and the role cards they receive – the president and the bomber. Players are split into two different rooms, and over the course of the game, players move back and forth between the rooms. At the end, if the president is in the same room as the bomber, the bomber’s team wins. Otherwise, the president’s team wins. In order to determine who moves rooms, everyone debates who to exchange as “hostages.” Play unfolds in three timed rounds, each shorter than the last.
The nuance in Two Rooms and a Boom comes through the myriad other role cards that come into play – mixing and matching the included roles dramatically changes the experience. The Angel must always tell the truth in conversations. The Demon must always lie. The Shy Guy can’t reveal his card role to anyone else (acting as a convenient excuse for someone who just doesn’t want to reveal). There’s even strange humorous roles, like the clown, who must always smile throughout the game.
Two Rooms and a Boom is a fantastic party game for large groups. I’m also a big fan of the included character guide that offers smart suggestions of what roles to include in a particular game, and how those role dynamics change the experience. If this sounds like your cup of tea, Tuesday Knight Games offers a free version of Two Rooms and a Boom that you can download directly from their website to help you decide if you want the more polished boxed version.
This was a challenging list to narrow down. There are tons of great deception and bluffing games out there, many of which offer variants on the themes presented here. However, if you just don’t think your friends or family can get over the hump of needing to lie to each other as part of a game, I’ll suggest you click on the Top of the Table banner below, and visit the hub to check out some other recommended tabletop games. If you’d like to know more about bluffing games, or you just want some personalized recommendations, I’m happy to receive your emails and tweets.
Beta Test Top Of The Table – The Best Bluffing Games