A game you cannot get good at (Secret Hitler)

nujumkeynujumkey Posts: 297Member
edited July 20 in Games
So about a month back i watched a GDC talk by he developers of Secret Hitler called "Secret Hitler: Designing Conflict & High-Tension Moments"

In the talk one of the devs Mike Boxleiter talks about creating a game revolving around players tricking each other and good conflicts and what he changed in making the game from its inspiration. One of the lines he says towards the end recently got stuck in my head,"I don't think you can be good (at the game) because the game is so random and there's so much self balancing going on that if you get too far ahead you're eventually going to get rubber banded back"(20:02 in the video). Mike later explains that this philosophy behind the game is good because it makes for a fun board game. At first this seemed brilliant to me when i first heard it but now that i've had a chance to mull i don't think this philosophy is good for the game, because it translates being good at the game to being competitive and snuffs players ability to be competitive, which is the main draw.

Let's pretend Secret Hitler was in fact so good at creating tension and rebalancing itself that nobody can ever play the game well. The good thing is that the game is constantly close, there's a lot more tension and at any point in the game the payoff is very clear. What this means to me as a player is that no matter how many times i've played, i always have a chance to win even if i don't know what i'm doing. For the new player, that's great because they feel competitive in a game where they have to compete with other players. This is an especially nice change of pace from a lot of big multiplayer games today (Player Unknown Battleground, any Mobas, Fighting games), where you really don't feel like you can compete with other players until you've invested several hundred hours to the game. In Secret Hitler, and in any game which adopts the "fun > competitiveness" philosophy, you get to play at a level you maybe shouldn't be allowed to compete on because the game is constantly working in your favor. You feel like your individual performance is relevant to the game's outcome, and that idea is what keeps you invested in the swings and tension of the game. It's not until you've played the game a lot that you start to notice how little agency you have over the game.

The longer you play the game the more you recognize the fact that most of the initial turns are completely arbitrary and you will naturally take what should be big conflict creating decisions (like playing a fascist card) with a grain of salt. If you watch let's player play Secret Hitler you can see the first 10 or so games the game is fantastically fun, but quickly loses it's charm when players realize how much of they game they can't control. The idea of a game you can never be good at creates a fantastic experience the first time you play the game and then with every subsequent play as the mechanics of the game get figured out people will completely lose interest. The reason games with a high learning curve that ask for hundreds of hours of invest are popular is because improving in a game is an interesting challenge on it's own, compounded by the fact that other players are also looking to improve themselves. My individual play has an impact on who wins the game. That's important to me, and it's a big part of why multiplayer games are so fun. That competitiveness is what keeps a multiplayer game alive, and i don't think games which follow the hard line of "fun > competitiveness" will last. 

Admittedly the game doesn't need to last to be good. Maybe i've spent too much time playing Moba's and fighting games and need to come down to what the average gamer wants out of their games. Back when we did those game nights i remember playing two rounds of secret hitler in the mumble (i was Hitler once :D) and it was really fun. While i love the game, 
i don't think the mentality is sound in general. Would love to hear other people's thoughts on the topic.
Post edited by nujumkey on
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  • TaciturnTaciturn Posts: 42Member
    It seems to me that the target audience would only play this in small doses (compared to other competitive games) which would prolong its longevity.
  • galdon Posts: 259Member
    Having played the game, I have to disagree with the idea that you can't be good at the game. Sure, you won't win every time even if you are good at it since the game includes two automatic win conditions outside of the long-game of enacting enough policies for your side; but much like in Poker, you can very well be better at playing the psychological element than other people. 

    Instead, I think it's more that the game's instant win conditions throw in enough of an element of randomness that the skill ceiling is just fairly low; being good at the game gives you an advantage; but even if you are doing great, someone shooting Hitler, or Hitler being elected can still win/lose you the game in an instant. 
  • PyrianPyrian Posts: 295Member
    How long is a single playthrough? The amount it sucks to have the RNG snatch victory away is proportional to how much you have invested in the game.
  • galdon Posts: 259Member
    edited July 23
    It kind of depends on how talkative your group is I think. A large group does not necessarily take longer to reach the end because no matter how many people play you only need to pass 5 or 6 policies for a side to win. But, on the other hand, a larger group might spend longer each round discussing previous policy plays because most active players would want to have their own input on the discussion.

    Interestingly though, as a group gets larger, the odds get lower for an instant win, because you are less likely to elect Hitler by chance, or kill him by chance. You reach a level of chaos from number of players though long before you reach a point where the odds of a random instant win get low enough not to realistically impact a typical game.
    Post edited by galdon on
  • nujumkeynujumkey Posts: 297Member
    @Taciturn ;
    This is true, but also not really what i look for in a beard game. Let's say the average board game session is 2 hours, you're going to spend about two sessions really enjoying the game. Every subsequent session after that game is a downhill slope, and that's where the problems come in that i believe would keep players away from the game.

    @galdon ;
    I recognize that the premise is not entirely true, but i think once you learn the rules of the game you've made %50 of the progress you need to become the greatest Secret Hitler player of all time. It's not a very high skill ceiling, made lower by the game's design. The instant win condition is part of the design, but also the deck being stacked in favor of fascists, and the fact that players must play the cards they are dealt, altogether create the rubber banding effects that maintain tension but fuck over skilled players.

    As a side note we played with 5 players and i don't think we ever had a hitler kill to win.
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  • vlademir1vlademir1 Posts: 428Member
    You know Secret Hitler is a party game, ja?  It has a similar interest curve to it's other Mafia derived brethren and therefore isn't intended to reward skilled play over unskilled play, but instead to act as a structured manner to pass time while also otherwise enjoying the company of others and/or to break the ice between people who aren't otherwise particularly familiar with one another.  The described rubber banding actually serves to correct a flaw that crops up in other Mafia variants where more experienced players are easier able to read the body language of those around them while also giving less away through their own, destroying some of the fun to be had by less experienced players.  If you really want a competitive variant, I'd suggest The Resistance or The Resistance: Avalon.
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  • lightlight Posts: 290Member
    @nujumkey You bring up an interesting point about decisions seeming arbitrary at the beginning of the game to those with some experience. Contrast that with, say, Catan, where the first set of choices you make is an architectural decision that determines everything after, and my family has recurrently spent upwards of half an hour just picking the damn initial settlements.

    My game design textbook by the guy from Disney argues that balance is ultimately a matter of taste. The balance type that seems to be in question here looks like freedom vs. controlled experience, although I wouldn't want to oversimplify your analysis. There are conceptually an unlimited number of balance factors. Good game design, I believe, is more about elegance and finesse than exhausting every lens.
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