I introduced One Night Ultimate Vampire to a new group this week and we got talking about it after the fact. Some folks liked it, others didn’t, there’s one criticism I wanted to highlight and talk about:
“in large numbers the shy folks really have to fight to be heard”
I thought this was really interesting because it describes something that I think applies to the genre rather than the game.
A social deduction game has two elements – broadly “social” and “deduction”
You have to work things out. Partly from hard facts and partly from softer information about what people say and do.
Having worked things out you need to persuade people of some truth (either the actual truth or some alternative you’ve made up based on what you’ve figured out).
If the conversation is dominated by a few voices then the quieter people don’t get to play the second half of the game. Which is obviously a bad thing.
But the incentive structure for the game is that dominating the conversation is a good thing. People will try to build several narratives and the successful player will be the one who can make their narrative the strongest (if they’ve got their deductions right).
So the challenge for the designer is structuring the game in a way that rewards players for making more space for other players to speak up. Even if they wouldn’t usually, perhaps especially if they didn’t usually.
Not a Solution: Play with nicer people who make sure everyone gets a go
I bring this up briefly because someone always suggests it for problems like these 😉
This is a solution for *players* but it’s not a solution for *designers*. You can’t print on the side of the box “Only play this if you’re nice” and expect that to work.
A player should seek a group that they enjoy.
Where it doesn’t compromise other design goals, a designer should aim to make their game enjoyable by many types of different group.
Existing Solutions: Information Dispersal
The #1 way these sorts of games handle this issue is to make sure that all of the players have different useful bits of information. The theory being that if everyone knows something critical to their teams success then everyone will have something to say in the discussion and it will be in their teams interests to make sure it’s heard. Since the average player is on the biggest team the average player should have the support of most of the table.
It’s a neat theory, but there are a few ways it can fall down.
The first is if someone’s information isn’t useful to any other person. If all you have is “I am not a baddie” that’s not worth much. You can figure things based on that, but when you say it to the table it’s meaningless because everyone claims to be not a baddie.
The second is if the group prioritises the social over the deduction. Players new to the genre very often see leading the discussion and influencing who dies as the winning strategy. Information dispersal can only work if two conditions are met:
1. The players need the information to correctly know what they need to do to win
2. The players recognise that they need that information.
In new groups there can be a tendency to try to control the conversation without finding much out, which makes the conversation controller look powerful. If they lose anyway it can be easy for a player to attribute that to “bad luck” rather than “poor deduction” and not realise that giving players with extra hidden info more of a voice would’ve lead to a win and it was the conversation control that cost them the game.
The third is where info comes out relatively trivially and discussion on how to interpret it dominates the game. If you have 20 seconds of “Everyone says their thing” and then half an hour of arguing about it – the half hour argument is most of the game. The 20 seconds of being involved hasn’t really solved the problem, because the player still sat out of a lot of the game.
Existing Solutions: Regulated Speech
Some games will make explicit rulings about when and how a player is able to speak. In the online mafia game Town of Salem if there are enough votes to hang someone everyone else’s chat is literally disabled for 20 seconds and only that person gets to speak. Then everyone makes a final yes/no vote on whether to kill them.
Giving a player a moment to speak mandated by the rules ensures that they get to make a point at the most critical juncture means a person can get a word in edgeways at the most critical juncture.
Existing Solutions: Power at a Point
In Mafia de Cuba one player is the godfather. They will ultimately decide the outcome of the game, there’s no vote, just their word for who they think is a thief.
This has an interesting effect on group dynamics, in that one person is imbued with power in a way that distorts the conversation and that person is also the person with the most to gain from getting all of the information. If the godfather says “I want to hear from Eric now” then Eric is going to get to speak. Whether he wants to or not 😉
Other games harness this to a lesser extent, giving a player the right to choose what thing is being voted on or some special power they can use during or just after the discussion – but the purpose is the same: Get someone to chair the meeting.
Existing Solutions: Parallel Discussions
Two Rooms and a Boom takes a different approach. If a big discussion with a bajillion players is going to lead to some folks not getting to sidle into the game. So what if it was broken down into a whole bunch of smaller discussions? What if there was an active advantage to having quiet 1:1 discussions that other players didn’t notice or hear?
The answer is that play becomes very different, but everyone will be getting to do something most of the time. It’s not a perfect solution in that you can still wind up with sidelined players in 2RaaB due to its other mechanics, but it does very neatly deal with this particular issue.
Because “Information dispersal” is baked in, I’m not sure how many designers have been actively considering this as an issue rather than it being a thing that gets worked out naturally by tinkering with rules in playtesting.
Heck I’ve published a social deduction game and never really consciously thought about it!
So perhaps there are untapped solutions that haven’t yet been tried. The main one that occurs to me at the moment is likely due to ongoing discussion about asymmetric resources. What would a social deduction game look like if the capacity to talk was a limited resource?
Could you have a game in which people said things like “Rose just spoke for the third time which means she can’t be a villager, I am which means this is the last thing I’m going to be able to say.” I think there’s some unexplored potential there.
I’m sure there are other solutions out there waiting to be discovered. I look forward to playing them 😀