How’s your poker face? How are your skills of deduction? Board games don’t always need complex rules or hefty themes to be fun. Some of the purest joys of games can come from the tension of bluffing your way to victory, or from the thrill of catching out the rogue in your group.
Here are some of our favourite bluffing games to get your heart racing.
Spyfall is delightfully simple, with few components. Each game is comprised of seven cards which depict the same location and one spy card, with no location details. Each location card will state the player’s role. Perhaps they work at this location, or maybe they’re a customer, or a tourist. Players are each dealt a location card, but one unlucky player will get a card that just says ‘spy’. In the centre of the group there’s a booklet showing what all the possible locations are.
The game will see players chat about the place they’re pretending to be in, and their reason for being there without revealing too much. The spy’s job is to blend in, and work out the location without getting caught.
What unfolds is a hilariously cagey conversation. Players who aren’t actually the spy will sound vague and evasive in their attempts to avoid revealing the location. Conspiracies will form about who the spy might be, and the actual spy will seek divert attention away from themselves. An excellent part of the game is that some people’s roles might require them to act suspiciously. They might get a card where their role is ‘thief’ – causing them to behave… just like a spy!
The game ends either with the spy correctly guessing the location – desperately blurting out “WE’RE AT THE SUPERMARKET” – or by all other players unanimously and correctly guessing who the spy is. If you’re the spy, you’ll spend the game frantically sweating and trying not to get caught, and if you’re not, you’ll struggle to stop laughing throughout.
Skull is a game of risk-taking and trapping your friends. You each have a set of four sturdy circular cards, like coasters. Three cards have beautiful flower artwork, and one has a skull. You’ll take turns to place your cards face-down in front of you. Once everyone has laid at least one card, players can try to claim victory by stopping play, and attempting to turn over two or more flower cards - without revealing a skull.
If a player declares: “I can turn over two flowers”, others are able to swoop in and steal, by trying to one-up their opponents and increase the number of cards they’ll try to turn over: “Oh yeah? I can do three”. The catch is that you have to start by turning over your own cards first. Players can try to trap their opponents by starting the challenge to flip, but they’ll catch themselves out if no one tries to out-do them and they’ve already played their own skull card. If players fail in their attempt, and reveal a skull, they lose one of their own cards at random, making it tougher for them to bluff as the game goes on.
Once a player has had two successful attempts at turning over only flower cards, they win the game. Skull is exciting and infuriating in equal measure. It’s quick to play and is a great game to break out at the end of a games night.
Cockroach Poker sees you dealt a hand of colourful critters, including rats, bats, stink bugs and of course, cockroaches. Your aim is to dump critters on other players, in a bid to get them out of the game if they rack up a set of four of the same kind of critter.
To do this, you place a card face down in front of an opponent and declare what that card is. For example: “This is a rat”. You can be truthful or tell a lie. The person who receives the card now has two options. Option one is that they can decide whether your claim is true or false. If they’re correct, you have to take your card back and lay it face-up in front of you. If they’re wrong, they keep the card in front of them.
Option two is that they can secretly check the card, then pass it onto another player. Either agreeing with what you claimed it was: “Yep, it is a rat”, or presenting the card as something else. That player is faced with the same two choices, guess the card or pass it on, until eventually the card ends up in front of someone. Once any player has four of the same kind of critter, they are out of the game.
This game can get tense. Players who start to collect lots of critters in front of them find themselves strategically targeted. If someone starts to collect multiples of one kind of critter, the others will pile on trying to pass on more of that type, to get them eliminated from the game. It’s a game of bluffing and betrayal, where you’ll have a great time but come to hate your treacherous friends!
A Fake Artist Goes to New York
If you like the sound of Spyfall, but you’re bad at bluffing, this game is for you. A Fake Artist Goes to New York is another hidden role game, but you let your pens do the talking. One person comes up with an idea of something everyone has to collectively draw, based on a particular theme. For example they might pick ‘Movies’ as the theme and the idea might be ‘Jurassic Park’.
The clue-giver hands out tiny whiteboards to each person telling them what the idea is, except one player, the Fake Artist will be handed a whiteboard which just an ‘X’ on it. Players have a coloured pen and pass round a notepad, taking it in turns to contribute to the group drawing. The Fake Artist then attempts to join in with that drawing, knowing only what the theme is. They have no idea what their group is actually trying to draw.
This game will have you chuckling and baffled at each other’s contributions. You’ll be scratching your head at your teammates’ interpretations of the idea. Once the drawing is complete, everyone will vote on who they think the Fake Artist is. If the Fake Artist gets caught, they have a chance to still win the game if they’re able to guess what the doodle is supposed to be. A wonderful quirk of this game is that you’re left with some truly wacky pictures at the end of each round. This makes a nice memento of the games you’ve played.
The Resistance: Avalon
In The Resistance Avalon you’ll all go on a quest together. Some of you will be good and others will be evil. The job of the evil ones will be to sabotage the quest.
Players are secretly dealt their role, everyone makes a fist, holds it in front of themselves, and closes their eyes. The baddies will open their eyes so they know who their co-conspirators are. Then they put their thumbs down and close their eyes again. One player takes the role of Merlin, and they’ll open their eyes to see who the evil ones are. Then everyone takes their hands away and opens their eyes, ready to start the game.
The group discusses whether they agree on who should go, depending on who they suspect of being good guys or bad guys. This becomes increasingly clear as the game progresses. Merlin will try to steer the good guys away from taking bad guys along. You will need to do so subtly so as not to reveal their own role.
Once the quest begins, the players who’ve been selected to go along have a success or fail token. They play these secretly. If more success tokens are played than failure tokens, the mission succeeds, and vice versa. Based on how many failure tokens are played, the group can start to deduce who might be evil.
The good guys win the game if three out of five missions succeed, but the bad guys have a chance to steal victory if they can assassinate Merlin by guessing which player had this role.
The fun of this game is in the accusations and protestations of innocence that go flying around as players discuss who gets to go on the missions, or who might be responsible for failures. Bad guys can try to hide by playing it safe to start with, or by accusing players they know are really the good guys. In this game you’ll learn a lot about each other’s deception skills, and find yourself suspecting everyone, searching for guilty giggles or evasive body language.
In general hidden role games are better with bigger groups, as it makes it harder to guess who might be the saboteur, and those who have a secret role get more breathing space to develop their strategy. We hope you enjoy these games, and once play starts – remember to trust no one!