The Game Mechanic - Hidden Roles

    Hidden roles add a layer of social deduction to a board game. Players must try to analyse other people's decisions to surmise their secret role. Do you have the same objective as everyone else? Are you a traitor and do people suspect you? Should you make a decision against your objective to cover your tracks? The rules of the game should allow players to deceive one another, to form alliances based on trust and to do other events typical of social competitions.

"Three may keep a secret, if two of them are dead." - Benjamin Franklin


    Mafia is a party game created in 1986. It has one group of players secretly be the Mafia and another be innocent civilians. Every night the Mafia take out an innocent civilian. During the day, the civilians must deduce which are hidden Mafia members. This is social deduction at it's simplest. Players begin wild unsupported accusations from the very beginning. Players are keenly watching others for reactions or lack of reactions. There are many variations of this simple theme from werewolves to assassins.

    I have very fond memories of playing this game with people I just met. People of all ages and walk of life understand deception is the key to this game. This leads to fantastic moments where the kind unobtrusive Mother has deceived everyone and has secretly been assassinating all of her children. This is a fantastic game to bring people into the mechanic. However this game does require a moderator, someone who does not play in the game but ensures the rules are carried out.

    For a description on how to play this public domain game and even get your own free copy, view our post on it by clicking here.

Love Letter, Coup

    The more roles the better. These games have a deck of roles that constantly change during the game. It's up to you to keep a cool head and figure out the best move. Love Letter has 7 different roles. On each turn a player must play a role and try to eliminate the other players or survive until the end with the most powerful role. This is an incredibly quick and easy to learn game. Coup is a competitive card game where players are each given two face down role cards and two coins. There are five different roles which may allow a player to assassinate another player, steal their coins or do other actions. You can bluff roles you don't have but if someone calls you out on it, you lose one of your roles. These two games are fantastic to play with a small group of people.

The Resistance, Secret Hitler

    Added complexity means an added challenge. Some games have added complexity to allow for new and interesting social events. The Resistance has players be either operatives or spies. The spies must sabotage missions the operatives are attempting. This game removes player elimination and adds in a leader role. Each round there is a new leader. This leader must choose who they think are the operatives to ensure the mission is successful. This is a fantastic game as it forces spies to be a lot more vocal in convincing people they are the good guys. Secret Hitler has players be either liberals or fascists. Adding in all the complexity of government voting and secret powers, this game plays smoothly with a fun theme of lizard Hitler.


    There are many fantastic games in this mechanic. Some other ones I didn't mention but truly love are Two Rooms and a Boom, BANG! The Dice Game and Dark Moon. Players get incredible satisfaction preying on the weakness of others. Working together or alone you can sway the public into agreeing with your opinion. Watching friends slip up and give away their role leads to panicked pleas of innocence. These games create truly memorable experiences that will drive people to play again. Why not try adding hidden roles to other games you play? Such as Monopoly, Scrabble or Risk.

Public Domain Games - How to Play Mafia

    Mafia is a fantastic social deduction party game for all ages. One group of players are secretly the Mafia and the other group are civilians. Every night the Mafia take out one of the innocent civilians. During the day the civilians discuss who could have betrayed them. They must deduce who among them is covertly a part of the Mafia. By democratic vote, the civilians then eliminate their suspected Mafia member. Night and day continue until either all Mafia are eliminated or all the civilians.

    This is a simple yet satisfying game. You will wildly accuse each other of sabotage and betrayal. You will watch closely to everyone's reactions. You will be shocked when it turns out your kind friend was stabbing you in the back the whole time.

"This life of ours, this is a wonderful life. If you can get through life like this and get away with it, hey, that’s great. But its very, very unpredictable. There’s so many ways you can screw it up." - Paul Castellano


    Mafia can be played with 7 to 15 players. One player will be the moderator. This player will be outside of the game enforcing the rules. Now create a deck of cards equal to the number of the remaining players. This should include 1 Mafia for every 3 players, 1 Doctor or 1 Detective and the rest as civilians. Shuffle this deck and hand one to each player. Keep this card secret from everyone else. You can play this with 16 or more players however I would recommend splitting people into smaller groups instead. Feel free to add or remove cards if the balance does not feel right.

    The game has a night phase and a day phase. These keep alternating until either the Mafia take out all the civilians or the civilians eliminate all the Mafia. The game begins at night. During the night players should remain silent so they do not give any clues as to who they are. Stealth here is key.


  1. The moderator tells everyone to close their eyes. Everyone must now close their eyes.
  2. The moderator tells the Mafia to open their eyes. Any player who is part of the Mafia now opens their eyes. The moderator tells the Mafia to choose a civilian to take out. The Mafia players must now silently agree on the civilian. The moderator must remember who the chosen civilian is.
  3. The moderator tells the Mafia to close their eyes.
  4. The moderator tells the Doctor to open their eyes. The Doctor now opens their eyes. The moderator tells the Doctor to silently choose a player to heal. The Doctor can choose themselves. This chosen player will survive if the Mafia had chosen to kill them.
  5. The moderator tells the Doctor to close their eyes.
  6. The moderator tells the Detective to open their eyes. The Detective now opens their eyes. The moderator tells the Detective to choose a player to detect. The moderator shows the Detective with a thumbs up if the chosen player is a Mafia or thumbs down if the chosen player is a civilian.
  7. The moderator tells the Detective to close their eyes.


  1. The moderator tells everyone to open their eyes. Everyone must now open their eyes.
  2. The moderator tells everyone which player has been taken out by the Mafia. This player is now eliminated from the game. They show their card and can no longer speak. If the Doctor has saved this civilian then the moderator tells everyone that someone has been saved without mentioning who it was.
  3. All players can now discuss openly who they suspect to be part of the Mafia. This is an open forum where anyone can say anything. There are no constraints on what players can say. Players must not reveal their card during this time if others ask to see it. However players can pretend to be whoever they want. The Mafia should pretend to be civilians. The Detective should use their knowledge but not be obvious about who they are. The moderator should try and encourage all players to talk and voice their opinions.
  4. After a certain amount of time discussing, the moderator tells everyone to vote on who should be eliminated. Once a majority vote has been agreed, the chosen player is eliminated from the game. They show their card and can no longer speak.


    There are many free and commercial copies of this game. There are also a lot more roles other than Mafia, Doctor and Detective to try out. Try Googling Werewolf game or Mafia game. You can also use a standard deck of 52 cards where black cards represent Mafia, red cards represent civilians and the King represents the Doctor or the Detective. You can also print and play a version I have created by downloading the following:

    These images have been used under the Creative Commons CC0. I have used images from Pixabay and Flickr. Thank you for allowing me to use these images.

The Game Mechanic - Dexterity

    Dexterity in board games is about incorporating the real world as part of the challenge. The sweat on your palms, the strength of your muscles, the speed of your reflexes. These things are different for everyone and change regularly. Does relying on the dexterity of the player create too much chaos? Does removing abstract systems change the experience?

"Life is infinitely stranger than anything which the mind of man could invent." - Arthur Conan Doyle


    Jenga was made in the early 1970s and has players build a tower of unstable wooden blocks. It requires nerves of steel and a steady hand. The enjoyment here comes from the tense moments as the tower wavers when players remove and place blocks. All the blocks are the same, however subtle differences occur during manufacturing that mean every Jenga tower ends up different. It's these varying levels of friction and size that adds continued enjoyment.


    Catacombs is an adventure game where heroes battle monsters in a series of catacombs. This mix of theme and mechanic works as players physically control their characters on the game board by flicking them. Dice rolling that is common in these types of games has been replaced by physical chance. Success and failure is obvious as players can see if the hero or monster has been flicked correctly.

Cube Quest

    Cube Quest is a two player game of taking out your opponents king by flicking cubes. Not knowing the precise strength of your own finger leads to incredible events. It adds in elements of tactics as you allow players to arrange your cubes to defend your king. Depending on your hand to eye coordination, players will change their tactics. This reminds me of playing a game of snooker but with your fingers.

    This is a fantastic game for anyone who wants to try something different. I love how this game brings out greatness in friends. Some people shine when chaos occurs in every move. When I do play, this is usually the first game played on a night as it gets the blood boiling and everyone screaming. As it's only two player though, it doesn't see the table that often.

Jungle Speed, Snap

    This kind of mechanic tends to be great for games with little to no theme. Jungle Speed has players pattern match symbols in front of them and grab a wooden totem in the middle. The physical component of the totem captures everyone's interest. This is a great party game for up to eight players. Snap requires quick reflexes to be the first to slam your hand down onto a pile of cards. As it uses a standard deck of 52 cards, it can be a great introduction into the mechanic.


    All of these games show how to challenge people using physical components. These games use your own hand as a game mechanic allowing you to feel wholly responsible for any victories or defeats. Players tend to start off quite bad and progress. It's this progression that leads to a sense of accomplishment. Try adding dexterity to a game you play to see if it adds value, e.g., Chess, Monopoly, Carcassonne, Coup

The Game Mechanic - Cooperative

    Board games are currently in a time of renaissance. People around the world are realizing the best way to get people to talk, to challenge and to have fun together is around a board game. Cooperative games allow everyone to work together to beat the game. Does this take out the competitive element? Does working together make things easy or challenging?

"Competition has been shown to be useful up to a certain point and no further, but cooperation, which is the thing we must strive for today, begins where competition leaves off." - Franklin D. Roosevelt


    Pandemic was published in 2007 and since then has been the most popular and well known cooperative board game. This game turns players into a group of international doctors trying to cure the spread of diseases around the world. The game board is a map of the world. The theme turns people into saviors of the world, a last stand against total destruction. This brings people together to work on a common goal.

    This game has given me such incredible moments of team work and decision making. I can still remember when our team decided to abandon an epidemic in South America and head off to Asia to cure the last disease. We won the game but I still remember how we caused thousands to die to do it. Fantastic thematic game for anyone who wants to travel the world.

Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective, T.I.M.E. Stories

    Some games can use this mechanic to tell a story. Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective has players act as London detectives in an Arthur Conan Doyle novel. Players are lead through a series of 10 cases to investigate murders and other criminal activities. Players quickly take on the role of detectives as they piece together clues to find suspects. T.I.M.E. Stories has players prevent temporal faults and paradoxes by travelling through time. These games use scripted formats to ensure there is little randomness in a game and each play gives quality enjoyment. This is akin to reading an interactive book.

Forbidden Island, Ghost Stories

    Difficulty can be hard to balance as some groups work better than others. Forbidden Island has a group of explorers find treasure on a sinking island. Each player is given a specific role and using every player correctly can be problematic. The components here are beautifully made allowing people to easily immerse themselves in game play. Ghost Stories is a cooperative game where Taoist monks must defend a village from a legion of ghosts. This is challenging where victory is rare but when it happens players feel like they truly worked together. I would definitely recommend this for people who work really well together.

Dead of Winter

    As cooperative games have become more popular elements have come into other games. Dead of Winter has players work together to fend off waves of zombies. However each player is also given a hidden objective which may go against the group. This dynamic brings people together but makes them wary of other players. Although this not a cooperative game, this element adds a lot to the game.


    Hanabi has boiled cooperation down to its simplest. This is easily my favourite cooperative game. Players are given a hand of cards to create a beautiful fireworks display. The trick here is they cannot see their own cards and must rely on team mates to tell them what their cards are. Can you understand subtle hints by other players? Do you trust your instinct or depend on logic? A fantastic game where you spend most of your time working together to help others understand their hand of cards.


    Being part of a team can be a struggle. The games above face this issue by restricting players to certain decisions. This forces players to work together as a team to complete the objective. The best games try to block a single person from completely controlling everything and instead encourages everyone to play their part. Try adding cooperation to a game you play to see if it adds value, e.g., Chess, Trivial Pursuit, Risk, Splendor, Munchkin

The Game Mechanic - Tile Laying

    Some games create a whole new world to explore, one tile at a time. This is a great way to create a new experience every time you play. Each tile placed carves out a section of the world to discover. I want to discuss how tile laying changes the control of a game. How can tiles change how people approach games? Is it too random or too controlling?

"The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes." - Marcel Proust


    Scrabble is an incredibly popular board game where players lay tiles down to form words. It started in 1931 as a game called Lexiko and ever since then people have argued as to whether or not they can spell. The board grows as more and more words are added. This gives players new opportunities for words. Players become paralyzed analyzing their next move knowing that other players will point out the faults in their plan. They are competing both with other players and with the draw of the tiles.


    Another well known game is Carcassonne made in 2000. This is considered one of the best games to bring people into the new era of board games. It combines a great medieval theme with a great tile laying mechanic. Players build a world of farms, roads, cities and more. At the end of the game people traverse this world to find out how many additional points they get. Each world is different and it's this difference that leads players to immediately want to create a new world.

    This is a great game for both competitive players and those who prefer less conflict. Players can decide to use their tiles to make other players life hell or they can work on their castles and roads away from other players. However, it has the same issue as most point gathering games. At the end of the game is when most of the points are calculated. No one really knows who is in the lead until the very end.


    Tsuro is a tile laying game that boils down the mechanic to it's simplest. Players lead their dragon through a mystical world created by placing direction tiles. If they fly off this world or crash into another dragon they are eliminated. Each player is given three random tiles to choose from. They can predict a limited scope of what the world might look like. This focuses players into reacting to the tiles and other players while also leading them further and further into the game. This is a great quick game that everyone seems to enjoy.

The Cave, Arboretum, Patchwork

    It is common that the theme matches the mechanic. For tile laying, the themes are usually exploring new and interesting areas. Linking theme and mechanic allows players to pick a game that suits their interests. The Cave has players discover the hidden depths of caves using tents, ropes and scuba gear. A must have for people with adrenaline filled weekends. Arboretum has players create a diverse and majestic garden of trees showing off the beauty of nature. Patchwork has players create an elaborate patchwork quilt filled with goofy shapes.


    In all these cases, the players have started with nothing and ended up in a world they created. A world influenced one part by player choice and another by randomness. It's this balance that makes players want to come back and see what the next world will look like. It's the players attempts at controlling a chaotic world that makes it tense. It's the balance between theme and mechanic that makes this effective. Try adding tile laying to a game you play to see if it adds value, e.g., Chess, Monopoly, Pandemic, Risk, Ticket to Ride

The Game Mechanic - Discs

    Playing discs come in all shapes and sizes and have different effects in board games. I want to discuss the tactile feel and use of discs and how they can add a different level of experience in a board game. How can this small game piece add importance to a players decision? What games have utilised this to allow players to feel engaged?

"Touch has a memory." - John Keats


    One of the most popular games in the 1990s was Pogs, a game of smacking one Slammer into a stack of Pogs. I remember playing this game as a kid with my cousin and friends. We all loved it. Everyone had their favourite Slammer that they used and cherished. Most of the Pogs were different, each one containing colourful images of popular characters or a funny little brown hairy creature. This game became more than plastic discs. It became an obsession.

    Pogs could also be played for keeps. This meant whenever you played you risked losing some of your Pogs to gain some of your opponents. Players had to gamble with their prized Pogs to gain the ones they wanted from their opponent. This caused outrage from parents and schools, which merely added to the fun and enjoyment for kids.


    The oldest game still being played is Go. It's earliest reference is the 4th century BC. It's a two player game where you play black and white discs on a board to control as much space as possible. The fact that it is still played today just shows how popular it has been with people. Placing a disc in the correct place is the key to winning. The tangible feel of placing the disc, the reaction of the opponent, the fear of not knowing if it was the correct decision - this is what makes the game.


    Splendor is a very popular board game that was a published in 2014. Players collect sets of colourful discs in order to trade for points and cards. These discs feel like real poker chips. To anyone who has played poker before this will immediately evoke a sensation of gambling. It's the quality of these components that make everyone want to keep playing this game. It has a real sense of value.


    In all these cases, it's this awareness of the disc in the players hand that adds importance to every decision. Once the player realises this, they are involved in the game. They are completely focused and determined. Try adding discs to the games you play to see if they add value, e.g., Monopoly, King of Tokyo, Coup, Stone Age, Machi Koro.

The Game Mechanic - Overview

    Welcome to a thread of posts all about game mechanics and how they allow us to feel involved. Game mechanics come in all shapes and forms from tile laying in Scrabble to dice rolling in Monopoly. I will cover popular games which have shown these mechanics and innovative games trying new mechanics. I like to believe that game mechanics lead to fun.

    Game mechanics allows us to bring a spatula to battle. We just need to know is this a sword fight or are we making pancakes. Also trust me, it's really messy flipping pancakes with Excalibur.

    Everyone has their preference as to what games they like to play but why is it they like them? Is it their game mechanics? Is it their theme? Is it their shared memories with family and friends? Well let's find out.