Nothing says friendship like a battle of wits, a bit of bluffing or a whole lot of betrayal – the key ingredients of social deduction games. This is a tense and thrilling genre of game that turns some of your group into traitors, bent on destroying the innocent players before they’re discovered. Expect secrets, strategy, and even bloodshed – as the best social deduction games are ones where a traitor pretends to kill their friends (emphasis on pretend, please).
With heated group discussions, tense superstition and often-hilarious reactions to being killed by the one person you’d didn’t suspect, social deduction games make for some of the best board games to play with friends. They’re often easy to learn and suit large player groups, making them perfect party board games. Plus, with the right game in hand, you can fit a social deduction board game to any tabletop night – whether you prefer quick funny board games or serious strategy board games.
Here’s our list of the best social deduction games, featuring an honor-roll of outstanding board games that will have you questioning everything you know about your fellow players in a tense struggle to make it out alive – and, you know, have a crack at winning the game along the way.
These are the best social deduction games:
- Blood on the Clocktower – all-round best social deduction game
- One Night Ultimate Werewolf – best short social deduction game
- Dead of Winter – best thematic social deduction game
- Coup – best social deduction card game
- The Resistance / Avalon – best strategic social deduction game
- Secret Hitler – best social deduction game for parties
- Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game – best challenging social deduction game
1. Blood on the Clocktower
All-round best social deduction game.
This is it. Blood on the Clocktower is the best social deduction game. It nails everything a great social deduction game needs, and it fixes many of the major problems the genre has.
Firstly, it’s got a thrilling theme. A Demon and their dastardly minions are tearing their way through a once-peaceful village, murdering innocents and displaying their corpses on the spire of the local clocktower. The villagers must use their unique roles to discover who among them is responsible for the killings – and execute them before the entire village is destroyed.
So far, so social deduction game. But Blood on the Clocktower does plenty to make a familiar formula feel special again. It’s got a fantastic balance of theme and strategy. The Storyteller (the player in charge of facilitating the game) is encouraged to run the game in a dramatic manner, which means picking player roles that lead to chaos, sleuthing, and excitement – as well as narrating everything in a suspenseful way. As for the players, there’s enough variables to get their strategic minds ticking as they try to work out who everyone really is.
Additionally, everyone is important in Blood on the Clocktower. There are no dud roles that lack a special power. And even if you die, you can still participate. The dead can still speak to the living, and they get one last vote for when they’re certain a Demon is on the cusp of execution.
Blood on the Clocktower is also perfectly suited for social events. It can be played by up to 20 people, and it encourages you to play in an open space and move around. This means you can hide away with a trusted group having secret conversations in the corner, which only adds to the chaotic finger-pointing that makes a social deduction game great.
Perhaps the only downside here is that this is a premium social deduction game. At $145, it’s by far the most expensive game in this guide, and it’s not carried by a lot of retailers right now. But if you can get involved in a game, your standards for social deduction will never be the same.
2. One Night Ultimate Werewolf
Best short social deduction board game.
The best available version of the go-to party game – Werewolf – and probably many people’s first experience with the social deduction genre, One Night Ultimate Werewolf can only be described as a bona fide classic. By day, villagers must investigate and agree on which players are secretly werewolves, and cooperate to vote them out of the community – all the while knowing that more innocents will be slain each night until either the beasts are caught, or there’s nothing left but piles of bones and some extremely well-fed lycanthropes.
With its fast pace and variety of roles and character abilities, One Night Ultimate Werewolf is just stupendously good fun every time and always leaves players eager for one more round. It also consistently triggers discussions that devolve into fits of hysterics, even after the game ends (detailed experimentation by Wargamer staff has found that alcohol consumption amplifies this effect).
Half the joy comes from dissecting what happened and laughing with friends about the events of the last round. Equally brilliant for play among a close group, or as the perfect party icebreaker, it is easy to see why One Night Ultimate Werewolf is still a favorite today. If you don’t believe us, we’ve even done a full One Night Ultimate Werewolf review to prove it.
3. Dead of Winter
Best thematic social deduction game.
When there’s a zombie apocalypse going on and every character is selfish and sneaky in their own right, finding the true traitor becomes more stressful than ever. Dead of Winter is a story-rich experience, where players struggle to keep their colony and factions alive under siege by hordes of zombies, just as – all the while – a hidden saboteur continually works against them.
With a group of characters who tend to steal and stockpile, and a new crisis card revealed every turn to deliver refreshing new ways for everyone to get killed and eaten, Dead of Winter creates some of the most intense survival mind games and preposterous paranoid reasoning you could hope for.
It also stands as one of the best story-driven options you can play, making for a rich co-operative game all round – even if it ends up with you throwing your friends to the walking dead based on a random hunch.
Best social deduction card game
A rapid round of bluffing, Coup is a card game that will expose the expert liar in your circle of friends.
Lasting for an average of around 15 minutes of straightforward ‘knockout’ gameplay, Coup starts players off with two character cards and two coins. To get the most influence and win the game, players will lie about cards they have, using their abilities to swindle cash. But if they get called out in their subterfuge once too often and run out of cards, it’s game over.
Simple, streamlined gameplay, pacy, quick-fire rounds and clumsy cover-ups combine to produce a light-hearted, sociable atmosphere – with added visual enjoyment to be had from the cards’ delightfully kitschy, campy sci-fi art style. As far as we’re concerned, Coup’s lofty reputation as a top-tier social deduction game is well-earned.
5. The Resistance / Avalon
Best strategic social deduction game.
If you like games with more ‘deduction’ and less ‘social’, The Resistance and Avalon are our top picks. Every player has a secret identity with a unique ability, but you’ll root out your enemies by completing missions rather than by calling their bluff.
Every round, a new player must choose companions to join them on one of these missions. The rest of the group then gets to vote on how much faith they have in the assembled party.
Once a task force has been decided, each of the chosen mission members plays a card face-down into a pile, which is then shuffled and revealed. If every card is a ‘success’, the mission prevails – but if there’s even one ‘fail’ card, the mission has been sabotaged. The good team win by completing three missions, while the bad team does so if three missions end in failure.
6. Secret Hitler
Best social deduction game for parties.
Secret Hitler is a hit at parties for a lot of the same reasons as Cards Against Humanity. On the surface, it offers a taboo tabletop experience that dabbles on the dark side. Instead of demons and werewolves, the main traitor of this game is Hitler himself – and he’s on a mission to take control of political power in Germany.
The other players are secretly assigned the role of Liberal or Fascist. Liberals win if five liberal laws are passed or Hitler is assassinated. Meanwhile, the Fascists win if they pass six fascist policies – or they can pass three, then get Hitler elected chancellor.
Everyone gets a chance to be Germany’s president during play, and the president gets to propose a chancellor to work with them on political policies. If the majority vote to elect the proposed chancellor, the president is then dealt a hand of random policies. They select two to pass to the chancellor, who decides the policy that gets passed as law.
A liberal policy is a plus for the good team, but passing some fascist laws unlocks other abilities (for example, the chance to assassinate the player you think is Hitler). Secret Hitler shares a lot of DNA with The Resistance and Avalon, but it’s got more direct player interaction and a more tongue-in-cheek tone.
7. Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game
Best challenging social deduction game.
Especially if you’re a fan of the hit noughties series (or the decidedly worse 1970s original) but even just for sci-fi-lovers in general, Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game is an atmospheric tabletop joy, placing you in a tense cat-and-mouse scenario against the backdrop of a fully realised futuristic world.
Players take the roles of human crew members aboard the Galactica, a spacefaring warship fleeing from its home planet, after a mechanical race called Cylons destroyed almost all of humanity in a single, devastating surprise attack. Just as in the show, however, some of the crew are Cylons in disguise, working to sabotage the Galactica, meaning the unfortunate human players must simultaneously manage the ship’s resources and track down the traitors before it’s too late.
With the inclusion of enemy ships and the potential for some really tough in-game decisions – all of it played out on one of the prettiest game boards we’ve seen, this truly is a fine way to live out your space fantasy while staring into the eyes of your best friends and trying to spot which one of them is actually a machine bent on your murder.
Unfortunately, the game is almost always super-challenging for the squishy humans, who (let’s be honest), never stood much chance in a one-on-one contest with their cruel, chrome-plated counterparts. However, it’s having the courage to try to survive in the face of insurmountable odds that gives this heavily asymmetric board game heart – neatly mirroring one the key dramatic themes of the show.
Even more unfortunately, this game is out of print and increasingly hard to find second-hand. If you can get hold of Battlestar Galactica, it’s a social deduction game to cherish.
That should be enough back-stabbing board games to keep your friends on their toes. If you like to keep things a little friendlier, be sure to check out these co-op board games. Or perhaps you’d like to try the best solo board games, where the only person you can betray is yourself.