Deception: Murder in Hong Kong, released back in 2014 by Jolly Thinkers and Grey Fox Games, is a deduction/murder mystery themed party game. Designed by Tobey Ho, the game sees 4 – 12 players spend about 20 minutes bluffing and deducting. Whilst players are investigators the plot twist is an investigator is the murderer! With roles such as a forensic scientist, witness and accomplice coming into play, things aren’t always straight forward. However, is this a killer of boredom? Let’s find out!
At the offset, setup cannot truly occur until after the roles have been assigned. Depending on the player count a role deck is created. By default this is made up of the forensic scientist, murderer and enough standard investigators so that there is a card per player in the deck. For example, in a 5 player game there would be 3 investigator cards included. These are shuffled before being dealt out facedown 1 per player.
Players secretly check their role, with the forensic scientist revealing themselves. This player effectively becomes the games master. Apart from the forensic scientist, each player is given a badge and is dealt 4 red clue and 4 blue means cards, which they turn face up in front of themselves in two rows. The forensic scientist then asks players to close their eyes. Next, they ask the murderer to open their eyes and indicate from their cards a key piece of evidence and a means – before reclosing their eyes. At this point if a witness or accomplice was involved the forensic scientists would indicate to them whom the murder is, before finally everyone opens their eyes.
The forensic scientist draws from the box the cause of death tile, chooses one of the four location tiles and randomly draws four scene tiles. The game kicks off as soon as the forensic scientist places a bullet token next to a word on any of the tiles. Only one word per tile can be hinted at, with the time between clues at the discretion of the forensic scientist. All other players, including the murderer, can discuss what the clues might mean.
Once the 6th bullet token is placed, giving a bit of time for discussion, the round is over. Each non-forensic scientist player gets 30 uninterrupted seconds to talk through their thoughts on what the information means. Round two and three are similar however the forensic scientist only draws a single new scene tile, replacing one of the already used scene tiles. Each round players discuss and get their dedicated 30 seconds to talk.
At any point in the game an investigator, including the murderer, can hand their badge in to the forensic scientist to make an official guess. They must correctly guess the clue and means in one guess. If either is incorrect the forensic scientist will inform the group it is not correct and play continues. If guessed correctly the murderer is found and the rest of the group, including the forensic scientist wins! If everyone guesses incorrectly then the murderer escapes and wins the game.
Unlike games like The Resistance Avalon, even the worst murderer can get away with the crime in Deception: Murder in Hong Kong. This makes it much more of a forgiving experience to introduce new players to. No longer can a fit of giggles in the first round completely ruin the game. Even with the murderer being known, the Forensic Scientist still needs to hint towards the evidence and means, with the pressure of being the “traitor” slightly lessened as a result. In Avalon I often feared a game where a brand new player would start as a traitor, simply not knowing what to do often shone through. This fear is minimised by this forgiving angle, though it is still a much easier task for investigators if the murderer’s identity is deduced.
This doesn’t mean that the murderer’s role is any less thrilling. With less rounds and only a limited number of options efforts to bluff still need to be spot on. As with the best games of the genre, Deception: Murder in Hong Kong nails the adrenaline rush of pulling the wool over your fellow gamers’ eyes. Convincing the others that clearly “a sudden noise” at the scene must mean a sniper shot not rumbling on explosives is somewhat backed up by logic, and it is the twisting of others’ logic that is brilliant to see occur – even if it is against you!
I understand the publishers decision to have the cards and tiles feature both English and German. Printing both onto a single version allows them to mass produce the game easier, yet it benefits neither set of players. The words may be in differing colour but they still make the components much harder to read at a glance, even for someone that reads some German – therefore it must have the same negative impact for German players, with English on the components. As someone whom can struggle to read content upside down this only exacerbates the problem. The room used for the second language could have been used to have the text written both ways up or a larger font size.
The game is built to be flexible around any group. When playing with more players there is the option for two optional roles and variants to make the game easier or harder for the murderer. When at or above 6 players, the accomplice and witness can be, but do not have to be, introduced. Neither of these roles see the evidence or the means but do learn the identity of the murder during the pre-game preparation. The accomplice will win if the murderer gets away with the crime, so will attempt to help their cause by throwing the investigators off the scent.
The witness is on the investigators side, therefore wins if the murderer is caught. However, the investigators will lose if the murderer figures out whom the witness is, so they must be careful with their hints. Other games of the genre come with more optional roles, to vary the gameplay. These only really show their impact months down the line. Two is enough for balance but extras may have been a nice inclusion.
As each player gains cards at the start of the game this number swiftly adds up alongside the player count. By default everyone gets 4 of both card type. Therefore, in a maximum player count game (12) 48 means and 48 clue cards will be in play. Impressively this is only 24% of the clue cards and 53% of the means. With that amount it isn’t even worth attempting to calculate the number of potential combinations! For me the number of cards in a game above 8 would become too many to look at, and with a lower player count the potential combinations of cards in play only increases.
If it becomes too much to look at there is a variant, that makes it harder for the murderer, of reducing the cards dealt to 3 of each type. Balancing this with an accomplice would work though. Given the room needed, the time that would take to discuss and the amount of willing players needed, I haven’t played near this player count and would prefer to stick to a player range of 4 – 7, as this seems like a brilliant number to play with.
There is a slight downside to the flexibility with timings of talking left as almost suggestions in the rulebook. To keep the flow of the game, and stop particular players from rambling on, it would have been nice to see a 30 second egg timer in the box for players to pass around. A phone app will do the job, or the Forensic Scientist ball parking it, but it just seems it is a component that could have helped.
A great measure for a game is how much players talk about it afterwards and their eagerness to play again. Deception: Murder in Hong Kong has a 100% success rate for players wanting to jump back in. On top of this the discussions rumble on even to the next day, of how someone managed an incredible bluff or how the murderers choice of evidence and means created a laughable narrative. While it’s fine to say a game can be played in 20 minutes, the game can comfortably fill an hour of a gaming night with enjoyment and ease – via back to back games. Other games of the genre will hold onto their shelf spot due to previous great gaming experiences but Deception: Murder in Hong Kong will be my go to social deduction game from now on!
[Editor’s Note: Deception: Murder in Hong Kong was provided to us by Asmodee for review purposes. The game is currently available on 365 Games for £29.99. It is also available from local UK board game stores, find your local store here]