Secret Hitler is an indie game by the creators of Cards Against Humanity about politics and traitors. Secret Hitler pits players against each other by assigning secret roles via dealing cards at the top of the game. There are two sides, either liberal or fascist. Additionally, there is one card that assigns someone to be “Hitler”. The game involves three stages: the first player is the president and chooses another player to be their chancellor. All players vote on whether they will allow this government or not. If the government passes, the prime minister draws three “policy” cards”. Liberals want to pass liberal policies and fascists want to pass fascist policies. The president looks at the three cards and discards one, passing the other two to the chancellor without showing the other players. The chancellor chooses one policy to pass. Based on how players vote, pass policies, and what everyone accuses everyone else of being, players have to try and discern who is on what side. This is important not only for passing the desired policies, but also because if the fascists manage to elect Hitler as president, the liberals automatically lose. There are also mechanics that become triggered when a certain number of fascist policies are enacted, such as the ability to “assassinate” another player. There are all sorts of little aspects to the game that make it really challenging, and the game is designed to take a large number of players as well.
I hate how much I like this game. It’s really easy to get caught up in so much so that when people pass by and ask what we’re playing I’ll say “Secret Hitler” and then remember how awful that sounds when I see the person’s reaction. This game is a lot of fun and actually easy for new players to pick up with a little guidance. The elements all interact really well together to make a balanced game experience. But why is it about Hitler? I try to justify this to myself in all sorts of ways. For example, you can see this game as a metaphor for politics and mistrust or even for the specific conditions that led to Hitler’s rise of power prior to World War II. I think there is an argument to be made there and there are hints of satire and criticism in the game itself. For example, all the liberal role cards are blue generic looking business people while the fascists are literal lizards.
Despite this, I don’t think the theme is justified enough for me to really recommend this game. I had a German roommate in the fall of 2015 and I cannot imagine telling her that I played a game called “Secret Hitler”. While it’s been over 70 years since World War II and you can ask “when is a joke too soon?” or say “comedy is just tragedy plus time”, but these are less than convincing for me. I think this subject matter is still too real for too many people. Essentially, this game begs the question are we making comment on or are we making light of a serious event? Without more depth, the game seems to be more of a part of this weird obsession with Hitler that seems to have cropped up in recent years, making him more of a meme than a historical figure. I’m not certain that the message is strong enough to warrant the theme, and with other secret role and bluffing games out there I can’t entirely ratify this game in my mind. As fun as it is, I’m not sure the theme is warranted and would have to recommend similar games such as Werewolf over Secret Hitler. That being said I’m not actively against this game either; it is really fun and I can see the validity in the argument that humour is a legitimate method of criticism and even means for coping with serious events. It definitely made me rethink the role of games and how they can be used as criticism. If you think this game is for you, you can download the print and play version from the publisher or buy the game and support the creator from the links below.