Deception: Murder in Hong Kong debuted as a successful Kickstarter project last year, earning over 300% of its $20,000 goal. The game is a reimplementation of CS-Files, a game from Hong Kong-based Jolly Thinkers. This was probably the first Kickstarter that Amber was really excited about, and so it was an instant back for us.
As you can probably guess from the name, Deception: Murder in Hong Kong centers around a murder that’s taken place in Hong Kong. The players take on the role of investigators who are trying to solve the crime by finding the murder weapon and key evidence, but one of the players is the murderer who is trying to cover his or her tracks by throwing the other investigators off the trail. This social deduction game plays with as few as 4 players or as many as 12, and can be played in 20-30 minutes (with more players the playtime is longer).
Like many social deduction games, Deception: Murder in Hong Kong is not overly complicated or rules-heavy, and can be set up, taught, and played relatively quickly. The first thing to do is to distribute Clue and Means cards to each player. The Clue cards represent pieces of evidence which are used to find the murderer, such as a lottery ticket, skull, flashlight, or office supplies. The Means cards represent the murder weapon, and can be anything from a venomous scorpion to an axe to drowning or starvation. Each player receives four Clue cards and four Means cards and places them in front of themselves, arranged so that the other players can see them all clearly. To that end, it’s usually best to face the cards away from yourself so that they can be more easily read by all.
The next step of setup is to distribute roles to everyone. The majority of the players will be Investigators, but there are a few special roles. The Forensic Scientist is on the investigators’ team, and acts as a facilitator for the game. He knows who the murderer is and how it was committed and must give clues to his fellow investigators over the course of the game. Next, of course, is the Murderer, who must try to evade suspicion and keep the investigators from guessing her identity or the Murder Weapon and Key Evidence. When playing with 6 or more players, there are two additional special roles you can use to make things more interesting. The Accomplice is on the Murderer’s team, and knows who the Murderer is as well as the Murder Weapon/Key evidence. Their role is to help the Murderer avoid suspicion and work to throw the investigators off the scent. Finally, the Witness knows who the Murderer and Accomplice are, but does not know which is which. Their role is to help point the other investigators to those two shady characters, but to not be too overt about it — if the Murderer and Accomplice can figure out who is the Witness by the end of the game, they win even if the Murderer has been found out. After everyone has a role, the last part of setup is to give everyone (except the Forensic Scientist) a Badge token. These represent the one chance every player has to guess the Murderer’s identity. After doing all of this, you are ready to play!
To begin the game, the Forensic Scientist instructs all of the other players to close their eyes. Then, the Murderer (and Accomplice, if playing with one) open their eyes and make themselves known to the Forensic Scientist. Next, the Murderer chooses one of their own Clue and Means cards to be the Key Evidence and Murder Weapon, respectively. These will be the cards that the Investigators must identify in order to win the game. Once the Forensic Scientist has confirmed that they know which cards the Murderer has selected, the Murderer and Accomplice close their eyes. Then, if playing with a Witness, the Witness opens their eyes. The Forensic Scientist indicates to the Witness which two players are the Murderer and Accomplice, but not which player has which role. Finally, the Witness closes their eyes, all players open their eyes, and the game proper begins.
Deception: Murder in Hong Kong is played over three rounds. In each of these rounds, the Forensic Scientist will provide clues hinting towards the Murder Weapon and Key Evidence, and then each player will have a chance to explain their reasoning and suspicions. At any point throughout the game, a player may stop the action and turn in their badge token to attempt to guess the Key Evidence and Murder Weapon. If they get both correct, the Forensic Scientist will say so; otherwise they will simply be told that their guess is incorrect (the Forensic Scientist cannot indicate if one of the selected cards is correct, or even that the correct player was chosen as the Murderer).
To give clues to the players, the Forensic Scientist has a stack of Scene tiles which indicate various things about the murder, killer, or victim. Two of these that will always be in play are the Cause of Death and Location of Crime. The Cause of Death tile contains such elements as Suffocation, Loss of Blood, and Poisoning, while the Location of Crime tiles have places such as Pub, Hotel, or Bank. The other Scene tiles are things like Corpse Condition (Stiff, Decayed, Incomplete, etc.), Duration of Crime (Instantaneous, Gradual, Prolonged, etc.), and Victim’s Identity (Child, Senior, Female, etc.). During the first round, the Forensic Scientist gets six of these Scene tiles, which they lay out for all players to see. Then, they place one bullet-shaped marker on each Scene tile to give clues pointing to the Murder Weapon or Key Evidence. For example, if the Key Evidence is Earrings, the Forensic Scientist may want to select Female for the Victim’s Identity, or if the Murder Weapon is Poisonous Mushrooms, they may want to select Poisoning as Cause of Death. While the Forensic Scientist is placing markers, the other players may freely discuss the evidence that’s being presented and what cards they point to or eliminate. The Forensic Scientist should listen to this discussion (they can’t speak except to respond to accusations) and can use it to shape which clues they give. Once markers have been placed on all 6 Scene tiles, the players are allowed a brief period of discussion, and the each player, starting to the left of the Forensic Scientist and proceeding clockwise, has about 30 seconds to present their thoughts on the evidence given so far and which players/cards they are suspicious of. Each player’s presentation should not be interrupted by the other players, except for when a player wants to turn in their badge token to attempt to solve the crime. Assuming no one correctly identifies the Key Evidence and Murder Weapon, after all players have presented their thoughts, play continues on to the next round.
The second and third rounds are similar to the first, except that the Forensic Scientist only draws one new Scene tile each round. This new tile replaces one of the previously placed tiles, and the marker from that tile is placed on the new tile wherever the Forensic Scientist sees fit. Then, each player has 30 seconds to present their thoughts again each round. After the last player finishes presenting during the third and final round, the game ends immediately with the Murderer having eluded the Investigators, so if a player hasn’t used his or her guess by the end of the third round’s presentation, there is no final period for guessing, so they must use it or lose it. It’s also important to note that if a player turns in their badge and gives an incorrect guess, they may still participate in the discussions and presentations but may no longer guess the Key Evidence and Murder Weapon.
The game ends in one of two ways: either a player correctly identifies the Key Evidence and Murder Weapon, in which case the Investigators (including the Forensic Scientist) win, or all players lose their chance to guess, either by guessing incorrectly or by not using their badge by the end of the third round’s presentations. In the latter case, the Murderer (and Accomplice) win. In addition, if playing with the Witness and the Key Evidence and Murder Weapon are found, the Murder and Accomplice choose one player they think is the Witness. If they choose correctly, they are able to kill the Witness and escape conviction, but if they choose incorrectly, they still lose the game.
As was said at the beginning of the review, this was the first Kickstarter I was really excited about and told Ethan that he was required to back it. What really intrigued me about this game was the role of the Forensic Scientist guiding everyone through the game. I’ve had the opportunity to play as this role and it was a lot tougher than I imagined. Sometimes your clues could be misleading and the Investigators get lost for an entire round; when there are only three rounds, this can be quite the issue. I’ve also played as the Accomplice; I found this role to be challenging, but not too so, as really you just need to find a way to lead the suspicions to someone else. It important to know that just because this game can be played with 12 players doesn’t mean that it should be. It makes the game go long and people get a bit antsy waiting for their turn to speak. That being said, if you have a group that likes social deduction games, I think this will be a hit with them!
- People will not necessarily gang up on you
- Different roles to play, so there are different ways to play
- It doesn’t take long to play
- People may try to talk over you, even if they’re not allowed
- It scales poorly for small and numbers and large numbers
- Sometimes the Witness is bad at their job
As I said in our review for Salem, social deduction games are very hit-and-miss for me. This mostly comes down to how much I dislike being on the “bad” team (e.g. the spies in Resistance, the werewolves in Werewolf/One Night Ultimate Werewolf, etc.). Unfortunately (or fortunately, for me), in the 3 games of Deception I’ve played so far, I’ve only ever been a regular Investigator, so I can’t really speak to how the game plays as the Murderer or any of the other special roles. That said, I don’t think I would mind it that much. Again drawing a comparison to Salem, the Murderer doesn’t have to work quite so hard to prove their own innocence — they can throw blame all around the table without casting too much suspicion on themselves since everyone’s in the same boat of not knowing for sure who’s on the investigator team (except for the Witness, of course, and they really can’t make it too obvious). By the same token, this means that the game doesn’t really scale that well for very large numbers of players. Every additional person adds another 16 different possible combinations of Clue and Means cards to choose from as the Key Evidence and Murder Weapon. While the Forensic Scientist’s clues should narrow it down, they are still very limited in what hints they can give (and some cards, like the Pillar clue, are really hard to indicate with the Scene cards given). We played one game with 11 or 12 people and it was pretty chaotic — the difficulty to see everyone’s cards around the table, along with everyone’s presentations taking 6 minutes per round made it an experience we didn’t want to repeat anytime soon. In addition, you might need the right group of players, especially if dealing out the Forensic Scientist role randomly, as that one in particular is pretty challenging and should preferably be performed by someone who’s familiar with the game, since they need to moderate it. In the games we’ve played so far, we predetermined who would be the Forensic Scientist and then dealt out the rest of the cards randomly. With a good group of 6-8 players though, Deception: Murder in Hong Kong is a fun game that’s certainly a fresh take on the social deduction genre!
- Social deduction game that’s heavy on the “deduction”
- More than 200 Clue cards and 90 Means cards provides for a lot of replayability with different combinations of cards each time
- Very nice card/component quality
- Doesn’t play that well with more than ~8 players
- Requires an experienced player for the Forensic Scientist/moderator role, so can be tough if roles are dealt out completely randomly