Deception: It’s Murder to Play

By Tim Hange

This review is a summary of an audio review by Get on Board. Feel free to click here for the full audio review (from episode #7) ›

Deception, Murder in Hong Kong is an interesting amalgam of a word association game and a social deduction game.   Think “Codenames meets Mafia”.  Our reviews usually have a brutally over-simplified overview, but there isn’t much here to oversimplify.

Each player arranges four clue cards and four means cars in front of them.

One player is chosen to be the “forensic investigator”.  He places a series of clue boards out in front of him.

The forensic investigator tells all players to close their eyes, and the murderer to open his.   The murderer then points to one clue card, and one means card.

Once all players have opened their eyes, it is time for the forensic investigator to give clues by placing markers on the clue cards.  He cannot, however, speak (thematic problem!  Oh well).  So let’s say that the murderer pointed to “blender”, the FI might set the marker on the “Location” card on “Kitchen”.   People might start eyeing the blender suspiciously.    Still, another player has “fork and knife”, another one has “bread”.   The FI marks the clues on his other cards. Players look for the word associations and begin accusing each other, statements are made, and eventually, either the murderer is either found out, or everyone has wasted their one accusation and the murderer wins.

Here’s a disclaimer:   Neither Andrew nor I like social deduction games very much.
Here’s what you might expect:  Neither of us really love playing this game
Here’s the surprise:  This game is a keeper for both of us.

The Magic:

One of the things I hate most about social deduction games is the lack of information.   So often it devolves into “he looks shifty!  Or “Your eyes moved left when you denied being the murderer!”.  Yeah, I know, some people really like this stuff, but to me, it’s just so pointless.   In Deception, the information is right out in front of you.   It’s only cards and associated words.   You’ve just got to try to put the puzzle together, and not get sent on a rabbit trail by the murderer.

I have played this game twice with friends who dislike board games, or find them too complicated.  I was shocked to see them fall in love with this game.  It created magic moments around the table, despite my reluctance to play this thing!   There was constant argumentation on what it could be that the FI was hinting at, and whose cards matched.   People were indignant that their cards were being suspected, and attempting to redirect attention to other player cards.   Of course the dares would come out:  “Go ahead, accuse me, but you are wrong, and it’s gonna set us back!”

How my friends enjoy a game is important to me.   This game got a resounding “yes”, with two friends calling me later in the week to ask me the name of the game and where to buy it. It also plays super fast.

Plus, there are a number of roles and other tweaks that can be applied to keep the game fresh and make it work with a higher number of players.
People talk after the game about the woulda, coulda, shouldas…. That’s the mark of a good game.

The Tragic:

Well, the murderer is found more often than not. Sometimes, as the murderer you don’t have much to do when people start figuring you out—you might feel kind of helpless.

The card configuration is really odd.  There are two types, a “clue” card and a “means” card—they all have pretty  much just a random assortment of stuff on them.   Take a guess:  We have two cards:  The “puppet” and the “nail”.  Which is the “means card” and which is the clue?  It would have been more interesting in my opinion to have followed the old trope of “Who, where, and with what”.   This would also have added a third card, making the murderer a little harder to find.

Thematically, I think they missed an opportunity to make the “Forensic Investigator” a psychic, or ghost (ok, Mysterium), or a frightened victim, in order to explain the clue-giver’s inability to speak.   Not a big deal, but it could have added more flavor to the game.  Also, what does Hong Kong have to do with any of this?


Deception, Murder in Hong Kong is an unusual social deduction game that uses word association cleverly as a core mechanic.  It is accessible, the games are fast, and it has been a hit with my non-gamer friends.   It creates some story and experiences that are memorable.   The game isn’t for me personally, but belongs in my collection just for its value with my friends.   Maybe one day I’ll stop being a cranky-butt and enjoy social deduction games for what they are.

This review was more my opinion than my cohort’s.   To hear us arguing about it, listen to the audio review!

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