Growing up I was a huge fan of the TV show The X-Files even having a “Trust No One” poster on my wall, so perhaps it was inevitable I would be attracted to social-deduction games where deception is paramount.
Conspirator from designer Alejandro Díaz adds some new twists to the standard bearer Werewolf/Mafia. Similar to those games there are two sides pitted against each other, one side is trying to hide their nefarious plans, while the other is trying to figure out who is killing off their friends.
In Conspirator you are in a Renaissance-era monarchy where the Conspirators are trying to kill off the Citizens of the Kingdom and only the Monarch can stop them. The big change in Conspirator versus standard Werewolf is the Monarch role.
Similar to Werewolf the game is played in Night and Day phases. During the Night the Conspirators target one Citizen to die. During the Day the Monarch may condemn one player, eliminating them from the game. The Conspirators win if all the Citizens are gone, the Kingdom (Monarch, Citizens, other good characters) win if all the Conspirators are condemned.
Where are as in many social-deduction games voting is a large component, in Conspirator the Monarch controls everything. The Monarch has final say on who dies during the Day. They can be a benevolent Monarch that listens to their people for input, they could even call for a vote, but they never have to abide by the results. The Monarch is publicly known to everyone, similar to the Sheriff in Bang the Dice Game, but unlike the Sheriff they cannot die. They therefore become the focus of all discussion as the
rest of the players must convince the Monarch who to condemn and who to spare.
One of the more frustrating aspects of playing Werewolf is that in large groups there can be a lack of focus, as people talk over each other and you end up only being able to talk to the two or three people beside you. Having the Monarch role helps eliminate that issue to some extent. The Monarch can, if they choose, control the conversation rather than making it a free-for-all that many Werewolf games can turn into. The Monarch is an interesting role in a few other regards. It forces dominant players to step back, rather than earn the wrath of the Monarch and allows a chance for quieter players to have their voice heard. It can also speed up games considerably. Werewolf games can drag into hours upon hours if villagers are unable to come to a consensus on who to lynch. Also, each game will play very differently based on the personality of the Monarch.
Yeah, I realize this review is edging a bit too closely to saying democracy sucks and we just need a strong leader to take control, I do acknowledge there are some issues with dictatorships.
If your group ends up with a Monarch that is plainly not good at deduction and won’t listen to the reasonable citizens, the game can quickly end up with a dominating victory by the Conspirators. You could also end up in a situation with a Monarch who struggles or is uncomfortable with the pressure. Of course you don’t have to randomly choose the Monarch, so as not to force someone into a role they do not want to be.
As with Mafia/Werewolf there are some other roles that can be introduced into the game depending on the player count. During the night phase The Sentinel can check for Conspirators (similar to a Seer in Werewolf). The Guardian can protect a Citizen who is being targeted during the Night phase, sacrificing themselves (A variation on the Bodyguard). The Judge can absolve a condemned player and condemn someone else (A variation on the Witch). The Conjuror can prevent another player from speaking. The Lunatic must speak incoherently. The Apprentice.. The Traitor is a Conspirator who will appear to be a Citizen if checked by a Sentinel (similar to a Wolfman). Diaz also added Joker card that can be used for other powered cards you might see in a Werewolf game (such as the Hunter).
The look of the cards themselves is very appealing. The face of the cards has a stark white background upon which are line-drawn characters, along with their role and a short sentence about the role. The back of the cards are black with a line-drawn cross/dagger shape. The art by Minerva Valerio works well, in that it is very pretty to look at but does not overwhelm the eye. It will also be appealing to gamers that might not appreciate dark imagery that many Mafia/Werewolf reskins have. The minimal text is also a plus, so as not to confuse gamers and force them to read long sentences that could give away their role.
The problem Conspirator runs into is that there are many similar games out there and gamers that have a great deal of experience with Mafia/Werewolf might not find enough differentiation between those
games and Conspirator to give it a chance. Also there are so many expansions to Ultimate Werewolf with so many more advanced characters that this slimmed-down version might not have much staying power with experienced groups.
Where I believe Conspirator works best is with newer gamers. The easy-to-learn rules, more streamlined gameplay via the Monarch, understandable theme and stark, yet very pretty art, makes Conspirator a good entry option to social deduction games for people that don’t even know what those are.
Conspirator is a bluffing, deduction card game for 8 to 31 players (up to 12 with extra board) that plays in approximately 60 minutes. Designed by Alejandro Díaz with art by Minerva Valerio it is self-published through The Game Crafter, LLC. Thank you to Alejandro for providing a review copy of the game.