Common game mechanics

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This is a page to list simple mechanics to solve common game design problems.

Secretly assigning players

Suppose you need to designate one or more players to a certain role, in a way that is secret from other players, but transparent to you. You also probably don't want the players to be able to prove or disprove whether they were assigned to the role, during the game - if denying that you're a Killer Robot is a dramatic and important part of the game, you don't want the players to be able to flash their original identity cards as a bulletproof defence, during an argument.


The basic Werewolf approach is to deal an identity card to each player, tell them not to let anyone else see, and then let the werewolves identify one another by telling everyone to close their eyes, and then telling the werewolves to open theirs. Players can check their cards during the game, although if you're running a roaming street game, make sure to collect the cards back in before people leave - they shouldn't be able to use their card as proof of their innocence, when chatting to other players.

Red and black cards

Sort out as many ordinary playing cards as there are players. Deal them round the table, ensuring you know which players are getting the red cards (e.g. put the red cards at the top or bottom of the deck).

Don't explain what's going on; just ask the players to memorise their card without letting anyone else see it; then collect all the cards; then announce that whoever had a red card is designated as a traitor/werewolf/whatever.

Named cards

Sometimes you'll want the players with the secret roles to know each other's identity, so that they can work together.

Night of the Vampire gave every player a card with a medieval profession on it; the two vampires players were also slipped a note saying "You are a vampire! The other vampire is the butcher/baker. Destroy this note." (and the other players weren't alerted to the fact that the vampires would have been passed a note). Once everyone had read their card, they were asked to introduce themselves to the other villagers, and could keep their card for reference for the remainder of the game.

Notes, clues and rendezvous

If you're running a roaming pervasive game and want a few of the players to have secret identities, you can ask your players to turn around and close their eyes, with their hands behind their back, then slip explanatory "you are a robot" notes to the secret players.

If you want the players to work together, you can expand this note by:-

  • giving them a subtle clue that they can use to recognise one another during the game, such as scratching their nose or dropping a certain word into conversation (this actually forms the core of a game; Watch Your Back)
  • telling them to meet somewhere at a specific time, early in the game
  • quickly writing descriptive notes of the other secret players ("you are a robot; the other two robots are the player in the blue hat, and the player in the black T-shirt")