Hidden Agendas and Insanity: A Preview of Arkham Ritual
Do you think someone is trying to persuade you to discard? Or are they too happy to leave you with your current hand? If only you knew what card you were holding — but you don’t. Only your opponents know in this insanity-inducing, social deduction game, currently on Kickstarter.
Each game is divided into several rounds. The game ends when one or more players gain seven or more insanity points (these players lose the game).
At the start of each round, the deck is shuffled and each player receives one card. You may not look at your card. You hold it so its back is turned to you and all other players can see it. In the deck are two character cards, one Cthulhu card, four event cards, and several artifact cards.
One player is chosen to start as the active player, and all players put one hand on the table. The active player draws the top card of the deck, looks at it, and must pass it facedown to another player. That player now removes their hand from the table. Without looking at the card, that player must decide whether to pass it to someone else whose hand is on the table, or take the card and discard his previous card face-up. Once the card has been taken by a player, another player becomes the active player. Or, if every player passes on it, it is discarded and the round ends. The round also ends if there are no cards left in the deck. If another player is chosen as the active player, it is the first player clockwise to the previous active player, who still has their hand on the table.
There are two blue and one red copy of each artifact card. Event cards have special abilities which activate when discarded. If an Elder Sign is discarded, it immediately ends the round. A Magical Orb allows the player who discarded it to look at the top card of the deck and return it to the top or remove it facedown from the round. If a gate card is discarded while another player holds the Cthulhu card, the round ends, the owner of the Cthulhu card does not gain any insanity, and all other players gain insanity equal to the number of players minus one.
With the exception of a round ended via Cthulhu, players only avoid losing sanity if their card is a blue artifact card and no other player is holding a matching artifact (regardless of color), or if you hold one of the event cards. If you have the Investigator character card, you lose one point of insanity. If any player holds the cultist card, the rules are changed so that red artifact cards (not blue) protect players from going insane during the round.
If you do not hold the correct card, you gain insanity points equal to the number of players gaining insanity this round. If no player has reached seven insanity points, you play another round. Once one or more players hit seven insanity points, all remaining sane players win the game.
Arkham Ritual puts a unique twist on the social deduction genre. It’s a fun challenge trying to figure out what you’re likely holding based on other players' cards, what’s being passed to you, what’s not being passed to you, and what’s been discarded. You also have to try to bluff other players and figure out the best way to convince them to either discard or keep the card they’re holding. It’s also key to decide when you want to push for the end of the round and when you want to keep things going.
The rulebook doesn’t talk much about what players are or aren’t allowed to say, so you can have a lot of fun making cryptic comments as you pass cards. In fact, the most fun is had when you allow for a lot of back and forth and persuasion attempts.
We were playing a prototype, but the quality of the cards was very nice and the artwork fits the game quite well. It would be helpful if the event and character cards had some text on them that stated their powers, in case you forget mid-game. The rulebook is also a bit messy at the moment, but the publisher has stated their intention to rewrite it.
Arkham Ritual plays quite quickly, and it’s the type of social deduction game that is unlikely to veer into accusations or unpleasantness. It’s light, it’s fast, and it’s engaging, the kind of game you're going to play multiple times in one sitting. There’s a lot of guesswork involved, and social deduction fans who enjoy playing the odds should certainly check it out on Kickstarter.
Pros: Unique twist on social deduction game with fun and clever bluffing and deduction mechanics
Cons: Card abilities could be written on the cards, rulebook is currently confusing but will likely be fixed
Disclosure: this preview is based on our evaluation of an unpublished prototype of the game, which is subject to change prior to publication. While a modest payment was received to expedite the review process, our thoughts and opinions expressed here are honest and accurate.