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Never Bring a Knife

It’s time for a standoff between the undercover cops and the criminals. Only problem: nobody knows whose side everybody else is on and you don’t want to accidentally shoot your friends.

From Atlas Games comes Never Bring a Knife, a light social deduction game in which you must try to protect your teammates while also trying to bring down the other side, all while figuring out who is who.

Gameplay

An equal number of criminal and cop identity cards are shuffled together. One is dealt to each player face-down, and one is placed face-down in the center of the table as ‘the boss’. If you have one card left over, it is returned to the box without revealing it. Each player looks at their own identity card and the card belonging to the player on their left. Each player is either on Team Cops or Team Criminals. The hit and mole cards are placed in the discard pile, so that they’ll only join the deck once you go through it once and reshuffle.

Each round, four cards are dealt to each player. You take your cards, do not show them to anyone, and then take turns playing cards on people until everyone has four cards played on them. The cards played on you each round are called your ‘stack’. The first card you play each round must be played on another player, however any subsequent cards you play that round can be played on someone else or on yourself. No one can ever have more than four cards in their stack. The first card played on a player each round is played face-up, while subsequent cards are played face-down; however, you may always choose to play a card face-up if you wish.

Once all cards are played, each player reveals and resolves their stacks. Any money cards you reveal are placed face-up in front of you. For every two guns played on you, you take one wound. An armor card cancels out one gun card. A crime card forces you to discard one money card. Intel allows you to look at one player’s identity card or the boss card. The mole forces you to switch your identity card with that of the boss card (you may then look at your new identity). Finally, the hit card allows you to spend three money cards in order to inflict one wound on another player. If you do not have enough money, or would rather not use it immediately, you may place the hit card with your money cards to be used later.

During the final phase of each round, players may spend money. You may spend three money cards to heal one wound on any player or three money cards to look at any identity card. If a player has saved the hit card, they may use it now as well.

If at the end of the round, if any player has three wounds, he has fallen and reveals his identity card. Each player on the same team as the fallen player loses the game and the other team wins. If more than one player has fallen, the team with the least number of fallen players wins the game, with the boss’s identity acting as tie breaker.

Never Bring a Knife Components

Review

Never Bring a Knife is an uncomplicated, easy to teach social deduction game. Every player has a little bit of information at the start of the game: you know if the player to your left is your ally or not. As the game goes on you get more and more information about more roles.

You are not just trying to kill someone on the opposing team; you are also trying to protect the people on your side. As more players figure out your role, they can start trying to guess other people’s allegiance based on who you heal or who you play cards on. We liked the amount of information available and its slow but steady escalation.

The fact that the first card on each player is played face-up is an interesting mechanism that you can use to mislead or earn trust, as is the ability to choose to play a card face up if you wish. Meanwhile, your options are always going to be based on the hand you’re dealt, forcing players to mix up their strategies depending on what they have in their hands.

While there is no phase explicitly dedicated to debating or discussion, players are free to discuss freely what they know, or lie about their information. This keeps the game moving along while still giving the opportunity to make deals and backstab and mislead.

The cards themselves are OK, but the card stock could be a higher quality. We liked some of the variety in the artwork. Not all the cop role cards are the same, nor are all the criminals. There are also different guns depicted on the gun cards. However, all the money cards are the same, all the armor and crime as well, which just gets a little dull. In general, while the art is good, the cards are a little bland.

It is worth noting that the game is rated 17+, and even has a disclaimer on the back that it is intended for adults. However, this is due exclusively to the theme rather than explicit contents on the cards themselves.

Never Bring a Knife doesn’t bring anything very new to the genre, but it is a streamlined and smooth gameplay experience. It’s enjoyable and has a nice sense of escalation. And, with the presence of the mole card, there’s always the opportunity for some late game twists.

Pros: Escalation in available information, balance of protecting your team with hunting your opponents

Cons: A little aesthetically underwhelming, 17+ age rating

Disclosure: we received a complimentary review copy of this game.