Too few players and you can't play the game, too many and it's almost impossible to moderate. It takes that one newbie friend that ruins the game by not opening their eyes or not raising their thumb or asking a question that gives aways their role. Or the fact that no matter how many expansions you have bought, you don't have a big enough table in your tiny apartment to have 12 players lay their cards on, let alone stealthily swap or move them while others have their eyes closed.
The precursor to social deduction genre, Mafia, conquered the world with zero marketing. It was being played in dorm rooms and living rooms before it was packaged and marketed as Werewolf. Its undeniable appeal and attraction led to the development of a whole genre in game design and many great games have come out of that genre. Mafia itself was designed as a psychology research experiment by a Russian graduate student in 1987. It went viral in the school and gradually spread to Europe and then the whole world through students. It was given a werewolf theme in the US and became known as Werewolf. The premise of the game is to model the conflict of an informed minority and an uninformed majority in a democratic society. It's the fact that you don't just play the game, but you become the game. Every player is an element of the game and the character of players can change the course of the game. It's a display of psychological traits of the players on a mission to prove what we so desperately want to be true as a society: That democracy works. That the good actor majority can comb out the bad actor minority through the only two mechanics of the game: Discussion and Voting. Of course, the game is too simple a model to result in any objective truth about society, but it's not designed to do so. It's all about the subjective experience, your feelings and judgement when faced with social dilemmas; what You do when you're wrongfully accused; how you handle pressure and social tests; how you bluff your way out of getting caught. Do you rely on using math and probability based on insufficient data, or do you try to read or appeal to human emotions? Do you get frustrated and angry when feel misjudged, or do you stay calm and try to make a rational argument? Ultimately, it's about how you build trust: the most fundamental element in the fabric of a functional society.
The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.
Now that I have spent two paragraphs about what we hate and what we love about Mafia and social deduction genre, I can explain why we started Republic of Jungle. You see, everything we hate about social deduction is about the technicalities. It’s about the platform we play the game on and how it limits the game experience. How it throttles all the goodness of the game and makes it less likely to get the most out of each game. Every time you start the game, you should hope it turns out to be one of those good ones you play for. Interestingly, the goodness is so good that makes it worth trying and trying. So, we had to ask: what if we could take away all the technical issues without removing the any goodness from the premise of the game?
The biggest limitation of traditional games that rely on secrets is what we call “Synchronized Secret Sharing”. It’s the fact that everybody has to close their eyes or do something specific at a specific time for a token of secret to be shared or a secret action to be taken. If there are a series of these actions, they have to be sequentially taken by each player while others have their eyes closed. It’s not fun to have your eyes closed for minutes just to find out someone had messed up their instruction and you have to reset the game. Secret phases are time consuming to play and so easy to mess up. One Night Ultimate Werewolf is a favorite in the genre because it has only one secret phase which makes the game quicker, although even in this case with a large number of players the secret phase takes a long time and needs a moderator to coordinate the actions. More importantly, the thrill associated with anticipation of a random event or taking a secret action is limited. So, the fundamental problem to solve is how to make secret sharing easier and asynchronous, so everybody can just play the game without others having to close their eyes. Fortunately, everybody carries a magical personal device these days. They just need to connect to each other to be used as the game input, and we have the internet to thank for that!
Device-as-input is not a novel idea. Another favorite of ours, Jackbox Games, has a suite of fun lightweight party games that leverage this platform effectively. So we got to work to see if this platform can help us get a better experience out of social deduction games. After a bunch of hacking and prototyping, we were pleasantly surprised! It works! Not only we could play the game with no hassle, we quickly realized that we can revolutionize the genre on this new platform. It opens new possibilities for actions and roles that were not imaginable in the traditional setting. There were nuances added to the game that we had never experienced in any other games. It was then that we realized we have to build the game. It was too good to let go, and there is nothing quite like it in the market. For about two years, we experimented with several ideas to polish our design and try new mechanics, and now we have a game we enjoy and want to share it with the world.