I love games where you get to lie and bluff to your opponents. Those funny mind games you play where you try to psyche each other out and trash talk to your heart’s content. A lot of my favourite simple games (Kakerlaken Poker, Spyfall, One Night Ultimate Werewolf) will involve some degree of mind-game trickery. I find it’s just the perfect recipe for player to player interaction. Not all of them work for me of course. Skull deals more with random bidding then actual lying. Mascarade is OK, but the added element of not knowing who you are makes it a little too chaotic and the less said about Coup (aka Call My Duke) the better.
Hoax (2nd edition) is a card-based social bluffing game, that took 30 years to return to our shelves after its first edition, so essentially a quick pit stop. Hoax was possibly one of the first games that introduced the idea of bald-faced lying as a rules mechanic – as opposed to a reason not to get invited to game night again – and admittedly merged it with a bunch of clunky, somewhat needlessly complicated rules and exceptions. It was the 80’s; people thought roll-and-move and player attrition were unwavering columns of game design.
Coup came along, took the core ideas out of Hoax and broke the game down to its basic elements. Quick and dirty player elimination by way of verbal Russian roulette. You get caught in a lie, you’re half-dead. You throw around a wrong accusation, you’re half-dead. You let somebody collect too much money as the game goes on, you’re half-dead. And despite having multiple options to choose from, everyone relentlessly claimed they were the Duke because his ability was clearly the most overpowered in the set. If you ended up starting with a Contessa and a Duke you were laughing. So every game played out the same way and as such I can’t stand that game any more. So I’m not exactly gasping to be trying out a reboot of a game that spawned the likes of Coup, but we’ll see what’s changed for the better if anything.
YOUR FATHER’S, BROTHER’S, NEPHEW’S FORMER ROOMMATE
In Hoax, three to six players each take on the secret identity of a member of Vargas’ family or household such as the Ex-Wife, the Distant Cousin or the ever cliche Butler. You’ve all assembled because the lord of the manor, Hector Vargas, has met with an inglorious end and each of you is desperate to inherit his unbelievably large fortune. No matter what your identity, your goal is to eliminate all your competitors by catching them in a lie – but proceed with caution because making a false accusation will take you out of the game. If you want to make informed accusations, you’ll have to amass resources and spend them to investigate other players.
You can do the following actions in a turn:
Claim (mandatory): – This lets you acquire resources by using the stated privilege (special ability) of a character, whether that character is yours or not. If you know how to play Coup you know how this works. All of the privileges will acquire the three main resources (cash, evidence and prestige) in some form, whether from the supply or from other players, but you’ll be trying to use the ability that’s most helpful to yourself… without tipping players off that you might be lying through your back teeth. Similarly a player can make a claim if that character has a special immunity to the effect you’re trying to pull off.
Investigate (optional): – To investigate an opponent, spend one token each of cash, prestige, and evidence, and pick your target. That player will hand you four suspicion cards: one matching their true identity and three other random cards to mislead you. Much like in any deduction game, this won’t be complete and perfect information, but you should then start to make assumptions based on your previous investigations or the actions of other players on the table.
Accuse (optional): – You may directly accuse another player of being a specific identity and pass them the relevant card. If you are correct, they will state so and be eliminated from the game, but not reveal who they actually were to everyone else. If you are wrong, then you yourself are eliminated from the game, again not revealing anything else about the specifics of the accusation.
After a claim is made, another player may suspect (or even know) that you’re not who you say you are and call “Hoax!”. Then, everyone other than the claimant has a chance to talk and vote on whether or not you’re lying. If they believe you, whether you’re telling the truth or not – you can go ahead and claim the resource. But if they catch you making a false claim, you have to confess, losing both the chance to acquire the resource and the ability to impersonate that specific role in the future. However if you had actually been telling the truth and they didn’t believe that you were, then you will win the game. Assuming this never happens, the eventual winner will be the last player standing.
WHAT YOU SEE IS LITERALLY WHAT YOU GET
As with everything by Fantasy Flight Games, you know the artwork and components are going to be good, though in this case it’s far from the biggest concern you’ll have with Hoax given the nature of the game. There are a small number of cards, a bunch of cardboard tokens for the resources and a help sheet for everyone which clearly sets out what each character’s special privilege and immunity is. The cards are decent quality, but sleeving them is not a bad idea as you don’t want any to get marked in any way that you could tell them apart.
The theme in Hoax is merely there to give you a reason for being at the table, other than that the resources might as well be cubes for all it matters, there’s no special power for each type, you just need one of each to perform an investigation. Each character also is generic without a special power, but the added flavour text for why they believe they are worthy of the inheritance is a nice touch.
Hoax has the same limitations as any other bluffing/negotiation game – a lot of it comes down to the group you play it with. It invites amusing role play and trash talking, but not everyone is going to do that and the lack of any theme in the resources you collect doesn’t help push that. You really want to “ham” it up a little to enjoy it to the full, because when that happens, you get some great laughs around the table. Unfortunately if everyone is quiet, Hoax will fall flatter than a squashed pancake. You get this problem in a lot of negotiation/bluffing games, but here it is particularly amplified.
The added deduction element is a nice change from similar games and it’s certainly a step up from Coup in my estimations, but you quickly find it doesn’t take long to figure out who other players are, but you’re always just that little bit too paranoid about calling them out. Of course if you hang on for too long, people will figure your identity out as well so it’s a race against the clock.
The biggest impact on how Hoax will play out is the rule on a player winning if they were telling the truth and the others call him out on it. As I said above, this creates a lot of paranoia about calling a Hoax, but sometimes it almost breaks a game when someone manages to win within 60 seconds of starting and yes I’ve been in games where that has happened.
NICHE PLAYER COUNT
Player scaling isn’t as watertight as I would like, but what’s strange is that I think Hoax suffers more at higher player counts than lower ones. Now you’ve read my reviews (I hope) so you’re wondering how that’s different from my usual view point. Well Hoax is a game about player interaction and negotiation/bluffing which generally works wonders with more players. But what happens here is that with 5-6 players the game drags on for too long with all the investigation phases taking up time as well as the Hoax discussions. Get eliminated early and you could be sitting around for a while not doing anything, which isn’t fun.
You also run into the issue that with that many players, nearly all of the roles are represented around the table, which means if you try to lie, there’s a high chance someone is going to catch you at it even though it becomes a “my word vs your word” affair. If you’re lucky enough to pick a role that isn’t in use, then you’ve gained a significant advantage.
The end of Hoax also feels a little anti-climatic with lots of players. When there is only two players left, I’ve found that whoever takes their next turn after the recent elimination, ends up as the winner, because by that point both players should have a pretty airtight hypothesis on who the opponent is playing as, so it essentially forces the player to make an accusation otherwise they’re going to end up being eliminated next turn.
Now on the flip side 3 player seems a little too low for player interaction, so that only leaves me with 4 players for the optimal amount to play Hoax with. It’s certainly in my opinion the best number to use, but by eliminating the rest of the available options, this now ends up as a niche game and I’ve got plenty of alternatives to use instead that work with a wider range of player counts.
VERDICT ON HOAX
Hoax is a step up from Coup, that much can be said, but against the stiff competition of bluffing and lying games out there, I don’t think Hoax can stand out enough on its own merits. It requires a lot of players to really bring out the table talk, however that in itself causes downtime issues as you wait for players to constantly shuffle and deal suspicion cards to each other. The character privileges aren’t that interesting either with every single one simply being a slightly different way of attaining resources.
So therefore it’s all down to the banter with making claims and calling Hoax’s to make it good, but there are issues with that too. The rule that you will make someone win the game if they were telling the truth will either cause Hoax to end within 60 seconds or enable that no-one will ever call a Hoax because of sheer paranoia. And if you get eliminated early either by fluke or by you being too obvious, a game of Hoax may drag out to 20+ minutes and you’re sitting there not able to do very much.
There have been games where it’s been a laugh out loud affair, but more so where it’s anti climatic or drags out too long. It puts Hoax right in the “meh” category. 30 years ago when this was first made, it would have likely stood out as a great game. But nowadays it’s an OK game, and when you’re going up against the current titans of this genre, OK isn’t good enough.
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