We’re coming up on the night of masks and false faces, so it seems appropriate that we’re talking about another hidden teams game (and one that feels like a natural successor to Escape from the Aliens in Outer Space, which we discussed two weeks ago).
As it happens, we’ve played a number of hidden team games since the publication of Meeples Together, and we’ve still got a few classics to touch upon as well. We don’t want to take away from the full co-op games that are the core of the book, but we will be returning with a few other games of this sort in January.
Blood Bound by Kalle Krenzer
Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games (2013)
Cooperative Style: Hidden Teams
Play Style: Take That
You’re a vampire of the secretive Rose or Beast clan. They’re so secretive that you don’t even know who the other members of your clan are! Instead, you must engage in deduction by stabbing the other characters with a knife. Your eventual goal is to identify the leader of the opposing clan and capture them — but if you capture the wrong vampire, your whole clan loses!
Blood Bound is obviously a descendent of team games such as Werewolf (1986, 1997) and Bang! (2003), but it may share the most interesting similarities with Escape from the Aliens in Outer Space (2010): both are elimination-focused hidden teams games that layer a second level of deduction atop the typical role deduction.
Role deduction is always a core element in hidden teams game. Unlike games such as Bang!, Saboteur (2004), and Werewolf, which only support role deduction through assessment of game activity, Blood Bound has an actual deductive system: each character has two affiliation tokens and one rank token that identify that character. The core action of the game, stabbing another character, reveals one of these identity tokens each time a character takes a wound. It’s a simple system, but the ambiguity of some of the tokens means that many of the characters are never entirely identified, requiring players to meld this mechanics-based deduction with the more typical assessment of player actions.
On its own, Blood Bound’s role deduction would be interesting, but it rises up to the next level because the game also contains rank deduction: each character has a rank between 1 and 9, with between three and six ranks appearing on each team in a game (depending on the number of players). The players know that the lowest ranked character is the leader, but not only don’t they know what everyone’s rank is at start, but they also don’t know which rank is the lowest. In an eight-player game, with four players per team, the rank “2” character is probably the leader (unless there’s a “1” in the game), but and less obviously a “6” could be. This means that players often have to weigh what they know and what they’ve deduced against probability — which is a good design for a hidden teams game because it forces players to make decisions when everything is shades of gray. (In our opinion, a hidden teams game where you’re able to deduce most of the roles by the end of the game is superior to one where you always deduce all of them.)
The other major element of hidden teams games, the ability to work together, does get some attention in Blood Bound, even if it isn’t as intricate of a system as the deduction. Obviously, players can work together to kill (capture) their opponents, just like in Bang! or Werewolf. There’s also an ability to “intervene”, throwing yourself in front a knife meant for someone else, which can help keep your leader safe (assuming you’ve deduced correctly). Finally, each player has a special ability, and a number of these can be used to help fellows or hurt opponents — and again are made more interesting by how often players are not 100% sure of their assessments.
Finally, Blood Bound contains a “deductive cue” to get things started: at the beginning of the game each player grants a “clue” to the player to his left: he shows them a corner of his card, which contains an icon that probably shows which team he’s on. Giving player this sort of starting cue helps them make more thoughtful deductions and take more meaningful actions; it compares favorably to a more classic game like Bang!, where the first player is forced to take a shot, not knowing who most of the players are.
A deductive cue also offers the ability to provide information (or misinformation) to the rest of the table. Players assume that their fellows will take certain actions based on what they know — and that can be used to benefit one team or hurt the other, but it can also be used to throw the rest of the players off the scent.
No Challenge System Elements. Hidden Teams.
The theming of Blood Bound as a vampire fight is very shallow. Though there are nine ranks, each with their own title and special ability, neither that nor the game’s theming makes it much of an adventure game.
Blood Bound has a strong deductive system that shows what you can do when you focus a game entirely on deduction. In particular, it shows how much uncertainty you can allow in a game that focuses on hidden teams (or traitors), while still allowing players a good chance at figuring things out, and it demonstrates the benefits of doing so.
Kalle Krenzer has designed just one game: Blood Bound for Fantasy Flight Games. It received good attention when demoed at Heidelberger Spieleevent 2012 and was a 2014 Kennerspiel des Jahres Recommended game.