Spies, traitors, or just run-of-the-mill murderers are out there. It’s your job to figure out whodunit or who is who.
Luckily for us, there are some amazing deduction board games out there where we can dive into mysteries and explore to our heart’s content… without any real risk of bodily injury. (Unless things get a little intense and someone flips the board.)
So put on your thinking caps and cast a suspicious eye at your neighbor, because we’re going full Rear Window and looking at some of the best deduction board games that we could find.
Our Top Picks for Best Deduction Board Games
In a hurry? Check out our favorites below.
Decrypto is an interesting game.
Players are given a coded message using certain phrase words and then need to decipher the correct order of the words.
Players must use single-word descriptions to guide their teams to the correct order. It can get pretty intense as players try their hardest not to misinterpret things, and as usual with these kinds of games, my brain completely shuts down and I forget the English language.
Decrypto uses an interesting component to reveal the game, similar to the Jumanji board game from the 90s. There are 4 boxes with a red plastic film. When a player puts a card into the box, the red film filters out the gibberish on the cards and allows players to see the text underneath.
It’s something that I haven’t seen done well since I was a kid.
Codenames is a fun word/party game. Players are split into 2 teams and are directed to locate spies on a grid of cards. Each team has a spymaster who knows the location of their respective spies and they need to guide their team with 1-word clues to the correct card.
It can get extremely tense and requires players to work together to figure out what the spymaster is trying to say with only a single word. It’s a great party game, that actually recently got a makeover as a 2-player only version, Codenames: Duet.
I love Love Letter…
Okay maybe that’s too much love, but the game is fantastic. It’s a simple (and cheap) card game in which players count cards and bluff each other to victory. You can play in a series of rounds for points, or just play rounds until you get bored.
Players use the various card abilities to eliminate each other until either 1 player is left standing or the draw deck is empty.
The cards in each player’s hands simulate who currently has their love letter to the princess. The highest influence card (card with the highest number) at the end of a round wins that round.
The whole game contains only 16 cards so there’s an element of card counting that goes along with the bluffing mechanics.
It’s a simple game and I’ve gotten years of use out of my copy.
The Resistance: Avalon
The Avalon game is very similar to The Resistance. There’s a slight variation on player powers, but the core of the game is identical. That being said, I prefer Avalon over Resistance.
In Avalon, as with most social deduction games, each player is either a minion of Mordred (bad guy) or a loyal member of Arthur’s court (good guy).
Players will try to convince each other that they’re the good guys in order to be sent out on missions in the realm. The players will then choose to fail or pass the mission in secret. It can get very competitive and heated.
This may have been my first real social deduction game and it holds a special place in my heart. I first met Kendra in Oxford and we played Avalon a lot together before we started dating. Fair warning, I have nothing but fond memories of this game.
Alright. So, questionable marketing aside, Secret Hitler is one of the most popular new social deduction games out there.
To be perfectly clear: it does not have any pro-Nazi/Hitler sentiment in the game.
Secret Hitler plays similarly to games like Avalon and Werewolf, but it improves upon the system (in my humble opinion). Hidden within the group of liberals is the fascist faction that is dead-set on placing Hitler in power. Hitler, on the other hand, knows that there are supporters in the group, but has no idea who they are.
There are a few new mechanics added and more nuance to the way each side wins and it creates tension throughout the entirety of the game.
If you like social deduction games you need to give Secret Hitler a try. If you really are completely opposed to the Hitler theme, you could always get the Secret Trump expansion that replaces Hitler with Trump.
Deception: Murder in Hong Kong
Deception is another social deduction game that adds a CSI murder mystery flair to the game.
There’s been a murder in Hong Kong and players will become part of the investigation team, but the murderer is part of the investigation and can sabotage the investigation from the inside.
The change-up of the usual mechanics makes Deception something really special. The roles aren’t necessarily anything we haven’t seen before, but they’re extremely polished and do an incredible job to make a really fun party game.
Fugitive is set in the world of Burgle Bros, but I can only imagine it was inspired by the 1993 Harrison Ford & Tommy Lee Jones movie. This 2-player high stakes game of cat-and-mouse has the fugitive player hiding and running from the implacable Marshall.
Fugitive shows it’s not all about physical endurance when running from the Marshall, it’s also a mind game of trying to hide and slip away.
Each player plays cards numbered 1-42 along with special event cards. The fugitive’s goal is to play cards facedown and ultimately play the final 42 cards to officially escape. The Marshall’s job is to uncover cards by guessing numbered cards based on the information available and doggedly hound the fugitive.
Almost like a certain movie…
Coup is loosely set in the world of Resistance (mostly the artwork), but it’s another social deduction game. The difference between a game like Coup and Resistance/Werewolf type games is the required number of players. You’ll need a minimum of 5 for Resistance, but I’ve actually played quite a few fun games with just 2-3 players of Coup.
Each player gets 2 hidden cards which grant them a special ability and on their turn, they’ll have the option to perform 1 action. They can claim any card and any action, even if they don’t have it, but there are only 3 of each character in a deck so you’ll have to brush up on your card counting skills.
Coup is one of my favorite games and is frequently taken to the bar with us on a Friday night and always manages to find its way into my carry-on when traveling.
One Night: Ultimate Werewolf
Love it or hate it, but Werewolf is usually most people’s first social deduction game, or it’s some variation of it. It’s a reimplementation of the game Mafia, in which each player is given a role.
There are 2 sides: Baddies (Werewolves) & the Goodies (Villagers). Each side is trying to guess the others by their actions and abilities. The certain villagers will have special abilities that let them see other player’s cards or a host of other advantages.
The Werewolves are trying to stay hidden and murder all of the villagers.
Werewolf is not a perfect game, but with the right crowd (and maybe a few cocktails) it’s a freaking blast. I used to play it constantly on the weekends with my buddies and even used it as a teaching tool when I taught 8th grade.
Love it or hate it, it’s a classic.
A Fake Artist Goes to New York
This is one of those games that make me think, “Why didn’t I think of that?”
Fake Artist is a fun drawing and deduction party game. All players will get the same word from a topic except for 1 player. They’re the fake artist. Each player takes turns drawing a single line trying to draw an image of the word and the fake artist is trying to blend in. Everyone has a different colored marker, so everyone knows what each person drew.
It’s a blast of a party game and reminds of the Jack Box Steam games and it’s an excellent social game that’ll have your party arguing and having some hilarious conversations.
If you’re a fan of Specter Ops, are looking for a social deduction game, and you have very specific tastes… you’re in luck.
Crossfire returns to the world of Specter Ops but changes up the core mechanics. Instead of hunting down an infiltrator in a Raxxon facility, you’ll be attempting to save a Raxxon exec from assassination in broad daylight.
Crossfire has multiple interesting roles and modes, that drastically changes up the standard social deduction formula, and it’s incredibly quick to play. During a round, players will be able to see several role cards and have them shuffled around the board. That way, players know a little bit of info but never enough to be 100% certain.
Next comes my favorite parts of any social deduction game: lie, beg, threaten, and accuse. You can basically say anything you want to try and convince your table who you are. It’s up to you.
Crossfire is a breath of fresh air in the genre and it’s quickness really is nice, especially with newer players.
Detective: A Modern Crime Board Game
Okay, this game is cool.
Detective uses ‘everything and the kitchen sink’ and then sends you out to the Home Depot for more sinks kind of approach.
Players will need to use everything at their disposal to solve 5 different cases to 100% complete the box, but the exciting part is that everything is interconnected. Although it’s not readily apparent at first, every case will steadily connect with the next.
You’ll be able to solve multiple cases and only decipher the final overall mystery by completing all 5.
The approach to gathering information is pretty cool too. You’ll have all the case files from the box, plus you’ll need to log onto a device to access the game’s online database to scour the web for information. It’s a concept I’ve seen back in the day, but it hasn’t been done really well until now.
Chronicles of Crime
Chronicles of Crime has a little bit of everything and might be a good gateway choice to get nongamers or videogamers into the experience.
I say experience instead of game because Chronicles is different from most board games. For one thing, it requires an app on your smartphone device and maybe even a VR attachment for your phone.
Chronicles uses mixed media by having each item, location, and character card printed with a QR card.
Need to go downtown? Scan the downtown card.
Need to ask the forensic lab to check a clue? Scan the forensic lab then scan the item card.
If you get a separate VR attachment for the phone you can even look at the crime scene in VR!
It’s a crazy concept, but it works well and is something completely unique.
Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective
Are you ready to channel your inner Holmes & Watson?
Just remember to put away the cocaine… seriously, Sherlock Holmes did cocaine when he wasn’t on the case.
Consulting Detective is one of my favorite gaming experiences. It places you in the shoes of the famed detective and has players attempting to solve the case by uncovering clues.
It uses perhaps one of my favorite components in a game ever. Along with the case are several newspapers that can help lead players to clues and a map of London. It’s an awesome thematic flair and will have you pouring over the paper and scratching your head.
It works especially well as a solo game or a two-player game.
Ah, the cutthroat world of Academia.
Alchemists is a puzzle in a box that’s completely unique. Each player takes the role of an alchemist looking to make it big by publishing their findings.
It’s a race to see who discovers the different combinations first. Each game will use a variable setup, so the combinations will be different every game, adding to the replayability of the game.
The concept and mechanics are a fresh spin, that really does require an analytic mind to be successful. It’s also one of the most well-produced games I’ve seen and comes with a lot of high-quality components.
Body parts are being found all over London in an MO similar to a man named Jack…
In Whitehall Mystery, two sides face off in a battle of wits. Jack the Ripper will run and hide throughout the streets of London and the task force charged with bringing this mad man to justice will need to follow the trail of clues and deploy a dragnet around the city to bring the man to justice.
Whitehall uses a hidden movement mechanic that allows Jack to remain unseen as he creeps through the back alleys of London.
The investigators are slower but will need to rely on their numbers to catch the mad man.
Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game
Battlestar Galactica is amazing. The show, the game, and expansions, whatever. My opinion doesn’t change no matter which one we’re talking about.
Humanity is all but destroyed and traveling through the edges of space. All the while, the Cylons hound the last vestiges of humanity.
Battlestar Galactica the board game does an amazing job of inserting a traitor within the midst of the crew, and you’ll really need to flex all of your deductive reasoning skills to find the hidden Cylon agent.
The setting, thematic elements, and tension that Battlestar Galactica throws at the players elevate Battlestar as one of my favorite Sci-Fi games of all time.
Dead of Winter: A Crossroads Game
Not gonna lie, I love zombie games and hidden traitor games.
Dead of Winter is a highly-thematic horror board game in which the zombie apocalypse has already happened. The governments have collapsed and it’s all over. All that’s left is to try to survive another day, but… Winter is Coming!
You’ll have to contend with zombies, whiny survivors, sub-zero temperatures, and of course… betrayal!
One player character may not be who they seem. They could be looking to sabotage the entire group and walk away with all the loots. It’s your job to stop them and exile them before they do too much damage.
Intrigued? Check out our full review here.
“Cryptid: an animal that has been claimed to exist but never proven to exist.” — Webster’s Dictionary
You’ve done the research and dedicated your life to these mysterious creatures, but now the chance to finally find one has finally appeared.
You and your fellow explorers will need to work together to find these elusive beasts… but who will take the credit?
Each player has a piece of the puzzle that leads to the cryptid, but only one can be the first person to discover it. Are they sending an expedition into that forest because they truly think it’s there, or are they sowing misdirection?
You’ll have to risk it and decide for yourself.
This is probably one of the cooler games on this list. Captain Sonar takes 2 opposing teams and locks them in an underwater submarine battle. Each team consists of 4 crew members; Captain, First Mate, Radio Operator, and Engineer.
Each player has a different role and needs to work together to track the opposing team’s submarine.
This team-based play creates such a fun gaming experience, especially because the setup requires teams to sit opposite each other. This is crucial for the Radio Operator because their job is to listen to the other captain to try and locate their submarine based on their directions.
I may just be biased due to my own time in the Navy, but Captain Sonar is just freaking cool. I may have to bust out my dress white uniform on the next playthrough.
In the haunted mansion, several clairvoyants manage to summon up a g-g-g-ghost. Unfortunately for you, it’s a mute murder victim with amnesia.
No seriously, that’s the premise of the game.
As clairvoyants. players need to decipher the messages left by the ghost to deduce who killed it, with what, and where. Spoiler Alert! It was Professor Plum with the candlestick in the library.
That’s not necessarily a fair comparison. Players will be attempting to find clues to the killer, but it’s much more interesting than old-school Clue games. Mysterium is more of a Dixit & Clue hybrid, and it’s one of the most put-together, well-produced games I’ve ever seen.
Exit the Game
Exit is like an escape room in a box.
There are multiple versions of the game, and each one has a loose theme that serves as the base to solve puzzles. Players will need to manipulate the items that come in the box to ultimately unlock whatever is barring their path and let them EXIT (Win) the game.
They did an excellent job translating an escape room to the tabletop. Players will need to cut, tear, and refit pieces found in the box together to solve puzzles. Now you may be asking yourself, “If I’m tearing/cutting up pieces, how do I replay it when I’m done?”.
Well… you don’t.
Exit is a one-and-done game. You’d know how to solve the box’s puzzle after the first game anyway.
So why would you get it? It’s pretty inexpensive, and it makes for a really great date night.
Shadows Over Camelot
Camelot is besieged, the Knights of the Round Table are scattered on various quests, and worst of all, there’s a traitor among us.
Shadows Over Camelot has a lot happening all at once. Players need to simultaneously defend Camelot, duel the black night, search for the Holy Grail, and recover Excalibur. All of this is happening at the same time, and all the while a player character is actively working against the group from the shadows. You’ll need to identify the traitor and save Camelot in order to survive the forces of evil’s onslaught.
You can read our full in-depth review here.
It’s not all silly hats and magnifying glasses.
Deduction games have given me some of my most rewarding moments in board gaming. That “Ah-ha!” moment really gets the adrenaline going when everything starts to fall into place.
If your favorite deduction game didn’t make it on the list, we’d love to hear from you, or if you just want to talk some board games please leave a comment below.
Before starting GameCows with his wife Kendra, he used to teach English Language Arts in the US. He combined his love of gaming with education to create fun game-based learning lessons until he eventually decided to run GameCows with Kendra full-time. He’s known for pouring over rulebooks in his spare time, being the rule master during game night, and as the perma DM in his DnD group. Bryan loves board games, writing, traveling, and above all his wife and partner in crime, Kendra.