- Designer: Rikki Tahta
- Publisher: Big Potato Games
- Players: 3-8
- Ages: 14+
- Time: 10-15 minutes
- Times played: 4 with review copy provided by Big Potato Games
I first ran across this game at Essen a few years ago – at that time, it was called Gooseberry. It was from a small company, La Mame Games which was better known for its signature game, Coup (which, for the record, is completely not for me…). The initial release of the game was kind of quiet, and I got in one sample game at the stand. It was hard to hear in the great hall, and I was playing with folks from all over the place, so language was a bit of an issue. The game seemed ok, but it was very much like Spyfall which I had also recently acquired at the time. For a bunch of reasons, Gooseberry never made it into the IKEA bag of holding that year.
Fast forward to today – the game has been re-done as “The Chameleon”, and it is available for the mass market. The idea of the game remains the same. Each round involves two missions, depending on whether you’re the Chameleon or not. Mission 1: You are the Chameleon. No one knows your identity except you. Your mission is the blend in, not get caught and to work out the Secret Word. Mission 2: You are not the Chameleon. Try to work out who the Chameleon is without giving away the Secret Word.
So, how does it work? There are two decks of code cards which have a 6×8 matrix of codes on them, one is a Blue deck and the other is Green. All the Blue cards are the same except for one which says “You are the Chameleon”. One card per player is drawn – making sure that one of them is the Chameleon card – and these are shuffled and randomly distributed to the players. A topic card is also revealed. This card has a 4×4 grid of words on them. Two dice (d6 + d8) are rolled, and all the players look at their code card to see which of the 16 words on the topic card is the hidden word for the round. Of course, the Chameleon player will now know as he doesn’t get a decoder matrix on his card, but he might as well study the card and pretend that he’s figuring it out too…
All players (including the Chameleon) take some time to think of a single work which is related to the hidden word. All players signal that they are ready. Then, each player (going clockwise from the dealer) in turn says their word without hesitation or interruption. It’s OK to say the same word that someone else used earlier. Again, the goal is different depending on your role. If you’re the Chameleon, you’re trying to not be caught AND you’re also trying to figure out what the hidden word is. If you’re not the Chameleon, you’re trying to figure out who the Chameleon is without giving away too much information about the hidden word.
Once all the words have been said, there is a break for discussion. All players can now give their arguments about who they think the Chameleon is. Remember – the identity of the hidden word still needs to remain a secret! Be careful what sort of information you give away when discussing here. After the discussion is over, all players (on the count of 3), point their finger at who they think is the Chameleon. The player with the most votes is accused (ties being broken by the dealer).
If the accused player is NOT the Chameleon – the Chameleon wins as he was able to make it through the round undetected.
If the accused player is, in fact, the Chameleon – all the other players are likely to win. However, the Chameleon does get a second chance. If he can correctly guess the hidden word, he still wins eventhough he was identified.
That ends the round (game). If you want to play again, the player who was just the Chameleon becomes the dealer for the next round. There is a scoring rubric in the rules if you want to play over a number of rounds. In this case, the players race to be the first to 5 points. In a round, you score 2 points for escaping as the Chameleon, 2 points if your team guesses the Chameleon AND the Chameleon doesn’t guess the secret word, and 1 point if you are the Chameleon, are caught, but manage to guess the secret word.
My thoughts on the game
This “try-to-fit” in game has been seen in multiple iterations in the past few years – Spyfall, Gooseberry, Fake Artist Goes to New York, Deception, etc. Each takes a slightly different take on this social deduction theme, and as a result, each appeals to a slightly different group. For the most part, all of the games on the list have been targeted at the hobby game market. From my experience with this sort of game, I find that my enjoyment and personal fun level is often directly related to the group of people that I’m playing the game with. Some will take more creativity than others. Some need moderate art skills. Some need a great imagination and willingness to roleplay. Some require you to be able to handle vague rules.
As far as I can tell, The Chameleon is the first game of this sort that will be readily available to the mass market. The word cards have a bunch of topics that will be familiar to Joe American. There is a surprising breadth of topics covered, yet most every word on every topic card should be familiar to most adults. (Of course, the game essentially falls apart if not everyone understands the target word… because, how can you fit in if you don’t know what you’re fitting in with?!)
The Chameleon works well enough in that regard. There are simple terms to deal with, and I like the way the rules force you to spit out the words rapidfire AND allow duplicates. Everyone just has their word, and they go with it. While it would have added more components, this is actually a game where I would have almost preferred small erasable boards and dry erase markers so that all the words could be revealed simultaneously.
The trick here is to figure out how to not give away what you know (or don’t know) – and I’m not sure if the game really gives you that much latitude. Maybe it’s because the words/topics are TOO common? I’m not sure. The game does include a blank board for you to make up your own topics/words, but that is not a great solution because it takes a good deal of time to come up with a topic and 16 words and then write them down. It definitely takes away from the spontaneity of the game.
When I read the rules, I loved the idea that the Chameleon had two chances to win. The ability to pick out the target word at the end to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat seemed clever. And, while it is still is clever to a degree, it also has the effect of making our discussion rounds short and useless. In trying to out the Chameleon, you end up giving away even more clues about the target word. Unless you totally skirt around the word – but then, you essentially have no good argument to make about who the Chameleon is.
So far, this has been a game played at game night, as a filler/light alternative between heavier games. It’s been ok, but admittedly, never raucous fun. It might be our group. It might also be that this is the sort of game better suited to late night with casual gamer friends after one/three/five bottles of wine amongst us.
I’m guessing – if you liked Spyfall or Fake Artist, you’ll love this. It’s well produced, it’s readily available and offers a different twist on the hidden identity deduction game. If you didn’t care for them, you still won’t like this.
Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers
Chris Wray (3 Plays): This feels like a streamlined, mass market version of Spyfall. We’ve really enjoyed The Chameleon, and I think it is a clever — and well produced — social deduction game.
Dale’s right when he says the group you play with will matter: that’s mostly true of all social deduction games. This one, though, separates itself from the crowd by being bit less obtuse than some of its competitors. I think this would be a great introduction to the genre for non-gamers. Rikki Tahta did a great job of making the game simple and approachable while also keeping replayability high. My family bought me a copy of this for my birthday, and I know it’ll get plays for years to come.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it!
- I like it. Chris Wray
- Neutral. Dale Y, John P
- Not for me… James Nathan, Karen M.
I didn’t care for Spyfall but I do like the Chameleon. I didn’t enjoy the pressure to keep up a convincing bluff in the former – just thinking of one word is less difficult. And I enjoy the Codenames vibe of coming up with the right level of cryptic when you’re not a chameleon.
I haven’t tried this yet but it seems as if it would better than Spyfall – when I have played Spyfall it’s been too easy to ask vague, generic questions and give vague, generic answers that are just not a lot of fun.
A Fake Artist Goes to New York is actually available on the mass market as Sunken Sailor, which appears to be exactly the same game. (Hopefully an authorized version.)
Why did I keep hearing the voice of Groucho Marx when I was reading this review? :-)