10 Great Deduction Games (Article by Chris Wray)

Deduction games have long been a part of the hobby, and a prominent one at that.  Classic deduction games include Clue (1949), Scotland Yard (1983), Code 777 (1985), and countless others.  Many of us at The Opinionated Gamers absolutely love deduction games.  The few times I’ve been around a lot of the group — be it at Gulf Games or The Gathering of Friends — a lot of play has centered on clever little puzzles with deduction sheets.

Today’s article is part of our “10 Great” series that features 10 great games in a given subcategory.  I pick a mechanic, theme, publisher, etc.  In this case, I picked a type of game.  We here at the Opinionated Gamers then all vote behind the scenes to create a list of 10 great games that meet the criteria.  We’re aiming for an article a month, and I’d love your suggestions about future lists. 

The Methodology

For purposes of this project, I simply asked everybody to vote for 10 games that represented great deduction games.  I did include social deduction games, but this group is pretty skeptical of those, so not a lot of them got votes.  I didn’t define how much of the game had to consist of a deduction game.  

Anybody could add to the list assuming they were going to vote for it.  Each member of the OG was offered the chance to vote for up to 10 games, and they could give one game 15 points, one game 14 points, all the way down to giving one 6 points.  We all put our votes into a spreadsheet.  We then added up the points for each game and picked the top 10.  

We had 18 OG-ers vote, and 54 different games received votes.  

To get on the list took a minimum of five writers rating the game decently well.  That wasn’t a rule, but rather how the breakdown naturally worked out. There’s actually great consensus towards the top of our list.

Below you’ll see designations for gold, silver, and bronze.  Those represent the number of voters that put a given game in the #1, #2, and #3 spot, respectively.  

Without further ado, here are 10 great deduction games!

Honorable Mention (Games That Barely Missed the List): 

15.  Witness (2 Bronze)

14.  One Night Ultimate Series (2 Silver)

13.  Mystery of the Abbey (1 Gold)

12.  Alchemists (2 Gold)

11.  Mr. Jack (1 Bronze)

#10 – Cryptid

48 Points

Designed by Hal Duncan and Ruth Veevers

#9 – Abraca…What?

55 Points

Designed by Gary Kim

#8 – Letters from Whitechapel

59 Points, 1 Gold

Designed by Gabriele Mari and Gianluca Santopietro

#7 – Decrypto

71 Points, 1 Silver

Designed by Thomas Dagenais-Lespérance

#6 – Black Vienna

87 Points, 3 Bronze, 1 Silver

Designed by Gilbert Obermair

#4 (Tie) – Sleuth

88 Points, 2 Silver, 1 Bronze

Designed by Sid Sackson

#4 (Tie) – Deduce or Die (Reimplemented by Loot of Lima)

88 Points, 3 Gold, 1 Silver

Designed by Larry Levy (A contributor to this site!)

#3 – Codenames Family

103 Points, 1 Gold, 1 Silver, 1 Bronze

Designed by Vlada Chvatil

#2 – Hanabi

111 Points, 2 Gold, 2 Silver, 2 Bronze

Designed by Antoine Bauza

#1 – Code 777

120 Points, 4 Gold, 2 Silver, 1 Bronze

Designed by Alex Randolph and Robert Abbott


Thoughts from Opinionated Gamers:

Chris Wray:  There are a lot of great and worthy games above.  Nonetheless, I have a lot of bones to pick with this list.  First, the exclusion of Werewolf from this list is criminal.  I suspect that werewolves have taken over the OG email list and are downvoting good games.  Second, Abraca… What? was a hot, random mess that I traded away after a couple of plays.  Third, how the heck did Code 777 beat out Break the Code, which is much faster playing, and much less random?  Fourth, the exclusion of Think Str8! is also an oversight… that game is an amazing deduction exercise.  Fifth, what is with this group disliking social deduction games? :)

Larry:  To answer Chris’ last question, deduction games are all about logic and clear reasoning.  Social deduction games, OTOH, are about hunches, tells, and bluffing.  Both are excellent and well represented genres, but they have little in common.  If you ask me to rate great deduction games, then that’s what I’ll limit my answers to (and that, in fact, is what I did).

But given the fact that so many gamers see the word “deduction” in social deduction games and assume that they actually include some form of deduction, I was afraid that my more limited definition meant that my preferences would not be well represented.  Thankfully for defenders of the English language (but not so much for my misguided friend Chris), it appears that many OGers at least partially agree with me.  Consequently, it was nice to see that four of my top five picks (Code 777, Hanabi, Deduce or Die, and Black Vienna) finished near the top of our list.  (Just to be clear:  I love Codenames; I just don’t consider it to be a deduction game.)  The one game I rated highly that didn’t make the list is Think Str8! (see, Chris, there are some things we agree on!), which just missed, as did another of my picks, Black Box.  The rest of my choices included Sleuth, The Clue Card Game (Clue turns out to be quite a good game if you eliminate all the dice rolling), and an old Randolph design called Domemo.

Two final notes.  First, Code 777 isn’t a great deduction game (it contains an unusually high amount of luck, for one thing), but it is a very enjoyable one that even players who aren’t besotted with deducing things can have fun with.  I can imagine that Break the Code might well be better, but, unfortunately, I’ve never played it or its original form, Tagiron (an oversight I’d like to correct).  And second, let me say how much I’m humbled to have a game of mine tied in any kind of voting with one from the great Sid Sackson.  Thanks, everyone.

Matt C.: Thinking these were mostly going to be social deduction games, I didn’t even vote.  However, had I voted Hanabi would have been number 1.  I would rank Codenames highly (and count it as deduction) and I also enjoy Decrypto.  I had forgotten about Mystery at the Abby but recall it being quite good.  My only outlier is wondering where is the love for Mastermind?  Sure, it’s not terribly deep, but I think its lack of complexity makes it a nice entry-level type deduction game.  The lack of Clue is interesting but I’d agree with the voting.  The random die rolls to move about the board detract greatly from the experience.

Joe Huber: My preference for deduction tends to be for games where deduction is simply an element in the game, rather than having the whole game focused on deduction.  So a lot of my top picks for this category – Bridge and Timbuktu, for instance – aren’t the games that others think of when they hear deduction.  One of the things that makes Abraca…what? charming, for me, is that fact that there’s a huge amount of deduction, but a great degree of uncertainty (not randomness, Chris) mixed in.

Chris Wray (Redux):  Joe got me there.  There is uncertainty, not randomness, in Abraca… what?.  

Brandon Kempf: Once again, not many of these hit on my list, although Code 777 was my number one pick. I think that it really works for me as there can be a bit of variance of luck involved here, it’s not a luckless, pure deduction game like some of the others. Also, Cryptid is one of my least favorite deduction games. Any game that can end in the first round because someone makes a simple mistake in placement, thus giving away everything, is not a good game in my book, with something like that you have to have some kind of buffer built into the game that allows for some human element. I’d play Clue over most of these anyway. But that’s mainly because my youngest daughter loves playing it. One I am disappointed that didn’t make the list is the recently published Shipwreck Arcana, I really think that one is well done and can work with a lot of different players, even those, like me, who don’t really appreciate pure deduction in their games. Also, Mascarade is vastly underappreciated. 

Dan Blum: I have to agree with Larry. Social deduction games are by and large not deduction games. There’s no reason that they couldn’t include more actual deduction elements, and I’d love to see games that did this, but I haven’t heard of many. (Insider and Werewords are about the only ones I can think of offhand, and while I like Werewords I wouldn’t put it in a top 10 deduction games list.)

I think more people would have voted for Think Str8! if the production hadn’t been so terrible. I played it and liked it, but just once as I didn’t want to pay good money for it. Let’s see what the new version (The Lost Code) is like.

I like Tagiron/Break the Code but I can’t see it replacing Code 777… we’ll see.

Fraser: Not enough love for Cleudo, it has some flaws but it is still a great family deduction game.  Interestingly I had problems playing Cryptid because I was mentally approaching it like it was Cleudo, but it is requiring you to deduce something else.  The passing of your cards in Mystery of the Abbey is a deal breaker for me.


Past Articles in the 10 Great Series:

10 Great Worker Placement Games

10 Great Games by Reiner Knizia

10 Great Roll ‘n Writes

10 Great Ticket to Ride Maps

10 Great Games of the 2010s

10 Great 2-Player Games

10 Great Card Games

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12 Responses to 10 Great Deduction Games (Article by Chris Wray)

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  3. Felix Rodriguez says:

    Deduction games that everyone ignores but deserve to be discussed:

    Salem (Basic game only with exactly 6 players)
    Four Dragons
    Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation
    Coup / Coup Guatemala 1954
    Letter Jam
    Schinderhannes / Old Town
    Shipwreck Arcana
    Dead Drop
    Tragedy Looper
    Mr. Jack / Jack in New York

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  5. Bruce Bridges says:

    Nice article! If anybody wants to try out an unofficial, remote-friendly version of Break the Code, you can access a Google Sheets version that I just created here: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/13jp5tga4Nw_UzG0QFhq2ntRpkLcRcWfW293ZQEJ9c2M/edit. Copy to your drive and then share that link with friends. Rules are on the Setup tab. You will have to enable 3rd party data to play as I needed to use scripts to facilitate play. Let me know if you have any questions or comments by sending me a Geekmail on BGG (tgbruiser).

    • Dale Yu says:

      Bruce, FYI, it is asking to have permission granted to play your version.

      • Bruce Bridges says:

        Google Sheets sends me a request automatically. I will approve any requests that come my way as quickly as I can. I approved yours, Dale, as you know. Hope you have fun trying it out!

  6. L.C. says:

    I have always been intrigued by the idea of Inkognito. What are the thoughts on this game? Does it fall into this category? Is it an intriguing 2-3 plays, but then wears out? Is it too much luck and not a lot of deduction? Is there something that has modernized it’s mechanisms or feel?

  7. Jeremy Ginsburg says:

    I’m a big fan of Shipwreck Arcana. I like that you make inferences based on what wasn’t communicated as much as on what was.

  8. One that just released (or at least just landed as a Kickstarter fulfillment) that I enjoy is The Search For Planet X. Another slightly under the radar title is Awkward Guests – which is now my all-time favorite deduction game.

  9. Pingback: 10 Great Animal Games (Article by Chris Wray) | The Opinionated Gamers

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