New Salem: The Constable

New Salem was originally published in 2015 but we checked out here a prototype copy of the second edition which includes the Constable expansion and which is currently partway through its funding campaign on Kickstarter.

Designed by Brian Henk and Clayton Skancke, with art by Andrea Olgiati, this is a hidden role, social deduction game where players will either be puritans or witches. The puritans will almost always outnumber the witches; indeed, if you play with just three or four players, you could find at the end of the game that none of the players turn out to have been witches.

New Salem is played over five rounds and, although there are hidden roles, the main mechanics of the game are card drafting and set collection. Each round, players are dealt a number of cards showing buildings. They take one to play into a tableau in front of them and they pass the remaining cards to their neighbour until they are passed just two cards. At this point, they can choose one of the two cards to play to their tableau or they can discard both to draw a random card which they must play to their tableau. Players are trying to play buildings that will score them points at the end of the game: they'll score a point for every building that has an icon matching one of those on their character card and they'll score 2 points for every complete set of three unique buildings (so a set of three buildings with one of the character's icons will score 5 points).

Of course, it's not that simple. Several of the buildings generate despair (you put a black despair cube on them). If, at the end of the game, the despair is higher than the level set for that number of players then the witches win and the puritans' scores are ignored. The outright winner will be the witch with the highest scoring buildings tableau. If the despair at the end of the game is below the level set for the number of players, then the puritans win; the witches' scores are all ignored and the outright winner is the puritan with the highest scoring buildings tableau.

Some buildings generate hope (white cubes). These don't directly affect the scoring but they are used as a currency to fund the events revealed each turn, any one of which can be chosen by the player who is designated as the Constable. Players can give their hope cubes to the Constable to help to pay for and trigger an event, although the Constable doesn't have to choose the event he said he would. Once he has triggered an event, the Constable chooses another player as his successor.

Events can be used for various special effects, including to eliminate some of the despair. If players suspect a player is a witch who its deliberately choosing buildings that add despair, the Constable can put that player on Trial. This disqualifies them from becoming Constable and means they no longer add any further despair (or hope) cubes, though they continue to build their tableau. If, when roles are revealed at the end of the game, a Trial card has been played on a witch, then two despair cubes are removed from the total; if it turns out that a Trial card has been played on a puritan, then two despair cubes are added to the total.

New Salem draws on an unusual combination of game mechanics. It makes for some interesting dynamics, as players know what cards they have passed to a neighbour which can help them to make deductions about that player's role. In practise, however, players will first and foremost go for maximising their personal scores so that, should their side come out on top, it is they that will have the highest score. As the despair racks up, however, puritans realise that they need to do more to rebalance the game or their tableau building efforts will all be in vain.

We found it was all too easy for the witches to win whenever the puritan players failed to balance and moderate their greed. In that sense, New Salem offers a fascinating variant on the Prisoners' Dilemma.

If you like social deduction games, you'll certainly enjoy New Salem. It delivers something rather different from most of the hidden role games you've played before, though it may take you a couple of plays before you fully appreciate its subtlety. You can find out more about the game by checking out its Kickstarter page here.

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