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Cranky Chinchillas

Hidden role games are always a popular filler at our local games group - typically played as an end-of-evening wind-down after players have concluded a lengthy strategy game. Secret Hitler (Goat Wolf & Cabbage) and Salem 1692 (Facade) have been particular favourites in recent years but we're always on the lookout for new variations on the old Werewolf theme. Queue the arrival of Cranky Chinchillas, of which we've been playing a prototype ahead of its recent Kickstarter launch.

No niggling worries here about being accused of celebrating fascism or belittling oppressive Puritan attacks on women. You'd need a remarkably thin skin to take offence at the theme of fluffy Tribble-like minions of the 'Chin Emperor'. It's just an unfortunate coincidence of nomenclature that there really was a Chin Emperor (ruling China) from 1420 to 1912.

The version of Cranky Chinchillas we've been playing is designed for 4-6 players, tho' the Kickstarter edition will take the upper player count to eight. Players have a secret hidden role card that identifies them as 'Chin Empire', 'Sleepy Town', 'Deceiver' or 'Forest Spirit'. In a six-player game, there'll be two Chin Empire, two Sleepy Town, one Deceiver and one Forest Spirit. The roles all have their own objective: the Chin Empire win if all Sleepy Town players are dead; Sleepy Town win if all Chin Empire players are dead; the Deceiver wins if they are the last player alive (tho' there's a secondary objective so the Deceiver is still in with a shout even if they are killed) and the Forest Spirit wins if they have more heroes in their 'eliminated heroes' pile than there are players... Players also have a hand of action cards.

Tho' their roles are kept hidden, players all start off with four hero cards openly displayed. These are partly drafted and partly dealt at random at the start of the game. They each deliver a power or ability and, for most, these are single-use: activate the hero for its power and flip the card face down. Whether face up or face down, the hero cards also count as the player's lives. They can be eliminated by being attacked by other players' action cards. When all four of your heroes are eliminated, you are dead. But, in a refreshing touch, dead does not mean you are out of the game. Your hero cards may be subject to elimination but the players themselves are not eliminated. That's a big plus in this hidden role game in comparison with most others in the genre; no-one is left just sitting passively on the sidelines.

There's no Werewolf-style sleeping village reveal in Cranky Chinchillas. If I'm a Sleepy Town player in a six-player game, I know that one other player is on the same team as me and shares my aim of seeing the two Chin Empire players dead. Problem is I don't know which other player that is. If I just use action cards to knock off other players' heroes, I could very well just be helping the opposing team. That's where the alternate use of attack cards comes into its own. Instead of using an attack card to eliminate a hero, I can use it to draw a card from the Question Deck. These show two of the roles but in different combinations and positions. For example, a card may have Chin Empire in position 1 and Sleepy Town in position 2 but another card might have the same options in reversed positions. I look at the card I draw and I hand it to another player and ask them a yes/no question about position 1 or position 2 without revealing to any of the other players what's on the card. So, I might ask 'Are you 2?' The player has to answer truthfully unless they are the Deceiver, in which case they are permitted to lie.

By using Question Cards (which are shuffled after each use), players can begin to get an idea of who has what role but there's scope too for good old-fashioned deduction, as players infer roles from the actions other players are taking, and from the way they behave after they've been given an answer to a Question Card. Nevertheless, it's the Question Cards that are the standout feature of Cranky Chinchillas and which bring a novel dimension to the genre.

It's great to see a new hidden role social deduction party game that isn't just more of the same, so this is definitely one to check out. It's live on Kickstarter right now, so click here for the KS campaign page.

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