Updated: Apr 19
The title of this hidden role/social deduction game may be a tad deceptive. Appropriate mayhaps as this is a game that's at least partially predicated on deception. Unlike many other social deduction games, no-one is getting killed. It's all about the Art of the Deal, but we guess that title had already been taken, along with Deal or No Deal, which sums up this game's core mechanic. Players will be making deals, or not, in return for paperclips - which is the currency of the bureaucracy at the centre of this game.
In Kyle Nam Pham's Deal or Death, players are all Executives or Board Members of a corporation. The game takes 5–11 players. There are always two Executives, at least two Shareholders and one Anarchist, but as you increase the number of players, you can take the number of Shareholders up to five, and add an Intern, Entrepreneur and/or Consultant (like the Anarchist, these three are considered 'Infiltrators'). The Executives are known to all the players and where there is more than one Infiltrator, those players identify each other's roles. The rules include an appropriate script for the eyes-shut opening that you'll need if you're playing with the additional Infiltrator roles.
As you might expect, each of the roles has their own agenda and game objective. The Executives are competing with each other to secure the most deals with Shareholders. The Executives both start off with a stock of paperclips (5 plus 1 for each player in the game) and they'll be using these to negotiate their deals with other players. Those Shareholders who closed a deal with the winning Executive also win, but they are additionally competing to end the game with the most paperclips. Meanwhile the Anarchist wants neither Executive to win: the Anarchist wins if the Executives each end up with the same number of deals. With the premise of a history of being mistreated by the company, the Intern just wants the Anarchist to win. The Entrepreneur wins if they end up with 5 or more paperclips (6 if you're playing with nine or more players), and the Consultant wins if either the Anarchist or Entrepreneur wins. The special rule tho' for the Consultant is that they are not allowed to lie. That's particularly worth mentioning because for all other players honesty is entirely optional!
You'll ideally need a couple of breakout rooms to play because the Executives each separately take other players off for one-to-one negotiations in order to hammer out deals. The Executive might simply offer a number of paper clips to another player or they might, for example, offer paperclips in return for information, perhaps to identify certain roles. There's a sand timer to limit all negotiations to 2 minutes. While the Executive negotiations are going on, other players can 'network', maybe even telling other players their role - truthfully or otherwise. And players have a token they can spend to force another player to silently disclose their role to them...
When all negotiations are done, players come together for a Board Meeting where each writes down the deal they are prepared to make. This may or may not be the same as the deal they made verbally in their one-to-one negotiation. Executives write down what they are offering and to which specific players. For example, Executive A might write that they will give 3 paperclips to X, 4 to Y and 5 to Z. Board members tho' can only make a deal with a single Executive and they need to clearly identify which Executive they are making a deal with and how much they are to be given. If the named Executive offers them more than they said they would accept, the deal goes ahead. If the Executive offers less than they record that they'd accept, then there is no deal.
This all makes for an entertaining variation on the more usual social deduction theme. In Deal or Death there are likely to be multiple winners, as not all win conditions are mutually exclusive: it's not a zero sum game! And we liked the way the rules set out the competing victory conditions in a flow chart.
For us, the game is at its best with eight or more players; our only gripe is that the rules don't offer direction over the roles you add in when your player count is above five but below eleven. The dynamics of play are very different in an eight-player game with five Shareholders to an eight-player game with four infiltrator roles! On the other hand, we had a lot of fun at Board's Eye View playing a chaotic variant where the additional roles were not only randomly selected but where we even kept secret from the Executives and Shareholders which additional roles were in the game!
Deal or Death is currently only available in the US. For the rest of us that could be a dealbreaker. However, if you're outside the US you may be able to get a print & play copy from Lawless Games.