At Board's Eye View we're especially fond of the social deduction game Secret Hitler (Goat Wolf & Cabbage) but we're well aware that theme of the game makes some folk uncomfortable. Secret Hitler does not in way celebrate or make light of fascism but the subject of the game is still there and we know several gamers who avoid the game because it's hard to stomach the thought of a player taking on the role of Hitler.
Designer Tom Butler surely had this in mind when he came up with Patriots & Redcoats. It's a game that borrows several key mechanics from Secret Hitler but it substitutes the theme of America's War of Independence. In this game, you're not seeking to back or take down a Nazi dictator, you're doing something similar with George Washington and King George III. In Secret Hitler, the President and Chancellor are elected to form a government and pass either Fascist or Liberal laws, while in Patriots & Redcoats a very similar War Council mechanism is used to determine whether the Patriots (Americans) or Redcoats (British) record a successful skirmish: if one side gets to put down 4 skirmish victories then they win... Players get to vote on whether or not to approve the War Council; if they vote it down then a marker advances towards the point where a random skirmish tile is drawn. As there are 10 Redcoat victory tiles and 6 Patriot victory titles, this course is statistically more likely to favour the Redcoats.
But Patriots & Redcoats is no mere Secret Hitler clone. Players are dealt at the start of the game three loyalty cards. Players look at their loyalty cards but they place them face down in front of them. If they have either Washington or George III, then their loyalty will match that of that leader regardless of the other two cards and even if they subsequently pass their leader card onto another player. If they have a Patriot or Redcoat Spy card then, again, their loyalty matches that card without regard to their other two cards. Otherwise, a player's affiliation is determined by the mix of cards: if you have two Patriot and one Redcoat card, then you're a Patriot; two Redcoats and one Patriot makes you a Redcoat. Finally, there are some loyalty cards marked as Turncoats: if you have a Turncoat you can treat it as either a Patriot or a Redcoat. As in most hidden role social deduction games, there is a 'sleep' phase at the start where players all close their eyes. The Patriot leader and Patriot spy (or spies: if you're playing with seven or more players, there will be two Patriot spies) open their eyes and nod to each other; and then the Redcoat leader and spy do the same.
Between War Councils, players take turns drawing from a Spycraft deck. Some of these cards simply mess with turn order but the majority allow the player who draws the card to 'spy' on another player. When a player has three spy icons played to them they have to flip and reveal one of their facedown loyalty cards. If all three cards are revealed, the player is eliminated from the game.
There is one spycraft card with the very Game of Thrones title 'Winter is Coming'. This has several effects but the most significant is that all players with one or two revealed loyalty cards flip a card face down again and all players pass one of their cards to the player to their left. This can obviously mean that a player's loyalty may change. If you're a leader you can guarantee that your neighbour matches your allegiance by passing your leader card to them. This is not a no-risk strategy, however. If they are the player who holds an opposing Spy card then your side will immediately lose... Spies can also declare themselves (reveal their spy card) to assassinate another player. This is a suicide action in that it eliminates the Spy from the game but if the assassination successfully targets the opposing leader then the Spy's side seizes the victory. Except that assassination can be avoided by revealing a Turncoat card...
This use of revealed loyalty cards mirrors the mechanics in other social deduction games, particularly Good Cop Bad Cop (Overworld) and Salem 1692 (Facade), so that, for us, Patriots & Redcoats has played very much like a mashup of Secret Hitler and Salem 1692. That's not in any way a criticism. In our Board's Eye View 360 you can see the serious concentration on our faces as we try to figure who to target but it's very much a fun game. Mind you, as Brits playing the game we didn't feel the same urge that Americans will have to proclaim their Patriot status: in Secret Hitler, Fascists will almost always want to pretend to be Liberals but in this game you won't necessarily all be claiming to be Patriots...
Tho' the game is notionally playable with 4 or 5, it needs 6+ players to really shine. With fewer players you can go the entire game without have to pass any loyalty cards. Indeed, we'd like to have seen another Winter is Coming card in the deck and we could've done without the cards with 3 spy icons on them (automatic loyalty card reveals). If Green Feet Games are ever planning a reprint or a revised edition, it'd also be good to have more easily distinguishable backs to the loyalty and spycraft cards.
Artist Nicholas Avallone and publishers Green Feet Games have done a great job with the production of Patriots & Redcoats, not least in this wooden box Collector's Edition, and the flavour text on the cards puts the game in its historical perspective. Tom Butler makes the case very strongly that America's success in its War of Independence owes at least as much to espionage as military tactics. He quotes an 18th Century English source who claimed that 'Washington did not really outfight the British; he simply out-spied us.'
If you like hidden role, social deduction games then you'll certainly want to add Patriots & Redcoats to your collection.