For those who aren't in the know within the tabletop game community, you may have missed the launch of a strangely titled card game on Kickstarter last week called Secret Hitler. Designed to be a World War II-themed deduction game similar in ways to Werewolf and Mafia, Secret Hitler is the latest product in an ongoing revival of physical games played with other physical people. Five to 10 people can role play as as liberals or fascists conducting espionage to assassinate or protect the Nazi leader.
Secret Hitler's creators would never have gotten the game off the ground if not for physically working alongside one another in a co-working space operated by Cards Against Humanity (CAH). Co-founder Max Temkin, who's also one of the three creators of Secret Hitler, opened the Chicago office back in January after spending two years designing the space. Then he and the growing team of CAH employees needed to decide who to invite to join the space. CAH has grown to around 12 employees, Temkin says, thanks to the success of the fill-in-the-blank card game, but he wanted to mix up the work environment. The trick was not to turn a profit, but to find people with whom creative energy could be shared to potentially create something new.
A co-working space focused on creative collaboration
"I discovered that running a shared work space as a business puts you at odds with the people who are working in the space," Temkin says. "Your incentives are not necessarily aligned." A co-working space that charged the bare minimum in rent and didn't take equity in other companies, however, would let collaborations like Secret Hitler arise without the complications of a venture capitalist fund or for-profit startup.
Secret Hitler is one of the first products of that co-working experiment — an incubator would be a "generous" categorization, Temkin says. But it's already a success. Temkin and his friends launched Cards Against Humanity nearly five years ago on Kickstarter, grossing more than $15,000 with a goal of $4,000 at the time. Secret Hitler currently has more than $208,000 in funding since Monday, having easily surpassed its $54,000 goal. It only has two pledge tiers: one for buying the game and its physical card set for $25, and another for buying the game plus a limited edition pack of CAH cards for $30. In keeping with CAH's style, you can also print out your own cards for the game at home for free.
Cards Against Humanity's Chicago co-working space
The other Secret Hitler co-creators, game developer Mike Boxleiter and writer Tommy Maranges, came up with the original idea after Temkin invited both to work at CAH's offices, having met the two in the Chicago creative arts scene. Temkin became a collaborator to help with the game design, and Mackenzie Schubert was brought on to do stylized iconography and illustration.
"Physical games bring people together."
After months of play testing and handing the game to nearly every writer and game developer in the Chicago arts scene, the trio was ready to bring it to Kickstarter and get the project out to players. Its immediate success is indicative of a desire to have a "real-life experience, one not necessarily mediated by a screen," Temkin says.
"i get the impression that my generation is kind of lonely," he adds. "People turn to online games and social networks to feel better and those things just make you feel more empty. Physical games bring people together in real life." It's a philosophy that turned Cards Against Humanity into one of the biggest party games of the last few years, though Secret Hitler is a different animal altogether.
The game involves lying and deception, forcing a majority of players to try and suss out who may secretly be a fascist trying to bring Hitler to power in 1930s-era Germany. Through successive rounds of play, elected leaders are asked to pass laws that may aid or harm either faction and decide the fate of the game, and an element of chance ensures that surprise moments can happen at any time. With a steep learning curve and a design that commands a high level of intensity, Temkin admits that Secret Hitler has a much smaller market than CAH. But it's more fun.
"I played a lot of Cards Against Humanity during play testing," he says. "After the 50th time, I’m like, 'Alright, I get it.' For Secret Hitler, I’ve already played it more than 50 times and I cannot wait to play it tonight."