In this blog: Ellie explains what ‘deduction’ means in board gaming.

There are all sorts of terms used within board gaming to describe the mechanics of a game. Familiarity with the jargon helps us to define the types of games we enjoy and find new ones to add to our collections. 

Each month I’ll share a blog in which I explain one board-gaming term. This month we’ll look at deductionIn deduction games, players aim to discover information that is in some way hidden. Drawing conclusions about hidden information will pave your route to victory.

How is deduction used within board games?

In deduction games there is always some sort of secret information. The information could be hidden to all, but usually each player has information that is different from the other players. Players must discover what information other people have in order to triumph. Different types of information can be hidden…

Hidden location:

Players are trying to determine the location of someone or something. The location could be fixed or moving. Players may start with some information or could possibly have to discover everything from scratch. 

Example: Cryptid

In Cryptid, the mythical creature is hiding in one hexagon on the board. Each player has some information about where it is hiding, but only when you put all players’ clues together can you find the actual location. On your turn you ask other players whether the Cryptid could be lurking in a specific hex on the board – according to the clue they personally hold.  Players answer questions by putting discs for ‘yes’ and cubes for ‘no’ on the hex. This builds up a picture over the map from which you can determine other players’ clues and thus calculate the precise location of the creature.

Hidden roles:

Players are trying to determine the role another player is playing. The role could be permanent (for the whole of the game or round) or temporary (on a card that is discarded after an action is taken). This genre has a special name: social deduction. Many social deduction games, require players to discover who the traitor is and require the traitor to remain hidden. Social deduction often involves bluffing, alliances and back stabbing.

Example: Coup

In Coup, players each take two character cards. There are five different characters each appearing four times. Characters have different powers. You may take the action of any character, but be prepared to be challenged if other players don’t think you hold that character card. Your aim is to assassinate or raise gold to start a coup – eliminating a character one player is holding from the game. If you correctly challenge another player, they will also lose a card, but beware, an incorrect challenge will result in you losing a card of your own. The last player standing wins the round. This is an interesting twist on deduction. The element of deduction in Coup is not as important as the bluffing. Your bluffing skills will cloud other players’ ability to use their deductive powers!

Hidden items:

Players are all trying to discover the same hidden items within the game. In order to find the items in question, they must rule out all the other options displayed. Sometimes this is generated by choosing or removing one card from a deck, leaving all the other cards in play. The players must work out which card has been removed.

Example: Cluedo

In classic Cluedo, each player holds some of the murder cards. When they ask other players about combinations location, murder weapon and suspect they are given information about what cards other players hold. This allows them to eliminate cards from the list and focus on others for further investigation. 

Hidden views:

Players each have a different view of the game. They can see a proportion of the game clearly, but have blind spots. Everyone has different blind spots so nobody has a full picture. 

Example: Hanabi

In Hanabi each player has a hand of four firework cards. Players are working together cooperatively to create a firework display. Cards must be laid down in ascending order from 1 to 5 in five different colours. The twist is that you must hold your hand of cards outwards, so you can’t see what cards you are holding, but you can see everyone else’s cards. On your turn you can play a card from your hand to the table, discard a card or give another player a hint – within strict parameters. Communication is restricted. It’s a tricky and fairly high tension where you’re constantly trying to work out what cards you have in your own hand.

Hidden clues:

Players are presented with chunks of information and must act as detectives to sift through it to find the clues, make connections and solve the mystery. The information could be presented as a long narrative, or could appear to be more of a logic puzzle.

Example: Exit: The Game

Exit is one of several series of escape rooms in a box. Players all work cooperatively to try to solve the mystery before the time runs out (usually an hour). The team works through a series of challenges – some together, some individually. It’s speed-puzzling. While these games can be played solo, it’s often useful to play with at least one other person because it’s easy to miss the connections you need to make to be successful. It’s good to combine brains that work in slightly different ways. 

Competitive or cooperative?

Deduction games can work well both competitively and cooperatively and everything in between. The structure of the game may well determine the information that you are trying to deduce. 

  • Deduction games can be entirely competitive, with each individual working on their own. 
  • Players could be working on teams trying to discover the other team’s information or possibly trying to discover their own information.
  • The set up could be ‘One vs. Many’. Here one player takes a special role and the rest work together as a team against the ‘one’. 
  • The game could be entirely cooperative – with all players working together to solve puzzle before the time runs out.

Often you are trying to establish the location of another player or team of players. In Scotland Yard, one player is Mr X and the others are police. The police are trying to catch Mr X but can only see where he is a few times during the game. In Captain Sonar players are split into two teams. The teams sit opposite each other along a table – separated by a long vertical board to shield one team’s player boards from the other. Each team mans a submarine and moves around a map. Teams can listen in to other’s movements, but don’t know where their starting positions are. They must track the movements and use drones and sonar to discover where their opponents are hiding while covering their own tracks as far as possible to avoid detection.

As in Captain Sonar, deduction games often revolve around two players or two teams trying to discover the other teams information before they themselves are discovered. In Decrypto, each team tries to decipher the other team’s coded message before their own message is discovered. Whereas in Codenames, one player on each team is trying to communicate clues to their own team members before the cluemaster on the other team has managed to send similar messages to their own team mates.

Deduction in Dark Imp Games

Don’t Count Your Chickens is a competitive game where each player is trying to discover the value of three types of poultry – chickens, turkeys and roosters. The value is determined by four hidden ‘rules’ cards. At the start of the game, each player has one of the rules cards. So they can see some information. However, the rule may state something like “Animal A is twice the value of Animal C”. You are learning information about the relationship between two animals, but you don’t know which two animals they are. 

To discover what Animal A is in this game, you need to look at the card hiding under the Animal A marker. So there are, in total 4 rules and 3 animals to discover. On your turn you take one action by placing your character card on the appropriate action card. One action allows you to look at a rule or animal card in the centre of the table. Another action allows you to swap your current rule or animal card with another player. So as you progress through the game you are building up a picture of the values of the animals and also any special rules that apply – e.g. ‘The player with the greatest number of Animal B at the end of the game scores negative points for these animals.’ 

As well as building up a picture of the rules you must also gather more birds for your flock. The other action cards available are around flock building. So there’s always an interesting pull between deduction and acquiring animals. As this is a worker placement game, if someone else has taken an action you wanted to perform, you must choose another. 

Sleuth Box is one of The Dark Imp coaster games. It’s a very quick deduction game for 2 players. Each player secretly selects one of the 100 icons on the coaster. In turns, players point to an icon and ask their opponent ‘is it near here’. If the indicated icon is on the same row, same column, same colour or within one space diagonally of their secret chosen icon – they answer ‘yes’. Otherwise they answer ‘no. The player who finds their opponent’s icon first wins.


I’ve mentioned several fantastic deduction games in this post, but other great deduction games include: