After a steady diet of despair post-11/9, I found some clarity in a board game called Secret Hitler.
Why? Because Secret Hitler is all about saving the world from fascism.
Each match plays like a micro-simulation of the 2016 election cycle and the current political climate because Liberals must face off against a motivated group of Fascists who will say whatever it takes to win. The atmosphere of fear, opportunism and propaganda leads to intense, high-stakes contests.
I’ve played in more than 50 games — including matches with the creators, who raised nearly $1.5M on Kickstarter in December 2015 — and I’ve watched and analyzed nearly 50 more. I’ve seen smart, strategic and dedicated Liberal teams go down in flames because of key, but avoidable, mistakes.
A quick gameplay summary will clarify why Liberal Dos and Don’ts in Secret Hitler apply to politics IRL.
Set in 1932 Germany, Secret Hitler is a hidden-identity game for five to 10 players who try to get elected and run the country. To combat the heavily fascist policy deck and undercover Fascists working for Hitler, Liberals have a slight majority — but they have no clue who their allies or enemies are. The Fascists, however, know Hitler and everyone else.
Fascists are empowered to be full-tilt ruthless by:
- lying about everything from policy decisions to other players’ party loyalties;
- faking Liberal alliances;
- gaslighting opponents;
- mud-slinging and name-calling;
- leveraging real-life relationships to manipulate opponents; and
- sowing chaos and suspicion whenever possible.
Games are like entire Survivor seasons in 90 minutes, with alliances shifting and blindsides coming fast and furious.
In this post-truth environment, these are 10 things Liberals need to know so they can fight back:
1. Because there are more Liberals, they must recognize that unity is their greatest weapon. If the Liberals can’t build alliances with each other, they’re toast. Lost votes only help the Fascists, whose no-holds-barred will to power then becomes almost impossible to overcome.
2. Liberals must tell the truth. Liberals may be tempted to lie, cheat or fight dirty. But a Liberal who hides info, bluffs or tells inconsistencies like a Fascist makes it much harder for other Liberals to trust him/her. The upshot: Liberals cannot act like Fascists. To win, Liberals must act like Liberals.
3. Angry Liberals alienate potential allies, especially when they attack their intelligence or beliefs. In one game, a Liberal disparaged another for his “basic” reads, while another called players “stupid.” The Fascists won in a walk. Building Liberal alliances is tough work rife with conflict. But Liberals who vent frustration (even without insults) don’t seem passionate, they seem Fascist. Nothing is easier for Fascists than convincing people not to trust Liberals who are yelling or acting upset.
4. Liberals are under scrutiny at all times. Fascists look for openings to discredit Liberals by examining every move, tic or reaction. Liberals scrutinize others to determine whether they’re on the same team. While questionable behavior isn’t a liability for Fascists, Liberals must consider and manage optics.
5. No lone Liberal can solve the puzzle alone. Many Liberal players think the end goal is figuring out who everyone is, using their own limited information. It is not. Liberals must piece together everyone’s theories — while filtering out Fascist noise — so that Liberals can act and vote correctly as a group. Liberals fixated on being the first to ID the bad guys tend to make incorrect assumptions and lock out true allies, ensuring defeat.
6. Refusing to budge from opinions and act towards a consensus favors the Fascists. Liberals must keep open minds and listen for the most valid explanations based on available information. Arguments are fine if they lead to unified Liberal action. Arguing for argument’s sake only aids the Fascists.
7. When unity is the Liberals’ greatest strength, at some point every Liberal must climb out of his/her individual pit of terror, rage, self-righteousness, despondency, frustration or inertia to trust one another and throw lifelines to allies. Inaction and withdrawal are luxuries Liberals simply cannot afford. The game can be a painful slog for Liberals, but they must not bail on their team.
8. Liberals must be inclusive. Letting potential supporters fall through the cracks means smaller voting blocs for the Liberals, and poof! — there goes the Liberals’ advantage.
9. Liberals must share info as much as possible, in a way that everyone can understand. Even the most cogent line of reasoning will fail if a portion of the Liberal team can’t follow it. In another Liberal loss, a player correctly explained why a cohort was a likely Liberal, but half his party didn’t get it. If one tack doesn’t work with a subset of potential allies, find a different way to appeal to those people.
10. If Liberals lose sight of the entire point of the game — to defeat the Fascists — they will lose. Pissing contests over who’s the most insightful or the most woke accomplish nothing. The game is only and always about making sure the Fascists lose.
The bottom line?
With fascism on the rise, Liberals must remember two crucial points: 1) every Liberal action must be filtered through a lens of unity, and 2) the only goal must be to defeat the Fascists.
Going forward, I will check myself: Are my actions causing dissension or fostering Liberal unity?
If large numbers of my team work together by signing petitions, calling government officials or going to marches, I will join, support and celebrate those efforts, even when I don’t see the immediate benefit. What my team does, I do. And when I cannot actively champion my team’s actions, I will not tear my teammates down.
Anne Marie Cruz is a writer/editor whose recent projects include People's commemorative American Idol and Hunger Games books, as well as My Life in Diplomacy, the memoirs of humanitarian and journalist Gaetana Enders. Anne Marie lives for games, food and making crazy cakes, and tweets at @sandwichsrprise.