I was at Gen Con last week, and had a chance to play an interesting new social deduction game with an unwieldy name: Latitude 90° : The Origin. There are several significantly original aspects to this game —the most obvious of which is that there is no (human) moderator. Instead, you play it with the help of a smartphone.
You’re all researchers at a scientific camp in the Antarctic. One of the players is secretly The Origin, and a second player is The Corruptor — both infected with an alien pathogen that drives them to spread the infection and reproduce. (Clearly John Carpenter’s The Thing was a big influence on the theme here.) The infected players are trying to spread the infection to all the other players, and the uninfected Researchers are trying desperately to identify the two original carriers.
Here’s where the smartphones come in. The game is timed — each game lasts at most, ten minutes. The players are testing samples, and then sharing the samples with other players. The game is broken down into one-minute “turns”; though don’t let the word confuse you — this is real time and there are no breaks. What happens each turn is you process another sample, and have a chance to send it to another player. That player in turn can choose to open it or not. If they open it, they get a single piece of true information, (for example: “Of Tom, Brad, and Alan, one of them is not on the same team”, or “When this was sent, Joe’s samples could not infect you.”) The twist is that if you open a sample from an infected, you may become infected yourself.
How this plays out is that players are calling out to each other, either announcing who they’re sending a sample to, or reading off the information they get from samples they’ve just opened. The infected, of course, are probably lying and giving out misinformation. It takes a few plays to get the swing of it, but you get a lot of info and quickly get a sense of certain people you can trust. The game also shows, in real time, how many infected players there are; which means that just as you come to know you can trust someone… wait… did they just get infected?
The Researchers have a limited number of tests the can use. They vote on who to test — again, real time. Select the person you want to test, and if half the Researchers are voting for the same person, that person gets tested. But they have a very limited number of tests, three or four in the games I played, and two of them must identify the Origin and Corruptor, respectively. It’s really tight and you simply cannot waste them. (One tactic for the Infected team is to trick the Researchers into wasting the tests.)
The Origin and the Corruptor have different abilities. The Origin gives out samples that can infect players who open them. The Corruptor can, once per game, simply infect one player of their choice, but otherwise don’t infect. The Origin can send samples to uninfected players in an attempts to infect, or they can send them to already infected players and in doing so give them a chance to infect others.
I was impressed at the level to which the devices are completely integrated into the game itself. This is NOT like the iPhone “werewolf” games that clumsily recreate a human moderator; it would be literally impossible to play this game without them, as the information shared by the software is updated instantly as the game progresses. (Heh… I suppose you could “play by mail” if you really wanted to; but even then you’d have to communicate via forum or somesuch.)
I ended up playing it three nights in a row, and liked it better the more I played it. We would play a whole bunch of games, and I actually found myself having to take a break because I was getting overexcited. This game gets you frantic. My heart was pounding. The first few times you play it’s hard to pick up on much strategy; but as you get used to it (and the games are short enough that you WILL play multiple games) you start to see patterns come out of people’s behavior. Why didn’t John read out the intel I just gave him? Who just became infected? Wait! I just heard two contradictory pieces of intel — one of those people must be lying. …and so on.
The game will be released as a smartphone app. Only one person will have to buy it per group; they will be able to host games that other people can play in. There is a Kickstarter project to fund development, which I strongly encourage you to go check out. This is one of the most innovative social deduction games to come out in years, and I cannot wait for it to be released.