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Advice on mechanism to act secretely

14 replies [Last post]
Joined: 10/12/2013

I'm working on a game where players have secret identities (with an "s"), in which keeping the identities secret is very important, and in which you can only control your own characters. The problem I'm running into is I don't know how to make action-taking possible.

The way I've thought about it is to give each character a deck of action cards, with a different background but all the same back. You then all play a card, shuffle them, reveal them, and voila, you know which character does what. However, I don't see how you can get those cards back without telling everyone who you are...

I'm kind of stuck, and can't figure out another way to go about it. Any ideas?

Joined: 01/17/2011
Enumerate Infinity

Give each player an infinite supply of action cards.
Oh... hmm... on to more useful suggestions.

Assume that each player has the same number of action cards in each deck, and that they are consumed at a predictable rate (i.e. one per turn). Once all action card decks are empty, sort the discard pile into the separate decks and place each deck face down. Rearrange the decks on the table so that nobody knows which deck is which.

Option 1: Randomly allocate each player X decks, which need not be the same ones that they had previously. Depending on the rest of your game this may or may not make sense.

Option 2: Take turns to look at one of the decks. If it belongs to you keep it, otherwise put it back without showing anyone. Attentive players will be able to learn a bit of the secret information, but not all of it.


Joined: 11/14/2012
Complicated tool.

You could have a dial not unlike the Civ board game (Sid meier's not AH)

So long as each dial can represent all the actions for all the colors. Players could secretly set the dial hand it in face down randomize them(in order to hide who did what) and then turn them up to perform the action

I'm picturing an outer dial that shows a color and an inner dial that shows a number and direction (really depends on what actions your people are taking.)


Then you can return any dial to any player without being concerned with revealing their identity.

let-off studios
let-off studios's picture
Joined: 02/07/2011
Discard Entire Hand

How about players select a card, put it face down, then put everything else into the same discard pile? Cards are played, actions resolved, played action cards are discarded, then all the cards in the discard are shuffled together and new hands are sorted and dealt.

Joined: 03/02/2014
Register any action

I'm with Redonesgofaster, that the solution is to have some contraption that can register any action. There are other solutions, though, than wheels.

You could have one card that slides within a sleeve that has a column-width cut out. The player slides the card until his set of actions are showing. Then he attaches a clip that both locks the inner piece in place and selects one of the actions.

Joined: 07/10/2011
Some more clarification is needed

Some more clarification is needed.

How much secrecy do you need? How many NPCs are there? Which is the more important secret–– that a specific player is controlling a specific character, or merely that a specific character is being controlled ?

Which of these situations is the closest to describing your game?

– 4 Players controlling 3 characters each, for a total of 12 characters
(i.e. everyone is being controlled, but no one is totally sure exactly who's who)

– 4 Players controlling 2 characters each, with a few character uncontrolled?
(i.e. no character is more likely to be a controlled by a specific player than controlled by no one)

– 20 Characters, with 3 players controlling 3 players each, and the rest uncontrolled?
(i.e. no character is more likely to be be controlled by any player than controlled by no one, and each player would be at a loss to pick out the controlled characters from the lot.

Joined: 10/12/2013
@Chriswhite, and anyone

@Chriswhite, and anyone wondering what the game is: each player in the game secretely controls 3 characters, one of which is a Guildmaster. There are no uncontrolled characters (although, now that I think of it, I sort of want to add them). The Guildmaster has a few actions they can use that the agents can't, but aside from that, they're the same, except that killing a Guildmaster wins you the game. Therefore, what needs to remain secret is:
- Which 3 characters belong to which player;
- Which of these 3 characters is the Guildmaster.

@kos: While I'm thankful for your time, these ideas don't work: Option 1 doesn't make sense since the characters should be controlled by the same player throughout; Option 2 would give the second player to take their cards the identity of the first one's agents, and the same to the penultimate about the last player.

@Redonesgofaster: Ooooooh, shiny. That's a pretty awesome idea. Just need to figure out how to make a cheap dial for playtesting purposes.

@Letoffstudios: That would work, except that each deck represents a particular agent, so that when we reveal the chosen actions, we know which character does which action.

@Zag24: Hmmmm, interesting, and probably cheaper to make than a dial.

Thank you guys, BGDF rocks!

The Chaz
The Chaz's picture
Joined: 11/20/2012

How many actions (per agent/leader) are we talking about here?

Joined: 10/12/2013
The Chaz wrote:How many

The Chaz wrote:
How many actions (per agent/leader) are we talking about here?

You mean possibilities? Well, given that they need to be complete and understood on their own, without need for input from the player, it adds up: move, for example, is not one action, but 6, 1 for each adjacent hex.

So, all in all, we have:
- Move (6 possibilities)
- Investigate
- Steal
- Assassinate (2 possibilities)
- Protect
- Speech (leader only) (3 possibilities)
- Invent (leader only)

Joined: 07/10/2011
Here are two ways to do this––

Low-tech prototype way using only cards:

For example if you're playing with 4 players, 12 total Agents, and 12 different actions––

• Have 4 cards for each Agent, and divide them into sets of 12 (1-12), one set for each player.
• Do the same for the actions.
• Make sure these two types cards have different backs. In this case, let's say Agents are blue, and actions are red.

When deciding the actions for their Agents:

1) Players will always chose the 3 Agents they own and place those cards face down in front of them.

2) They will then choose the red-backed action cards and pair them with their Agents, face-down under the blue-backed Agent cards. They should then have three 2-card stacks in front of them.

3) Collect these stacks. Then, one player will cut the deck as many times as she chooses, but always so that a blue card is on top. This will keep Agent cards always directly above their selected action.

4) Reveal the paired cards from the top of the stack, and resolve each Agent's Action sequentially.

5) Then, shuffle together the used and unused Action cards, and deal out another set of 12 to each player. Shuffle together the used and unused Agent cards and deal out a set of 12 to each player. Then, go back to step 1.

Note: If you have enough cards for everyone to have 2 such sets of 24 cards, then 2 people can be shuffling and dealing the next sets while another 2 people are cutting (shuffling) the current set in step 3.

Other Note: This method was devised with the intention of accommodating an unlimited number of turns. If the number is small (say, 6-8) it might be more economical to simply give each player a stack of cards relating to each agent, which they slowly use up over the course of the game. This would eliminate the shuffling/dealing-new-sets step.

High-tech production way with punchboard––

Same basic idea, but with punchboard pieces and chits.

– Use a punchboard tile with a hole in it. When selecting agents, players choose a Action tile, and place an Agent chit in the hole. (Friction should hold the chit in place.) Then, shuffle the tiles together and reveal them one-by-one, with each action being resolved by the spy whose chit is in the hole.

This functionality is something that we did in I, Spy.

Hope that helps.

Joined: 07/26/2008
If you can get some card

If you can get some card sized envelopes or sleeves then with option one above players could put both cards in their own envelop and then shuffle etc. before revealing.

MarkD1733's picture
Joined: 07/05/2014
shuffling sounds simplest depending gameplay

So let's say all actions (regardless whether they are same or different) are all the same color or have same icon as characters you control. If everyone throws in a card, someone can shuffle and play them out. No one knows the owners' colors or icons. Do the cards have to be directed exactly at someone? Can the cards simply play out in an order, with the strategy that as more cards play out, deduction begins to reveal players? Also, if player/character elimination is expected, can player shields be a possible component? Players can secretly track which character(s) is eliminated. Or can you put icons on the action. Cards to determine which other characters they can affect? What about if the characters choose in order from the available actions that have been played to the pile?

Also, look to Love Letter and Bang which have secret identities and action mechanics.

DifferentName's picture
Joined: 09/08/2013
Dead of Winter

It might not fit what you have in mind, but in Dead of Winter, you have a secret objective that's separate from your character. I think this is a great way to do deception. So you could see characters on the board, and know which player controls them, but the identity of the guild master would be kept secret. This also lets you have special abilities that are public information.

The card shuffling idea sounds like it could be interesting though. I think a way to make this work is to have a limited number of cards, and each time you do something, you have spent that action and cannot do it again. This could bring in some extra depth to your decision making, trying to decide the right time to do an action. If it's important to do something more than once, you might have an extra one or two of that card.

Maybe if at a certain point, and you absolutely need that card again, you can break your cover to get it, revealing which color you are so you can get your cards back (unless this breaks the game by letting allies reveal themselves to eachother).

Joined: 07/03/2013
Kung FU!

There's this game that's supposed to be a board game representation of a 2-player fighting video game. every turn, you place two cards face down on the table, indicating the kind of attack and the style in which it is done. The attack cards are the same for each character, but the style cards vary depending on the character you're playing.

You could do a similar thing: give each player a set of cards with linear directions (each hex direction and the "here" direction) and the action that is projected onto the next hex in that direction. They'll be holding about 13 cards at once (7 directions, 6 actions). Each player gets cards with a colored icon in the corner that indicates which token it applies to. You'd have to make sure that the direction that is "North" is clearly indicated on the board and on the cards.

As everyone takes their turn, you hand in your cards, and they are shuffled. (There's no issue with losing your cards because of the icons.) They're revealed and applied to each token in turn, according to some arbitrary mechanism of your choice.

The way that you get everyone's cards back to them is a little bit more difficult. The best method I can think of is to have all of the cards in the middle of the board or on a raised platform within reach of all players. Then, one by one, each color is called upon to retrieve their cards one at a time. This way, no player is revealed.

The downside, however, is that player make noise when they have to reach far for something. They would all have to sit within easy reach of the spot that the cards are placed. This means that the player count may have to be restricted to 4 or 5 at most.

An alternative is to use an electronic method, such as a smartphone app, which could anonymously assign colors and receive information for the "host" to show the rest of the group.

MarkD1733's picture
Joined: 07/05/2014
additional secret action mechanics to consider

Check out Gentlemen Thieves game. It has a secret identity mechanic that, while not exactly what you need, might inspire some solution.

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