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Review of Chiyo’s Secret: A Board Game of Deception in Feudal Japan

A dishonored Daimyo. A duplicitous Geisha. A loyal samurai gone Ronin. A scandalous son. These are the ingredients that fuel the narrartive behind Chiyo’s Secret from Wizkids; a deduction game with just the right amount of flavor to set it apart.

Chiyo’s Strength

While there may be better deduction games out there than Chiyo’s Secret, there is a lot to be appreciated about its theme and its application. Unlike the theme of Cryptid (a game my group absolutely adores), the dramatic setting of Chiyo’s Secret runs far more than skin deep. It permeates every aspect of the game from components to individual player motivations.

As the story goes, the Daimyo’s most coveted Geisha named Chiyo and his most trusted and loyal samurai, Fusanobu, have a secret child together named Motonaka. Upon discovering their secret love, the Daimyo and his allies set about trying to expose the fugitives who have taken on disguises order to have them executed. He even calls on Fusanobu’s greatest rival to participate in the hunt! The Shogun has gotten wind of the dishonored Daimyo and is on his way; not good news for the Daimyo.

So players will draw role cards to determine which part they will play in the unfolding drama–each with their own goals.

  • The Daimyo’s Allies wish to expose the fugitives and have them executed.
  • The Betrayer is out to ambush the fugitives AND the Daimyo to sieze power for himself.
  • The Usurper(s) work for Fusanobu’s rival and want to take out both the Ronin and the Daimyo to install themselves in positions of power.
  • And Motonaka wants to keep his parents’ identities concealed until the Shogun can arrive and discredit the Daimyo.

So the gameplay tells a story, and there are as many possible endings as their are characters in the play. Drawing your Role Card is like being cast in a theatrical production. You don’t get any particular or unique mechanic; just a different definition of a happy ending to the unfolding drama than your tablemates have.

Not only are the players’ motivations established by the role card that they draw, but their win conditions are directly related to that role and excellently visualized on their Role Card. A nice touch! The roles are also secret, with the exception of Motonaka. So this does play a bit like a secret role game, but it isn’t strictly necessary to deduce who has which role. That’s not to say that figuring that sort of information out doesn’t have its advantages, though!

Motonaka’s win condition involves the movement of the Shogun Tracker which serves as the end-game clock (pictured below). All others are trying to identify and maneuver their targets into an Establishment they own before the Shogun arrives to the city.

Chiyo’s Secret: A Simple Turn of Challenging Decisions

Each player’s turn is deceptively simple: They take one Loyal Action and one Secret Action (with the chance for more if you use the Search action to reveal more than one Patron card).

The included Action Cards tell you pretty much everything you need to know, including what questions you may ask Motonaka during a given Action and where/how to move Patrons between the various Establishments.

All cards begin face down, and the players are working to expose (read: flip) both the Ronin and the Geisha and move them into one of their two Establishments to try and secure victory according to their role’s win condition. But for every one of their actions, they grant the player who drew Motonaka, who does not take a turn during play, a chance to make progress towards his win condition.

And while Motonaka does not take a traditional turn, that’s not to say he just sits back and watches as things unfold. He has to answer the questions posed by the other players during their Loyal Action phase, and he has the option to lie exactly once during the game to try and throw everyone off of his parents’ trail long enough to buy the Shogun the time he needs to arrive.

Motonaka also has opportunities granted to him to draw and/or play Influence Cards to majorly affect gameplay. In some cases, they advance the Shogun towards the city to speed along Motonaka’s win condition while in others they actively sabotage the players’ progress working towards their own.

Chiyo’s Secret: Verdict

The differing and competing win conditions across the whole table is a draw for me. It isn’t one versus many here as it is with some deduction games, nor is it built around a singular objective to which everyone races simultaneously.

The only gripes that surfaced during our plays were the power of that one lie permitted to Motonaka (something that was divisive as we were 50/50 split on loving it or hating it; especially in light of the relatively short Shogun Track) and the fact that the Patron cards have an unnecessarily tiny number on the bottom left to indicate how many players are required to include it. In a 5 player game like ours, you have to remove all 6+, 7+, and 8 player cards. In our second play through, I missed a single 6+ card and it just so happened to get drawn as the disguise for the Geisha. That made it impossible for the players to win, and I didn’t catch the mistake until relatively late game. Those numbers could definitely be bigger for ease’s sake.

We are super interested to try the game with the maximum number of players, as well (8). We think that’ll very much add to the game’s experience; especially with regards to the Daimyo’s Allies, as they play as cooperatively as they can while keeping their identities – and thus their win conditions – a secret from the others!

Chiyo’s Secret is a neat little game with a double dose of theme and a challenging system of win conditions. There is no “gimme” role with which winning is any easier…assuming the players who are not Motonaka choose their Secret Actions wisely as they seek their own win! Keep an eye out on Amazon and for its official release!

[Disclosure: Wizkids provided Nerds on Earth with a copy of Chiyo’s Secret in exchange for an honest review.]

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