SECRETS is a Sombreros and Repos production, and has been designed by Bruno Faidutti and Eric M Lang as a 4-8 player game for ages 10+. Depending on the number and experience of players, games last 20 - 40 minutes.
SECRETS is a game of bluff, double-bluff and secret political agendas. Players are in 2 Political sides, CIA and KGB, plus there is the Hippy Peace Party; these parties are represented by beutifully designed, heavy plastic discs (tokens), blank on one side and with either the Hammer & Sickle, Bald Eagle or the Peace Sign on the other. There is also a UN token and two small arrows that are aids to mark on the Help Sheet which characters have last been revealed.
There are 29 character cards, 3 of which are double-agents and another 3 are Assassins; the remainder are Politicians, Psychiatrists, Detectives, Scientists and Diplomats. Each has a card with Name, Value, Number of Copies (of the card in the deck) and an immediate effect (shown by pictograms).
The number of tokens in the game depends on the number of players, always one more token than there are players. These tokens are placed face down on the table, shuffled around and dealt one to each player, remaining unseen to all players, including the owning player. The character cards are shuffled to form a draw deck but no cards are dealt from it, the players begin with no cards. At this point, again depending on the number of players, tokens may be secretly looked at; however, during the game players may not look at these Identity Tokens unless a card effect gives them permission. The Bullet cards are shuffled and placed face down as a separate deck. They only come into play when an Assassin is activated. The Assassin looks at the drawn Bullet card then secretly gives it to any other player, who may not look at it. At the game end it has a value of 0, -1, -2 or -3. This can be disadvantageous to a CIA or KGB player but really helpful to a Green player.
The Rules booklet is small and neat - 2 pieces of 18cm x 18½cm folded in half, stapled together and printed to make 8 pages - of which just 3 are Setup and Game Rules, though there are a couple of notes on the back page concerning various number of players. The rules seem to be too simple at first to belong to a an intriguing and playable game, but they set the scene perfectly and the game itself, although only 20 minutes long, is quite strong tactically.
Play is in Turns, clockwise, with each player on their turn drawing cards from the deck until they have drawn two different characters. The active player takes the two different cards, looks at them and secretly keeps one and discards the other back under the draw pile. They then offer that card to one of the other players by sliding it face down (unseen at this point by anyone other than the active player) in front of the chosen player. This player then has two choices; accept the card and place it face up in front of them or they can refuse it so that it then ends up face up in the active players display area. As soon (like immediately) as the card is placed in a player's display and flipped face up its effect is activated.
The player, as long as they are the only one, with the least number of cards in their display takes the UN Token which they can use to interrupt an offer before the card is flipped, if they do this they then take the card into their own display and activate it. All of the character cards have an effect that affects the game but not in such a manner that it is too strong and takes away the fun element of the play.
During the game players Identity Tokens may be switched around and with players not being able to look at them the Bluffing has begun. The game is fun and fast with artwork from Cari truly catching the right atmosphere for the 1960's when world peace was on a knife-edge with the USA and Russia being either side of the blade. The characters bring to life the early 1960's Spy movies and programmes of the TV and Cinema mixed with the peace protesters of the Ban the Bomb and GreenPeace types.
Best played with 6, 7 or 8 players but also plays more than just okay with a lesser compliment. The play is fast but thoughtful and even though each turn you only have the choice of two cards you also have the choice of who you offer one to, and that can be critical, especially if you have a plan.
Cards in a player's display are worth points at the end of the game, Hippies are looking for the lowest possible score, whereas the KGB and CIA want the highest possible score; the Game-End being when a player adds a fifth card to their display, face up or down.
The girl with a gun on the front cover, and indeed prominant throughout (including the beautifully designed inner box) looks as if she has walked straight out of an episode of "Allo Allo" and has the appeal to get players to take a good look at the game. There aren't too many games for up to 8 players that don't drag on a little and so it is pleasantly surprising to find one that plays well with a large number, is fun and intriguing for all, has bluffing and picking-on-players tactics (but not so nasty as their game is ruined) and plays in less than half-an-hour; it's also a great game to take to Games Conventions and Events when you know you are going to want something light and enjoyable to play, especially during the breaks between the major tournaments and 3-4 hour game sessions.
At just under £18.00 in most stores it is good value.