The Other Other Crossfire
Ah, yes, those social deduction dollars. Even a company like Plaid Hat cannot resist their allure.
Crossfire — and we aren’t talking about that silly 1970s ultimate challenge commercial, nor the Shadowrun game — is the sort of title that’s going to have to justify its seat at the high table, especially now that higher-profile offerings like Secrets have wet their pants in public. Social deduction is tough, and for a genre about pulling the wool over your friends’ eyes, it seems there’s not much chance of fooling players into embracing a lesser option.
But here’s the weird thing. For a game that doesn’t even seem like it even wants to succeed, I’m actually a tiny bit enamored with this one.
Like ripping off a band-aid — one of those foreign knockoffs that stays locked to your flesh like a super-glued tourniquet — let’s get the worst out of the way right up front. Crossfire’s setup is irritating, weird, and sort of off-putting.
You’re given a card, right? Your identity. Your team. Your goal. Maybe you’re gunning for the VIP of an evil corporation. Or maybe the opposite is true and you’re trying to kill the VIP’s would-be killer. Or maybe you’re just a bystander hoping to avoid getting shot. No problem. You’ve done this before.
Well, take a good look at that card, because you aren’t going to keep it for long. Now pass it to the left. Check your new card. Now every third player starting with the dealer, take the cards from your adjacent players, shuffle ’em up, and redistribute. What you’re holding now is your final identity. Got it?
There’s no eye-closing, no identifying teammates, no Citizens of the Weimar Republic, wake up! If social deduction were an organized religion, Crossfire would be an iconoclast.
The result is very different from what we’ve come to expect from our social deduction games. Everyone in that circle — you don’t even need a table, so minimal are Crossfire’s components — is holding a few scraps of the larger conspiracy. You know the general location of maybe three roles. Beyond that, it’s anybody’s guess who to trust.
And that’s when the timer gets flipped.
There has always been an irony to social deduction, in that they present a very immediate problem — a werewolf is terrorizing our village! someone has stolen the Godfather’s diamonds! this Hitler punk is trying to become chancellor! — only to spin into long-winded discussions of identity and suspicion. That’s more feature than bug, of course, but a forty-minute session of accusations does have a tendency to become wearying.
By contrast, the crisis of Crossfire — someone is trying to kill the VIP! — must be resolved within three short minutes. It’s just enough time to outline the rough draft of who’s who, sow a few doubts, and maybe peel back a lie or two. Then the timer runs dry, everybody counts one two three, and you point. That’s who you’re shooting at, provided you’re holding a gun in the first place. Agents kill first, then anyone left standing gets their shot off, maybe actually killing their intended target.
It’s immediate, is what I’m saying, in a way that social deduction games don’t always accomplish. It isn’t the first social deduction game to offer a time limit, but it does feel like one of the first completely structured around it. Even your identity card’s reverse side pulls double duty as a shorthand for who you’re claiming to be, letting you communicate even when you can’t shout over your fellow players.
At the same time, the speed of Crossfire’s mystery necessitates that it isn’t always particularly deep. In practice, it can occasionally veer between too obvious and too capricious, sowing the sensation that there is either too much certainty or far too little of it. Both the good and the bad are heightened by the inclusion of extra roles, folks like the Bomber (kills everyone unless he’s shot), Decoy (just wants to die), Peacekeeper (must save the Bystanders), and Protester (like a Bystander, but meaner). Crossfire isn’t drowning in roles, but each one offers a succinct and meaningful interaction with everyone else in the circle.
Crossfire isn’t the best social deduction game out there. That award probably goes to Secret Hitler, with Mafia de Cuba as my personal runner-up. But it is one of the fastest and most accessible, its quickfire mystery unfolding in just a few minutes and without even requiring a playing space other than the general arrangement of your players. It has become a hit at our outdoor BBQs, where tables are nonexistent and people arrange themselves however they’re most comfortable.
Ultimately, I suspect Crossfire won’t be for everyone, especially diehard social deduction purists. But for those of us who don’t mind our games a bit faster and looser, it’s a nifty little gem.