Lie Like a Champ — Board Games and Deception


Battlestar Galactica, Sheriff of Nottingham, Dark Moon, The Resistance, Werewolf, Coup, A Game of Thrones, A Study in Emerald and Dead of Winter all strike a beautiful twisted chord in my brain. It’s that irresistible urge to role play a part that is the opposite of my true self, or maybe it’s my true self finding an excuse to manifest in a “safe” environment within the confines of a board game. When a game calls for lying, acting or betrayal, I embrace the duplicity of the moment, and I do so without reservation.

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Stream Episode 22 (Lie Like a Champ — Board Games and Deception) below, visit iTunes, or grab the mp3 file.


Your Furry Co-conspirators

BetrayalThere’s something magical in that first game or two of Battlestar Galactica when you learn you are a cylon whose ultimate aim is the destruction of humankind. Play the part overtly, and you may be neutered in your ability to bring resources and morale spiraling downwards. Disguise your true intentions, and you may later be the catalyst for humanity’s destruction.

Similarly, you may be the proud recipient of the uncommon “Betrayer” objective in Dead of Winter, learning that you must ultimately turn against everyone in the game, setting up an epic double-cross of an eclectic band of survivors in the zombie apocalypse.

Or you may be one of several werewolves thirsty for the blood of villagers in the party game, Ultimate Werewolf. When you open your eyes for the first time and identify your furry co-conspirators, you perhaps feel that invigorating surge of power and influence over the helpless villagers. If you’re a villager, you lock your gaze on each person in the room, looking for any signs of deception in body language or language itself.

Whatever the case, whatever role you’ve been assigned, the game is on, and it’s time to put on your game face.

I can’t help but wonder, what should that face look like? Or perhaps a better questions is, “What face or faces should be avoided?” What is the best way to deceive the friends that know you so well?


WerewolfHow to Be a Better Liar! (Through Science!)

I found a 2011 news release out of UCLA that shared the findings of psychology professor R. Edward Geiselman who has taught investigative interviewing techniques to detectives and intelligence officers from the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, the Marines, the Los Angeles police and sheriff’s departments, and numerous international agencies.

Geiselman and three former undergraduates analyzed some 60 studies on detecting deception and conducted original research on the subject.

Here is a summary of what they learned:

When questioned, deceptive people generally want to say as little as possible. Geiselman initially thought they would tell an elaborate story, but the vast majority give only the bare-bones. Studies with college students, as well as prisoners, show this.

“Don, your red mechanical eye is hurting my eyes. Are you a cylon?” Don says, “No.”

Guilty!!! Don is a cylon.


“My Die Rolls are Horrible” — Ryan, Infected

Okay here’s another tip:  Although deceptive people don’t say much, they tend to spontaneously give a justification for what little they are saying, without being prompted.

During a game of Dark Moon, I say, “Ryan, you are so Infected.” Ryan says, “I’m not infected.” Later, Ryan says,  “My die rolls are horrible… I have nothing I can submit to help out. There’s nothing I can do when I don’t roll positive numbers.”

Ryan is so infected.

Deceivers also tend to repeat questions before answering them, perhaps to give themselves time to concoct an answer.

“Chris, you’re a werewolf, aren’t you?” Chris says, “Am I a werewolf? Absolutely not.” Well hello there Mr. Werewolf.

A person concealing the truth may also monitor a listener’s reaction to what they are saying, trying to read you to see if you’re buying their story. Have you ever watched Larry David interrogate someone in Curb Your Enthusiasm? It’s a perfect example.

Related to this is the fact that deceivers often initially slow down their speech because they have to create their story and monitor your reaction, and when they have it straight “will spew it out faster,” Geiselman said. Truthful people are not bothered if they speak slowly, but deceptive people often think slowing their speech down may look suspicious. “Truthful people will not dramatically alter their speech rate within a single sentence,” he said.


Cylons Use Sentence Fragments

SheriffCylons also tend to use sentence fragments more frequently than humans; often, they will start an answer, back up and not complete the sentence.

“Look, didn’t you see that when I was trying to boost morale by… I’m not a cylon, ok?”

Another finding of professor Geiselman is that those engaged in deception are more likely to press their lips when asked a sensitive question and are more likely to play with their hair or engage in other “grooming” behaviors. Also, gesturing toward one’s self with the hands tends to be a sign of deception; gesturing outwardly is not.

So, when the Sheriff of Nottingham asks if you are truly carrying four chickens, point your finger at him and proudly declare, “yes, I am carrying four chickens!”

Here another one. Truthful people, if challenged about details, will often deny that they are lying and explain even more, while deceptive people generally will not provide more specifics.

“See, if I was a betrayer, I wouldn’t have just taken out all those zombies, right? Right? Anyone? Anyone?!”

Now I’m not sure how often this next one would come into play for most board games, but it is interesting. When asked a difficult question, truthful people will often look away because the question requires concentration, while dishonest people will look away only briefly, if at all, unless it is a question that should require intense concentration.


You Learned Everything and Nothing

A lot of these tips and techniques should be taken with a grain of salt. Lie detection is not an exact science. In fact, if you’ve been taking in these signs of deception I’ve shared, I leave you with this quote from professor Geiselman:

“Without training, many people think they can detect deception, but their perceptions are unrelated to their actual ability. Quick, inadequate training sessions lead people to over-analyze and to do worse than if they go with their gut reactions.”

“Quick, inadequate training sessions.” Just like this article, thank you very much.

That’s right. Science says I just possibly made it more difficult for you to detect deception, and if you’re one of my gaming buddies, I hope you don’t hold this against me. I mean, I would never put together a piece on detecting deception only to make it more difficult for you later on, would I?

Believe me when I say I’m totally innocent.


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3 replies


  1. Let’s Be “Honest.” A Review of Coup – The Board Game Show

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