Most of us have something we’re good at – an inherent talent, a skill that’s part of our job, a hobby we love so much we know it inside and out. Often times, that thing we’re good at also becomes our specialty – a ‘calling card,’ if you will. The same is also true of many game publishers and designers. For example, Uwe Rosenberg is the guy that requires you to feed people, and Sandy Petersen’s games feature huge miniatures and asymmetric player factions.
Overworld Games arguably falls into this ‘specialist’ category, focusing on social deduction games, short titles for larger player counts where the central objective is to correctly determine the identity of the other players in the game while keeping your own identity secret. While typically not huge fans of social deduction games, we at Up With Meeple have been especially impressed with two of Overworld’s past titles in this area, New Salem and Booze Barons. So, when Overworld and New Salem creators Brian Henk and Clayton Skancke released Exposed, another social deduction game, we were excited to get it onto our table as soon as possible. Would Exposed follow up New Salem by continuing Overworld’s tradition of strong titles in the social deduction genre, or would it just fall flat?
Exposed places 2 to 6 players in the role of pickpockets aboard an ocean cruise. The object of the game is to either steal wallets from the other guests on the boat or expose the other players in the game by successfully guessing their identity and publicly exposing them as a pickpocket. The game ends when one player has nabbed (and held onto) seven wallets, or when only one player remains unexposed.
Exposed is played on a square grid of tiles, ranging in size from 4 by 4 for a two player game to 6 by 6 for five and six player counts. Each tile represents a guest on the cruise – including the pickpocket players, masquerading as ordinary guests in order to blend in – and starts with one or two wallets, depending on their starting position on the board. Guest tiles have two sides to them, ‘exposed’ and ‘unexposed,’ where the exposed side indicates a guest whose identity has been confirmed – either a player who has been outed as a pickpocket or a character who has been confirmed not to be one of the players. At the beginning of the game, each player is secretly dealt an identity card corresponding to one of the guests on the board. A number of additional cards (depending on player count) are dealt face up to the table, and represent ‘marks,’ guests who are known not to be oe of the player pickpockets, but who will confer a unique, one-time benefit (in addition to their wallet, of course) when their pocket is picked by a player. The remaining identity cards form a deck containing one card for every guest on the board who is not a player or a starting mark. This represents a key source of information for players as the game progresses – every change to view a card from the deck, whether accessed via a mark’s special ability or uncovered as new marks enter the game, provides crucial data eliminating guests as potential player pickpockets.
On each turn, a player may take one of four actions – Move, Steal, Expose, or Snitch. The Move action allows players to swap the position of two neighboring, non-diagonal tiles anywhere on the board, and then to immediately perform a second such swap. Players taking the Steal action may take one wallet from the tile of any guest which surrounds the guest corresponding to their identity, adding it to their personal stash of wallets in front of them. If a player steals from a mark, they automatically expose that guest and can also take the special action indicated on the mark’s card. These bonus effects include the ability to take extra actions, place additional wallets on the board, and view cards from the identity deck, among other interesting effects. Once the special action is resolved, a new mark is drawn to replace the one whose pocket was just picked, with the old mark becoming an ordinary (if exposed) guest. Importantly, since stealing from a non-mark does not expose them, it’s possible for players to steal from other players without exposing them.
If a player thinks they know the identity of one of their unexposed opponents, they can attempt to verify that suspicion through the Expose action, which allows them to flip the tile of any other guest in their guest’s row or column to its exposed side. If a guest corresponding to one of the other players’ identities is exposed in this manner, that player is exposed, and must flip their identity card face up for everyone to see. Exposed players lose half their stash of wallets, and must store their stash on their exposed guest, meaning wallets which they steal are now fair game to be stolen from them by other players. The final available action, Snitch, lets a player to expose a guest located anywhere on the board, but comes as a steep cost – to take the Snitch action, a player must first show their identity card to another, unexposed player.
Exciting and New
One of the first things that jumps out about Exposed is how different it is from New Salem. While both games are firmly in the social deduction genre, accessible to casual and experienced gamers alike, and both involve direct interaction with opponents in a battle of wits and bluffing, each has its own distinct feel and very different ruleset. While I enjoy New Salem quite a bit, it’s heavier on the ‘social’ aspects of social deduction, encouraging plenty of table (and trash) talking, and hinging on who can pair logical, game-based with social cues to fuel their deductive insights. In Exposed, however, nearly all the deduction and misdirection takes place on the board. More moves and strategies are available to players (even with just four basic actions), and more weight is given to positioning and the non-social aspects of gameplay. Exposed thus differs enough from New Salem, and other games from the genre emphasizing the social end of things (e.g. The Resistance), to have its own place alongside them in your collection.
The strategic depth presented by Exposed represents another of its key strengths. While the premise and four basic moves keep the game light and inviting to non-gamers, Exposed also offers a challenge and moderate degree of strategic depth which will hold the interest of regular gamers, too. There is no downtime in exposed, as every move by a player potentially contains a key piece of information for their opponents. Although attempts at exposing a guest or picking their pocket bring a player one step closer to victory, they also provide key information on that player’s potential location for the opposition. While moving guests are just as likely bluffs as actions shifting a player’s guest or a mark into position for a future move, every move taken to throw opponents off your scent could also be a missed opportunity. Given the variable length of Exposed, one can never be certain if the game will be over, or if your opponents will (intentionally or inadvertently) reorganize key tiles, before that masterful action you’ve been setting up for your last three turns of Moves comes to fruition. Both of the game’s paths to victory are also challenging yet possible in practice – in our plays of Exposed, we’ve seen players win by being the last unexposed pickpocket and by amassing seven wallets, although the former seems more common in practice. All this combines to pack a lot of strategy into that small grid of tiles and those four simple moves you can take.
And like any good social deduction title, Exposed is easy to teach and quick to play. The first time we sat down to Exposed, we were able to teach the game and fit in three plays with three players in under an hour. That quickness is a big reason Exposed stays fresh, and is a game design element Henk and Scancke appear to have mastered in their titles. By keeping players in the game from beginning to end, and by keeping the length of that game short, any play of Exposed is over long before you get a chance to tire of it – the game ends just as you begin to appreciate it, leaving you eager for a rematch rather than a break. In addition, the time it takes to reset the game between plays is minimal. Since players’ identities and marks are randomly drawn from the identity deck, the tiles comprising the gameboard don’t even need to be reorganized between plays – just flip guests to their non-exposed side, replenish the wallets on the board, shuffle the deck for a new round of player identities and starting marks, and you’re set!
Exposed Laid Bare
While there isn’t a whole lot NOT to like about Exposed, the game does have a couple shortcomings. First, in the games of Exposed we played, the Snitch option was never taken. While Snitch is clearly a high risk, high reward move, and its non-use may be reflective of our group’s more risk-averse playstyle, it also seems rather odd for players to be able to completely ignore one of the core mechanics in a game that only has four of them. I don’t know that it really detracted much from our Exposed experience, but from a game design perspective, it made me wondering whether the costs and benefits of the action were adequately balanced with Move, Steal, and Expose.
A second potential weakness of the game is that it does not seem to lend itself as much to two-player play. With a smaller tile grid yet maintaining the same seven wallet threshold needed to secure that path to victory, a two player game would seemingly skew towards a high-stakes race to expose the other player. This not only removes one of the two win conditions from being practically viable, but also makes the game perhaps a bit too short, taking away both a player’s margin for error and a lot of the midgame maneuvering and strategy where Exposed shines the most.
Exposed is a fine little game. Nice filler-weight, non-gamer accessible, and overall, fun. I would wedge Exposed between Overworld Games other titles I’ve played, with New Salem being my favorite and quite a bit more gamer-y, and Booze Barons being a fine game, but not one I ever need to play again. But Exposed is likely to get played more than New Salem for the reasons above, and that makes it a great addition to any library.
I have to give credit to Overworld for the inclusiveness of an almost equal mix of male / female characters, the professions each is given without playing to stereotypical gender roles, and the inclusion of people of color. The game does feature everyone in their underpants, but it’s decidedly un-sexual, and actually quite adorable as each Exposed cruise passengers undergarments matches their profession in a cute way. Part of my somewhat-secret mission behind UpWithMeeple is spreading positivity and inclusiveness through gaming, and I think Exposed does a great job in this department.
Short. Relatively inexpensive. Accessible. Fun. Those are four good reasons to buy any game, and definitely four good reasons to pick up a copy of Exposed for your gaming collection. While you might think twice if you’re a solo gamer or if you primarily play with a single friend (which, admittedly, many gamers do), if you regularly get to the table with three or more players, if you like games from the social deduction genre, and if you’re looking for a game to interest and engage both casual friends and game night regulars, hopefully this review has exposed Exposed as the game you’re looking for.
Silver medal games are great games, games you make a point to play. They’re a ton of fun, and usually stand out because they do at least one thing really well, like having tight mechanics, unique gameplay, or outstanding production value.
By Brian Henk, Clayton Skancke