Just in time for Chanukah comes Secret Hitler, a new social deduction game where players are assigned to be either “liberals” fighting the good fight, or “fascists” who will do whatever it takes to ascend to power and enact their evil agenda. To win the game, the liberals must figure out the identity of the “Secret Hitler” and stop him before the fascists put him in office.
I touched base with Max Temkin, one of the creators of the game. Temkin, a designer from Chicago, is also the co-creator of the popular, but politically incorrect, game Cards Against Humanity. Incidentally, he sat on the National Finance Committee of Hillary for America, and was part of the so-called Nuisance Committee that bankrolled a 90-foot anti-Trump billboard near O’Hare International Airport, and others in Dearborn, Mich., and Orlando, Fla., last fall.
Secret Hitler was financed through a Kickstarter campaign launched last year. With a goal of $54,450, the campaign raised a total of $1,479,046 from almost 35,000 backers.
Secret Hitler can be downloaded and printed to play for free at secrethitler.com, or can be purchased on Amazon.com for $35.00.
Toby Tabachnick: How did you come up with the idea for Secret Hitler?
Max Temkin: We came up with the idea for Secret Hitler as we were watching the Republican primaries last year. We were playing a lot of hidden identity games like Don Eskridge’s Avalon, and thinking about how the mechanics of those games mirrored how authoritarians take power in a democracy through deceit and manipulation.
TT: Your Kickstarter campaign exceeded your goal. To what do you attribute the game’s popularity?
MT: I think people were interested in the theme and the title, and thankfully the quality of the game was there to back it up. We released the entire game for free on our website so people could print it on their home printer, and that did a lot to help it develop a good reputation.
TT: Did you struggle at all with the concept of using Hitler as the subject of the game?
MT: We discovered very early on in playtesting that the game simulated the rise of fascism in 1930s Germany. The liberals have a majority, but they are often powerless to foil fascists with bad intentions, and often hand fascists too much power because it seems like a good idea at the time.
We struggled for months with the name, and eventually tried to call the game “Kill Hitler,” since one of the goals of the game is to assassinate Hitler and prevent World War II. But the name “Secret Hitler” stuck with our playtesting group, and people found it more memorable. Sometimes you just have to recognize what’s working and go with it.
On the one hand, the name “Secret Hitler” adds a little bit of levity to the title, which I think bothers people. On the other hand, it gets to one of the core ideas in the game, which is that when you’re in the moment, it’s very difficult to recognize fascists and do anything about them.
TT: Have you received any pushback vis a vis your choice of using Hitler as the game’s subject?
MT: A few people have made nasty comments to us, but reviews have been very positive. Generally, the people who are against us using the name Hitler have no understanding of the actual history of World War II, or of the Nazis, which is terrifying on its own. Some people have complained to us that it was actually the “conservatives” who opposed Hitler, and that Hitler was “liberal like Obama.” Other people have said that they would rather not remember the Holocaust.
TT: Are you Jewish? If so, did that play any factor in you creating a game about Hitler? Do you have any family members who are Holocaust survivors?
MT: I am Jewish, and I do have family that were survivors. Like most Jews of my generation, I grew up steeped in Jewish history and Holocaust education. I was taught to always be suspicious of authoritarians, to always look out for marginalized groups, and to ask myself Rabbi Hillel’s questions: “If not me, who? And if not now, when?”
The rise of authoritarian fascism in America terrifies me, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that we see a figure like Donald Trump taking power as the generation that experienced World War II and the Holocaust are passing from living memory. Secret Hitler isn’t the answer to Trump, but I do think that this is a time when art needs to be fearless about remembering and teaching history.
TT: Is the game even more relevant now than it was when you created it, now that Trump has been elected president? If so, how?
MT: One of my big fears about “Secret Hitler” was that it would be less culturally relevant once Trump lost the primary to someone like [Ted] Cruz or [Marco] Rubio. I think that Trump’s continued cultural relevance has meant that more people are interested in our game, but I’d trade that away in an instant if it got rid of him.
TT: Why would Secret Hitler make a great Chanukah gift?
MT: Secret Hitler isn’t for everyone; it’s not appropriate for children, it takes some time to learn, and you need a group of five or more people to play. But it’s been a very popular gift for the holidays this year, and we are on a number of “best games of 2016” lists.
Toby Tabachnick is a senior staff writer at The Jewish Chronicle in Pittsburgh.