- For ages 10 and up
- For 3 to 12 players
- Variable gameplay length
- Active Listening & Communication
- Counting & Math
- Logical & Critical Decision Making
- Strategy & Tactics
- Risk vs. Reward
- Cooperative & Team Play
- Bluffing and Misdirection
- Child – Easy
- Adult – Easy
Theme & Narrative:
- Takedown the company from the inside without getting caught
- Gamer Geek approved!
- Parent Geek approved!
- Child Geek approved!
American former computer intelligence consultant who leaked highly classified information from the National Security Agency, Edward Snowden, said, “Every person remembers some moment in their life where they witnessed some injustice, big or small, and looked away because the consequences of intervening seemed too intimidating. But there’s a limit to the amount of incivility and inequality, and inhumanity that each individual can tolerate. I crossed that line. And I’m no longer alone.” Whether you believe that Mr. Snowden is a hero or a criminal is irrelevant. What is relevant is that we’ve all been in situations where we know that something is off and are compelled to act out to correct it. That’s a hard mental place to be and a lonely one, at that. Going against the established “norm” feels wrong to everyone else who doesn’t see what you see. In this game, you’ll be taking on the role of such an individual, but you aren’t alone. There is another who also wants things to change. The trick is to find them without outing yourself.
Covert Cues, designed by Ahmet A. and published by Playhem Productions via the Game Crafter, is comprised of 30 Topic cards, 12 role cards, and one standard six-sided die. The cards are as thick and as durable as your standard playing card. Illustrations are simple and are meant to further the game’s theme.
Prepping for the Big Business Meeting
To set up the game for five to 12 players, complete the following steps. See the Game Variant section for rules on playing Covert Cues with three or four players.
First, shuffle and randomly deal one Topic card to the middle of the playing area with the “Public” side face-up. Then, place the remaining Topic cards back in the box.
Second, find and set aside the “Hacker” and “Admin” Role cards. Now find and set down by the “Hacker” and “Admin” Role cards several “User” Role cards until the total number of Role cards is equal to the number of players. For example, if playing with seven people, you would have one “Hacker,” one “Admin,” and five “User” role cards. Place any unused Role cards back in the game box.
Third, shuffle the Role cards and deal one to each player face-down. This is the player’s secret role. All players should look at their role but keep it hidden from opponents.
Fourth, select one individual to be the “Narrator” and hand them the die.
This completes the game set up—time to have a business meeting and take down the company from within.
Covert Cues is played in phases and rounds with no set number of rounds per match.
Before the match can begin, the elected Narrator takes the Topic card and slides it close to them, ensuring that only the “Public” side remains face-up the entire time. The Narrator then requests all players close their eyes. Once the Narrator feels that everyone has their eyes tightly shut, they also close their eyes and flip the Topic card over. They then gently roll the die (so as not to have the die go too far from the card) and ask the player who is the Hacker to open their eyes. The Narrator then counts down from five to zero aloud and slowly.
The player who currently has the “Hacker” Role card now opens their eyes, looks at the die roll value and matches it to the numbered word or phrase. This is the Hacker’s hidden code word. Memorize it quickly!
When the Narrator reaches zero, they tell the Hacker to close their eyes. The Narrator will then ask the player with the “Admin” Role card to do the same thing, allowing the Admin player to view the hidden code word, which will enable the Admin to identify the Hacker and vice versa.
After the necessary time to allow the Hacker and the Admin to identify their hidden code word, the Narrator flips the Topic card back to the “Public” side, so it’s face-up. The Narrator then opens their eyes and asks everyone else at the table to do the same.
It’s possible – and we hit this snag ourselves – that the other players around the table will not be able to see the Topic card easily. If such is the case, and you have enough players, have one player take on the role of Narrator but not play. This will allow the Narrator to help the Hacker and Admin identify the word or phrase on the card.
Ok, why did we do all that? In this game, the Admin and the Hacker are trying to identify each other as quietly as possible to not draw attention to their less than legal activities on the company computer. Since both the Admin and the Hacker now know the hidden code word, they can help identify each other. The trick is to do so at a crowded table without giving up too much or saying too little.
Each round after the hidden codeword is determined, the game continues with three phases.
Phase One: Get a Hint
The die is rolled once again, but this time the die result will be associated with a word or phrase on the “Public” side of the Topic card. Everyone in the game will be able to see it. Each player will then say one word or phrase about the identified public word.
It’s the Hacker’s and Admin’s job, at this point, to be super sneaky about the word or phrase they use. The intent should be to mask their response on their turn to make it sound like it just randomly popped into their head, but secretly, they should be saying something very similar to the hidden word or phrase that both of them know. This is not as easy as it sounds. First, they must say a word or phrase associated with the public and hidden word. The catch is that the Hacker and Admin can never tell the secret word or phrase.
The Users also have a role to play here by making it as damn tricky as possible for the Hacker and the Admin to identify each other. They should use words or phrases that don’t make them an obvious User, nor should it be overly apparent that they are trying to mess things up. Subtly is the name of the game here, folks. At least during this phase of the game.
In the way of an example, let us say that the hidden phrase is “Energy Drink,” and the public phrase is “Mineral Water.”
- Player One says, “Tasteless.”
- Player Two says, “Wasted effort.”
- Player Three says, “Avoid.”
- Finally, player Four says, “Yuck.”
Given the hidden and public phrases, do you know who the Hacker and Admin are?
Phase Two: Taking a Vote
Oh, you think you do, smartypants? Well, let’s put that smug self-assuredness to the test, shall we?
All players now get to discuss – openly at the table – who they think the Hacker and the Admin are. Feel free to be outrageous here and act in a way that is appropriate to your surroundings, your audience, and the level of fun you want to have. Of course, everyone is trying to figure out who is who. Don’t lose track of the objective.
When everyone is done saying whatever they have to say (which could be a calm collection of observations or outrageous accusations founded in craziness), one player says “Let’s vote” and counts to three. On three, every player now points to the opponent who they believe to be the Hacker or the Admin. If players don’t know or don’t want to vote yet, they can point straight up in the air and skip their vote.
Everyone holds their position, and the votes are counted.
- If the majority of the votes are skipped, the game continues.
- If there is a tie in the votes, the game continues.
- If one player has the majority of the votes, the player reveals their role.
If the revealed role is the Hacker or the Admin, the game ends, going right to scoring.
Phase Three: Discovery
Per the vote results, the game continues with an opportunity for the Hacker and the Admin to identify each other. Each role gets to try once per every other round. The Hacker goes during the first round, the Admin during the second, and so on, with each individual taking a turn.
The Narrator now asks the group if the Hacker or the Admin wants to identify their counterpart at this time. If the Hacker and the Admin do not, they should look around with as much wonder and anticipation of the “big reveal” as the other Users, staying hidden.
If, however, the Hacker or the Admin – and only if it’s their turn – stand up and shout, “Yes, I do!”, they should pause for a moment to let the rest of the players go “oooh” and “aww!” with various comments such as “I knew it!” or “Really? You?” be thrown in for good measure. They then point to the player who they believe is their counterpart. The role is revealed for both players, and the results will either score points or not.
Votes and Points
While it’s not necessary to score points, it’s suggested by the game designer to do so, as Covert Cues is intended to be played over several rounds. Therefore, the winner of the game is the player who has the most points. Points are awarded as follows:
- If the Admin or the Hacker are voted out, each player who correctly identified them is awarded one point.
- If the Admin and the Hacker identify each other, they are awarded two points each.
- If the Admin and the Hacker incorrectly identify each other, all the Users are awarded one point each. In addition, the User who was incorrectly identified gets one point.
Alternatively, if the Admin or the Hacker guess correctly, they win the round. But, of course, if they don’t, they lose.
Either way, the next round begins if you want to play again. Please take all the Role cards, redeal them, and continue with a new Topic card. Continue to play as many rounds as you like or until a player has earned a specific number of points.
When playing with three or four players, you need to add one additional “User” Role card shuffled and dealt during game setup and subsequent rounds. This means one Role card is never claimed and should NEVER be looked at. It’s possible that the Admin or Hacker will not have a partner. If such is the case, the Admin and the Hacker inform the group that they are working alone when they need to determine who their partner is. If they are correct, they gain the point or win the game. If they are wrong, well, you know the results, don’t you?
The game comes with a built-in expansion named Inquisition. This expansion adds the “Debugger” Role card and should only be used when playing with six or more players. The Debugger knows the secret word just like the Admin and the Hacker, but they are working for the Users. Their entire job is to bait the Admin and the Hacker to guess they – the Debugger – are their partner. Which they are not. If the Admin or the Hacker guess the Debugger, they lose in the same way if they guessed wrong and picked a User.
To learn more about Covert Cues, visit the game’s webpage.
The Child Geeks enjoyed the game and continually suggested it was “very much like Werewolf, but slightly different.” The same goes for those Child Geeks familiar with games like Resistance and other hidden role games. If a Child Geek liked these games, they loved Covert Cues. However, child Geeks who were not fans of such games still enjoyed themselves. According to one such Child Geek, “I liked it because everyone is playing at the same time and no one is out of the game if you get found out. You start a new game.” According to the Child Geeks, this was a big selling point for Covert Cues. There is no player elimination which means that everyone is always playing and having fun. As one Child Geek put it, “You have fun in this game because everyone is playing all the time and trying to figure each other out.” This is precisely what the game is all about and was highly approved by the Child Geeks.
The Parent Geeks also enjoyed the game, saying more or less the same comments as the Child Geeks. While they enjoyed the base game, they found the addition of the “Debugger” Role to be a game-changer. According to one Parent Geek who believed so, “The game is pretty straightforward, challenging, and rewarding. I had fun in each role, but my favorite was the Debugger, who purposely tried to throw off a very small group of people. Really fun to play this role and see the faces of the Admin and Hacker when they think you are their friend!” Another Parent Geek said, “Fun game. It reminded me of other hidden role games, but I hate those that vote players off the island. This game kept everyone involved and allowed me to play it with my adult friends and their kids without any problems.” When the last computer was cleared of bugs, the Parent Geeks found Covert Cues to be squeaky clean.
The Gamer Geeks were not overly impressed but nor were they underwhelmed. They found Covert Cues to be a well-designed game, if not a blatant rehash of other games already in the market. According to one Gamer Geek, “I cannot say a bad thing about this game other than it isn’t original. But then again, what does that mean? Most likely, the game isn’t more interesting to me because I’ve played so many other games like it in the past. Feels like just another burger after a long line of burgers. Yes, I like burgers. I will always eat one, and I guess I’ll always eat – or play – Covert Cues, too.” Another Gamer Geek said, “Not overly inventive, but entertaining. Not complicated, but deep. A good game I would play again, but only if the Debugger is in the mix. That role is fantastic to play with and against.” After all the games were done, the Gamer Geeks gave a thumbs up to Covert Cues.
As the Gamer Geeks so poetically put, the game is not “inventive.” It’s fun, and that is really what has always mattered to our groups. The Gamer Geeks are always in a tricky spot for games due to their extensive time in the hobby. They see one game and can immediately give me a list of five others very much like it. I have always asked them to judge the game’s merits based on what they know, not what they experienced in the past. This is nearly impossible since all our opinions on the “here and now” are based firmly on the “elsewhere and somewhere” that is not important in the present but is a powerful context. That said, the Gamer Geeks – and I – all found Covert Cues to be well designed and got the job done.
For new players and those who are looking for a hidden role game that does not, as one of our reviewers stated, “vote players of the island,” Covert Cues will be a welcomed game at the table. Requires minimal deployment, can play a large number or a small number of players, and background or skill in other games is not a factor. It’s all about listening, and that is something anyone can do, although the Child Geeks do have some difficulty in this department from time to time. So do Parent Geeks, for that matter.
Do play with a designated Narrator and have that role change each round. We found it tricky to play Covert Cues without this designated role if we weren’t playing at a round table. Damn difficult to look at a small card across a rectangle table and not make your chair squeak as you push it back to lean forward to squint at the clue. So just don’t do it. The Narrator supplies easy access and ensures that the integrity of the game is solid. Frankly, I’m surprised the game design didn’t suggest such a role was required.
I very much enjoyed Covert Cues and look forward to bringing it with me to my next large gathering of gaming friends – whenever that might be due to this pandemic that keeps on trucking. Until then, I had my family to play with, and they all enjoyed the game: great stuff and worth your while. So give Covert Cues a try at your family gaming table to see if the game can hack it.
This game was given to Father Geek as a review copy. Father Geek was not paid, bribed, wined, dined, or threatened in vain hopes of influencing this review. Such is the statuesque and legendary integrity of Father Geek.