Game: The Chameleon
Publisher: Big Potato Games
Game Designer: Rikki Tahta
Board Game Types: Party Game & Secret Identity
Duration: 15 Minutes
Age: 14+ (In our experience, a bright 10+ year-old shouldn't have much trouble with most of the topics)
Time to Learn: 5-10 minutes
The Chameleon Board Game Review
An ambitious exercise in simplicity, The Chameleon takes the casual-friendly gameplay of games like Trivial Pursuit, Scattegories or Taboo and adds in a secret identity component akin to something you'd see in One Night Ultimate Werewolf of Secret Hitler. But can it manage to keep it light, despite secret identity elements that typically lead to a tense affair? Read on to find out.
Each player is assigned a role, either as a regular player or as The Chameleon. A topic is chosen with a 4x4 grid of related words and dice are rolled. Regular players refer to a legend that shows them the secret word. The Chameleon is left in the dark. Players take turns giving a single word to prove to the other players that they actually know the word, without tipping off The Chameleon.
The Chameleon attempts to say a word that will convince the others that she is just a regular player, while the regular players attempt to signal to one another that they know the word, but without letting the Chameleon guess it correctly.
For instance, the secret word may be "Owl." The Chameleon can see that other options include "Hawk," "Chicken" and "Bear." A word like "Feathered" would rule out "Bear" for the Chameleon, but signal to the other regular players that you are one of them. "Nocturnal" on the other hand, is a bit too on-the-nose and will tip off the Chameleon, making it easier to fake being a regular player and giving her points at the end for guessing the secret word correctly.
Once everyone has said a word, everyone points at another player simultaneously. The player with the most votes reveals whether or not she was The Chameleon. If The Chameleon is discovered, she loses and everyone else gets points. If not, then the Chameleon escapes and is the only one that gets points. If the Chameleon is caught, she gets one chance to guess the secret word. If she's right, she gets a smaller number of points. Pretty simple stuff.
The real challenge of the game comes in combining your single word with the others to make sure that you're either blending in if you're The Chameleon or identifying yourself as a trustworthy regular player without giving the sneaky reptile too much to work with.
How to Win The Chameleon
If you're the Chameleon:
- Cast doubt on other players. Put them on the spot to make other players suspect them and deflect blame from yourself.
- Answer confidently, but be vague enough that you can cover a lot of the possible clues with your answer.
If you're a regular player:
- Watch for suspicious answers.
- Find clues that give enough information to your fellow players to let them know you're not The Chameleon, but make sure to leave the actual Chameleon in the dark about what the word could actually be. This is when it pays to be broad and use tangentially related words.
The low-stakes gameplay (the game even makes scoring optional) combined with broad trivia and wordplay found in The Chameleon manages to add a surprising amount of depth and strategy to a thoroughly causal game in the lightest of the various board game genres.
You'll have no trouble teaching this one to friends and it will make for an excellent appetizer ahead of a heavier main course. Most secret identity games involve lying or deception in some form, so this game is an excellent introduction to the genre for players without a well-developed poker face. For players who don't like deception, this will avoid the cognitive dissonance something like Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game can cause.
- Fun, light and easy
- Appealing art design
- Excellent Gateway Game
- Secret Identity mechanics don't rely on lying/deception, which makes it a better fit for players uncomfortable with those dynamics
- Probably won't satisfy as a main course
- Like most trivia/word games, will likely require expansions if played frequently
Gateway Game Score (what's this?) - 9/10
Overall Game Score - 9/10
Review by The Happy Strategerist, who is blending in to avoid detection. Mwa ha ha...
What do you think? Is The Chameleon a worthy party game or would you be better off sticking with one of the classics? Let us know in the comments below. While you're at it, check out our recent articles on Board Game Addiction, Cooperative Games and The Ten Types of People Who Ruin Game Night.