I believe Chiyo’s Secret has some deep strategy that needs to be explored. It will take a fair number of plays to figure it out.
Theme and What is it?
The Daimyo has fallen head over heels for the Geisha, Chiyo. There is only one problem. She is already in love with the Daimyo’s top samurai, Fusanobu. Awkward! These love birds have secretly been together for years and their son, Motonaka is the head of the local underground.
The Daimyo has banished Fusanobu and, in a jealous rage, seeks the execution of the lovers. Motonaka refuses to let the corrupt Daimyo destroy his parents and seeks help from the Shogun. As the Shogun travels to town, the nobles of the city begin to jostle for positions of power. Some nobles are loyal and others want the power for themselves. Motonaka wants to keep his parents safe through all of this until the Shogun arrives and has disguised them in the local market place. Can he protect them long enough for the Shogun to set things right, or will the nobles discover the Geisha and Ronin and use them to achieve their own designs?
Chiyo’s Secret is a social deduction game where players take on the roles of nobles and Motonaka. Some nobles are loyal to the Daimyo and others want to see him over thrown and they become more powerful. Motonaka just needs to hide his parents long enough for the Shogun to arrive.
Each player is assigned a secret role. Each role has different win conditions that must be met. The only role that is known to everyone is Motonaka. Since he is the leader of the underground, he has information and imparts that to the nobles in exchange for favors that will help him meet his own win conditions. Which are to keep his parents hidden until the arrival of the Shogun.
All of the nobles, regardless if they are loyal or not, seek to discover the identities of Chiyo and Fusanobu. They do this by moving patrons around the business establishments and flip over patron cards and then asking Motonaka questions. There are three phases to each noble’s turn. Take a loyal action – spy, search, interrogate. These actions move and reveal patron cards. Then, depending on the action taken, the noble can ask a question to Motonaka. After that the noble takes a secret action which helps Motonaka in some way.
Each noble has an establishment on their left and right that they share with their neighbor. Both establishments belong to them. Depending on how they move the citizen cards determines which questions they can ask Motonaka. Motonaka must answer truthfully, EXCEPT ONCE per game he is permitted to lie. After getting their answer, the noble player must perform a secret action that benefits Motonaka. It could be moving the Shogun one space closer to town, or giving Motonaka an influence card which can change various aspects of the game.
If a player flips over one of the disguised fugitives and asks if they just flipped over a fugitive, then suspect tokens are placed on that character card. When the two fugitives are finally revealed, the game enters the final act. During this phase each player tries to meet specific win conditions based on their role. Each person must move the correct cards into an establishment at the same time. If a player can complete their assigned conditions they win!
Right from the start everyone in the group felt a bit intimidated by Chiyo’s Secret. The actions and questions options were simple once everyone understood them. But getting everyone on board took some time.
I played as Motonaka, and I had spent plenty of time learning the game to teach it. I had an unfair advantage because I knew what I was doing and the players acting as nobles took too many rounds to create a strategy. I was able to win fairly easy without much of a sweat.
The other players were a bit flustered, and it took a few minutes to talk them into playing again.
On the second run of the game, I still played Motonaka and felt like I still had an advantage even though it was a closer game.
Game Build Quality
WizKids did a nice job on the components. The cards are nice stock and the establishment boards are heavy cardboard. They were able to keep Chiyo’s Secret into a medium size box even with all that it has in it. I have no complaints about the build.
Chiyo’s Secret is a very beautiful game. The art director was able to capture feudal Japan in great detail and allow players to take part in the history of the story. The colors are vibrant but not in an over the top way. They just work well with what you would expect based on the theme. The game looks very nice laid out on a table.
Once you take time to look at all the cards and establishment boards, you can see that there was a great deal of attention paid to the detail as everything is unique and fits in with the theme.
The fun of Chiyo’s Secret is found in the same thing as all other social deduction games… getting to deceive people. Come on and admit it, we all love it and in these games we are allowed by everyone else playing to take part in deception. Even playing as Motonaka and only being able to tell one lie, the entire game was great. That one lie derailed the other players, and it was so satisfying! Most players have their own agenda. Everyone else does not know what it is unless they are discovered, which makes it really hard for them to win, so everyone must put on their poker faces and play their part well.
Age Range & Weight
Chiyo’s Secret is recommended for 14+. I don’t think younger brains will grasp everything going on with this game. It took a room full of adults half the game to really know what they were doing and they still weren’t very good at it. I would say that you will want to keep this one on the shelf until you have adult game nights. Plus, do we really want to have our kids honing their deception skills just for the fun of it?
My group really struggled with Chiyo’s Secret. It may take a few more plays before they really feel like they have a chance. Right now, it seems like the player who is Motonaka has a big advantage. But I believe Chiyo’s Secret has some deep strategy that needs to be explored. It will take a fair number of plays to figure it out. To be honest, my group did have it rough with me as Motonaka. I am great at social deduction games and can usually mess up everyone’s game without much effort. I take pride in that.
You do need a larger group to play Chiyo’s Secret. We had to schedule a special night to play it just so we had enough people to participate. Sometimes that can be tough. But if you have a regular group that plays together and enjoys games like this, then I think you might really like Chiyo’s Secret. It should be approached with patience and the knowledge that some players might need to play it a few times before everyone understands their own paths to victory. Don’t be afraid of that commitment, and you might find it well worth the time.