Chameleon: a small slow-moving Old World lizard with a prehensile tail, long extensible tongue, protruding eyes that rotate independently, and a highly developed ability to change color.

Or

a person who changes their opinions or behavior according to the situation.

I’m not going to sit here and pretend that Color changing lizards are cooler than international espionage in terms of themes, however it is about as fitting. Social deduction games where you have to sniff out your opposition with limited clues are part of a gaming bubble that’s bound to burst sooner or later. The cool thing is, with each iteration we’re seeing streamlined rules and concepts that make it worth our time and money to keep buying. We’re looking at one of those games today.

The Chameleon from Big Potato Games is a social deduction game for 3-8 players in which one player tries to remain hidden and the others try to sniff them out in a game of verbal hide-and-seek.

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First, a category grid is chosen and placed in the center of the table. Then cards from either the blue or the green deck are shuffled, making sure to include the “Chameleon card”, and dealt one to a player. Then the dice are rolled and players consult their cards. Most players will have a grid that will correspond to the dice roll, giving them the information to pinpoint what the secret is on the category card. One player, however, will simply have a card that reads “You are the Chameleon”. This player has no idea what the dice roll means, but must act as if they do. Starting left of the dealer, each player gives a one word clue. Players want to give a clear enough clue to let non-chameleon players know that they’re on the same team, but a vague enough clue to prevent the Chameleon from fully knowing what they’re talking about. The Chameleon must also give a clue on their turn, making the deception all the more difficult. Once each player has given a clue, they may discuss and then vote by pointing who they believe the Chameleon is. If they guess incorrectly, the Chameleon wins! If they guess correctly, the Chameleon has one chance to guess what the secret was from the category grid. If they guess correctly, the win, otherwise they lose.

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The Chameleon isn’t breaking any new ground when it comes to mechanisms. As a matter of fact, it closely resembles a very popular game that I thoroughly enjoy; Spyfall. There are absolutely differences, for better or worse but needless to say if you like that type of game this may be worth looking at.

The comparison to other games is an annoying inevitability, especially with something as mechanically similar as Chameleon and Spyfall. Both games have characters that are trying to find information and have to act like they know what’s going on. One of the things I love about spyfall is that you not only have to come up with ambiguous questions, but you have to ask creative questions. You can really grill people, making it tense and intimidating. Some of that is lost in The Chameleon. Players don’t have a chance to question each other, they just give a one word clue and then discuss and vote. Another thing to consider is that there are people that are just uncomfortable with these types of games in general. For many, it’s not fun stressing out because you don’t know what to do but you don’t want to get caught. You have to be able to think on your feet and argue effectively. Sometimes, depending on the group, that’s going to be a hard no. Another thing for me was that I don’t love the aesthetics of the design. The box, while clever, frustrated my eyes. Definitely a personal opinion, and really I think it works thematically, I just think extending that design to the card backs was a little bleh for me.

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Now, the great thing about The Chameleon, compared to Spyfall, is that it’s so much simpler. Spyfall has some convoluted rules and it’s difficult to manage the 30 different locations. The Chameleon solves that with the grid system and dice. Now EVERYONE needs to be consulting their cards and the grid. It’s no longer suspicious for one person to be looking. While I certainly miss some of the nuances of the question and answer mechanisms, with only having to give a one word clue, the game suddenly becomes far less intimidating. This has to be one of the most fun and easily accessible social deduction games I’ve played in a long long time. The rules can be explained in seconds and the game itself can be played in rounds that take no more than 2 minutes. Big Potato has really created, in my opinion, the quintessential social deduction party game. It’s so much fun, hitting all the notes that this type of game should.

If this type of gameplay sounds at all interesting to you, I highly, highly recommend picking up the Chameleon. It’s available at Target and for a group social deduction game it is oh so much fun. I bring a few games to Family gatherings around the holidays and I guarantee this one will be making it this year.

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Cons:

  • If you hate social games or ones where you have to think on your feet, this isn’t going to change your mind.
  • The whole art direction was a big miss for me. It’s functional, but not all that pretty.
  • I am slightly concerned about the durability of the components.

Pros:

  • It does a great job of streamlining the type of game I’ve come to love.
  • It’s easy to teach and play.
  • Offers a huge amount of replayability.
  • A top tier party game