The Walking Dead: Betrayal is a social deception game set in the world of The Walking Dead, developed by Other Ocean Interactive and published by Skybound Games and Other Ocean Group. In any social deception game, when two players walk away and only one returns, it’s usually a cut-and-dry process to determine who the traitor is. Not so much in The Walking Dead Betrayal. The number of ways a player can meet their demise means it’s perfectly reasonable that two innocents went on an adventure, and only one returned.
Friend, Enemy, Or Something In-Between
In The Walking Dead: Betrayal, players have to contend with hunger, hordes of Walkers, and their objectives for survival, all while attempting to weed out two traitors in their midst. For me, this solves a problem I have often encountered in social deception games like Trouble in Terrorist Town; The innocent players do not need to be proactive to succeed. As long as everyone sticks together, a traitor is unlikely to pick someone off without giving away their identity. Simply hold out until the timer is over, and innocents win. The Walking Dead: Betrayal, however, provides a goal and hostilities that the innocent need to overcome, giving traitors a chance at actual subterfuge.
One example I encountered from the playtest was when a group of players returned to camp with the three wheels we needed for our cart to ensure our escape. However, one player came running to the group, saying someone had taken the wheel away from the cart, leaving us one short. In reality, this was a complete lie; only two wheels had been returned, but the accusation immediately sowed doubt amongst the group. While nothing overt was done, it was enough to allow the traitors to cause chaos.
That doesn’t mean traitors are limited to social engineering to achieve their goals. Traitors have a vast wealth of options available to them. Straight-up violence is a tried and true classic, but poisoning objects, setting off noise traps, and sabotaging the safe zone gate can all lead to victory.
A New Tool of Deception
The most deadly threat to all players is the Walkers. Around the map are critical objective items, but the undead keep them carefully guarded. This means that players must create or find weapons to fight for better equipment or tools needed to escape.
However, while a problem for the innocents, Traitors use the Walkers to their advantage in several ways. It’s possible to use noisy items, such as an alarm clock on a skateboard, to draw walkers to ill-equipped players and eliminate them while securing an alibi. In addition, there are pens for captured walkers in the safe zone, which can be damaged by traitors to make the area not so safe.
The innocent players aren’t entirely without recourse, though. Postboxes dotted around the map allow players to vote for various things, such as the group leader, and exile players from the safe zone. Once exiled, a player cannot enter the secure area unless the gate is open. This allows wrongly accused innocents, and correctly shunned traitors, to continue active roles within a match.
Even In death, a player is always able to stay relevant. Any player who dies can take control of any Walker on the map. From here, they can either try to exact violent vengeance on their foe or gather up a crowd of undead shamblers and send a significant force to finish what they started while living.
Jobs, In This Economy?
To keep rounds fresh, each innocent player is also assigned a role. These include the tailor, who can create a zombie disguise, a technique usually only available to the traitors, or the bodyguard, who has one player they must keep alive. There is even a Bereaved role, whose job is to kill all other players, regardless of their innocence. Each part creates a varied round each time you jump in.
While The Walking Dead: Betrayal does not leap out as the most approachable of the games offered in the Social Deception genre, it does offer a level of depth and complexity that isn’t always found.
However, this doesn’t mean that the game is immune to the problem many in the genre fall foul of. Specific actions may become blatant tells, and players will manage to optimize the intrigue out of it, as many predecessors have failed foul of.
The complexity could lead to the opposite result, though. The presence of hostile entities can lead to enough confusion that traitors aren’t easily uncovered. A player dying to a horde of Walkers with no treacherous involvement could cause a significant witch hunt and distrust in the wrong direction.
While it is still unclear how deep The Walking Dead: Betrayal will become, on the surface, it appears to offer far more than its contemporaries in terms of being an actual PVE survival game, with traitors causing chaos to enhance an already solid experience.
Ultimately, The Walking Dead: Betrayal owes many exciting ideas to existing products, like the tabletop board game Dead Of Winter, which features a similar exile system for its hidden betrayers. But as far as video game social deception offerings, Betrayal provides a more profound, more engaged experience, with matches lasting up to half an hour and several hoops for players to jump on their way to successfully escaping. While a clock is always ticking against the traitors, they have far more opportunities to sow dissent in the group, isolate and eliminate survivors, and set up elaborate backstabs.