The Chameleon is a sleek and speedy social deduction game for 3-8 players, by Big Potato Games.
Sometimes, sometimes, there are more than two of us at our gaming table. Those rare occasions are, more often than not, when we play games with people who are less comfortable and familiar with the intricacies of the hobby. It’s great to have on hand a couple of light games that while easy and accessible, provide a great advert for what modern board games can do.
The Chameleon is a great introduction to the genre of social deduction. Our only other experience of this type of game has been The Resistance, which is a tense and frequently confrontational game of cat and mouse. It’s great for a group of close friends, but isn’t something you’d bring out when your Auntie wants to play something other than Scrabble. The Chameleon, on the other hand, is pitched perfectly for these occasions. You know how the ‘Coffee House Chill’-type Spotify playlist is just right for when the in-laws visit? That’s the role The Chameleon now has in our collection.
So how does it work? Your job is to either catch the chameleon or blend in with the crowd, depending on what card you draw at the start of the game (there is only ever one chameleon). Each player says a word related to a specific item on a grid. All players know the item, apart from the chameleon, who has to pretend they’re on the same page as everyone else. Maybe the item is ‘The Jungle Book’ on a ‘Disney movies’ card. Everyone says vaguely related words such as ‘Animals’, ‘Jungle’. The chameleon says ‘Simba’, thinking the item might have been ‘The Lion King’. Players then vote on who they think is the liar – in this case, it’s obvious, the fool who said ‘Simba’.
Whoever gets the most votes reveals if they are the chameleon or not. If the group picks the wrong person – the chameleon escapes and wins. If they identify the chameleon, then that person has one final chance to emerge victorious – they have to guess which of the 16 codewords the group were alluding to. This is all over in about ten minutes, so almost everyone should get an attempt at being the chameleon if you play for about an hour.
Highlighting the merits of the games by explaining its rules doesn’t do it justice, however. Want to find out what one of my new worst fears is? Being the chameleon, staring at a grid of 16 words under the topic ‘Musical Theatre’, and having to go first. Very quickly, you’ve got to decide how vague you can go (do you just say ‘Stage’, and hope your ignorance is not obvious?) or if you should commit to something more specific (maybe you identify that a third of the words have romance as a central theme, and hang your hook on the word ‘love’ to play the odds). Apart from having to think of a word, you’ve also got to stop sweating or you’ll give yourself away. It’s an intense, quick burst of suspense and tensions that is incredibly fun to be a part of.
Once each player has spoken their word, the rules provide 2-3 minutes of debate, bluster and subterfuge, as the group is encouraged to decide on who they think the chameleon is, after which they vote by pointing at who they believe to be the liar. This is where the game feels most like Resistance or Avalon, as players have to carefully discuss who they think might be chameleon, without giving away the secret word. It’s an impeccably balanced scenario, as even if the chameleon is in the complete dark about the codeword, the group has to be very careful about not giving it away during the discussion, as once revealed, the chameleon can still win the game by guessing correctly.
There’s a place in every gamers shelf for a bit of multiplayer filler, and even the most competitive couple’s Kallax has space to slot such a game in. While it may not be the centrepiece of a games evening, it’s quick, fun, and no-one’s going to fall out while playing it. If you want to add a social deduction game to your collection but don’t want something too intimidating for family and friends, then The Chameleon offers an excellent solution.