November 29, 2017
The last game we played at this yearís Will Shortzís Wonderful World of Words is The Chameleon, created by an English company that has the best name in the biz -- Big Potato. Itís distributed in the U.S. by Bananagrams, whose name ainít so bad, either.
Iíll let this video describe the mechanics: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3IEEUcG0nSo Hereís the gist: Randomly, all players except one are given a secret word and one player is The Chameleon for that round. The goal of the non-Chameleons is to figure out who the Chameleon is; the goal of Chameleons is to blend in and avoid tipping off their identity.
The secret word is one of 16 alternatives on a topic card. Letís say the topic is food, and the secret word is ďtacos.Ē Each non-Chameleon will offer a one-word clue that, with luck, will let his counterparts know that he or she knows the secret word, without being so obvious that it will indicate what the secret word is. The Chameleon attempts to offer a single word that would plausibly blend in with the others who know the real secret word.
Hereís what makes The Chameleon special to me: Itís a team game where you have no idea who your teammates are! Unlike any other bluffing game Iíve seen, there are no personal rewards for fooling others into thinking you are the Chameleon. After each player offers their clue, and a little trash-talking ensues, players simultaneously vote on who the Chameleon is (by pointing their fingers at their target -- great fun). If the majority pick the Chameleon correctly, the team wins. If the majority is wrong, the Chameleon wins. But there is one more twist. If the Chameleon is detected, the Chameleon has one more chance to prevail -- has one shot by guessing the secret word, punishing the non-Chameleons for providing too obvious clues. The player who gives a clue as obvious as ďMexicanĒ for ďtacosĒ deserves the derision of all the other non-Chameleons.
The Chameleon is a fantastic word game. Anyone who likes Codenames will probably love it. I have only one caveat: One weak player can ruin the game. Itís natural, when first playing the game, for players to give clues that make the secret word obvious, but eventually, even semi-serious game players will figure out the strategy. If you have a friend who canít figure out the right tactics, this might not be the right game for you.
The Chameleon was a huge hit at Words Weekend, and I think it will be at your game party, too. Although The Chameleon plays well with four people, but itís even more fun with 6-8 players.