Insider is the kind of game that makes people ask a lot of questions. That‘s kind of the point, what with this being a word guessing game. Up to 8 players try to figure out a secret word using only yes/no questions. With the help of the game‘s tokens one player is chosen to be the game master each round. The game‘s deck of cards provides a word that the rest of the group has to guess. You also have a sand-timer that lasts about 5 minutes, making sure the game doesn‘t outstay its welcome.
After this quick introduction to Insider, people always tend to ask the same follow-up question: is that it? But hidden within this little red box filled with cards, tokens and a sand-timer is some remarkably assured designcraft. The afore-mentioned tokens also secretly determine the titular insider, who will be privy to the secret word as well. But that person‘s identity is hidden to everyone else at the table, including the game master. With that small role addition, those 300 seconds you‘re given to guess the word, seem to feel pretty luxurious. Winning the game seems highly probable now.
That is when the final wrinkle of the game reveals itself. You can only win, if you guess the word, sure. But the actual winner or winners will depend on whether the group will correctly identify the insider among them. It is hard to communicate just how this subtle change turns what is basically 20 questions into a joyful example of what gaming at its best.
Allow me to explain.
Designing a semi-cooperative game is not easy. The precisely-worded rules overhead needed to create the kind of experience you’re going for is something of a giveaway. You might end up with mutually exclusive goals that bog down play. You may have to constantly worry about keeping your opponents in check. Before you even get to tackle the game’s main challenge, you will have to keep all possible player agendas and goals in mind. You will have to draw conclusions about your fellow players based on scant evidence, and then you may try to actually do what you’re supposed to do.
In Insider, though, everyone is working towards the same goal. We all want to find out what the secret word is. The only difference is how we want to get there. Insider shines because every part of its design is in service of that goal. It’s the very definition of an elegantly designed game. Its minimalist design isn’t the only thing that makes Insider stand out. In play it can sometimes evoke a very rare emotion in players: a sense of self-doubt.
As time runs out, you will be hastily throwing questions at the game master. Pressure mounts and you’ll latch onto somebody else’s question to get you closer to the solution. You’ll use it as a jumping off point for your own question. It may even be the one that will lead you all to victory. Once you’ve guessed the word… you’ll find yourself rapidly retracing your mental leaps. Was it really your idea to ask about tomatoes? Did somebody else feed you this suggestion by innocently asking about salads first? Whose idea was it to ask about food anyway?
What’s even more rewarding is getting to play as the insider. You will have to figure out how your friends think, so you can subtly give them the clue they need to come up with the brilliant question themselves. This is the core of every great play experience: the moment we begin to understand others. It’s when we‘ve figured out exactly where they‘re coming from and it lets us engage them through the game. Jun Sasaki went out to capture this exact moment and then built a small and delicate game around it.
Insider‘s graphic design isn‘t to everyone‘s taste. There are some, who consider it too simplistic and abstract. To others it visual minimalism is an aesthetic choice that is both welcome and accessible. Instead of a brightly coloured art style that evokes childhood memories, this is a neat looking souvenir for adults. Insider is above all a great way to introduce people to the hobby. Especially those who might’ve otherwise steered clear of fancy character art or tightly interlocking rules and mechanics.