Five to ten players take envelopes with identities, a "Ja" card and a "Nein" card. Six are Liberal, three are Fascist and one is Fascist and Hitler.note At the start, all players close their eyes, the Fascists (who are not Hitler) open their eyes, Hitler holds up his/her thumb, so the Fascists (other than Hitler) know who everyone is, but Hitler and the Liberals do not.
Every turn a player assumes the role of President, a position which rotates clockwise every turn (just like Card Czar), who nominates another player to be Chancellor. All players then vote Ja or Nein. There are 17 policy cards, six Liberal and eleven Fascist. If the vote to confirm the Chancellor succeeds, the President takes three from the top and hands two to the Chancellor, discarding the third. The Chancellor picks one and enacts it. If the vote fails, however, the turn ends and the next player is President; if three consecutive governments fail, the policy on the top of the pile is automatically enacted.
If five Liberal policies are enacted, the Liberals win, but if six Fascist policies are enacted, the Fascists win. Enacting a certain number of fascist policies will give the sitting President a one-time-use power, such as investigating players or executing a player. If Hitler is elected Chancellor after three Fascist policies are in place, the Fascists win automatically. If Hitler is executed pursuant to the enactment of the fourth or fifth Fascist policy, the Liberals win automatically.
This game provides examples of:
- Adolf Hitlarious: Averted. Hitler and the generic Fascists are portrayed as evil anthropomorphic reptiles and amphibians. The creators insist they didn't think Hitler and his ilk was worthy to be immortalized in their board game, even if the entire premise is based on them.
- Affably Evil: In 9 cases out of 10, Hitler must present himself as Liberal so that he can be elected Chancellor. Depending on how much the player group catches on to this, it may even be a good idea for Hitler to act slightly Fascist to avoid being killed.
- An Offer You Can't Refuse: One possible strategy for the Liberals to make use of once three or more Fascist policies have been exacted and executions are possible. In its basic form, a Liberal President picks a suspected non-Hitler Fascist as their Chancellor with the stated intent of giving them one of each policy, promising that they will execute the Chancellor if they enact a Fascist policy. Assuming that the threat is genuine, a Fascist has the Sadistic Choice of either advancing the Liberal cause or sacrificing themselves for their own. Of course, the Fascists can also exploit this tactic and hold real Liberals at gunpoint, but actually pass their unfortunate victim two Fascist policies in order to execute and silence the "Fascist".
- Artistic License Law: No parliament (then or now) actually works as portrayed in the game, but that's acceptable for the sake of fun.
- Bad Powers, Good People: Because there are more Liberal than Fascist players but more Fascist than Liberal policies, it is inevitable that a Liberal President will oversee the passage of a Fascist policy. One possible victory condition for Liberals is to use a Fascist policy to execute Hitler.
- Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: As the creators note, most Fascist victories don't come from passing all their policies, they come from Hitler acting like a trustworthy Liberal and getting elected Chancellor. The instructions recommend that Fascists as President feed Hitler as Chancellor a Liberal policy if they can, to keep him as clean as possible.
- But Thou Must!: A game may end by the Chancellor being given two Liberal or two Fascist policies to choose from when there are five or four respectively already placed, ending the game no matter what. (It's especially harsh if a Liberal President draws three Fascist policies.)
- Card-Carrying Villain: If the Fascists act like this, they're more than likely to lose. A more effective strategy is to subtly manipulate the table and sow mistrust among the Liberals rather than pass Fascist policies at every possible opportunity.
- Cassandra Truth: Depending on your group, there's a high chance that at some point one person will figure out who Hitler or the Fascists are, but will not be believed until it's too late. The most common causes: A Liberal President investigates a Fascist (directly confirming them to be so, but only to the President), a Fascist President investigates a Liberal and claims they're a Fascist (the Liberal now knows that President is a Fascist), or the President or Chancellor lies about which policies the President handed to the Chancellor (the other official now knows the lying official is a Fascist). Even worse, it's entirely possible that the person who has figured it out is themselves accused of being a Fascist if they're too pushy about their claim.
- Comeback Mechanic: A subtle one. Since enacted policies are removed from the policy deck and no more get added, this reduces the likelihood of Fascist/Liberal policies showing up in the future. However, it should be noted that since Liberal policies are greatly outnumbered by Fascist ones, an early Liberal streak will almost guarantee an upcoming Fascist policy while several Fascist policies enacted will only somewhat even the odds for the Liberals. It's mitigated, however, in that a Liberal President can use an Assassination on their turn with a Fascist policy.
- Deceased Fall-Guy Gambit: Any player that has been executed can no longer speak or non-verbally communicate with the other players, except to answer whether they were Hitler or not. This can be useful to the Fascists, who as President can pass a Liberal Chancellor two Fascist policies, pin the "treachery" on the Chancellor, then immediately execute them to prevent them from telling the rest of the table the truth. Of course, this will immediately blow the President's cover, as only a Fascist would have anything to gain from killing somebody who obviously isn't Hitler, and if the game has progressed long enough to pass Fascist policies to kill players, the Chancellor couldn't be Hitler.
- Friend or Foe: A large part of the challenge for Hitler and the Liberals is to try to identify who the other Fascists are. The other Fascists obviously want to remain hidden from the table, yet simultaneously are attempting to secretly aid Hitler and (hopefully) alert them as to who their actual allies are.
- Gratuitous German: The ballot cards say "Ja" or "Nein" in addition to Yes and No.
- He Who Fights Monsters: It's possible for a Liberal win to result in a fascist dictatorship in all but name if enough Fascist policies are enacted first.
- Liberal policies do literally nothing, while Fascist policies give tangible (and useful) powers to those who enact them. The temptation to enact Fascist policies to stop Fascists is always there (with the trade-off between "it brings the game closer to the Fascist win" and "we can root out Fascists here and now and win the game" being always on the table), and while a legitimate strategy in theory, this desire in turn can be exploited by Fascists.
- A House Divided: The German Parliament is divided among Liberals and (secret) Fascists, with the former holding a slight majority. One way this can manifest is voting on governments: if there are three consecutive failed elections, the government is temporarily thrown into chaos and the next policy in the deck (statistically likely to be Fascist) is automatically passed into law.
- I Know You Know I Know: Par for the course for social deduction games.
- Instant-Win Condition: Hitler being elected Chancellor after three fascist policies are enacted (for the Fascists), or Hitler being executed after the fourth or fifth fascist policy is enacted (for the Liberals). Note that this is the only time in the game that someone must tell the truth because either of these instantly ends the game.
- Loophole Abuse: The only real situation where honesty is absolutely required is when Hitler is either executed or elected Chancellor when more than three Fascist policies are in play; he must identify himself at that time. However, if Hitler were to refuse to identify himself after being executed, and the Fascists didn't call him out on it, there's no way within the context of the game for the Liberals to know that the Fascists were cheating.
- Mundane Made Awesome: Who knew that parliamentary procedure could be so much fun?
- No, You: What basic discourse will inevitably devolve into. For example, if player A accuses B of being a Fascist (correctly or not), it's expected that B will turn it around and declare that A's aggressive behavior makes them the REAL Fascist. Two Fascists can even do this to each other if they are desperate to sow confusion. The only guarantee in this situation is that at least one of the two players accusing the other is a Fascist, and even then, that guarantee only applies if one of them was given hard evidence on the other, as noted under Cassandra Truth.
- Reptiles Are Abhorrent: Hitler and the Fascists are styled as evil anthropomorphic reptiles and amphibians.
- Rule of Three: Three inactive governments in a row (either rejected by vote, or vetoed by the Chancellor and President) forces the top policy on the deck to be played.
- Scapegoat: A particularly cunning Hitler who gains the trust of the Liberal team can throw his fellow Fascists under the bus so that they are shot instead of him. A more standard tactic is to attempt to convince everyone one of the Liberals is a Fascist or Hitler.
- Social Deduction Game: Among the players, most are Liberals, some are secretly Fascists, and one Fascist is Hitler. The Fascists know who each other are and must covertly pass Fascist policies (done through a "President" and an elected "Chancellor" who choose from randomly-drawn Liberal/Fascist cards) without the Liberals suspecting who they are. The Liberals win if five of their policies are enacted; Fascists win with six, but they can also win if Hitler is elected Chancellor past a certain point.
- Spiritual Successor: To hidden-role social deduction games such as Mafia, Avalon, The Resistance, and Werewolf. The creators have gone on record saying that all of the above were major inspirations, but they wanted to revamp the mechanics.
- Taking the Bullet: One Fascist gambit is for one (or more) non-Hitler Fascists take the heat and make themselves look like Hitler trying to squirm their way out of the situation. The hard part is somehow convincing everyone that they're sketchy enough to be Hitler without being too obvious.
- Talking Your Way Out: A Fascist or Hitler that's suspected of being a Fascist by most of the players has no choice but to attempt this, usually by deflecting blame onto someone else. This can also happen to an legitimate Liberal who's been falsely accused.
- We ARE Struggling Together: It's likely that at some point, due to the Liberal majority, two Liberals will mutually accuse each other of being Fascists and argue vociferously over who is right and wrong. The Fascists are encouraged to feed this discord if possible without giving themselves away.
- You Can't Thwart Stage One: The Policy deck is stacked so that there are only 6 Liberal policies (compared to 11 Fascist policies), making it almost inevitable that at least one Fascist policy is passed at some point.