Board Game Review

Maintain or Expose the Facade? (NewSpeak Review)

We were sent this review copy by ITB Games for an unbiased review. We have not been paid for any media produced.

The future is scary. It ain’t orange, regardless to what we were told, it’s terrifying. Technology advances at an astounding rate to the point where what’s relevant today is obsolete tomorrow. And with that comes Big Brother’s all seeing eye: imagine the outcry 20 years ago had we been told our homes would be visible on the web at the click of a button! Thanks google. But this fear of technology fuels themes and makes us ever vigilant of the changes. NewSpeak by Inside The Box Games is one centred on technology, control and deception. Players take on the roles of Dissidents or Moderators, aiming to exploit the facade of reality or maintain the order. It’s a social deduction game for 3-6 players that takes around 40 minutes to play.


NewSpeak is a game played in teams: Dissidents and Moderators. Dissidents are aiming to have most their team choose the same location to hack using cyphers for communication. Whereas Moderators are aiming to crack the cyphers and identify the hack location to prevent it and remove it from the game. All team’s turns are timed, and decisions and discussions must be had within the timer. The first team to three wins, wins!

Setting Up

To set up a game of NewSpeak, nine locations need to be chosen at random and placed in a 3×3 grid. These should then be numbered 1-9 using the number tokens. Then, players choose teams. In a 3 player game, there will only be one Moderator, but in all other player counts there will be two. Moderators work on a sheet with all the Dissidents’ cyphers on them listed. These are dry-wipe and used to make notes. All Dissident players then receive a device to identify which location they’ll attack and cypher cards.

The game has two difficulties for all players. The easier mode consists of only six possible cyphers and locations 1-12. In the advanced game, seven cyphers are included (all which contain more words) and all locations are used. This makes the game trickier for both Moderators and Dissidents and should be chosen with consideration for player confidence with word association and deduction games.

Being a Dissident and the Basics

As a Dissident, players work as a team to identify which location to hack. These locations are numbered 1-9 and all players have a device to identify which location they’ll attack. Each turn, a Dissident will be nominated as the leader and they will choose the cypher to use and share this private information with their team. After that, the timer is flipped and the lead Dissident needs to convey information that will enable their team to choose the same location. Other Dissidents can also ask questions but none should use previous examples, in-jokes or pop culture references.

In example, the lead Dissident may say that there are not many Herons at the location. Using the cypher, players should deduce that Heron is code for blue so they will want to target a location with little blue there. Of course, this needs to be done with subtlety as the Moderators are always listening and will also be privy to the information (should they crack the cypher).

Once the timer has expired, all Dissidents should have rotated their dial to identify which location they believe is the target. This is private and should be done so discretely. Players then wait for the Moderators to finish their turn before revealing.

Being a Moderator

Being a Moderator in NewSpeak is more straightforward than being a Dissident, but is by no means easier. By listening in on the conversations being had during the Dissident turn, they should identify key phrases and words common to the possible cyphers. They then reduce possibilities by looking for unused words on particular cyphers and identifying likely patterns. Once this is done, they should then discuss their thoughts during their turn. This is timed and they only get one collective guess. Using the information, they should choose a location to Moderate for Dissidents.

Resolving a Hack

Once both teams have had their turn, all Dissidents reveal their chosen hack location. If more than half match the lead Dissident’s choice, the hack goes ahead. However, if the Moderators have chosen that location, or any that a Dissident chose, the hack fails.

A successful hack flips the location over to show a hacked symbol. Dissidents must then adjust their chosen cypher by one (so if they used cypher 5, they must next use cypher 4 or 6). The lead Dissident token is passed to a new player ready for a new round. One an unsuccessful hack, the location is removed from the game entirely by the Moderators. The Dissidents can then choose any player to be the lead Dissident and can choose any cypher. The first team to three is the winner.

How It Handles

NewSpeak is refreshingly fun for us as far as word games go. It’s definitely my personal favourite compared with others I’ve played. And as for deduction? Excellent fun! The fact it’s cooperative and team based makes for a great experience, but it all lends itself well to the theme so it doesn’t feel slapped on. It’s fair to say it takes a round or so to get the knack for it, but once you’re there the game flows beautifully. Heck, we even felt we needed to get trench coats, sunglasses and other black apparel to go full matrix whilst playing the Dissidents!

*Hacker Voice* I’m in.

Being a Dissident is easily my favourite role to play in this game. You’ve got to manage what you say and the information you give in a balanced manner so as to not give the cypher away, but also ensure your fellow hackers can break in. It’s a delicate game to play. Because everything on the Moderator side is always visible, there can be a panic moment for Dissidents as you see they’ve cracked the cypher. Do you risk spreading misinformation publicly? Or power through and hope your vague clues can trip them up? There’s no clear or easy solution, but that’s the social element!

Even when not playing as the lead Dissident, you’ve still got to know how to interpret the language. You can’t rely on how well you know the person to get the hints, and previous round information doesn’t help. Asking questions is the only way forward. Combining multiple cypher clues together can help a lot and give a lot of clarity, but will also risk the Moderators cracking the cypher easier!

The system to give and question information in NewSpeak can mean it feels like you’re speaking another language for much of the game. You’ll talk of herons, budgets, assets and beagles and no one will bat an eye. And, normally, in these games a bigger team would mean more chance of success… not here! Remember, if the Moderators catch any Dissident, they win the round. This makes it even more important to ensure you get the information right. We felt it worked and ensured players were always engaged or needed to be, but also meant they had to think on their feet!

We Are Control

Being a Moderator is a double edged role in NewSpeak. Unlike Dissidents, you’ve got to tackle a fair few obstacles and there are things in place to support the role, too. For starters, you’ve got to crack the cypher to have even the foggiest of what the Dissidents are chatting. There’s nothing to stop you discussing this whilst they are, but you risk missing something. With this, you also need to track the words said and identify which cyphers aren’t in play. Once you’ve whittled it down, you can then begin to try and translate it all, then pick the most likely location of interest. It can become very overwhelming very quickly – particularly if you’re inexperienced. However! And it’s a big however! The game introduces changes to make things easier.

The cypher used by the Dissidents can only change value by one (as previously mentioned). This means that, if you’ve got a slight idea of which cypher was used, it will be easier to identify the next. Also, on unsuccessful hacks due to Moderator action, the location in question is removed. This limits the targetable locations and allows you to find their next target by process of elimination.

The final thing I want to mention for this role is its freedom. Moderators are free to discuss things as they wish without consequence. We found that the only downside was Dissidents knew we were on to them, and even then they just made more mistakes! I never minded being a Moderator, but you’ve got to be a real sleuth to effectively crack the codes and deduce the location. We haven’t had a game where one side dominated, and that’s down to the game’s balances for each side. We’ve had some strong wins, but never a landslide. And that’s to the the game’s credit in both role’s executions.

Fancy Future Frocks

NewSpeak is a pretty game. There’s a continuous theme to the game that almost falls into two halves, as does everything else here! The Moderator side is perfect, pretty and powerfully coloured. It bounces off the cards and sits vibrant and clean. The whole image for the Moderator’s ethos is that everything is excellent and nothing needs to be worried about. Big Brother is always watching, Big Brother keeps you safe, Big Brother is in control. The idea is that it all has a mask of augmented reality over it to hide the unwanted and make everyone feel at ease… in the way those in control want you to.

The Dissident side has the same styling and feel as the Moderator’s. The cards are obviously from the same game and run the same theme, but with the grime, smears and dirt emphasised and in view. That club with the blaring lights, smoke machines and happy clubbers is missing its air of frivolity and beauty. The edge of elegance is gone and you’d question why these folk paid too dollar to enter and enjoy this dump.

The contrast in these is subtle in art style at a distance, but blaring when looked at side by side. As I said, you can easily see it all fits in NewSpeak as a game but the collective hacked side of the cards all have a rundown image to them. They’re from that neighbourhood with that reputation. Whereas the unhacked side looks elegant and sophisticated. Nothings amiss, everything fits in and suits the image. Perfect. All lies, but perfect. A wonderfully executed theme in my opinion!

Final Thoughts

NewSpeak is a fantastically fun social deduction, word game. And a great team game, too. I felt both roles were fun to play as, and the balances to make things easier (dependent on who was winning) were welcomed and worked to the game’s advantage. I’d always prefer to be a Dissident due to the needs of the role, however the freedom of being a Moderator meant the teamwork present was more prominent. NewSpeak is a superbly fun game with a solid theme and an enjoyable set of mechanics to drive it. If you’re the rebel at heart or need to control every element of your life, and need a solid team based social game, I’d give NewSpeak a good look at. We’ve loved reviewing it and can see it hitting the table many more times in the future!