PsychoBabble Review, A social deduction game that doesn’t require lying and has a secret hidden role

PsychoBabble A Social Deduction Game for people who don't like Social Deduction games

Anyone who’s been following Tabletop Bellhop for a while knows that I’m not a fan of social deduction games. So why am I here talking about PsychoBabble, a mythos themed social deduction game?

Well, I wasn’t given much choice. The publisher basically insisted I bring a copy home from Origins and was confident that I would enjoy it even after I explained what I don’t like about social deduction games.

And, you know what? He was right! Read on to find out why.

Disclosure: Thanks to Outset Media Games for insisting I take a review copy of PsychoBabble home from Origins. Links in this post may be affiliate links. As an Amazon associate we earn from qualifying purchases. 

Learn about PsychoBabble from Outset Media

The box for PsychoBabble

Before we begin, I want to acknowledge that this is a Cthulhu mythos themed game and like many things in that genre, casually references mental illness, psychotherapy and insanity in ways that can be problematic. This may turn some people off from this game right from the start.

PsychoBabble was designed by Kedric Winks and features truly fantastic artwork by Eric York. It was originally published by Cheatwell Games in 2022 but is being put out over here in North America by Outset Media Games

This Mythos-themed social deduction party game plays with four to eleven players, with a single round of the game taking well under half an hour. The weight here is a bit higher than some social deduction games and that’s mainly due to the fact that there are three different roles in play, with different win conditions for each.

In PsychoBabble inmates at an asylum have had a shared dream in which some great old one is trying to communicate with them. Actually, that’s not quite accurate, because one of the inmates, who is genuinely insane, has had a completely different dream. The trick is that no one knows which inmate is insane, not even the insane person themselves. The therapist is trying to figure out what the shared dream was, while the inmates are trying to hide this information and are also trying to figure out which of them is the insane one. 

For a look at the remarkable looking cards that you get with this shared hallucination, check out our PsychoBabble Unboxing on YouTube

What you get inside the box for Psychobabble

Along with the large tarot sized cards and their fantastic artwork, you also get a deck of cards for randomising which dreams everyone has had, a pair of D6 dice, and a rulebook. The rules are quite clear and easy to understand.

The physical component quality here is excellent, with nice thick, oversized, cards that I’m not worried about damaging during play.

The only issue I have here at all is that there is an awful lot of air in the PsychoBabble box. While I understand the importance of shelf presence, this box is at least twice the size it needs to be.

PsychoBabble Overview of Play

The rules for psychobabble and some of the art cards

One of the big benefits Pscyhobabble has over some other social deduction games is that there is no moderator required. While the therapist kind of runs the session, they are a player as well and have their own role to play. 

The first step to playing PsychoBabble is to decide who will be the therapist that round. Every other player is an inmate.

The therapist player then gets things going by sorting through the dream selection cards and building a deck of these. This deck will have one card per inmate player, with all but one of the cards coming from the same deck of selection cards and the final card coming from any of the other three decks. The selected cards then need to be well shuffled, to make certain that the therapist has no idea where that odd card out ends up, and then dealt out to the players.

While the therapist is sorting and dealing cards the other players should lay out the oversized dream cards. There are four different decks of these and you make a grid with them by laying out four cards from each deck in a row ending up with a sixteen card grid. Note the actual order of the decks doesn’t matter, which makes for a huge combination of possible play fields.

One of the dream selection cards from Psychobabble

Next, the dream selection cards are handed out to the inmates who should look at their own card but hide that information from all of the other players. At the same time, the therapist rolls the two dice. The inmates will now match the numbers on the dice to their dream selection card, reading the dice as lower number then higher. The players will then figure out which dream card in the grid on the table represents their personal dream. Note this will be the same dream card for all but one of the players.

Everyone playing should try to avoid watching what the other players are doing at this point. This is the kind of game that’s about the group experience more than winning an individual round and while watching where people are looking may help you win, it’s going to remove the fun from the game.

Once everyone has identified their dream, you are ready to start the round. Each round of PsychoBabble starts with the inmates describing their dreams starting with the player to the left of the therapist.

How would you describe this dream card?

Players are free to describe these how they want with as much detail as they want but should realize that the goal of the game for the inmates is to figure out which one of them is insane while not letting the therapist know what dream they share. 

After each player has described their dream, each inmate gets the chance to ask one question about the dream of one other inmate. While doing this the same player could be asked multiple questions.

Similar to the last phase, what players choose to ask and how they answer can be anything they want, long or short. The answers given here can be, but often don’t need to be, lies.

Once the inmates have asked one question each, the therapist conducts their final interviews. They get to ask each inmate one final question, addressing the players in any order. This is the therapist’s last chance to identify the shared dream. 

Players voting to determine who's insane in a game of Psycho babble

After this final Q&A, play moves to the inmates, again starting with the one to the left of the therapist, with each of them voting on who they think is insane. Once you’ve determined who has the most votes (with ties broken by the therapist) the therapist puts the dice onto the card they think was the shared dream. 

It’s now time for the big reveal. The inmates flip over their cards. Looking at the cards, all but one inmate should have the same card with the same letter at the top. The insane inmate will have a card with a different letter than everyone else. If the therapist put the dice on the proper card representing the proper shared dream they win the round.

If the therapist has picked the wrong dream, the sane inmates win — if they have correctly identified the insane one amongst them. If they guess incorrectly, and the therapist has picked the wrong shared dream, the insane player wins.

You are then welcome to play another round with the role of the therapist passing to the player on their left. When playing with four or five players we usually play until each player has been the therapist once.

Who should pick up PsychoBabble?

Cards from Psychobabble

I have to start by noting that the only reason we’re even reviewing PyschoBabble in the first place is because the representative from Outset Media insisted we take a copy home from Origins Game Fair 2023.

I don’t generally like social deduction games. They are one of the few types of games that I will actively avoid and turn down playing. Even after explaining this to the person from Outset, they still insisted that I should bring a copy home. I have to say I was very impressed by this fellow’s knowledge of the game, the market for it, and his confidence in its gameplay. I also have to admit that he was totally right.

Once I brought PsychoBabble home and played it with Sean, De, and the kids, as well as trying it out at one of our local public play events, I learned what makes this game stand out from other social deduction party games and what, shockingly, makes it turn a social deduction game that I actually enjoy.

The first thing that I greatly appreciate about PsychoBabble is that you aren’t forced to lie. While lying is permitted, it’s often not the best option. The game is about figuring out who the insane person is and not giving too much info to the therapist. You need to figure out which players are on the same page as you, and lying is a good way to get accused of being insane when you aren’t.

My kids love Psychobabble

The next thing that PsychoBabble does that I like is the way it handles the insane role. Yes, there’s a special role, the equivalent of a hidden traitor, but because no one knows who it is, including the person in that role, you lose a lot of what I dislike in other similar games.

With this method of special role, you don’t get the thing where you have to add in additional house rules to make sure people can’t suss out who’s special because of actions taken in the game, like for example by staring at a card for too long or making noise when everyone else is being quiet.

It also means no player is stuck playing the outsider. Being centred out and having to follow a different set of rules from the rest of the group can be stressful to some people.

I’ve also found that it’s hard for favouritism and popularity to come into play in games of PsychoBabble. When I play Werewolf I’m always one of the first to be eliminated because people know me, even if I don’t know them. I’ve also seen other social deduction games get nasty because one player feels they are being picked on. I’ve never seen any of this in our plays of Psychobabble.

A five player game of Psycobabble where everyone is thinking

The final thing I like about PsychoBabble is that there’s no moderator role. Everyone gets to play the entire game every round. An added bonus is that the therapist role becomes the perfect role for the game teacher to take. They can actually explain the game while playing.

When running a public play event and breaking out PsychoBabble, I always start the first round as the therapist and run through one round. I then pass the dream selection cards to another player and back out of the game and let the group run with it, just checking in to see how things are going.

Where I do find PsychoBabble stumbles is at higher player counts. The more players you have, the more inmates you have that are all trying to describe the same card. This ends up making the game easier and easier for the therapist role to win as the player count climbs.

We’ve found that once you get up to six players or more it’s nearly impossible for all of the inmates to be vague enough to mislead the therapist without being so vague or lying so much that the game becomes too easy for the insane inmate.

A group enjoying psycho babble at a public play game night

The thing is, so what? Who cares if the therapist wins more often? This is a party game, and like most party games, who wins really isn’t that important. What is important is the fun everyone has playing together and trust me, there’s a lot of fun to be had in describing your dreams based on cards and asking other people about those dreams. 

Another thing to be aware of is that PsychoBabble does require some thinking on your feet. There is an improv element here that may turn off some players. While this isn’t some kind of indie pass the stick RPG or anything like that, you are going to have to come up with descriptions of dreams, questions about others’ dreams, and answers to other player’s questions, all on the spot.

Remember that the amount said isn’t dictated by the rules. When describing a dream you can just say “spikey” and be done with it, and actually being this vague can be advantageous depending on your role.

Describing the dreams does get me to one of the best aspects of this game which is the fantastic artwork on the dream cards. The card art in PsychoBabble has got an early D&D / Jack Kirby early Marvel Comics / Dungeon Crawl Classics style kind of thing going on and I love it.

A field of dreams from Psychobabble the social deduction game.

Even cooler is the way that each of the four individual decks is set up so that the cards always line up to form a trippy panorama, regardless of what order they are placed down in. The end result just looks awesome. The art here tends toward both abstract and repeatable in concept if not in features. This is part of what makes the game work, the descriptions players give can easily refer to multiple different cards.

Overall, I was both shocked and impressed by PsychoBabble. Here you have a social deduction party game that even I can enjoy. This game avoids what I consider the pitfalls of most social deduction games by not requiring lying and by making it so that the person with the outsider role doesn’t know they are the outsider. I’ve had a lot of fun playing PsychoBabble and it’s been a huge hit with the local gaming community. 

If you enjoy social deduction games in general and happily play Werewolf, The Resistance, Battlestar Galactica or its re-theme Unfathomable, you are going to want to add Psychobabble to your collection.

Playing psychobabble with my family

If you are looking for a big group party game with lots of talking and interaction, Psychobabble could be the perfect game for you and your group. I don’t know a lot of games that go up to eleven players that don’t involve a lot of dice, drawing, or trivia.

The important point I want to make here is that gamers like me, those who don’t generally like social deduction games, should give this one a try. Seriously, you may want to give this one a shot, just like I did. I’ve had way more fun talking about shared dreams and mythos landscapes than ever I thought I would.

The man who basically help Zensu hostage to make me bring home and review Psychobabble

I want to wrap up by saying thanks to whoever it was from Outset Media Games who played a game of Zensu with Deanna and then insisted we both come over and do a demo of PsychoBabble.

Sadly, I don’t know this man’s name as his badge was flipped over backwards the entire time, but I have to give him props for sticking to his guns about PsychoBabble. Talk about confidence in your game.

It’s also not like he was just trying to make a sale, as noted at the top of this review, he insisted we take a review copy home with us even after I warned him that we would most likely not give it a positive review. Here’s someone who knows he’s got a hit and just wants some help getting the word out. I mean, what better way to spread the word than to convince someone who doesn’t like social deduction games to go home and review one that they’ll actually like?

So, cheers to Outset Media Guy. I wish I knew his name so that I could thank him properly.

What about you folks? Do you love social deduction games, or hate them? Have you ever had someone insist you try out a game, one you were certain you would dislike, and then been pleasantly surprised to discover you actually enjoyed it?

Psycho Babble – A Social Deduction Party Game of Dreams, Paranois and Insanity – for 4 to 11 Players Ages 14 and up by Outset Media
  • A GAME OF SUSPENSE: Psychobabble is the social party game that engulfs you in a sea of suspicion, accusations and self-doubt.
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2 Responses

  1. Oooh this one sounds quite fun!

    In general I’m a bit iffy around social deduction games. You want to be very very sure of the people you’re playing with and that everyone understands that accusations are just part of the game. I tend to prefer ones that are very light on the accusing like Detective Club, and more of a party game, or one that has a lot of mechanics to back it up like Battlestar Galactica. Ones like Avalon where it’s *so* much social reads and arguing over motives I get a bit uncomfortable playing….I’m also very bad at them so that doesn’t help 😉

    1. Hey Naomi,

      I’m right there with you. There are very few social deduction/hidden traitor games I enjoy. Battlestar Galactica is one of my favourites as is Shadows Over Camelot. What I think helps make those work for me is the fact they have roleplaying elements that are more than just I’m on this side or that one. As a long time roleplayer who often plays with other TTRPG folk those games work.

      It sounds like you would enjoy Psychobabble. I was very impressed by how well it worked in many ways.

      Thanks for the comment,
      Moe T

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