I played a lot of Mafia as a kid. At recess and summer camps, it was a favorite because it required no equipment and no arena, and it wasn’t about feats of strength or speed; it was about lying, and noticing when others were lying. When I first heard about Gnosia, a single-player version of the traditional impostor social game, I wondered how it would capture that tension. From playground Mafia to recent crazes like Among Us, the thrill comes from trying to see through how your friends lie, and fooling them in turn.
Amazingly, Gnosia pulls it off. Even though you’re playing against computers instead of humans, the game builds tension through its charismatic cast and turn-based debate scrums, then threads it all together with an overarching mystery. Though frustratingly paced at times, Gnosia still makes a single-player version of “find the impostor” work.
The game begins with you waking up to a blaring red alarm. Someone named Setsu ushers you into a room with the other crew members of a ship adrift in space. You learn about Gnosia, an alien lifeform that mimics humans in order to erase them from the universe. They’ve infiltrated the vessel; you don’t know who they are, and protocol dictates that you need to put a suspect into cryogenic cold sleep before you can resume warping through space.
It starts out fairly simple: just find the impostor. If you’re right, you win; if not, you reconvene the next day and pick another person, hopefully not getting to the point where over half the crew is Gnosia and you lose. In that initial case, you eventually find the right or wrong person, lock them in cold sleep, and that’s that.
And then it starts all over again. Because Gnosia isn’t just a singular “werewolf” game, but a time loop as well. You are stuck repeating this theater of suspicion over and over. The mystery keeps growing: more crewmates join in, Gnosia hide in greater numbers, and special roles for crewmates start to become available.
For example, the Engineer can scan someone each night to detect if they’re Gnosia, and the Doctor can scan the person most recently put into cold sleep to see if they were Gnosia or not. These roles become critical venues for gathering information. Other roles, like the AC Follower, exist solely to disrupt conversation. Through each loop, you will randomly embody any of these roles, with different modifiers; eventually, you’ll be able to determine your own settings for each loop, deciding how many crew, Gnosia, and which roles are present, as well as the role you want to play. That includes being Gnosia yourself.
Unlike Among Us, where taking someone out is a matter of sneaky movement of your avatar to cover your tracks, Gnosia strategy is all about logic and deduction. Information is power, and you have a lot of it. Crewmates will suspect each other purely based on perceived inconsistencies in someone’s personality, general demeanor, or sometimes just because they feel like it. You can use that to your advantage by noticing when someone’s not speaking up as much as they usually do, or leaning too hard into a role to try and convince everyone that they are who they say they are.
Each character has their own personality, informed by their own past and quantitatively aggregated in Gnosia’s six traits, which the player character also has. The Charisma trait makes others likely to follow your lead, and Intuition makes you better at spotting lies. A high Logic score helps you convince others that you’re right, while Performance can help you lie or get a point across. Lots of Charm makes you less likely to get chosen for cold sleep, while Stealth makes it less likely the Gnosia will target you, or that others will realize you have malicious intent.
Through each loop, your own character can build up these traits using experience points earned while looping. Eventually, you’ll unlock skills to use in debates; rather than simply agreeing that someone is suspicious, you can Exaggerate about how sketchy they are in the hopes of turning the group’s sights on them. Of course, others can use these abilities too, and drawing too much attention on yourself might backfire, making you look suspicious in turn—or even like a tasty target for the Gnosia.
Though the crew members started out as strangers, I became deeply familiar with them all. I now know their likes and dislikes, who they’re likely to partner with or suspect, who’s eager to suspect anyone, and who can easily discern lies—and most importantly, their tells. Raqio is a Logic behemoth, fearsome in late-game scenarios if they can get there, but they’re often an easy target for suspicion. Kukrushka, meanwhile, is hard to accuse of being Gnosia because of how Charming she is, making her an effective ally in debates or, if you’re a conniving monster like me, good cover for you and your Gnosia pals.
That might be Gnosia’s best trick: how it gradually turns these avatars slinging accusations at one another into people you can understand. Loop over loop, you have to adjust to what you’re given and what you can learn over time, all the while relying on how well you know these characters to stay alive. In one loop, Chipie was a trusted ally, helping me systematically wipe the crew out one by one and tricking them into cold-sleeping the wrong people. That ship was ours. Then, several loops later, Chipie was a constant thorn in my side. I was still Gnosia, but he was not. It seemed like he saw right through my fake claim that I was the Doctor, and he’d constantly cast suspicion on myself and the other Gnosia. My stats weren’t high enough; I couldn’t bluff my way out. My next Gnosia loop, I still held a grudge, so he was first to go.
Even without a real-life human on the other side of these arguments, the cast of Gnosia always feels reactive and evolving. They have no qualms about calling bullshit on lies, or finding you even more suspicious if you try to encourage doubts about another person right after you’ve been called out. It blew my mind when a crewmate pointed out that the Gnosia eliminating one of my previous detractors made me look suspicious, because they were right. I was Gnosia; I took out that nosy jerk who called me sketchy in front of everyone, and even as the rest of the crew unceremoniously dragged me for several rounds of debate about it and then dunked me into a cryo tank, I had to admit, they got me.
These little moments make up the framework of the game’s larger story. You’re not just looping to play some Mafia, after all — there are bigger mysteries afoot, like what the Gnosia are, and why they’re on the ship. Where did the ship leave from, and where is it going? And why are you looping?
You unravel that mystery through social conversations with the crew. Gnosia can feel like two games in that respect: a single-player roguelike impostor game, and a traditional visual novel with branching narratives that have good and bad ends. The greater goal of Gnosia is not necessarily to win, but to learn, so it encourages you to search for strange outcomes and settings that might, for example, make one character more talkative than they usually would be.
What makes Gnosia unique among visual novels might also be its biggest sticking point for some: randomness. Some loops require certain conditions to be completed before you can learn the lore you’re looking for. In some loops, I’d never have the right conditions met to get what I needed, so I had to either play out a game or jump out and reset. The game certainly elicited other frustrations, too: sometimes at my best-laid plans falling apart, and sometimes at the struggle to find the way forward. The occasional errant argument could throw everything askew; it was sometimes hard to tell why an ally had turned on me, or the reasoning behind one character’s doubt of another.
That Gnosia managed to elicit these emotions and still keep me invested is a testament to how good it is when it works well. Real surprises, sad moments, and even slight scares were all had in the course of my time-looping journey, which took me a little over 20 hours to play through to the credits. Rather than seeming like two disparate sections, the larger story and the impostor game intertwined and enhanced each other. In one loop, I betrayed a fellow Gnosia to draw suspicion away from a character I needed to talk to. In another loop, a character professed their love for the player character; I had to vote to cold sleep them in the next.
When I got into triple-digits of loops, I could start speeding through text boxes. I knew what they were saying; I knew this group and its dynamics. I’d survived dozens of Gnosia invasions, helmed just as many, and died in dozens more. Just by seeing who spoke and when, I could identify the weak points. I understood these characters, just as I came to understand my friends through those playground Mafia games. Even when the Gnosia characters were my enemies, I felt endeared to them. I enjoyed spending time with them and looked forward to every little social event they had.
That’s the weird part of Mafia, Among Us, and other games like this: you choose to play them as a social activity with a group of friends. You knowingly walk into a situation where someone, possibly you, has to deceive everyone else. And yet this game of suspicion and tension between everyone is meant to be enjoyable.
Gnosia manages to capture that in single-player format, while creating a story and universe you care about enough to really learn and understand. I know everyone’s tells, but I also know what they like and dislike, what they struggle with and what they seek. Gnosia’s both an impostor game and a visual novel, and the mix results in something else entirely new. Whether you enjoy new forms of storytelling or just want the friendly deception without the social anxiety, it’s well worth experiencing.
Gnosia released Mar. 4 on Nintendo Switch. The game was reviewed on Nintendo Switch using a pre-release download code provided by Petit Depotto. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.