/ Jon Seagull / 6 pm Fri, Jun 27 2014
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  • A better version of Werewolf

    A better version of Werewolf

    The original game of Werewolf, also known as Mafia, is a party game of bluffing, paranoia, and wild accusations invented (appropriately enough) in Soviet Russia in the 1980s. It pits a small number of Werewolves (who know each others' identities) against a larger group of Villagers who have no information; the Werewolves select a Villager to kill each “night” (while everyone's eyes are closed), and the entire group votes on a player to lynch as a werewolf each “day” until one team or the other prevails. Jon Seagull reviews a much-improved version.

    While the game is great fun, it suffers from a number of mechanical difficulties, which One Night Ultimate Werewolf (3-10 players, ages 8+) addresses.

    The two biggest problems with classic Werewolf are the need for a non-playing moderator, and the fact that players who are killed early in the game (sometimes before they get a chance to do anything at all) are in for lots of downtime.

    One Night Ultimate Werewolf tackles the first problem by replacing the moderator with a smartphone/tablet app (you can also memorize the moderator script and use a stopwatch or egg timer in a low-tech setting), and the second by limiting the game to a single night during which nobody dies, ten timed minutes of discussion, and a single win-or-lose vote. This works because the game both introduces additional uncertainty about who everyone is; and gives several Villagers a very limited amount of semi-reliable information during the night.

    At the start of the game, everyone gets a card with their role printed on it. This might be a Werewolf, a simple Villager, or a villager with a special power or action. Three additional cards are dealt to the middle of the table. Then someone starts the app, and everyone closes their eyes. One by one, the app tells the special roles to “wake up” and do something which gives them a bit of information and/or changes the state of the cards. For example, the two Werewolves silently make eye contact (and if there is only one wolf they get to peek at a card in the middle); the Seer gets to peek at one or two cards; the Robber swaps cards with someone and looks at the new one; and the Troublemaker switches two other people's cards sight unseen.

    Once everyone has performed their action, which takes about a minute in all, the app directs everyone to “wake up,” and starts a timer to the final vote. This is when the insanity begins.

    The Villagers need to logic out who's who from their scraps of incomplete (and possibly erroneous) information in order to correctly vote out a Werewolf at the end of the game. The Werewolves need to come up with plausible lies that misdirect suspicion onto Villagers, and back each other up without appearing too suspicious.

    If Villagers wait too long before revealing what they know, they themselves look suspicious, but the sooner they reveal their info the harder it is to catch a werewolf in a lie. After a few games, Team Village starts realizing they can catch Werewolves more effectively if they lie as well, but then they have the additional burden of convincing their fellow Villagers they were lying for good reasons. Meanwhile, someone who thought they were a Werewolf could have had their card switched by the Troublemaker or Robber, giving them an incentive to out their partner and the Villagers an incentive to trick them into outing themselves.

    In other words, in the course of a few rounds the strategy of a group playing One Night Ultimate Werewolf will quickly evolve from simple deduction, accusations, and bluffing to elaborate triple-reverse ruses and hilarious arguments. There are lots of special roles that change the balance and character of the game and add a lot of replayability. My family played this after our Passover Seder this year, stopping only when it really was way past time to get the little ones to bed; and there was general agreement that it's a new family tradition.

    One particularly memorable game featured my brother, caught dead-to-rights as a Werewolf with 5 minutes remaining, delivering an impassioned, mostly nonsensical speech in which he wildly flipped back and forth between affirming and denying that he was a Werewolf. When the dust cleared and we all voted for him, it was revealed that the Robber had stolen his Werewolf card and coasted silently to the win while we watched him bluster.

    One Night Ultimate Werewolf ($19)

    / / 17 COMMENTS

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    Notable Replies

    1. The great thing about the original game is that you don´t need any equipment to play it though. Even if I´m out on the first turn, watching the intrigue unfold for the rest of the game is always fun.

    2. The werewolf I play has a bunch of extra roles anyhow. And my two friends that usually GM have invented dozens of new roles and rules. It's usually insane. For example, there's the Makeup Artist, who swaps two players faces around in the night, so anything that would happen to one happens to the other and vice versa. There's also the Barber, who "puts a mirror in front of someone's face", effectively redirecting anything that targets that player to the targeter. These two interact in confusing, nondeterministic, and hilarious ways. Half the fun is watching the GM spend 5 minutes muttering to themself, trying to work out what actually happened. Then there's the Teenage Werewolf, who is a Werewolf that must say "Werewolf" at least once during the day phase, the Fool, who wins if they die. Sometimes the GM creates dual-role cards. So you might have a Teenage Werewolf Fool. One GM sometimes plays a "Plague Game", in which there are no Werewolves, just the GM picking random players. The only way to win is to ask "Is this a Plague Game?", which instantly kills you outside of a Plague Game.

    3. I agree. Simplicity, too, is why everybody has heard of this game. I'm not convinced the $19 version is an improvement. It's a great price, I will say that.

    4. For another improved version of Werewolf/Mafia that is cards-only (no app), check out The Resistance. By instituting a best two-out-of-three mechanic, it keeps all players in the game until the end.

    5. This reminds me a lot of a simple game I designed while working in Antarctica during winterover. It was based on legendary documentary of Antarctic life 'The Thing'. It was played between the 13 people stuck on base during the winter. Rules were simple: one player was randomly assigned as 'The Thing'. Then if he (or other 'things') were in a room with a lone normal person for 3 minutes, that person became a 'Thing' too (he would just tell him). Also during breakfast, lunch and dinner we would discuss and vote on who we thought the 'things' were and we could 'burn' them (meaning they turned back to normal).
      The game instilled a healthy dose of paranoia on the base... An understatement for 13 people stuck in a few buildings at -78C. As soon as someone would walk into your room, you'd start to freak out.
      We played 4 or 5 rounds, which lasted 3 days on average, and the 'things' won every game, with once 12 'things' walking on the lone survivor...

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