My favourite game is unquestionably ‘One Night Ultimate Werewolf’
I’ve played this game more often and more consistently than any other.
Wait, too fast. What is the game actually about?
Night is setting in – but it’s not just the cold you should be afraid of. There are werewolves amongst you.
The players are secretly divided between two teams – humans and werewolves. This is done by giving each player a card with their role (and any secret powers) face-down. The humans are trying to work out who the werewolves are whilst the werewolves are trying to avoid being found.
There are three phases to the game itself – night, day and lynching.
During the night phase players all close their eyes and then according to prompts of an easily available app (or for the low-tech inclined – a game master) the players in turn use special powers (such as being able to swap cards etc)
But the essence of the game is the day phase – there are no rules here. You have five minutes to discuss what you know, what you want to know and what is going to happen when you vote.
The game finishes with a lynching – all the players vote for who they want to face justice (or injustice …). The majority rule – and the voted player reveals their card.
Ideally, they do it slowly.
They gingerly tip up an edge of their card before pausing to make direct eye contact with their accusers – their killers. Tension now fully built, they suddenly flip their card over.
If they are a human the werewolves have won and vice versa (well, almost always).
So how come you like it so much?
There’s a formal sense in which you might think One Night Ultimate Werewolf (I’ll just call it Werewolf for short) could be reduced down to combinatorics. There are after all only a limited number of permutations of roles amongst the players.
But then the lying starts.
Your friend, or even a family member, sits opposite you. And with a smiling untroubled expression tells you lie after lie. And worse, no one around the table believes you when you call them out on it. Your truth goes ignored. And when the time comes to vote the group go for you. You end the game strung up – untrusted by your nearest and dearest. And across the table – content with their success – sits your killer.
And you smile.
How did they ever get away with that? How did they do that? How did they know to play the situation like that.
You’re going to have just as much fun talking out what happened as you did making it happen.
So where did it come from?
Werewolf is a game whose roots can be traced back to a psychological experiment! The original game is called ‘Mafia‘ and it sparked a whole new genre of games – social deduction.
In terms of Mafia’s rules – imagine a grand filling out of the ideas in ‘Wink Murder’. But it’s those added elements that are why these types of games are so special. Wink murder is a silent game – but Mafia is the complete opposite. It’s a game all about talking.
And that’s the attraction of the social deception genre to me – they’re at heart ‘talking games’. The rules and the systems at play are just prompts to get the players talking to each other. Everything else is secondary. Your only weapon is your voice, your only defence is your poker face.
Now, since Mafia there have been plenty of other social deduction games that have been created. It just so happens I’ve latched onto Werewolf
But I think I know why.
Werewolf is an intensification of the original Mafia game in that it avoids multiple rounds in the same game. You have one chance to catch the werewolves or only one round you need to hide from the humans.
It’s also a purer game in that there is no player elimination. In Mafia you could be eliminated in round 1 and there are another 11 to go where you’re not playing – just watching.
And because the game system is run by an app – the game quite literally explains itself. It’s incredibly easy to set up a game – anywhere, anytime. We regularly play it when we’re out and about. All you need are a few things to write on and your phone.
So, to keep it short
It’s not the quality of the mechanics, the beauty of the components or the elegance of it’s rules that I love about Werewolf
It’s the other players.
Werewolf is far better than any other game I’ve experienced in allowing people to express themselves, to play with roles and create stories.
It’s a game that’s never failed to get players sighing, shouting or smiling.
We have fun, we have an experience.
It chimes with a rule of thumb of mine that the better the experience the more it centres on who you were with. Ultimately, people are so much more interesting than the happen-stance details of where you were or what you saw and did. The rule holds true for holidays, nights out and I think Werewolf is the perfect example of why it’s true for games too.
So when I think about what games can be I think about how Werewolf manages to transcend the uninteresting problem of dissecting role distribution using a pool of limited information.
And I think about the time my wife and my mum teamed up to have me killed.
Ah, good times.