Thursday, January 9, 2014

Review: One Night Ultimate Werewolf



Part of me wonders if I am a bad father as I desperately try to teach my daughter how to successfully lie to fool myself and her mother. On the one hand, I presently know her tells and this gives me an incredible advantage in raising an eight year old. However, on the other hand, she's recently been asking to join our One Night Ultimate Werewolf games and we have a reason to turn good deception into quality family time.

One Night Ultimate Werewolf is a quick hidden role game for 3-10 players that only takes 10 minutes to play. The game distills the classic Werewolf game and reduces it to one night with just a single round of elimination (which ends the game). At the end of the game, the players will vote to lynch one player. If they lynch a Werewolf, the Villagers win. If they fail to lynch a Werewolf, then the Werewolves win.

The game begins with the deck of role cards being created. There are always two Werewolves in the game. Other roles can be switched out, depending on number of players, but the Seer, the Troublemaker and the Robber are standard and important roles to include. Three more cards than players are chosen and then everyone randomly takes a role card, which denotes their special abilities (if any), but more importantly, their team affiliation. You can be either on the Werewolf team or the Villager team. The three unselected cards are set in the middle of the table and everyone looks at their role card and places it within reach near the center cards.

Next, everyone closes their eyes as the Night Phase begins. In order by role, players then perform their role's special actions.

If present, the Doppelgänger opens their eyes and peeks at one other player's card. Whatever role they see, they instantly become, joining their team (Werewolf or Villager) and mimicking their special powers and resolving their new role's power now.

The Werewolves then open their eyes and look for one another. If only one person was a Werewolf (because the second card is in the 3 cards in the middle of the table), it means that they are the Lone Wolf. Because of this, they can look at one of the three cards in the center of the table. This is useful because without a partner to assist them, they now instead have knowledge of a card that no one else has to bluff and pretend to be.

The Minion then gets to see who the Werewolves are, but they do not get to see him. The Minion is actually a human helping the Werewolves. He wins if the Werewolves win, even if he is lynched. So the Minion can bluff that he is a Werewolf to get lynched to help his allies. But if he is too obvious, then people might suspect that he is the Minion and not lynch him.

Next the two Masons open their eyes. They are villagers who only get to know who the other Mason is, letting them know that there is someone they can trust.

The Seer opens their eyes next. The Seer can look at one other player's role card or look at two of the unchosen cards in the middle.

The Robber opens his eyes next. The Robber takes one card from another player and looks at it and takes it. He then gives them the Robber card face down. If he took a Werewolf card, then he is now on the Werewolf team (and the original Werewolf has no clue about the switch and still thinks that they are a Werewolf, but now they are a villager since the Robber card is now in front of them).

The Troublemaker is next. She switches any two other players' role cards without looking at them.

The Drunk is so drunk that he doesn't remember what he is. He then opens his eyes and switches his card for one in the middle, without looking at it. If he took a Werewolf card from the middle, then he is a Werewolf, though he will not know for certain.

Finally, the Insomniac wakes up and looks at her card just to check what her role is at the end of the night. She is the only one to know for certain what she is going into the next phase since she'll get to see if her card was switched.

Several other roles exist as well, though they do not get any special actions during the Night Phase.

The Villager has no special powers and is simply on the Villager's team. However, it is a useful role to have in the game to bluff as.

The Hunter is on the Villager team. At the end of the game, if he is lynched, when the card is flipped over and revealed, the player he is pointing at also is immediately killed. If it is a Werewolf, the Villagers still win.

The Tanner wants to die. If he is the player who is lynched, then he wins and everyone else loses. However, if he lives through the game, then he loses. This allows the player to bluff to be a Werewolf to try to get lynched. But if he bluffs too much, then they might assume he wants to die and is the Tanner. Inversely, suspected Werewolves can bluff that they are the Tanner to try to avoid being lynched as well.

After the Night Phase, everyone opens their eyes and players begin with the Day Phase. In the Day Phase, players discuss who to lynch. At the end of ten minutes (or whatever you set your game length to be), everyone must point at one other player. Whoever has the most votes (fingers pointed at them) is lynched.

If the lynched player is a Werewolf, then the Villagers win. If the lynched player is a Villager, then the Werewolves win. If the lynched player is the Tanner, then only the Tanner wins.

If the vote to lynch is tied, then both players die. It doesn't matter how many people die, as long as a Werewolf dies, then the Villagers win.

Now, it is possible that both Werewolf role cards are in the unassigned center three cards. If this is the case, then the only way that the Villagers can win is to lynch no one. If everyone has only one vote to be lynched, then no one is lynched and then the town is safe.

That is it. The game is really simple, but good strategy is remarkably complex. One of the reasons why I listed all of the roles and their effects was to point out how we had to learn to lie in this game.

Our game groups are very familiar with hidden role and bluffing games and we eagerly devour any opportunity to lie and bluff to our friends and fellow gamers. However, at the end of the night, you do not know if you are the same role that you began as, so you may have switched teams.

Also, perfect information is available if people openly deliver it. For example, in my first game, I openly and truthfully declared that I was the Seer and that I looked at another player's role and saw that he was a Werewolf. Almost immediately afterward, another player stated (honestly) that she was the Troublemaker and had switched my role with the player who I had just outted as a Werewolf. I had no counter and I was lynched and lost because we were too truthful in our first game.

However, we quickly learned. Now when the night ends and day begins, there is an uneasy silence as people are hesitant to say what they are. People lie about their roles to try to force others out to admit what they were. The game has become incredibly interesting and often, frighteningly tense.

Games last only ten minutes and we will usually play at least 3-4 games in a row. The game is simple enough to learn and teach to new players, but I always give my speech about the "perils of perfect information" before we start. By the second game, most players I've played with have "gotten" it and are eager for another game.

The best part about the game is the way so many of the roles work off of one another in creating opportunities to bluff. A Mason can pretend to be whatever he wants to try to force someone to say that they are that role since he can always call on the other Mason to verify his original role to alleviate suspicion. However, Werewolves can do the same thing, claiming to be Masons. Werewolves can try to pretend to be the Minion or the Tanner to try to avoid people lynching them, while each of those roles can try to pretend to be a Werewolf to get lynched instead. The Robber holds a lot of power in his hand since he knows what he is and what another player is (his former Robber role), however, the Troublemaker could have easily swapped out either of these, so there is no guarantee. The Troublemaker can bluff who she swapped to try to see how people react before telling the truth. The Drunk has to be careful, since if people think that the Werewolves were in the center, then it increases the chances that he is a Werewolf, but not even he knows for certain. And the Insomniac carries into the Day Phase the only positive truth about her role.

The Tanner, the Minion, and the Doppelgänger each add a lot to the mix and truly change the entire dynamics of the game.

In case you couldn't tell, I think that One Night Ultimate Werewolf is absolutely marvelous. It definitely does add to the game when you have more players, simply because adding more roles makes the game (and the bluff potential) much more interesting. We've played three player games, but, other than bluff teaching games for my daughter, I don't think that we would play with this number. However, with five or more, I would eagerly suggest it to any group that I was playing with. So far, the only time I have ever turned down the offer to play it "one more time" was simply because it was 4 am and I was unable to process any more bluffs. Though part of me still regrets not going for at least one more game...

The production of the game is excellent. There are very few pieces required and instead of cards, thick cardboard is used for the roles. This is good because it makes them sturdier and more resistant. I think it was a good choice, but I am certain that there is a faction of card sleevers who are crying over the design decision. The art in the game is excellent as well and presented in a very colorful and appealing style by Gus Batts, whose work is very stylistic and excellent.

The game's free app.
One of the best things about the game is that there is a free app that can be downloaded and used in lieu of a player moderator to walk everyone through the Night Phase. The app is available for download on both the iDevices and Android.

One Night Ultimate Werewolf is an excellent game and it was surprisingly one of my top games of 2013. While it eliminates the elimination problem with standard Werewolf, it also loses a bit of that game's tension. For Werewolf, it is the elimination that makes it tense. There is nothing like being four nights in and trying to survive just a bit longer--as either a Werewolf or a Villager--in the game. Lynchings there have much more of an impact. However, were you lynched on the first day, the game is still fun to watch, but you are out of the action.

So there is less tension, but the trade off is more than fair. Plus, at ten minutes, multiple games can be played in the same amount of time as a single Werewolf game. It also fits the range to play if you don't have quite enough players to make a Werewolf game interesting (I don't like to play unless there are at least twelve players, plus the moderator).

As for my daughter, she's three games in now. Her first two games she was the Drunk and the Insomniac and didn't need to bluff too much. However, she caught something that could signal that another player was lying about his role that slipped by the other players. It was one of my happier proud gamer dad moments. Her last game she drew a Werewolf and, although she didn't have any physical tells or giggled,  her bluff wasn't that good, outing her pretty quickly. However, I was the other Werewolf and was able to convince people that I was the Troublemaker and swapped her role away, so we still managed a victory.

But I've learned that I need to teach my daughter to lie. And I need to teach her to lie well enough to fool me. I will regret this when she is a teenager, but for now, I am very pleased to see her make progress in her deception and I look forward to seeing her join us at the table more and more for our games of One Night Ultimate Werewolf.

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