Tuesday, March 03, 2009
Fun Paranoia: Playing "Are You a Werewolf?"
"I swear to everyone! I am not the werewolf!" I yelled into the group of family members (now villagers) that surrounded me as, one by one, fingers pointed me out as the next victim of the mob's judgment. If I didn't think fast, I would be the next to go. Unfortunately, I couldn't come up with anything more than an unconvincing, "I swear! I'm not it." And thus my first time playing the game, "Are You A Werewolf?" ended.*
"Are You A Werewolf?" (we just call it Werewolf) is one of the more interesting games that we have acquired recently. It is a game for 8 to 15 players, which is distinctive among games that usually have 8 players as the absolute maximum.
The premise of the game is that a remote village has awoken one day to find that a hapless tourist has been murdered in the town square. By the savagery of the attack it is obvious that there are werewolves among the townspeople. It is up to players to use their powers of observation and persuasion to ferret out who among them leads a double life at night before they all fall prey to these monsters.
For $4 to $6 (plus shipping and handling if your local game store doesn't carry it), you get a small deck of 20 cards that includes 2 werewolf cards, 1 seer card, 1 moderator card, 12 villager cards, and a couple of instruction and etiquette cards. Each card has an identical back with the words "Are you a werewolf?" printed across them. The other side of the role cards is a black and white illustration of a howling werewolf, a fortune teller, or a lowly villager respectively. The moderator card is a script to read during the parts of each round in the game. That's it. There's not much in the way production values associated with this game. But that's okay, because Werewolf, being a bluffing game, is all about the interactions between players.
Werewolf is based on a game, created by Dimitry Davidoff, called "Mafia" that became popular in Russia in the late Eighties. In 1997, Andrew Plotkin, learned about it and modified it to work in a werewolf theme. He then posted the rules on the Internet for everyone to enjoy. The Looney Labs version of the game is closest to the original, but there are many variations.
If you don't want to pay for the Looney Labs version of the game, you can download the instructions and play with a standard deck of cards. However, I actually like using store bought version of the game cards. The glossy cards are pretty sturdy and are small and the script and tips make it easier for first time gamers to grasp the basic concepts of the game. The illustrations also serve to help remove any confusion (any "Wait, what does the ace represent again?" moments) about what's happening and who's who in the game.
"Are You a Werewolf?" essentially takes place in the imaginations of and interactions between the players involved. The moderator's job is to set the scene and move the game through its stages. Everyone else chooses a card, in turn, randomly from the deck. The cards will identify them as either a villager (the majority of the players), the seer (who is a villager with a special ability), or one of the two werewolves. Players keep their identity on the card secret. As far as everyone is concerned, each player is a villager by all outward appearances.
And that's the problem.
Each round consists of two phases broken into three parts total and basically mimics a night and the next day. Each night everyone playing the game (usually arranged in a circle or semi circle surrounding the moderator) closes their eyes and slaps their legs to make chatter. The chatter masks any movements by other players who drew either the werewolves or the seer so that they aren't outed too easily.
The first part of the night phase the players who drew the werewolf cards (and only those players) are told to open their eyes. The werewolves are then given a few moments to silently agree on who they are going to devour that night. After making sure the moderator has seen their choice, they close their eyes.
Then, during the second part of the night phase, the player who drew the seer card is allowed to open their eyes. The seer has the special ability to look at a person and tell if they are a werewolf or not. Unfortunately they only get to choose one person per round. After making their choice, the moderator lets them know what they found out with a thumbs up (werewolf) or down (villager). The seer then closes his or her eyes.
Then the fun part begins. Everyone is told to open their eyes. The moderator then reveals which villager was devoured during the night. That player is out of the game and allowed to watch the rest of the proceedings (which can actually be a lot of fun) as long as they stay quiet. Now, the remaining players are told, it is up to the village to agree on which villager they think is the werewolf and "dispose" of them.
The only problem is there isn't much to go on to make that choice. What ensues (with a good group) is a bunch of accusation, recrimination, bartering, and bluffing. If players are good, over time they will start to observe clues that may help them figure out who is or is not a werewolf. The seer is in the unique position to have information that no one else has. They know the true identity (villager or werewolf) of at least one player. How they parcel that info out takes some strategy. They don't want to insist they are the seer in either defending a wrongfully accused villager or fingering a werewolf too early as they are sure to be the werewolves next meal. However, if they wait too long, it may be to late to save the fate of the village. And there's nothing to stop anyone else from claiming that they are the real seer. Anybody can claim anything in fingering a player for mob justice or defending themselves from attack. Maybe the werewolf is the person who is always the first to point out a villager, or maybe its the player that hangs back and lets everyone else do the dirty work. Play continues until either the villagers identify and get rid of all the werewolves or the number of werewolves equals the number of remaining villagers.
That's all there is to it. It's a very simple premise, but no single game that I have run of Werewolf is even close to being the same. I've run this game at an office Christmas party (because it fits a Yule theme so well) and a family reunion. Both times, it took a bit of convincing to get the first 7 players (I moderated), but after the initial run we were easily able to fill all 15 slots. Every group loved playing after all and many players asked where they could pick up a copy. Also, we were able to entertain two large groups of players for hours. People seemed to enjoy the psycho drama and sheer strangeness of the game's premise.
Let's dispense with the rest of the descriptions and just show you a game of Werewolf in action. This is a video of Werewolf being played made by a public access show, The Game Shelf:
Werewolf has a ton of variations that you might like to check out. Many are house rules that add additional roles and special abilities that keep the villagers guessing and the werewolves on their toes. One rule variant is the addition of the "lovers" that you can find on Andrew Plotkin's Werewolf page. Others have been gathered into a couple of boxed sets including:
Ultimate Werewolf: Ultimate Edition
Werewolves of Millers Hollow
I am not sure how young of players I would play the game with. The suggested age is 8 and up, but we are talking about a game that suggests savage murder and mob rule. So take that into advisement when considering with whom to play the game.
One other thing is to consider your group. I've run the game for two diverse groups and it went well, for most part both times. However, some people might get their feelings hurt if they get bumped off too early. Personally, I've only been able to play as a non-moderator once and one of the joys of being the moderator and one of the bumped off players is watching the WHOLE story play out and see peoples tactics and motivations come into play. Some people can't see that and we had one of two players that just didn't like the game. You may also see sides of people that you haven't witnessed before. As Adrienne said in the opening post of this series, that's why we like playing games, but it may not be your cup of tea. If you don't want to know that your significant other has a devious or ruthless side (or timid or sarcastic side), this may not be the game for you.
This is one of our favorite new (to us) games and we hope that you enjoy it too. If you decide to play it in any of its forms (or have played), let us know what you think in the comments.
* Oh and in case you were wondering. I was a villager.