Upon the last full moon, the League received a mysterious letter, scrawled on a torn bloody parchment, delivered by a weary villager. The note began…
Ted Alspach is a boardgame designer, publisher, and player, who runs Bezier Games, Inc. He rarely knows what he’s talking about…
A lot has been written on the subject of Werewolf, both positive and negative, and though most of the derogatory commentary is ghost-penned by the ‘Association of Haters Of Limited Elimination’, there are a few issues which really haven’t been addressed in a public forum such as the esteemed League of Gamemakers. Some might say that I’m not the best person to write such an article, because I’m known to be decidedly pro-Werewolf, and because of my bias as the publisher/designer of various Ultimate Werewolf titles, but you’re clearly a highly-evolved reader if you’re perusing this site, and will undoubtedly make your own, unbiased decision that I’m clearly right about everything written I’ve here.
There are a ton of supposed problems with Werewolf that need to be addressed, so let’s get started:
PROBLEM: ELIMINATION IS THE WORST MECHANIC EVER INVENTED.
This is by far the number one issue that most people have with “traditional” (i.e. non-One Night and non-Inquisition werewolf). Games that have this mechanic are doomed to failure, which is why you don’t see any copies of Monopoly or Risk on your local Wal-mart shelves.
SOLUTION: THIS IS SIMPLY A MATTER OF PERSPECTIVE.
The threat of elimination is what makes elimination good as a mechanic. Everyone wants to stay in the game, because being eliminated sucks. That tension fuels the discussions of the game, and keeps Werewolf games from being entirely irrelevant. The weird thing is that when you’re eliminated, watching the Werewolf game you’ve been eliminated from is pretty engaging.
SOME PEOPLE PLAY WEREWOLF AND MANDATE THAT WEREWOLVES KILL A PLAYER ON THE FIRST NIGHT, WHICH IS A TERRIBLE IDEA.
Almost as terrible is a moderator that demands that a player must be killed by the players each day, even on the first day when there’s a very little bit of information (especially if they don’t give the Seer a “night zero” view). Still other groups will kill off brand new players on the first day (or night) for no real reason, making those new players hate the game (and probably the experienced players as well). In these cases, elimination does suck, and people have a right to complain. Please note that Ultimate Werewolf advocates against all of these practices, because they’re really bad ideas.
On the other hand, there are now at least two good alternative werewolf games that don’t use elimination as a mechanic, and still deliver a solid werewolf experience: Ultimate Werewolf Inquisition, where the players are a werewolf-infested inquisition team investigating a village that has werewolves, and One Night Ultimate Werewolf, which by virtue of its one-nightedness just has winners (everyone playing) and losers (people who have written it off because they don’t like werewolf).
PROBLEM: WEREWOLF NEEDS A MODERATOR
This is a “problem” oft-sited by Werewolf-haters, but the reality is that a lot of people (myself included) actually enjoy moderating. The real problem is that some people aren’t good moderators, or don’t know how to moderate properly. This is exacerbated by some commercial versions, in fact all commercial versions with the exception of Ultimate Werewolf, which don’t have any guidelines for moderating werewolf games at all except snippets of scripts and the occasional rule. Sitting through a werewolf game with a bad moderator is an unpleasant experience.
SOLUTION: (TO THE “BAD MODERATOR” PROBLEM, SINCE “WEREWOLF NEEDS A MODERATOR” REALLY ISN’T ONE): READ UP ON HOW TO BE A GOOD MODERATOR, OR WATCH A GAME HOSTED BY A GOOD MODERATOR.
The Ultimate Werewolf guide has several pages specifically for moderators, to ensure the best game possible. It covers a wide range of topics, including things like setting up the room, how to handle mistakes, and guarantees that you’ll have the best game experience possible.
And hey, wouldn’t you know it, but if you just can’t get over the moderator thing, there are versions of Werewolf that don’t require a moderator, including One Night Ultimate Werewolf (which has a clever app, or, if you’re living in the 20th century, a script that an active player can read while still participating in the game), and Ultimate Werewolf Inquisition, which does away with the need for a moderator entirely.
PROBLEM: WEREWOLF NEEDS TOO MANY PEOPLE FOR A GOOD GAME.
While you can play werewolf with as few as 5 people, you really need to get up to 9 or so before it gets any good, and the best games tend to require 13-17 people. Plus a moderator. Ultimate Werewolf Deluxe Edition caps out at 75 people according to the box, which is kind of ridiculous, and I’m saying that even though I’m the one that came up with that number.
SOLUTION: FIND MORE WEREWOLF PLAYERS, OR PLAY SOMETHING ELSE WHEN YOU HAVE LESS PEOPLE.
If you live near an urban area, you can probably find a ton of other Werewolf players. Our local Werewolf Meetup group Werewolf Players of SF Bay Area has 471 members. There are official werewolf game nights scheduled multiple times a month that have 60+ players attending, with dozens of players on a waiting list (venues tend to be capped at a certain size, unfortunately). There are meetup groups for Werewolf in most cities; if yours doesn’t have one, start one up and you’ll get dozens of players signed up in days.
WEREWOLF IS CRAZY POPULAR.
Of course, that doesn’t work for everyone, and there are other Werewolf games that work for fewer people, and while I sound like a broken record, Ultimate Werewolf Inquisition plays 3-12 players (working quite well at all player counts), and One Night Ultimate Werewolf plays from 3-10 players (and only takes <10 minutes per game). —
PROBLEM: WIKIPEDIA REFUSES TO LIST WEREWOLF (THE GAME) ON ITS OWN PAGE.
Historically, Werewolf is a themed variant of Mafia. Mafia used to be very popular for online play, as well as in high schools and colleges, where a deck of cards was used instead of commercially-available sets. No commercial version of Mafia has ever seen a fraction of the success of the commercially-available Werewolf games that are available. But, you know, it’s the Internet, and the people who have influence over the Mafia page on Wikipedia refuse to create a separate game page for Werewolf (“Werewolf game” redirects to the Mafia game page). The entire page uses Mafia themed roles, with werewolf versions of those roles noted secondarily.
SOLUTION: WAIT JUST A LITTLE AND IT WILL SELF-CORRECT.
I’m pretty sure that there will be a Wikipedia page just for Werewolf at some point in the future, as the Mafia neocons grow old and die, for the following reasons:
Most of the people who play the commercial versions of Werewolf now don’t even know about Mafia. This is a change from 10 years ago, as there are hundreds of thousands of copies of commercial versions of Werewolf in the wild all over the world, and pretty much no copies of Mafia out there.
The Mafia page has this weird focus on game theory that Werewolf players just don’t care about. Sure, it’s nerdy cool that there’s a mathematical equation showing win loss likelihood with different player counts and roles, but that sucks the fun out of the game for most Werewolf players.
At some point people will realize that there’s some heavy handed editing of this page going on, and the internet hates that. For instance, there was a section on “commercialization” that was removed because “it was unsourced”. If you look at the edit to the page, that section happened to list all the commercial versions of “Mafia” which were ALL werewolf themed. It’s not a conspiracy, it’s just a few people with their idea of pre-revisionist history-making. Another great example of this is at the bottom of the “History” section, which currently says “Mafia was called one of the 50 most historically and culturally significant games published since 1800 by about.com.” When you check out the source, you’ll see that the About.com article is entitled “Werewolf/Mafia” which states “An alternative version [of werewolf] is known as Mafia.”
PROBLEM: WHY BUY A WEREWOLF GAME WHEN I CAN USE A DECK OF CARDS OR SLIPS OF PAPER WITH ROLES WRITTEN ON THEM?
This is more of a stated problem with commercially available werewolf games, but since it’s something that people say quite often, it’s being addressed here.
SOLUTION: FRONTAL LOBOTOMY FOR THOSE WHO SAY THIS ABOUT ANY GAME.
Pretty much any boardgame ever can be recreated at home with some paper, cardboard, or by overwriting existing game components. Werewolf is no exception to this. And hey, if you’re out and about and want to play Werewolf, and all you have is a deck of cards and a sharpie, you can make a go of it, and I would encourage you to do so if you need a Werewolf fix.
But even with the most basic set, “Are You a Werewolf” by Looney Labs, which has black and white cards and a grand total of 3 roles with (I’m being nice here) very basic artwork, is dripping in theme relative to “number cards are villagers, face cards are werewolves, and the Joker is the Seer”. And hey, the theme of Werewolf is kind of cool, and relegating yourself to proxy components seems silly.
PROBLEM: SOCIAL DEDUCTION ISN’T A CATEGORY ON BOARDGAMEGEEK.COM
Wouldn’t it be great if you could find all the games on BGG that are social deduction games? You know, not just Werewolf but Resistance, Two Rooms and a Boom, Saboteur, and more? Instead, we get plain old “deduction” which includes games like Hanabi, Battle Line (really), Fury of Dracula, Mr. Jack, Zendo, and even Clue.
SOLUTION: PING YOUR FAVORITE ADMIN ON BGG TO ADD SOCIAL DEDUCTION AS A CATEGORY.
The rise in popularity of Werewolf and similar games which the internet (there goes that internet again) calls “Social deduction” games means that this will indeed happen, but it will happen sooner if you mention it to the good folks who run BGG. As a publisher with a vested interest in the category, I don’t have as much influence in doing that as I’d like (I’d also like a category called “Bezier Games” and one called “Ted Alspach games” but they probably won’t come to fruition). So it’s up to you and your gamer friends to make this happen. I dream of someday clicking that category and seeing all the social deduction games appear magically…
PROBLEM: MOST WEREWOLF MOVIES ARE TERRIBLE
From Teen Wolf Too to the Twilight saga, there are some really crappy werewolf movies out there, many of them giving werewolves a bad name. Now, there are some watchable werewolf films out there, notably the classic (though plodding) American Werewolf in London and the first Underworld (though I’m not sure if it would rank so highly were Kate Beckinsale wearing something other than that distractingly tight leather outfit).
SOLUTION: DON’T WATCH WEREWOLF MOVIES.
Play Werewolf games instead.