Why I'll Never Play Werewolf Again

Image: Playwerewolf.co

Werewolf. It's a great game, but it's crap.

This story originally appeared in March 2017.

Gaming in large groups is hard. Most sensible board games are best with 3-5 players. But sometimes you want to invite more than three people over for games. Then you look around the room at your 6+ friends, and think, should we play one big game, or split into two? And then someone's partner volunteers, "well, maybe I can just watch." And you're tempted, but because you've played D&D, you know that splitting the party is always a bad idea.

This is the point in the evening where a certain friend—you know the one—invariably suggests playing Werewolf. (Or Werewolf's older, also-fatally-flawed brother, Mafia.)

Y'know the game. A few people are secretly elected to be werewolves (or mafioso) and at night, they'll kill innocent villagers. The village then "wakes up", argue furiously, "lynch" someone who may or may not be a werewolf. and then go back to sleep. The next morning they await to find another dead werewolf victim. Rinse and repeat until one side is dead.

At the beginning of the night, it always sounds like a good idea. At the end of the night, I remember why I hate Mafia. And Werewolf. Which is when I resolve: I'm never playing this damn game again.

What's right?

Let's start with the positives. Hidden identity games are fun. Really fun. Sometimes when I play board games, I love the brain-burning, puzzle-solving aspect of a game. But I always love the psychological aspect of playing against other players. Subtlety and mind-games, feints and misdirection, bluffing and blustering and convincing. Untangling the web of trust and lies and confusion.

So the game is really fun when you've managed to figure out a pattern to the lies, and you actually guess the werewolves correctly, and you save the day! Huzzah! The game is also deviously fun when you're the werewolves, and you've managed to sucker-punch some innocent into believing your lies.

There's even something to the feeling of helplessness when you see the situation falling apart and you can't do anything to stop it. It's like watching one of those beautifully-shot, depressingly-sad French movies where the beautiful, buxom, but tragically flawed heroine meets her inevitable and inexorable doom. If it was real life, it would be tragic, but in a game, it's captivating.

What's wrong?

We've talked about player elimination before. I'll grant that dying and watching people argue about their lycanthropy (or lack thereof) is moderately more amusing than watching people roll dice and move top hats around the board, but personally, I'd always prefer to be playing than sitting on the sidelines. Indeed, by design, the game forbids you from giving clues to the living, thus preventing the snide commentary and undead in-jokes that might otherwise keep the poor, hapless victims entertained. In the modern era, no player need sit on the sidelines for fifty-five minutes of an hour-long game. Player elimination is still a pox on the gaming world.

What's better?

My friends, The Resistance.

Resistance fighters need guns to go on missions, of course.

In a clasically dystopian future, we are a cell of resistance fighters, trying to take down an evil and corrupt government. If we can carry out three successful missions, the resistance wins. (Viva la revolucion!) The catch: there are spies hidden amongst us. If they go on missions, they are able to sabotage the mission. So each turn we vote for a team to go on the mission, trying not to send spies. Inevitably time runs out and we need to send an unknown team into the void, into a mission that will succeed or fail. Three failed missions will mean the inevitable destruction of the resistance, and victory for the spies. Boo!

Designed by Don Eskridge, Resistance keeps all the juicy subterfuge, deduction and betrayal of Werewolf. However it removes the player-elimination, because every player continues to be a voting member of our resistance cell. In addition, no-one's identity is ever disclosed. I've played games where I've known that the person on my right is a spy, only to realise on the fifth and final turn that I had made a wrong deduction the entire game, and he was actually a loyal resistance member.

Adding missions (and voting for missions) also gives you an entire other set of data from which to draw your (often incorrect) conclusions. But this then becomes another way that a clever spy can misdirect and double-bluff you!

One Fail means an unsuccessful mission :(

The Resistance has been so successful it's spawned an entire set of games under the Resistance banner. The core Resistance has special cards that can be played which manipulate the game. For instance, you might see someone else' identity card, or force someone else to vote first.

The Resistance: Avalon re-themes the game into Arthurian legend. The mission are quests for the Holy Grail, and the spies become minions of Mordred. In terms of game mechanics, instead of using special cards, players gain secret identities. The resistance (i.e. Arthur) gains Merlin, who through his magic knows the identity of the spies. But the spies gain The Assassin, and an alternate path to victory: they get to assassinate one player at the end of the game, and they win if they successfully assassinate Merlin. To make things easier for the Resistance, you might add Percival, who knows the identity of Merlin and can act as a bodyguard.

To make things harder for the Resistance, you might add Morgana, who, to Percival, looks like Merlin (so he sees two magic users, and must decide who he trusts). To add more chaos, you might add Oberon (a "deep spy", who is unknown to the other spies), or Lancelot (who can switch sides). For many fans, Resistance: Avalon is the ideal version of the game. Eventually, loving the mechanics but disliking the theme, Avalon was re-themed into The Resistance: Hidden Agenda (pictured).

The Resistance: Hidden Agenda.

Resistance: Hostile Intent was released in 2014 and adds a different set of mechanics that makes the game more adversarial. Both resistance and spies have a Chief and a Seeker. In order to successfully win, either side must win three missions AND successfully identify the other side's chief. If they do so unsuccessfully, the result of the last mission is reversed, and the game continues.

Take-home

I road tested this on Friday night. After work, we played a couple of party games. We played a game of Werewolf, because, y'know, sometimes you need to take the hits for the team. Then we played the Resistance. For those new to the Resistance, all of them could clearly see that it was a better game than Werewolf.

It's a game that stands up to lots of replay. I was part of a large gaming group that met almost every Tuesday night. After playing our hardcore game for the night, we would then sit down and play 2-3 games of Resistance (normally Avalon) every night. Over the course of two years, many of us easily racked up 100+ plays. And it still kept us coming back. The only thing that stopped it was a change of venues that booted us out at a respectable time of night.

Chalk it up. Friday night. 10th March, 2017. The last time I ever played Werewolf.


Comments

    I dislike Werewolf. But I also dislike Resistance, probably just as much. For me they're all games about sitting back and letting the talkative ones in the group do their thing and wait for the game to be over already :P

    Too much shouting and arguing

    Split the group

    If I have to play deduction, I'll play A Fake Artist Goes to New York

      Fair enough. AFAGTNY is a lot better than a bunch of marker pens has any right to be. In a Grove, by the same author, is also a neat deduction game in the same cute box-size (but is only for 3-4).

        Oink games are almost universally brilliant.

    Counterpoint:
    The cons of The Resistance: Too many people don't play the resistance smart. You really need to fail a few missions just to figure out how people are voting. A lot of the people I've played with will pass every mission unless they have a reason not to. That either one of two things will end the game, someone outs themselves accidentally as the spy in an obvious way or the last round comes down to luck. The expansion add in more mechanics than needed and the game moves away from being about bluffing.

    The Pros of Werewolf: This is the one game where player elimination is important. If you do a poor job at hiding your "werewolf-yness", you get punished by having to wait around for 30 minutes (add timers to make the game go faster, it also adds more pressure, because everyone only has x number of minutes to get their point across, while means people arent sitting out for too long). It really adds stakes to how well you can convince your fellow players of your innocence. Even one night ultimate werewolf (better than both games mention, IMO) misses the crucial aspect of why Werewolf works. I also like taking the narrator role in the dame way that I've been gravitating toward GMing more and more of the RPGs I'm involved in.

    Also, I always like the idea of a "losers lounge for something like werewolf, set up a TV with Mario Kart for anyone who is eliminated, that way they aren't doing nothing for that time.

      Our group has One Night Ultimate Werewolf, and we're thinking of getting the Resistance.

      We also have Bang which can see people eliminated early and sitting out for a long time, so to counter this we can play Zombie Dice at the same time, it's a quick simple game and you can get a couple of rounds in while waiting to see who wins Bang.

      Also if everyone has a portable like the 2/3DS you can play Mario Kart without leaving the table.

      The cons of The Resistance: Too many people don't play the resistance smart. You really need to fail a few missions just to figure out how people are voting. A lot of the people I've played with will pass every mission unless they have a reason not to.
      In other words: They're not metagaming, so they're playing 'stupid'.

      No. Just no.

      Reasoning like this is precisely why I dislike a lot of games of that nature. There's almost always that one person trying to metagame, min-max, whatever... And in my experience such people have a tendency to ruin a game for everyone involved more often than someone 'playing stupid' ever will.

        What are you talking about? Hidden role game are all about metagaming: talking to people, finding their tells, trying to bluff your role, or double bluff. I'm saying most people new to the Resistance go in with the mindset of "passing" missions unless they have a reason not to instead of "failing" missions until they are confident they are sending a good team. The mechanic ends up being a distraction from the real point of the game: reading and deceiving others.

        That's not metagaming at all. That's actually inherently part of the game: trying to deduce the allegiance of people based on their voting - because that is part of their overall behaviour that you use to determine their allegiance.

        Spies have extra knowledge therefore will typically end up voting "yes" to missions that a spy is on because it's what they need to do to win. Also Merlin (if you're playing Avalon, the superior version), knows who the spies are, so will usually tend to vote no to missions that spies are on. However, Merlin won't do this perfectly because Merlin has to not let the spies know that they are Merlin, so thus can't make it obvious. Spies also always don't vote no for the same reason. It's all part of the bluffing and deception mechanics.

        In short, voting Yes/No on mission selection is part of the deduction process and is not metagaming. There's a reason everyone reveals their vote at the same time. Talking about this as though it isn't inherently part of the game suggests to me that you either don't enjoy hidden role games, and/or you don't understand the mechanics properly.

          I was going to write a big thing, but we're really saying the same thing with only a small point of contention regarding what we class as metagaming.(I really do like The Resistance, I promise).

          The only point I was making is when you're playing with a mix of new and old players, the fewer different mechanics in the game, the more even the playing field. Therefore, Werewolf can be the right option.

      Agree totally. I understand what the author of the article is saying about Werewolf, but at least it's all good fun. It gives rise to fun conversations and the tone is kept light-hearted and impredictable (especially when there are several "special roles"). Resistance is, by the nature of the game, srs bzns so it's much more stressful, particularly when you are an experienced player and see how another experienced player in the opposing team is manipulating your neophyte teammates against you and they play right into their hands.

      I have had many hair-pullingly frustrating Resistance games but never a Werewolf one. I am not usually in the mood for Werewolf but I am never in the mood for Resistance.

      I would argue it's not being a bad werewolf that can make some werewolf games unfun.

      It's when your are one of the innocent kills in the first couple of rounds. When the group has no clue and is just hanging people because it's in their best interest to pot luck a werewolf than not.

      I agree on the Resistance, at least the base pack. First time I played it I made the mistake of thinking there would be more mechanics encouraging role-play. As a spy I voted for a mission success so as not to blow my cover, not knowing that this would make zero difference and pretty much just help my opponents win.

    https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/156129/deception-murder-hong-kong
    Deception: Murder in Hong Kong plays up to 12 and I'd argue is both more enjoyable and better for new and non gamers than Werewolf or especially Resistance. It's effectively Cluedo (or Mysterium if you prefer) simplified down to just the deduction with a smidgen of the hidden role malarkey from Werewolf.

    I think I might have recommended it every time one of these board game articles pops up. Y'all should start paying attention

    If you like the idea of werewolf but hate the elimination (as I do) then have a look at One Night Ultimate Werewolf. It takes Werewolf and makes it only 1 Night and 10 Minutes.

    This has replaced Werewolf in my house hold for the better.

    Avalon is definitely the pick of the two, mainly because the Lady of the Lake is a better mechanic than the Plot Cards of Resistance. However, I would argue that both games are pretty much best with 7 (or 8) players. 9 can work when you add in more of the special roles, but 10 people is just too many and the whole thing becomes too much of a mess, even compared to a much larger game of Werewolf.

    If you've got more than 9 people, Werewolf really is the only way to go without splitting the party. Also, if Werewolf sucks for the people watching, the moderator should be working harder. They should be doing some improvised comedy and storytelling in the theme of game - imagine a GM on steroids to keep the game entertaining for the people spectating.

    Also in the Hidden Role genre there's Blood Bound - a game that's not that well known and thus very underplayed. It plays up to 12 people and ends as soon as the first person dies, so you don't have the Werewolf issue.

      Yep, I dislike both Avalon and Resistance, but I'll play Avalon if everybody wants to play it. Resistance? I'd seriously rather sit by myself in the corner while the others play.

    My favourite "hidden roles" games are those were the roles are continuously rotating and the game is not so much about how much you can fool your friends with lies and poor acting (or confuse them with your harebrained deductions) but rather about how you strategise picking and using your roles throughout the game. Good examples of this are Coup and Citadels.

    I'm not a huge fan of the resistance anymore to be honest, when I first played it, it was, far far better than werewolf for the reasons that you stated. But I don't like the balance of the game where I feel the minority group (The spies) win more games than the majority of the group does.

    For replacements I love Mafia De Cuba, which lets players choose their roles, which removes the problem of people who are terrible liars, (Or not into the idea of being a spy in the first place, which can be an issue if playing with only occasional games). Or Secret Hitler, the added mechanic of the policies that need to be passed, and the powers that players get really add to it.

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