Designers: Dmitry Davidoff, Andrew Plotkin | Players: 8+ | Playtime: 60-120 minutes
Werewolf is very simple deduction game. It began as a psychology experiment to help Dmitry Davidoff with his research at the Moscow State University back in 1986. It was designed to model conflict between an informed minority (the werewolves) and an uninformed majority (the villagers). Originally this game was based on Mafia killing Innocents but in 1997 Andrew Plotkin re-themed it to werewolves as he believed it was more thematic.
Before the game begins, each player is given a secret identity. The goal is to deduce these identities and eliminate the other side.
During the day Villagers and Werewolves discuss possible culprits and who, if any, should be sent to the gallows. At night the Werewolves transform and choose a poor Villager as their prey. Many an innocent victim will lose their life, either by day or by night.
Determining who to eliminate or save comes in the form of lying, trickery and deceit. Bluffing doesn’t come easily to most people and trying to fumble your way through it is half the fun. Watching others do it and catching them red handed fills in the other half.
If you’re trying to feign shock or anger, it’s much harder to do over a long period. People accused of something they’re trying to hide will start out feigning outrage – ‘How dare you ask me that?’ But that will start to change to objection rather than shock, as it’s psychologically very difficult to mimic emotion. — Dr Simon Moore, Wired UK 
Based on the above statement, the longer a game goes on, statistically the better chance the Villagers have to win. Playing with friends who know each other’s tendencies increases these chances.
Werewolves succeed by being able to control their emotions and persuade the poor, innocent Villagers that they are not indeed a Werewolf. Do you have what it takes to survive?
If you haven’t figured it out by now, you can and will likely get knocked out of this game at some point. It’s just the nature of the game. Actually, it’s pretty much the main mechanism of the game.
I don’t usually like games where I get eliminated, especially ones that average an hour. This one’s a bit different, though. I still enjoy seeing everything unfold as I sit back and watch the show and because this is a social deduction game, conversations and accusations between players can be quite entertaining. I’ve sat out entire games before (someone will die the first night) and still laughed the whole way through.
So, was Andrew Plotkin right to re-theme this as werewolves from the original mafioso design? I believe so. Being a Werewolf provides the perfect cover as they look just like all the other non-lycan folk during the day. Werewolves are also more prevalent in our modern day culture. Plus, while I feel both versions are violent in nature, at least Werewolf lore isn’t as deliberate and outright as a portrayal of the mafia. Werewolves being fiction allows them to be more playful without being too realistic.
This game provides a great opportunity to role-play as well. If you’re not, you’re doing it wrong. Let’s be honest here. Werewolf can be reduced to an exercise in mechanics.
Night: go to sleep, werewolves eat.
Day: wake up, so-and-so died, accusations?
That’s not fun. I’d rather play a game of Monopoly than sit through an hour of that. This game is more than just going through the motions. It is fully and entirely reliant on an interactive and social environment.
Werewolf really doesn’t need fancy artwork to do what it does. All you really need is some scraps of paper and a printout of what each character does.
If you’re a good artist or know one you could always get some cards made of each character. I got my copy on on Kickstarter by an artist named Corey Fields. He has an etsy store where you can still purchase decks of his amazing artwork. I personally prefer the stylistic but simplified take on it.
If you want a one stop shop with some full color art and an extensive rulebook with detailed scenarios and all, then Ultimate Werewolf by Bézier Games might be for you. It has nice artwork and lots of character combinations to work with. The scenarios even provide a narrative for specific character use. This version is also widely available and easily obtainable at your FLGS.
Graphic design varies greatly from publisher to publisher. If you had cards made more than likely you included the name of each character on the cards along with the artwork.
Ultimate Werewolf goes the extra mile by adding role descriptions at the bottom of every card. This is extremely helpful when playing with new players and/or adding new characters as there’s no need for a reference sheet or lengthy explanation at the beginning of the game. However, the versions with just a name on the card, like mine, allow for more flexibility with what each character does.
Let’s say someone on the interwebz comes up with a better way to play a specific character. It’s a lot easier to make changes simply having a name on the card. Sure, you can change the rules for Ultimate Werewolf cards but it will likely cause confusion as it’ll contradict what is printed. This’ll be a personal preference really. I’m fine with either.
Hard to really review components as there are so many different printings of this game. On top of that, the only components are cards really. Most versions use decent cardstock but if you’re looking for a high quality version of the game, Ultimate Werewolf again is your best bet. The cards in that set are durable and linen finished. Truly excellent quality.
Some publishers may use chipboard tiles instead of cards which is really nice, too. One Night Werewolf (also by Bézier Games) is a good example of this. Which, by the way, is a very quick game of werewolf with an app led moderator. Interesting variation worth looking into.
“Do you have what it takes to survive?”
Try this game if you like:
- Ca$h and Guns
- Cockroach Poker
- Deception: Murder in Hong Kong
- Good Cop Bad Cop
- Liar’s Dice
- Sheriff of Nottingham
Werewolf is one of those games that spread by word of mouth in its infancy. All that was needed were some scraps of paper, a group of people, and a good moderator. This is still true now. It’s for this simple reason that I list this as a Play It instead of a Buy It. Try it out and see if it’s your kind of thing before dumping money into it. There are plenty of websites that give more than enough info to play. You’ll quickly find lots of unique characters that change the way the game plays. Some broken, some boring. But that’s the great thing about public domain, there’s so much variety and easy access to the game.
That said, if you decide you love playing Werewolf then I would highly suggest investing into a nicely produced set. Whether you buy something like Ultimate Werewolf or Corey Fields’ unique artwork it’s a nice way to have consistency and longevity with your game.
What I liked:
- I love how simple this is to teach to new players.
- It can be played with as many or little special characters as you want.
- With each character included, a new layer of strategy and complexity are added to the game providing replayability.
- Every time you play it’s like a new adventure because you’re only limited to your creativity and imagination.
- Supports such a wide variety of players. You can be vocal or quiet, vicious or kind. So many ways to play.
- This is one of the few games that can theoretically support an unlimited amount of players, though, I wouldn’t suggest that.
- Great for Halloween parties.
What I didn’t like:
- This game can run really long with too many players and/or special characters.
- It can also fall flat with the wrong group. Sometimes people just aren’t in the mood to socialize. That’s fine. Go play a heavy euro instead.
- A bad moderator can make the game stale. You need an experience, not a robot.
- Careful attention needs to be paid to the ratio of Villagers to Werewolves to Special characters. Many moderators don’t pay enough attention to the balance of the game making it unfair for one side. Use the chart below for reference to prevent this.