Friday, April 4, 2014

A Review of One Night Ultimate Werewolf by Bezier Games

It's 11:30 pm on a Saturday and you're bored out of your mind.  You're wedged between four people on a couch built for three but moving won't help since every other seat in the room is occupied.  You're at Richard's house.  You didn't know Richard until tonight.  You see, Richard works with Carolyn and Carolyn is married to Steve and Steve is in your board game group.  

Carolyn and Steve were invited to this board game party and Steve thought you would enjoy yourself.  Initially, you did.  You played King of Tokyo and battled to the finish.  You shared a game of Augustus with five other people but got thoroughly trounced.  And now you're crammed into a room full of people and yet not playing anything or having any fun.  Why?  Because it's Werewolf and you got killed on the first night...

"But Donny," you cry, incredulously, "how else would I spend an evening killing my friends and satiating my bloodlust?!"  And I reply "The answer is simple, dear reader: One Night Ultimate Werewolf!"

DISCLAIMER: I will initially approach this review assuming you don't know the classic game of Werewolf and then include a section that outlines some of the key differences and my preferences. 

Overview
One Night Ultimate Werewolf (henceforth ONUW), by Bezier Games, is a party game for 3-10 people.  Players will take on the role of either a villager or a werewolf.  All players will "go to sleep" (that is, close their eyes) and some players will perform an action during the "night" phase.  Afterwards, all players will "wake up" and what follows is a discussion/debate/argument phase in which the villagers try to determine who is a werewolf and the werewolves try to avoid suspicion by any means possible - including deception!  At the end of the discussion round, players will simultaneously vote on who to kill.  Whomever has the most votes dies!  If a werewolf is killed, the villagers have won!  If a villager is killed, the werewolves have won!  And if your game group is anything like mine, you shuffle up the roles and play again.  And again.  And again.  And-- what time is it?  Time for one more.

Gameplay
The game begins by deciding what roles you're going to play with.  You'll need enough roles to equal the number of players plus three.  The only mandatory roles are two werewolves.  The other roles you can choose from the remaining eleven.  Once the stock of roles has been chosen, shuffle up the role cards, deal one to each player and place the remaining three facedown in the middle of the table. 

This game is chock full of different roles that have actions to do during the night phase of the game.  Each player will look at their role and place the card in front of them but within reach of the entire table.   At this point, all players will close their eyes for the night phase.  Each action performed at night has a sequential order starting with the Doppelganger and ending with the Insomniac.  I'll list these actions in a section below.

Each action performed in the night is related to either gaining information or obfuscating information.  Once all the necessary roles have performed their actions, everyone will open their eyes and have a predesignated time to discuss.  This is the part of the game that makes ONUW so much fun.  It's not just about lying and blind assumptions - it's heavily rooted in deduction, similar to games like Coup and The Resistance.  As with these games, there is inevitably lying that must take place but instead of being the entire came, it colors the deduction and adds to the challenge.  Who do you trust?  Is Tom what he said he is or is he lying?  Can someone provide evidence to disprove Tom's claim?  Why isn't Chloe speaking up about her role?  That's awfully suspicious - maybe she's a werewolf?!

It is important to note that, when you wake up, you do not get to see your role again and it's very possible it changed during the night since some actions cause roles to be changed.  Regardless of the role and action you performed during the night, you are whatever role you wake up to.  This means, if you went to sleep a Villager (who does nothing during the night phase) and the Troublemaker (see below) swapped your role with a Werewolf, you are now a Werewolf!  You must play as a Werewolf and, hopefully, you will deduce this is the case before anyone else does and can change your plans accordingly.

After a set time for discussion (we keep it to five minutes), one player counts "3, 2, 1!" and everyone points simultaneously at who they think should be killed (or in Werewolf vernacular, lynched).  If the person killed is a member of the villager team, the werewolves have won.  If the killed player is a werewolf, the village team has won.  Sometimes there's a tie for the most votes.  In this case, if at least one of the dead players is a Werewolf, the village team wins (collateral damage is not an issue when hunting Werewolves).  

Roles
There are twelve unique roles in ONUW and most have a night action to perform.  These actions are performed in a set order.  This facilitates the deduction aspect of the game, allowing players to sequence the various changes to the game state that happen during the night.  Let's start with the roles who sleep straight through the night...


The Villager is your basic Joe Schmo with not much to do.  He goes to sleep and wakes up but gets no actions.

 
The Hunter is very similar to the Villager except, if the Hunter is killed at the end of the discussion phase, whomever he points to also dies!  This is important because, regardless of who else dies, as long as at least one Werewolf dies, the village team wins.  In this way, a Hunter suspected of being a Werewolf, can still supply the village team with a win.


The Tanner is probably one of my favorite roles in the game.  Just like the Hunter and Villager, he doesn't get to wake up and do anything however he can win the game all by himself.  You see, the Tanner hates his life as a tanner and wants to die (morbid, but funny!).  Therefore, if the Tanner dies, he wins and everyone else, Werewolves and village team alike, lose! 

Now we move to the roles with nighttime actions, listed in the order they are performed.

The Doppelganger is a role that probably adds the most insanity to the game.  This role wakes up first and looks at the role of one other player and becomes that role.  They are no longer the Doppelganger, they are the role they saw!  This means there could be a third werewolf or a second seer.  If the Doppelganger's new role has a night action, they will perform it immediately.  They will not wake up with their assumed role so neither will know who the other is.  The exception to this is if they became a Werewolf in which case they will wake up with the Werewolves so they know who one another are.

Werewolves wake up second and only get to see who the other Werewolf is.  There is an optional rule that we always play with called the "Lone Wolf Rule".  If a Werewolf wakes up and they are the only one, it means that one of the center tiles is a Werewolf.  When this happens, the Lone Wolf may look at a center tile and return it.  This could provide the Lone Wolf with an alibi.  There's also a 1 in 3 chance that he sees the other Werewolf!



The third role to wake up is the Minion.  The Minion is a villager, but he is on the Werewolf team.  When the Minion wakes up, the Werewolves are instructed to extend their thumb so the Minion knows who they are (but they don't know the minion).  If, at the end of the discussion phase, the village team kills the Minion, the Werewolves win.


The Masons wake up fourth.  The masons are like village team versions of Werewolves - they simply know who one another are and have someone they can trust.


Fifth to wake up is the Seer.  The seer has a choice - look at the role of another player or look at two roles from the center row. 


The Robber wakes up sixth.  The Robber may swap roles with another player and then look at his new role.  This means that player becomes the robber in the discussion phase and the robber becomes whatever they were (potentially a Werewolf!). 



The Troublemaker wakes up seventh and may swap the roles of two different players (not themselves, not roles from the middle) but may not look at either of them.


The Drunk will wake up eighth and may swap his own role with one in the middle but may not look at it.


The Insomniac is last and the only thing this role may do is look at their own card to see if their role has changed or not.  This is the only role guaranteed to know what they are going into discussion.

The thing to remember is that you won't use these roles all the time.  In my intro games, I stick to the mandatory Werewolves plus the Seer, Robber, and Troublemaker.  I round out the group with Villagers.  Once players have a good grasp on the concepts and how to follow the discussion round, I start adding in roles like the Drunk, Insomniac, and Masons.  I will dump Villagers as soon as possible because no one likes being stuck as the one Villager!  

For advanced (or overly large games) I will add cards like the Tanner and Hunter.  The Doppelganger does their sequence strangely depending on what role they look at so it's a good one to save for experienced players.  The Minion has the most difficult win conditions in the game due to various scenarios so I save him for advanced games as well.

The App
But wait - there's more!  The basic game comes with instructions on how to play and moderate the game at the same time.  This process involves using a set of role tokens marked with the action order and keeping your eyes covered as you look at them between actions but you have to be able to give correct instructions on what each role can do all while trying to give the same time to each role so no one suspects that there's one missing as well as dealing with your own role.  It can be a little tricky and I'll sometimes moderate the game myself without playing just to make things easier.

There's a much better solution though - Bezier Games developed an app!  That's right, there is a One Night Ultimate Werewolf app that features a narrator (voiced by the effervescent Eric Summerer of Dice Tower fame) who tells each role when to wake up and what to do.  You can turn off the roles you aren't using, adjust the time between instructions, giving your players more time to perform their actions, and add background noises (crickets, etc).  After the night phase, the app starts a timer (you set the time between 5 and 10 minutes) and alerts you when time is up and you need to vote.  This app is brilliant and is part of what makes ONUW such a blast to play - no need for a moderator!  The app is free and available on both Android and iOS. 

ONUW vs. Classic Werewolf
So I mentioned this at the beginning and here's the scoop on some of the differences between ONUW and the classic game of Werewolf.  For those unfamiliar with classic Werewolf, there are roles just like ONUW and the turn structure is the same.  But instead of one night phase and one discussion phase, there are an indeterminate number of each.  Yes - indeterminate.  In classic Werewolf, the players "go to sleep" and a moderator, someone who doesn't actually play but just gives instructions and tracks things (sort of like a GM) has each role wake up and perform their actions.  

I'll skip describing all the roles except the Werewolves, they have one additional action - to kill a member of the village team.  When the players "wake up" that person is dead and out of the game.  Next, there's a discussion phase (called the day phase for obvious reasons) and the village team will vote to kill (lynch) someone they hope is a werewolf.  Then there's another night phase, another dead villager, and another day phase.  The goal of the game for the village team is to kill all the werewolves and the goal of the werewolves is to achieve parity with the village team (parity being a one for one ratio).  You play as many night/day phases as it takes to reach this point.

One of my main issues with this version is that, unless skillfully moderated, classic Werewolf becomes a very long game.  There's a lot of arguing and most of it ends up being "I think he's lying" or "She looks suspicious".  Instead of one night, there are many.  There's minimal deduction involved.  In ONUW the information gained is sequential, can be processed and is only variable based on who is lying and who isn't.  In classic Werewolf, it boils down to arguing about who is lying with little to no deduction.  Finally, probably my biggest complaint - player elimination.  Yes, if the village team kills you because they think you're a werewolf or the werewolves kill you for funsies, you're out for good.  No participation, no discussion, the game becomes a really dull wrap up episode of The Bachelor and you're stuck watching.  Unless you enjoy hardcore roleplaying a villager hunting for werewolves, I can't see any reason to choose classic Werewolf over it's cousin, One Night Ultimate.

Components
This game is very simple on components.  Included are the "cards" for each role and small round cardboard tokens used when self-monitoring as well as used during discussion to temporarily indicate who is what role.  These small tokens are invaluable for processing the deduction aspects of discussion.  The role "cards" are actually sturdy, thick cardboard and an excellent component.  I wish everything cardboard were this high quality.

Tokens used during the discussion phase.
As far as game upgrades go, this one is pretty mild.  The app discussed above is a huge upgrade and almost essential in my mind.  Because I have a mild (re: serious) obsession with playmats, I also picked up the official ONUW playmat.  We make sure players place their face down role cards on the edge of the mat in front of them and people usually have no issue reaching all the other cards.  More importantly, the playmat gives you a soft surface to play on meaning, when someone moves your card, you don't hear the slap of it hitting the table.  One upgrade I recommend above the playmat and the app is sleeves.  Now these tiles are not normal card thickness but they were actually designed to fit inside the FFG Green sleeves.  It's a nice, snug fit and you can clip off the extra few millimeters at the top.  One inevitable aspect of this game is wear and tear on the backside of the tiles.  When your werewolf tiles start looking a little worn, it becomes very easy to tell who a werewolf is! Protect them with sleeves and the game will stay fresh and interesting for years.

Final Thoughts
One Night Ultimate Werewolf is a fantastic game and one that gets a lot of play in my game group.  If you keep the discussion timer to five minutes or so, you can play even a large game in under ten minutes total.  Rarely do we play fewer than five times because it plays so fast.  A short discussion timer keeps the debate quick and can often lead to some crazy finishes.  On occasion there will be a dud of a game.  This usually happens when one player ends up as the Werewolf and then, when they make use of the Lone Wolf Rule to look at a tile in the middle, they see the other Werewolf.  They have no solid alibi (the LWR could let them see the Seer in the middle and, since no one is the Seer, they can claim to be that role and accuse someone else of being a Werewolf because they "looked at it as the Seer" - lying is fun for all ages!) and it's just a matter of time before the group susses out the poor Werewolf and hangs him at the edge of town.

No game I've played packs as much fun into such a small time frame.  Nine out of ten games end with a roar of surprise as people realize who was lying.  Fingers point and people yell "I was right!!  I told you he was lying!" or "SEE??!  I wasn't a werewolf!!!"  And because you played in under ten minutes, there's always time for another.  Maybe you'll get a different role this time.  Maybe you'll be the werewolf for the third time in a row and can use the old "I'm not a werewolf!  I've been the werewolf twice in a row - what are the odds?!" excuse.  Maybe you're just hoping not to be stuck as a Villager again

ONUW is great as a party game and great for non-gamers.  Deduction is a universal skill that is not directly related to games and everyone people knows what lying is (even if they can't all do it very well).  Some people may take a couple of plays to catch up on the discussion but once they do, it's hard to keep anyone from jumping in and accusing their spouse, sibling, or best friend.  I'm a huge fan of this game it will always have a special place in the small outer pocket of my backpack.

So next time you find yourself at Richard's be sure to bring your copy of One Night Ultimate Werewolf.  You know he's going to break out his trusty, dusty, worn copy of the classic version of the game and the only way to avoid a snoozer of an evening is to speak up: "Hey Richard, I have something I think you need to try."  Richard will never look at his old school Werewolf again!

Check out Tom and Melody Vasel's review of One Night Ultimate Werewolf.

Here's The Game Boy Geek and his review of One Night Ultimate Werewolf.

Here's a text/picture review of One Night Ultimate Werewolf by Ender's Game of BGG.com.

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Donny is a music educator in the suburbs of Dallas.  He has an obsession with all things Star Wars and, when asked what he wants to do, will always respond with "board games".  You can find him at Nerd Night events in the Dallas area, Dallas Games Marathon, or at his second home, Madness Games & Comics.  He spends far too much time on social media, be it Facebook or Twitter, and comments or suggestions can be directed to his email