Game Review: Werewolves, Where Shouting Equals Fun
For a while, I’ve been trying to find a party game that doesn’t feel like a party game. The typical title only goes up to four or five players. Six players really cuts down on options. Beyond that, there’s very little. So, party games exist to allow large groups to get in on the gaming action. Unfortunately, most party games either break down into teams, which creates downtime (i.e. Cranium) or merely have you do the same thing over and over while your side guesses. (like Pictionary). And while I’ve enjoyed my fair share of Cranium, Apples to Apples, and Taboo, those games aren’t really the same as a Citadels or a San Juan. Once you go past six players, most good games are simply out of reach. Fortunately, along comes Werewolves of Miller’s Hollow to fix that. Follow me after the jump.
The Basics. You may have played Werewolves under a different name. At my high school, kids played “Mafia” or “Assasin” which had essentially the same rules. In Werewolf, everyone is dealt a card. In a group of ten or eleven, two will be the dastardly werewolves. Each “night” the townspeople close their eyes. The werewolves secretly awake and choose a victim. In the morning, that victim is eaten and out of the game. The remaining villagers (which include the werewolves masquerading as innocent townfolk) must then choose one among them to lynch to punish for the crime. The werewolves try to eat all the villagers while the villagers try to lynch all the werewolves.
The players pick one among them to be the moderator. He calls for the town to “fall asleep” each night and directs the werewolves to awaken and eat someone. He also directs the other special characters to use their power, and guides the discussion of the town during the time to lynch.
At first glance, the game seems a bit childish. For example, at “night” when everyone “falls asleep,” the players simply close their eyes. The temptation to peek is there, and one peeker could ruin the whole game. But, this isn’t so different from any other game where cheaters can ruin things. A mature gaming group can keep their eyes closed. Moreover, the lynching discussions are where this game truly shines.
Accusations begin to fly, denials flood in, and desperate villagers shouting to keep their heads begin to sound suspiciously like werewolves hoping to stay alive to eat another innocent. The game is the ultimate exercise in bluffing, misdirection, and simple volume. Plus, unlike the “Assassin” game you can play at home, Werewolf comes with a number of “special” villagers who have a unique power. As one example, the Matchmaker can choose two individuals who fall in love. The Lovers must protect each other throughout the game, for if one dies, the other commits suicide in grief. Thus, there is a separate allegiance on the board as well that alters the dynamic. Each game will include a mix of special villagers and regular ones – or what my group termed “Vanillagers.”
Components: 3.5 of 5. The roles are on durable, thick cardboard stock. It also comes with a drawstring bag that can hold the pieces, so you don’t necessarily have to lug the whole box around with you to a party. Everything is serviceable, and I couldn’t be more pleased with the components. The rulebook, on the other hand, is a nightmare. The translation is horrible. Sentences end in the middle, some cards are not fully explained, and there is a lot that the Moderator must interpret.
Luck/Strategy Balance: 5 of 5. Luck comes in which role you get, but after that it’s up to the player to bluff, posture, and even do some sabre rattling if necessary. In our group, one guy could not keep a straight face when he drew the Werewolf. In fact, the first time he was a werewolf, he actively stroked his chin while staring hungrily at the other players. He was the first to be lynched.
Mechanics: 4 of 5. The game works flawlessly. While I’m not usually a big fan of games that have a player “sit out” when he loses, Werewolf moves so quickly that it doesn’t really matter. In a game with twelve players, each game plays fairly rapidly with the longest taking fifteen to twenty minutes. The only other negative is that the game doesn’t provide a chart or suggested composition of villagers/werewolves based on number of players. Something that was playtested and recommended would have been helpful.
Replayability: 4 of 5. My group played Werewolf about ten times that first night. Each time, we hoped that we would get a new role to play and we were eager to see if the Werewolves could pull off a victory, or if the villagers could lynch them all in time. I actually bought The Village, which re-implements Werewolves and adds an expansion. So additional plays will include the village as well.
Spite: 3 of 5. Werewolves can pick players they don’t like to die first. There’s no getting around that. Similarly, the Hunter can shoot anyone he wants upon his death. However, the natural alliances between werewolves and villagers keeps the spite low. Besides, so many games can be played in a single evening, that spite will dissipate quickly.
Overall: 4.5 of 5. This is an outstanding party game. It’s important to judge it in this category. While it might not have the depth or strategy of an Agricola or a Battlestar Galactica, it can go up to 18 players. 29 with the expansion. It keeps everyone entertained and clamoring for more. In fact, when my group last played it, several individuals commented on how their cheeks were hurting from smiling and laughing so much.