Board Game Review: One Night Revolution – Two Great Tastes Together?

I’m a huge fan of social deduction games. The whole genre of blends deduction (which I love) with the concept of playing the players rather than playing the game (also a big plus). So I was extremely excited to try One Night Revolution. It promised to blend Resistance-style roles with One Night Werewolf style experience. But do these great flavors combine well together? It turns out that they do not.

The Basics. In One Night Revolution, players are randomly assigned a loyalty card with the role of either an informant or a rebel. Three informants are always included, along with a number of rebels equal to the number of players. After everyone has selected a loyalty card, the remaining three cards stay in the middle.

Then, there is a separate stack of special powers. Those special powers are passed out, face down, to each of the players. Many of the powers provide different abilities depending on whether the player is a rebel or an informant. A start player is selected and all players close their eyes.

First, the informants may open their eyes and identify one another. Then, after they close their eyes, the start player opens his eyes and executes whatever power is on his special power card. He then closes his eyes and says, “Mission Accomplished.” Then the next player clockwise does the same, and so on around the circle until they have all completed. Finally, the first player opens his eyes and looks at his loyalty card to know whether he is now a rebel or an informant.

Once they awaken, each player claims to have one of the available special powers. Players can lie and more than one player can claim the same special power. From there, players have free range to try to figure out who is who, in both power and alliance. After some discussion, the leader calls for a vote. He says, “3, 2, 1, Vote!” and at that moment everyone must point at someone. If the person with the most votes is an informant, the informants are revealed and the rebels win. If it is not an informant, then the informants win.

Noble rebel? Or filthy informant?

The Feel. This is a game that should be good. Special powers that are independent of allegiance? Awesome! Special abilities that fire differently each game, rather than a fixed order? Neat! The ideas behind it are certainly interesting and welcome tweaks to the One Night Werewolf model. But the implementation leaves so much to be desired.

Before I further berate this game, I am no stranger to social deduction. As of this writing, I have 138 logged plays of One Night Werewolf, 82 of either Resistance or Avalon, and 120 of Werewolf. So it’s not as though this style of game is unappealing to me or that I’m unfamiliar with what “works” in a social deduction game and what can make them fall flat.

There are a couple of huge problems in the game. The first is that Revolution gives the players a ton of information – especially in the suggested starting powers. The point of social deduction games is that the minority has the information, and the majority is kept in the dark. That just isn’t the case here.

Special power cards clearly delineate powers for rebel and informant players

For example, the three player version suggests starting with a Reassignor, an Investigator, and a Thief. The Investigator looks at another player’s ID (either rebel or informant). The Thief, if a rebel, switches his ID with someone else and views the new ID. If an Informant, the Thief simply views his own ID. Finally, the Reassignor, if a rebel, switches two other players’ IDs. If an informant, he switches a rebel player’s ID with an Informant’s ID that was among the three in the middle. Then, of course, the first player looks at his card again.

Look at all the info gained. The investigator knows someone’s ID precisely. The Thief knows another player’s ID precisely (in addition to his own). And the Reassignor swapped the other two. Unless the Reassignor was also the start player, the start player looks at his ID and now knows the effects of the Reassignor’s swap. So much information is provided that the room to come up with clever lies and false claims is almost nil. The problem lessens only minimally as player count increases.

The big problem here is that all of the available powers are in the game and known to the players. Unlike in One Night Werewolf, there are no center powers that are out for this particular game. This means you can’t try to figure out which special power is absent, claim that you have it, and then lie about its use to your benefit. Similarly, there are no (or almost no) generically claimable powers/loyalties like Villager.

The tokens remind the players what powers are in the game and can be used to indicate who is claiming what power

This is further exacerbated by the round of claiming. Since every player has to tie themselves to a power, at least initially, it simply sets up competing claims. So Revolution often devolves into, “You’re not the Investigator, I am!” Followed by, “Nuh uh!” And so forth. Sometimes competing claims can be really interesting. But not every time. Not even most of the time.

And, because many of the powers operate differently depending on the allegiance of the user, that gives even more information. For example, the Signaller taps a player to his left or right. But if he is an informant, he must tap an informant on his left or right. If I’m a rebel and I get tapped, then I know the Signaller is also a rebel.

Rather than shrouding the game with enough maybes and half-hunches, One Night Revolution almost plays itself. I say almost because it does have its moments from time to time. But things have to line up just so – it’s difficult to make something out of nothing. And, for that reason among many others, I just can’t see playing this over One Night Werewolf. At all. Ever. At any player count.

The player aid greatly assists with the flow of the game

Components: 4 of 5. The bits are pretty darn good. The loyalty cards are on thick cardboard stock and should stand up to many plays. The special power cards are acceptable quality, although a bit more thickness would have been nice given the amount of handling they tend to get. I do like the thick tokens that come with the game so that power claims are easily represented and remembered.

Strategy/Luck Balance: 2 of 5. The balance is way off kilter. It isn’t that this game is all luck and no strategy. In fact, there are moments of great strategy. It’s just that the cards have to line up in just the right way to make things happen. Because there is so much easily discovered, and even provable information, the room for being creative is massively decreased.

Mechanics: 1.5 of 5. Revolution is, by no means, a “broken” game. It’s just that the ideas which seem good were implemented in a way which was not. The powers, while independent from loyalty, nevertheless just give out too much information. In fact, the game seems almost designed to just play out as the cards direct and then see has what by the end. This is a far cry from the bluffing, obfuscation, and strategy in either Resistance or One Night Werewolf.

Replayability: 1 of 5. Games where you “play the players” generally have great replay value. But not this one. And it’s because while you supposedly “play the players,” in reality you simply react to the cards as they are dealt and as the abilities are used. The game gets old very, very quickly. And, when compared to other similar offerings, there is little reason (if any) to play Revolution instead of them.

Spite: 0.5 of 5. There’s really quite little in the way of spite. I suppose players with larger personalities could pick on those who are more introverted, but that’s just people being jerks and is present in pretty much every game in the genre. There are no “take that” cards or actions.

I hope no informants sneaked into our headquarters…

Overall: 1.5 of 5. One Night Revolution is just plain not good. It gives out way too much information to the majority and allows the players to figure out the truth of things quite easily. There are few spaces for the informant players to hide. While the One Night aspect of it might be novel, it’s already been done – and which much greater success. While Revolution has some merit, it is a regression of what came before, not an improvement.

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