Board Game Review: One Night Ultimate Werewolf – Double the Deduction

I love me some Werewolf. But I strongly dislike the player elimination and I’m not a fan of the need for a moderator. Then along came One Night Ultimate Werewolf. It lacks both of these negative features. But this isn’t just a gimmicky werewolf clone. No, this is a brilliant game in it’s own right and well worth exploring for fans of social deduction.

The Basics. One Night comes with a number of different roles. There are always two werewolves and then some amount of additional characters – most of whom comprise the village team. Importantly, you select three more roles than the total number of players (so a six player game will have nine roles).

Everyone selects a role at random and takes a look at it. Then the three un-selected roles are placed in the center. The game has a single “night” phase. During that phase, each role is called and gets a chance to wake up and do some special shenanigans. The wolves wake up and see each other. The Seer can look at one other player’s card. The Robber can steal someone else’s card and replace it with his own. And the Troublemaker can swap any two players’ cards without looking. There are, of course, a number of other roles and abilities.

The insidious evil infiltrating the village

Then, once everyone has done their special action, everyone wakes up. At this point, everyone can try to figure out what happened during the night. At the end of this “day” phase, players count 3 … 2… 1… and then point at the person they want to kill. The one with the most votes dies. If that person was a wolf, then everyone on the village team wins. If that person was not a wolf, then everyone on the wolf team wins. Importantly, you win or lose based on the team you ended up as, not the team you started as.

A full game lasts about 10 or 15 minutes and is immediately replayable.

Rock stars of the good team

The Feel. It’s hard to characterize the feel of One Night in a brief phrase. It’s exhilarating as time ticks down. It’s satisfying when you pull off a significant bluff. It’s tense as you try to parse through the claims of other players. This game has many feels.

A word of caution, though. This is not simply Werewolf without a moderator. Nor is it the kind of game where you get placed on a team and then try to get that team to win. If you go into it with those expectations, you may be disappointed.

It isn’t uncommon for new groups to simply reveal what they did during the night. If everyone tells the truth, it is easy enough to figure out who is a wolf and who isn’t. But then something happens. A Seer player tells the truth only to have the troublemaker announce that the Seer was replaced by a Wolf. The Seer player loses because he told the truth. Or a Robber claims to be a villager after he stole a Wolf card. He gets the former wolf lynched and then revels in his victory – since the team killed a non-wolf (the former wolf now holds the robber card), the wolf team wins.

For when you’re hoping to add more information for the good team

In other words, after a few plays, you start to realize that even if you are on the village team, you may not want to just come right out with the truth. Just because you started on the village team doesn’t mean that you end that way. So when the night phase is over, the first task is for the players to try to figure out what team they ended up on. Only after they are reasonably sure of that, can they then try to get someone on the other team killed.

Similarly, playing a wolf is similarly rife with lies and deceit. You also have to figure out if you’re still a wolf. Which means watching out for fakes. Another player might claim to be the Troublemaker who switched you with someone else. Ha ha! You happily announce you were the wolf and now we should kill that other player. Except … the troublemaker was lying. Now you will be voted for death and will lose.

And the great part is that there is ample room for clever play. You can claim any number of roles and see what happens. As a villager (or even a wolf), I’ve claimed to be the seer who saw another player as the wolf. I just want to see the reaction that creates. I can walk it back later. Or I’ve acted like a wolf when I was really the Minion. The Minion is on the wolf team, but isn’t a wolf. So if he gets killed, the wolf team (including the Minion) wins.

Nothing special about these vanillagers

Keeping the day periods short – usually no more than five or six minutes – also helps. It can be difficult to get all the information out in a short period and it allows greater opportunities for the wolves to hide. Keeping cards in the center is also a wonderful way to keep players guessing. Sure, he says he’s the Robber, but how do we know there’s even a Robber in the game? The real Robber might be in the middle!

One item should be noted. One Night is a strategy game. It is filled with verbal claims, attacks, feints, and counters. It’s an engaging and exciting experience. But that’s not the only way it can be played. Some like to sort of do a bunch of random stuff, call each other liars, then see what really happened and laugh. And if you like that style of game, One Night might shine. At least for a while. But as a social strategy game, it has innumerable plays in it. I’m well over 100.

It also isn’t uncommon for One Night to fall flat with certain groups. It is very much in the realm of social deduction. If you don’t like that genre, this likely won’t change your mind. Also, if you treat it as a strict team game, it can seem highly random and unfun. But if you go in with an understanding of the double deduction inherent in the system (First, which team am I on; Then which person should I try to kill), then you are much more likely to have a good time.

Maximum chaos!

Components: 2.5 of 5. Even though I like the art style, I hate the tiles that were used. Instead of cards that could be sleeved and protected, One Night uses thick tiles. They seem cool at first. But the color starts to wear down after a while. Luckily, this happens mostly to the front. When it does happen to the back, though, it might mar the game entirely.

Strategy/Luck Balance: 4.5 of 5. Luck is relatively minimal. The only elements are the initial selection of roles and which three happen to be unchosen. From there, it’s all about the claim that you make. Two wolves and a minion look at you. It’s three against one. “Let’s lynch him!” But, “Not so fast,” you cry. “I’m actually the Robber and I stole one of the wolves’ cards. Let’s lynch the former wolf!” Is that what happened? Or is it a cunning ruse?

Mechanics: 4.5 of 5. One Night does a fabulous job with the night phase. There’s a free app that can run the phase for you so you don’t forget the order. Plus, the rules are relatively straightforward. I think the trickiest part of the game is getting the right roleset. Many of the village roles put out more information. The more information, the easier it is for the village team.

Replayability: 5 of 5. Every game is different because the players are constantly thinking up new strategies. Sometimes it makes sense to tell the truth. Often times it does not. A player just accused you of something; how do you respond? The possibilities seem limitless and I love coming back to this title even after north of a hundred plays.

Spite: 1 of 5. The spite factor is usually absent. But when it does show up, it is rather low. Part of the game is convincing the other players to kill one particular person. Since it’s just part of the experience, it doesn’t feel mean. This game requires no thicker skin than any other deduction game. And the brief play time means any spite is highly muted.

These allow you to mark who you think is who

Overall: 5 of 5. One Night might take a play or two for players to really grasp the strategy involved. Luckily, the game is so short that you can typically play three or four in rapid succession. And once it clicks, One Night is dynamite. Fast-paced, intriguing, and with ample room to express novel strategy. If you are a fan of the social deduction genre, then this should definitely be on your radar.

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