Competitively Collaborative: An Analysis of One-Night Werewolf

I recently moved into a co-op that loves One-Night Werewolf. Tonight, I got to play my very first game.

One-Night Werewolf, created by Bezier Games (specifically Ted Alspach and Akihisa Okui), is a social deduction game that’s suitable for everyone ages 8+. Broadly, the game is great for families or groups of friends who want to play something that is simultaneously collaborative and intensely competitive, and unlike a lot of other social deduction games out there. The game is offered both as a tabletop game in physical form, and as an online version. Since I live with 10 other people, we played the physical version outside on our porch in the cool early-autumn air.

At the start of the game, each player gets a card with a secret role on it, including at least one “Werewolf” card. Each role bestows certain powers to each player. Then, through a free Smartphone app, players are instructed to close their eyes (entering “night time” phase), and follow a set of instructions according to the roles that they initially received. Once “night time” is done, roles can have been swapped, allegiances shifted, and confusion wrought. It is then up to the players to determine what happened during the night, what roles the players currently have, and who the Werewolves are now. If the“Werewolf” is not discovered by the rest of the players by the end of the game, the Werewolf team wins.

A few of the game’s formal elements really make the game stand out as something to be admired. I’ve listed the ones that I find most compelling below:

1. Procedure. The primary procedure in Werewolf is the order in which players use their abilities during Night Time. The order of who does what when drastically affects gameplay — if Player A looks at Player B’s card, but then Player C swaps their card with Player B, Player A is dealing with outdated information. Keeping track of the order of operations is key to deducing who the Werewolf is.

2. Rules. A disembodied voice of a British man guides everyone through the rules of the game through the Smartphone app. The game itself is pretty complicated, with a lot of different roles and powers to keep track of, and the narration provided through the app is crucial so that all players are on the same page, even if they’ve never played before.

3. Boundaries. The physical game comes with a number of different roles, and some make the game more complicated than others. The “boundaries” of the game are thus decided by the group before the game starts — employing different roles in each game will create different boundaries of what is possible within the round. Groups who want to ease into the game can start simple, with just a few different classic roles, like Werewolf, Villager, Seer, and Troublemaker. More adventurous groups can include wild roles like the “Drunk” or the “Doppelganger.”

4. Players. The game employs team competition, with two groups competing against each other to win. The fun wrinkle in Werewolf is that teams can actually change over the course of the night, and it’s up to everyone to determine who is on what team when, and who to trust. Werewolf thus genuinely requires everyone’s participation in order for the game to run smoothly. While other social deduction games sometimes favor the loudest in the room, every bit of information in Werewolf is absolutely vital for every player. Communication is especially important because even people who aren’t Werewolves at the start of the game can become ones in the end!

The fun of the game is in the collaborative social deduction, with everyone pitching in to provide information. The game thus requires equal parts collaboration and playful conflict. Players — even ones who believe they have “good” roles — can deliberately lie to discern information about other players.

In the four games I played, there was one wonderful moment of success for me as the Werewolf. The last game we played, I was the only Werewolf at the table. There exists a “Minion” card whose sole purpose is to support the Werewolf/distract the table/convince others that they are the Werewolf. In this game, through a perfect storm of events, even though there was only one Minion, three other players thought that they were the Minion. In practice, that meant that I had three out of the six people playing who were sowing seeds of doubt and supporting me every step of the way. I won that game. :)

The beautiful thing about One-Night Werewolf is that it addresses a lot of the problems that plague other social deduction games. For example, “eliminated” players (i.e. ones who get “killed” at the end of the game) can immediately play another round. Also, rounds only take five minutes, as opposed to forty-five (looking at you, Secret Hitler). That said, there are still a couple changes that I’d probably make in the design of the game.

The first is that I’ve noticed that the Night Time phase often takes about as long as the actual social deduction part of the game. Much of Night Time is spent in silence, listening to our friendly narrator man give out instructions. Even a two-minute-long Night Time can feel endless when you’re just sitting there in silence.

The second change I’d make is probably one surrounding the “good team” roles that don’t have card-switching or card-viewing powers (e.g. Villager, Mason). In the four games I played with my housemates, I noticed that players who have these “less exciting” roles often deliberately lie and sow chaos into the game to make it more interesting for them. This, of course, makes things harder and more complicated for everyone else, unless the chaos-sowers reveal the truth before the end of the game. I’m not sure if there’s a way to combat this inevitable push towards chaos — this desire to manipulate the game when one doesn’t perceive their role to be as exciting as others — but it’s definitely something to consider when creating my own games. Maybe the “less exciting” roles can get powers of their own. (Although now I’m thinking of a quote from The Incredibles: “When everyone’s super, no one will be.”)

All in all, though I was thrown in the deep end by my housemates (who have been playing for a while and decided to include a number of the more challenging roles for my first game), I really loved One-Night Werewolf, and I’m excited to play more.

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