The townsfolk are starting to panic. Each night this week, someone in their small, sleepy town has been brutally murdered. The victims’ bodies are found the next morning, savaged as if by a wild animal. One word is on everyone’s lips – Werewolf!
This is the setup for a fantastic little tabletop game my friends and I played recently while we were on holiday – Ultimate Werewolf. One person takes the role of the game master, the rest are all townsfolk. Except…one of them is hiding a monstrous secret! Each night, while everyone is sleeping, they transform into the beast and murder another villager! In the morning, the townsfolk awake with dread, to find out which of their number has become the next victim!
The game uses a simple but clever mechanic. The game master is the one who assigns the roles (at random) to the other players, so they know who everyone is. At “night”, all the players shut their eyes, then the game master asks the werewolf to open theirs and silently point to one of the other players that they want to murder. The game master notes that down. Then, the werewolf shuts his or her eyes and everyone “wakes up”, to the news of who has become the next victim.
During the “day”, players get a chance to hold a town meeting and nominate another player for lynching, on the suspicion of being the werewolf. The players hold a vote, with a simple majority passing. The living players win if they manage to lynch the werewolf before it eats the last of them, and the werewolf wins if there are no one but werewolves left at the end of the game.
Did I say “werewolves”? Yes! You see, the game is made more interesting by there being a whole range of special character cards, other than the werewolf, all with their own rules. The Seer, the Witch, the Bodyguard, the Troublemaker, the Prince, those are just a few of the special characters. Many of which have abilities that come into play during the night, before or after the werewolf attack. The Seer, for example, is one of the most important characters, and is in every game. During the night, the seer can point to one other character and the game master will nod if that is the werewolf or shake their head if it isn’t.
What really makes it fun is the discussion during the day, when the townsfolk try to decide who to lynch. It’s part detective work, part roleplaying, especially if players get into their roles. Everyone comes up with a public persona on top of their character type at the start of the game. For example, I was the town mayor, others were blacksmiths, taxidermists, the stranger who had just arrived in town. So, with your public personas in mind, you debate on who is the most likely to grow fangs each night.
You can’t reveal your character card to other players, but you can just come out and tell people who you are. The problem is…they don’t have to believe you. You could just be lying to save your skin. Remember, there’s a werewolf in your midst, and they’re obviously working against the other players, trying to hide their identity. More than that, revealing your character type could draw the wolf into attacking you the next night. The Seer, as i said, is an especially valuable class, able as they are to verify the innocence of one player per night. Which means that if they come right out and reveal themselves from the start, they’ll be an early victim, unless they are lucky enough to finger the werewolf in the first round AND convince the other villagers to lynch him or her.
It’s an incredibly fun game, especially if, as I said, people get into their roles. And it has something I love in board/card games, the ability to vary the dynamics of the game by altering which cards come into play. There are 34 characters, so if you’re playing with a group of 8 you can only use a subset per game. Depending on which characters are in play, you can have a very different game. One of the later games I played, I was the Lycan, a character who, for all intents and purposes, is a normal human villager. Except that, when the Seer pings you, the game master nods that you are a werewolf. And in that game, I got pinged in the first round! :/
I managed to stave off my lynching for a few rounds by lying through my teeth, claiming to be the Witch, another valuable character, but my lies didn’t save me for long, especially since the real Witch (whose identity was still secret) knew I was lying, making me look doubly suspicious. I met an untimely end, that game, but at least they eventually found the werewolf. My own girlfriend!
If you can get a copy of Ultimate Werewolf, I highly recommend it. It’s small and portable, scales well (you need a minimum of 5 people, maximum 34), is really simple to run and teach, and it’s amazing fun. Get it, lynch your friends!