Saturday, October 13, 2012

Family Game Showcase: Werewolf

Well, it's that time of year, when all the little ghouls and goblins will soon be running from house to house looking for a tasty treat. Many families also host Halloween parties for friends of all ages. So this month, I'm going to introduce you to a public domain game, designed to be played by large groups: Werewolf. I was first introduced to this game when I ran my coffeeshop gaming club several years ago. They were just doing it to kill some time, and I recall that it initially didn't seem that interesting to me.

A year or so later, I was hosting a Halloween party, and we decided to play. Not really wanting to be a player after my first experience, I opted to run the game for everyone, and it turned out to be a tremendous amount of fun. The important thing is to have fun with it. Tell a story, make it outrageous and memorable. I named each village for the series of games we played, and really played up each elimination.

There's a lesson there -- this game requires a bit of silliness. The mistake my friends made when introducing it to me was that they just mechanically walked through the play sequence, without adding any storytelling. Play it up, and it should be a hit, especially with kids.

The rules are simple. One person will be the Narrator, essentially not playing the game, so you may want to have this position rotate among players. Everyone else is an inhabitant of a 16th-century village deep in the forest (or mountains, or whatever the spookiest terrain you can think of would be - it doesn't really matter, as long as you know it's old and scary). There are three possible roles for a character to play:

  • The werewolves (about 1 per 5 or so villagers) - Their goal is to "eat" the other villagers. If on any "Night" the number of werewolves and the number of villagers is the same, they split up and eat the rest. As long as the villagers outnumber the werewolves, the game will continue.
  • The Seer (only one) This villager has the special ability during the "night" phase of the game to choose another player and know whether or not they are a werewolf. Convincing everyone else is the heart of the game.
  • The Villagers (everyone else) All other players have no special powers during the game.

  • Each round of the game has two parts to it, the "Day" phase, and the "Night" phase.  As the game begins, it is always Night.  To choose roles, simply use as much of a deck of cards as is needed for each player to randomly choose one card.  If a player draws an Ace, they are a werewolf.  A Queen, they are the Seer.  If they get any other card, they are a Villager.  Nobody can know what anyone else has chosen.

    At Night, all the players (except the narrator, of course) close their eyes.  The narrator will instruct first the werewolves to open their eyes.  Thus, by seeing who else has their eyes open, the werewolves know which of the other players is also a werewolf.  The narrator then instructs them to silently indicate which villager (only 1, no matter how many werewolves there are!) they will attack overnight.  After a choice has been made, the werewolves close their eyes again.

    Next, the Narrator asks the Seer to open their eyes.  The Seer may then silently point at another player, and the Narrator will quietly and truthfully indicate (usually with a thumbs up or down) whether the chosen player is a werewolf.  Obviously you will want to discuss beforehand which signal means werewolf.  The Seer then closes their eyes once more.

    Now, the Narrator begins the Day phase by telling everyone to open their eyes, and announces which villager has perished overnight.  That player is now out of the game.  They may keep their eyes open during the night cycle, but are forbidden to reveal any information to the other players until the game is over (don't worry, each game goes fairly quickly).  They must remain quiet for the duration.

    Now the players discuss amongst themselves which player to "hang" for suspicion of being a werewolf.  This is the heart of the game -- the villagers are scared and want to survive, but nobody knows who the werewolves are.  The Seer may know, but nobody knows for certain who the Seer is either.  Players are encouraged to lie about their roles, and often, the choice of werewolf may be based on something completely arbitrary, like who "looks suspicious."  Once the mob has chosen someone, that player is "hanged," and out of the game, like the first player.  After this, darkness falls, and the cycle repeats with another Night phase.

    The game ends when either all the werewolves have been hung (and the villagers win), or the villagers no longer outnumber the werewolves (when they eat everyone remaining, and the werewolves win). For atmosphere, you can dim the lights for the Night phase, or have recorded wolf howls play while everyone has their eyes closed, growls after the werewolves have selected their victim, or other touches like that. For my game, I had some old-style rope, and looked up how to tie a proper hangman's noose, which I placed open over the selected player's head at the end of each Day phase. Of course, it was all adults at my party, and we knew better than to tighten the loop. I wouldn't recommend that particular touch when playing with children, unless supervised to avoid accidents.

    While this game can easily be played at no cost, there are commercial productions, which often add new roles, with new abilities. One example is Are You a Werewolf? (if you can find it)  This one is basically the public domain version of the game with some artwork to help players remember their roles.  A prettier version is The Werewolves of Miller's Hollow.

    Finally, you have Ultimate Werewolf.  This version adds many new roles, such as the Mayor, the Vampire, or the Hunter, so every player has a job to do.  If you poke around, you'll find other, similar games that simply have a different theme, such as the mafia.

    Happy Halloween, everyone, and as always, contact me at if you'd like to play a game!

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