Critical Play: Werewolf

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I chose Mafia for my group, as I have only been recently introduced to it, and strangely enough they did not know it well either. This was created by Dimitry Davidoff in 1986 and is also known as Werewolf. The platforms range from fully in-person (no props) to online ( However, the game has many mutations and variations out there. The target audience  is quite broadly defined online as “friends and family”, as all age groups and contexts can enjoy this fun social deduction game.

For the notable elements of Mafia, there are two teams, the villagers and the werewolves/mafia. The amount of players classically ranges from 6-10, but my group was 13. For our orientation of in-person game play, we needed a moderator that narrates the game and arbitrarily assigned us roles of either mafia or villager. We played the game with no speciality roles (but these could include seer, protector, mason). The game is built around a notion of day and night. During the night, the mafia can pick a victim. When it is “daytime”, if the majority of the group votes a member of the mafia, they are eliminated from the game and reveal what their role was. The day night cycle represents a round of gameplay or the procedure of how the game flows. The aesthetics include fellowship and fantasy, as we are bonding as a group and we get to pretend to be werewolves and villagers. Naturally, the formal element of objective is to outwit other players. The outcome formal element is quite binary with winners and losers. I would argue that the type of fun offered is that players feel totally badass and utilize strategic lying to survive the voting which also creates really interesting elements include deceptive relationships.

Naturally, with no artifacts from the game, this is the only visual element. Here’s my friends and I playing the game toward the end of the play.


For other social deduction games, I think it is a bit worse because the game can reveal how other players feel about a certain player’s trustworthiness. Players can be more likely to be accused of being mafia if they are known as more deceptive by other players, which can hurt feelings. This game is quite notable and memorable within its social deduction category. I also feel that this game scales to larger groups better than say Coup and other peer games.

This game was extremely fun for my friend group. We are extremely high energy and really got into the game and accusing each other of being the mafia. I feel that the group composition could make or break a game play of mafia, as a more awkward or quiet approach would stifle the experience in my opinion. It intended to contribute to a fellowship experience, which it delivered on. Entering the magic circle with energy and entertaining the game is very important to the experience. 

A particular moment of failure was when one of my friends opened their eyes during the wrong time and saw who composed the mafia. This player could no longer play, which was far from ideal for them. It also attesting that our gameplay explanation could have been more intuitive.

To make the game better, it would have been significantly more fun if we added the specialty roles including the doctor, investigator, etc. like we played in class. This extra layer of mechanics added a lot of strategy and speculation which made the in-class iteration better. Also in interest of playing the game like a game designer, I observed as I played as opposed to reflecting after, which possibly hindered my gameplay slightly. A more wholistic critique is how much social space the moderator takes up. A different person starting the conversation every round would make the game more equitable socially and give more room to talk. This would likely be hard to implement as we need to keep ambiguity and anonymity, but I think a happy medium would go a long way.

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