Background: For my first critical play, I played One Night Werewolf (designed by Ted Alspach and Akihisa Okui of Bezier Games), with two different groups. First, I played it with a group of three friends, then later played it with a larger group of friends (7). We played it through the desktop version, which utilizes a series of cards that determine player roles and a narrative moderator, performed by the desktop app. Much like Werewolf, Mafia, or other games of this type, it is a social deduction game aimed at groups of 3-10 that involves deception and interchanging day/night rounds where people are killed. The role cards introduce character roles such as werewolves, villages, robbers, seers, and more roles with specialized abilities.
The spin of One Night Werewolf is that it eliminates the number of rounds, stripping the game to one round of play and there is a final determining vote at the end of the day portion. This makes me think that the target audience for this iteration of the game are those looking for fast paced games, but still love the social deception of Mafia. Although there are many different roles, my friends and I found that the game is relatively easy to learn and still fun to play despite how well you know those you play with.
Formal Element Analysis: In terms of a simple game feature that worked well, I thought having the definition of the role was incredibly helpful. In between rounds, it was very difficult to remember what being a “robber” meant. In Mafia, for example, where there are relatively few rules, with One Night Werewolf, there are many moving parts to keep track of.
In terms of the form of the game, there is one night where each role type acts and day when a vote is performed and everyone attempts to identify the werewolves. It took roughly 10 minutes to play the game to completion. Formally, the structure of the game is team vs. team or team (werewolves) vs. all.
In terms of objectives, you play the came to competitive in a zero-sum outcome style. Either the werewolves win or the rest win. For rules, there are many different role types that introduce obstacles and conflict within the overarching structure of night/day/vote.
Types of Fun that Work: When playing this game, I found that One Night Werewolf leverages Fellowship, Narrative, Competition, and Expression most heavily. However, unlike other iterations of the game, I found that the fellowship and narrative fun were slightly reduced in this version, while the competition element was drastically increased. For example, by nature of having one round, my friends and I were scramming to “figure out” who was lying. This creates a really competitive environment with high stakes because the opportunity to win is so close in proximity. However, because there is only one night, there is a reduced amount of fellowship because there is little space for dynamics to evolve within the groups. Each time we played, I had to reevaluate the group and was always hoping that we had more to go off of. Last, the one round element reduced the narrative. In Mafia, by comparison, the narrative evolves over time and you feel the pressure of hte mafia closing in as more people die. Here the narrative is less cumulative. It’s a trade off!
Games as Learning: Informed by the readings this week, I approached this gameplay through the lens of how does it let the player learn. I played multiple rounds with friends and the fast paced nature of the game allows players to take on multiple different roles. In Mafia/Among Us, for example, it is very easy to play 4-5 rounds and always be a villager and have no special role. With the increased roles inherent to One Night Werewolf, there is greater opportunity to try new roles, learn strategies for playing those roles, which then may inform your ability to tell if someone is bluffing in a later game. In that sense, I believe there is a stronger sense of learning in this game that its longer form counterparts.
Comparisons: Compared to other games in this genre that I have played before (Among Us, Mafia), my friends and I found this game incredibly confusing and disorienting. All the rules regarding different role types introduced a steep learning curve and it was hard to get comfortable in your role because there was only one round. Therefore, while the single round makes the game move quickly, it also does not allow players to “sit” in their role identity and develop a strong sense of collective strategy and fellowship.
Unlike other games, I found that over the course of multiple game plays, it was the same over and over again. For me, there was very little reason to lie if I wasn’t the werewolf and if you were not a werewolf, you just told the truth which usually worked. Also the ability for cards to be switched and identities to be switched was an element to the game that we never really understood.
Moment of Failure: The single round also made the day time conversation carry a lot of weight. In the Mafia, for example, there is rapport, alliances, and strategy. Given how consequential the day time conversation was, I was always hesitant to speak up. This often led to my POV losing. Some of my friends were more passive/coy and would not speak up. Therefore, the immediate opinions of 2 or so people greatly impacted the direction of the vote.
Improvements: A potential route to improve the gameplay would be to combine the ability for players to change roles/teams with the Among Us structure. For example, after one vote, players are all given new roles and the game restarts. However, those who are dead/voted out may not return. Therefore, the winner is who makes it to the very end and the game requires a lot of dynamic shifting (you are both offensive as werewolf, and defensive as villager).