Playing With the Werewolves
March is a rough month in Austin – just nothing really happening over the next couple weeks. (Dang!) Not to worry. As the city tries to figure out something (anything) to do about these early spring doldrums, Austin’s low-fi gaming community has one word for you: werewolves.
Over the past few years, tabletop games, in particular European-style board games, have grown in popularity. Games like Settlers of Catan require a little less planning and strategy than Go or chess but a little more than Trouble. And unlike Risk, they tend to end, with an actual winner, in a reasonable amount of time. Their game mechanics, which delightfully balance random elements, such as dice rolling, with strategy, such as piece placement, have won them the love of geek icons like Wil Wheaton and Felicia Day, and a place at gaming tables all over town – including Tuesday night and Sunday afternoon gaming sessions at the south Austin Rockin’ Tomato, various nights at Great Hall Games, and at Dragon’s Lair, as well as at annual state-wide gaming cons. But if you’re looking for something different, or if you are new to gaming and might be interested in a game with a small rule set that is super easy to learn and played with teams, then you might want to check out meet-ups of party or social games, like Werewolves.
Unlike tabletop games, party games have very few and very simple rules. They can be played immediately by brand new players, and generally require large groups of people who then play on teams. This is true of The Werewolves of Miller’s Hollow, which also requires no board and no dice. Instead, this branded version of an otherwise common rule set is a cross between a role-playing game (like Dungeons & Dragons) and a party game (like Pictionary). It’s similar to a common murder-mystery game played at parties in which one person is a murderer, and it’s up to the rest of the people to figure out who it is before all the guests are killed. In Werewolves, a host hands out cards determining each player's role. There are a couple of werewolves (and usually a few other special roles), and everyone else is a villager. Every “night,” the werewolves kill a villager. The next “day” it’s up to the (remaining) villagers to figure out who the werewolves are and kill them before the werewolves outnumber the villagers. Villagers do this by accusing a potential werewolf and then hearing the accused person’s defense. The village votes on whether to hang the potential werewolf based on the strength of the accusation and the defense. If the villagers hang all the werewolves before the werewolves outnumber the villagers, then the villagers win. If the werewolves outnumber the villagers, then the werewolves win. Either way, many jokes are shared, several lies are told, a few snacks are eaten, and much beer is consumed.
Variants of Werewolves are played all over, and players tend to make their own rules and special characters. Special characters are roles with characteristics other than villagers who, usually, depending on if they are evil or good, “win” with either Team Werewolf or Team Villager. The number of special characters and their abilities depends on the specific version of the game being played. Tobias Amaranth hosts monthly meet-ups of Werewolves at Whose Turn Is It? Games using a card set that he developed called Werewolves of the Dark Arts. “Many of the roles in my deck are derivatives of other popular roles,” says Amaranth, “and some roles are simply considered basics, such as the Bodyguard or Hunter.” The Bodyguard is a common special character who can protect villagers from being killed by werewolves while the Hunter can pick one person to kill on the spot if he is killed at any point in the game. The other most common special character is the Seer. The Seer gets to “investigate” one person during each round of the game. The host tells the Seer whether the person being investigated is a werewolf or a villager. (You can view a complete list of other special characters in Amaranth’s deck here.) Generally, no one except the werewolves knows what anyone is. At the start of a game, you only know your own role for sure.
Amaranth will host the next session of Werewolves of the Dark Arts on Thursday, March 7, at Whose Turn Is It? Games at 7pm. To keep up with their monthly meet-ups, check out Reddit's r/Austin.) And if you are headed that way this week, here are a few helpful tips from Amaranth and other players at last month’s session:
What do you do if you draw a special character?
“As a good character with a special role, if you see the village is likely to lynch you, then by all means say what you are and what you know,” says Amaranth. “If they don't look ready to lynch someone, there's probably no reason to give things away yet. As an evil character, have a story ready to go so that you can be confident. If they're getting ready to lynch you, claim to be the Seer or another valuable character. If you're lucky, this will draw out that character and allow the remaining evil players to get them lynched.” In the event you happen to actually draw the Seer, then long-time player Matt Stephans recommends you: “Be a great villager, because the wolves and the [real] villagers are looking for you.”
What do you do if you are a werewolf?
“There are certain questions that we’ll ask new players at the beginning of the game that are hard to answer if you are a werewolf. If you are not, then they are easy to answer,” says Stephans. “So if they pause, you know they are a werewolf. People who have played with us for a long time know that trick, and it does not work.” Along the same lines, newer player Monica Zavala summed up a good werewolf defense thusly, “For the love of god, do not hesitate.”
What’s a good, overall strategy to stay alive?
“Be entertaining,” says long-time player Mike P. “Even if I believe someone is a werewolf, I’ll leave them alive just because they are entertaining.”