Everywhere I go, I always seem to find a design-oriented conversation. This time, I was hanging out with friends in a hotel room at an anime convention. Every year for the last 10+ years, we meet up to play some video games and some board games. This year we played One Night Ultimate Werewolf.
Going into that session, Marcus and I knew next to nothing about this style of game. As is common with board games, the person who brings the game to the group takes up the role of explaining the rules. Meet the guy who brought Werewolf, Chang, the shirtless guy with the green hair. Without much introduction, Chang sucked us into a detailed discussion of his customized deck for the game.
The point of this article is to highlight some of the design-oriented points made in this real-life conversation. Before we hear from Chang, I’ll summarize how One Night Ultimate Werewolf works:
- The game is played with 3-10 people all sitting around in a circle.
- There’s a deck of roles (character cards) selected for the game.
- Each player draws a character card and looks at their role while keeping it a secret from everyone else. Roles are different types of villagers and werewolves defined by their special abilities.
- NIGHT PHASE: Everyone closes their eyes and the moderator gives a set of instructions for everyone to follow in turn. Instructions involve having a player open their eyes, do an action, and then close their eyes again. Our moderator was a customisable cell phone narrator. (Very fancy!).
- DAY PHASE: Everyone opens their eyes. It’s up to everyone to then figure out the roles of the other players. Keep in mind that no one can look at their role card at this time and that the roles have probably been switched around or manipulated in some way.
- VOTE PHASE: It’s villagers vs werewolves. At the end of a set discussion time, each player votes trying to “kill” a member of the other team (villagers / werewolves). Majority vote decides who “dies.” If that player is a villager, werewolves win and visa versa.
One Night Were Wolf Chang Edition
For One Night Ultimate Wereworlf, Chang is both a player and a game designer. He is very clear about why he dislikes playing with certain cards and articulates his idea of a well-balanced deck. Most often we discuss balance in terms of preventing game elements from being too powerful or too weak. In Chang’s case, he considers the difficulty of his deck for new players and the balance of skill, which he expresses as warding against too many “chaotic” elements. Notice in the video how others in the room like character cards that Chang dislikes. Often Chang chose not to include a card into his deck because of the deck’s overall balance not because he’s against the particular card.
The following are comments and notes extracted from our conversation with Chang.
“My goal for smaller games and [when playing with ] people who are new, [is to remove] cards that have too much chaos or cards that don’t introduce fun into the game (sit out roles or taking people out of the game. E.G. villager, revealer).“ ~Chang
- In One Night Ultimate Werewolf, you need to figure out what role you are and figure out what everyone else is. You can only do it based on what other people say and the werewolves don’t want you to know that they’re werewolves. This game is about lying. That’s the difficult part and the most fun part. It’s like a group puzzle.
- When you play regular Mafia you already know your own role, but with One Night Ultimate Werewolf, you may think you’re one role in the night phase, but in the day phase you might not be that role anymore.
- Removing players from the game is a problem with Mafia. You can take out a player very early and that person doesn’t get to play more until the whole game is over which can take anywhere from 10-30 minutes.
- Chang likes the Alpha Wolf card because it adds or removes a wolf card and this isn’t too chaotic.
- According to Chang, One Night needs at least 5 people to be consistently fun. 10-player games are still fun but some people get left out of the discussion part because there are too many voices.
- The Villager role doesn’t have a special ability Having this role in the game means Werewolves can claim that they’re a villager and thus don’t have to make up a dangerous lie about using a special ability they didn’t actually use.
- Whoever the Bodyguard points to during the VOTE PHASE is protected from being killed. Chang thinks it would be more interesting if the Bodyguard role could only protect Werewolves as a Werewolf-Bodyguard. Villagers by default have more power than Werewolves because the more people discuss the easier it is for werewolves to expose themselves. If the Werewolf-Bodyguard existed, that player can listen in on the discussion, and then upset the Villager’s voting efforts by protecting a werewolf caught in a lie.
- Chang introduces the Paranormal Investigator into his deck when playing with an experienced group of players because the role has more complicated rules than most roles.
- In Chang’s idea of a well-balanced game there should never be a role that is a “0%” where there is no reasonable way to find out who has the role or what actions were taken during the Night phase. Likewise no role should be 100% where it’s too easy to find out who has the role and that role does the same action in the same way every time. This means Chang doesn’t play with the Revealer card, a role that reveals another player’s role for the DAY PHASE.
- Village Idiot creates complete chaos by switching around all the role cards (excluding his own card) in a clockwise or counter-clockwise fashion at the end of the NIGHT PHASE. This role can nullify strategic choices made by other players by scrambling the order of things. The role always goes last and thus has a ton of (chaotic) power.
- During the NIGHT PHASE the Drunk switches two players’ roles without looking at them. During the DAY PHASE it’s very hard for the group to gather enough information to follow the trail and figure out what the Drunk did. The Drunk doesn’t make informed decisions in the NIGHT PHASE and does not gather much information to share with the group in the DAY PHASE. The Drunk is essentially a dice role.
- “The deck I created is more structured and balanced, creating uncertainty without making it too confusing.” ~Chang. I like how Chang doesn’t completely reject all elements of “chaos” from his games, but, like randomness (which essentially the function of the Drunk), a touch goes a long way.