Let’s talk about Werewolf.
If you’re familiar, it started as a simple card game where players are either a villager or a werewolf. The goal of the werewolves is to kill all the villagers and not get caught; the goal of the villagers is to flush out the wolf in sheep’s clothing.
Since its inception, there have been at least four or five different versions. One Night Ultimate Werewolf: Daybreak, the newest rendition, was listed on Popular Science’s top 50 best new board games, and I’m a little conflicted about that. Not because Werewolf isn’t a great game—because it is—but because each version keeps adding more and more elements and seems to think that they’re improving the game.
The first really popular version of this game came out in 2001, and was titled Werewolves of Miller’s Hollow. It had five special roles (the cupid, the hunter, the thief, the witch, and the little girl), two werewolf cards, and then the rest of the players would be villagers. You can really play with as many people as you want with this version.
I really like this rendition, because it’s pretty simple, but has the option for more complexity if you add in those special roles. The card design is fitting for the theme—a little spooky, and not overly sophisticated. It’s nice a simple. One player takes on the role of storyteller and facilitates the gameplay, weaving whatever kind of scenario they want.
The newer versions even have an app you download that plays the role of storyteller for you. The game is faster paced and more roles offer a little more versatility, but I found the addition of the app storyteller really disappointing. There’s no wiggle room for player creativity, and the story doesn’t change in fun unexpected ways the way it can when a player is the storyteller. For players who may like not having the pressure of being the storyteller, this version solves that problem well, and the storytelling itself is very well produced. T
The addition of different roles is pretty fun, and allows for interesting inter-player dynamics as they try to lie and manipulate each other, but in my opinion there was nothing added in this version that made it better than the original mentioned above.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a fun party game, and you figure out the roles pretty quickly and learn how to mess with each other.
But do you need that many roles? At what point does it begin to weigh the game down rather than offer a richer experience? And what is up with this art style? It’s a little goofy, almost cartoonish. If this is supposed to be a game about intrigue and deception with a horror theme, why would anyone choose this style of art to convey those themes? It’s not bad artwork by any means, but it’s cute, and that seems very incongruous with the game’s overall goals. It seems to me like the trajectory has been to add more and more elements rather than make the game better. Maybe that’s my minimalist preferences showing through, but personal experience with the different versions has held true to my general opinions about the game.
Games like this can be so player-dependent if you give your players a chance to explore the possibilities. While the cards can be helpful to facilitate learning the game or helping players to deception dynamics with the different roles, I find myself drawn to the simpler versions.
Werewolves of Miller Hollow is the perfect blend of versatility with a few roles to liven up the gameplay if you need it, but the option for simplicity and storytelling. I find that games with multiple versions often come to a dilemma; are the changes really making the experience of playing the game better? As a bit of a minimalist, I find the games I enjoy the most are honed to a sleek, almost pure form where every mechanic and component is there for a reason. Not every game has to follow this rule, but in this case I find it to hold true. Werewolves of Miller Hollow captured the spirit and experience of werewolf so well that I find additions and expansions get in the way of the game experience more than they add to it. I’m always down to play any version of this killer party game, but give me good friends and a story any day.
My favorite version of werewolf isn’t pictured here. We knew the rules and the game, so a group of my friends tore up some paper, wrote werewolf or villager on them, and passed them out. Our friend who DMs RPGs like Tolkien himself spun yarns about the world in which we found ourselves, made us laugh, set the tone of spooky uncertainty as we were picked off one by one. We were accusing left and right, and the werewolves ended up winning because they were such damn good liars and played us off one another. It was easily the most fun round of werewolf I’ve ever played, and we didn’t even have any cards.