January 26, 2011

A broken version of Werewolf

(Wolves are AWESOME!)

I’ve been playing Werewolf rather much these last few months. It’s been fun and I’ve learned a lot about the game, but things have not always gone as smoothly as one would wish. I decided to write this to clear things up for myself on exactly how and why certain changes to the core mechanic lead to unbalanced rounds.

First of all, I won’t go into the details of the basic game mechanics. In a nutshell Werewolf (or Mafia as it’s often called) is a game about group dynamics, guessing, acting, bluffing, theorizing and, often, mass hysteria. Wikipedia has a good roundup of the basic rules and also lists some of the game’s multiple variations.

Basic Werewolf works well because it has very simple core rules which allow for a deep and elegant playing experience. Now, the games I’ve been playing lately are not vanilla Werewolf but instead are based on a card game called Lupus in Tabula. Lupus in Tabula itself is a very balanced game that works efficiently because it has clear instructions on the ratio of Villagers, Werewolves and special roles.*

The problem is, the variant I’ve been playing borrows the special roles from Lupus in Tabula (with some modifications thrown in with the mix) but not the distribution of the roles nor the other instructions given on how to run the game. The rest of the variant is pure homebrew Werewolf. That means the rounds become extremely unbalanced as no guidelines are used to control the amount of special roles. Everyone likes a special character, so why not give almost everyone some neat skill, right?

Um. Wrong. It breaks the game. It makes the Werewolves’ task nigh impossible, the best proof of which is that the Wolves have won, I think, only a few of the numerous rounds played. Far fewer than they would have in the standard Lupus in Tabula or Werewolf.

The reason the special roles break the game is they make bluffing and lying too difficult for the Wolves. Basically, the Wolves lose their hiding places when everyone is special. If the majority of players are Villagers, the Wolves can claim to be Villagers as well. But the more roles you have, the more complex things get and the more difficult it is for a Wolf to keep their cover story straight.

I’ve tried to address this problem to the other players but so far it’s been to no avail, the counterargument being that since no one knows for certain which role you are playing, the wolves can just lie, and their lies are all the more effective because there are a lot of roles for them to choose from. I disagree.