I have been running games of Werewolf for over twenty years. I think it’s a fantastic gaming experience that virtually no other game has really managed to replicate.
It’s not without its issues though. The main one being player elimination in a game that can last 1 – 2 hours. There’s a limit to how much fun you can derive from sitting around for an hour watching other people play a game.
There have been a number of (very successful) attempts to deal with this such as One Night Ultimate Werewolf and Secret Hitler. However, they are significantly shorter and while they avoid the player elimination, they lose some of the bluffing and double bluffing over an extended period that can make Werewolf feel so epic.
Enter Blood on the Clocktower: a re-imagining of the original Werewolf. It claims to fix many of the issues without compromising the epic feel. Let me tell you about it…
Blood on the Clocktower appeared on Kickstarter earlier this year and is due to be delivered to backers early next year. I was fortunate enough to take part in a demo this week at The Dice Cup (my local boardgame cafe).
In many ways it really is very similar to Werewolf. There’s a night phase (when players have their eyes closed) where people use special powers, discover hidden information and the baddies kill off one of the goodies.
Then there’s a day phase where people discuss what they know and vote to execute someone who they think is a baddy. Night and day alternates until the baddies kill all the goodies or the goodies manage to execute the chief bad guy.
However, there are a number of significant differences. Although people get killed off, they can still take part in discussions. Dying has two main effects: your ability stops working and your voting power is significantly dimished.
You don’t find out who someone is when they die, so they can say “I was the Monk and they killed me off to stop me protecting people!” after they’ve died (the Monk points at one person each night and prevents them from being killed). Although if they’re actually a bad guy, they could be lying. There are situations when the bad buys might want to kill one of their own.
In terms of the voting, once you’re dead you only get to vote in one more vote for the rest of the game. So you can use your vote when it really matters, but you need to think very carefully and pick your moment!
This does a great job of keeping people involved throughout the game. Dying really isn’t that big of a deal, although you obviously want to avoid it if you can. The real interest comes in taking part in the discussions.
Another issue with the original Werewolf is that if you’re a villager and have no special role, it can feel pretty dull. You have no useful information and you’re just trying to decide if Steve is lying or not. In Blood on the Clocktower, everyone has a special role.
This has an unexpected side effect. Since everyone potentially has some useful information, you are encouraged to sneak off with people who you think are on your side to have secret discussions. I did this a lot and it really added to the feeling of prolonged espionage. It captured a lot of what makes Two Rooms and a Boom so much fun.
Another feature that I really enjoyed is that you can never be 100% sure about anything. This is due to two crucial roles: the drunk and the poisoner. The drunk is actually given a normal role and to all intents and purposes they believe that they are that role, however their role doesn’t work properly. So if they are the Empath (who gets told how many bad guys are sat next to them), then they might be told the wrong number.
The poisoner is similar, but they are an out-and-out bad guy. Each night they point at someone and it stops that person’s ability from working properly (so again if they point at the Empath, they might be given wrong information).
What’s all this “might”? How can an ability work sometimes and not other times? Well, that’s all down to the storyteller (who acts like a GM). Even more so than the original Werewolf, the storyteller is crucially important to a smooth flowing game. If they mess up, it can ruin the game for everyone.
This is an issue with Werewolf and although Blood on the Clocktower provides ways to help keep track of what’s going on (using the Grimoire), it’s intrinsically a much more complicated game so it’s definitely still an issue. You really need a storyteller who knows what they’re doing.
As long as you do though, they have a lot of power to shape the flow of the game. If the Empath has been poisoned, the storyteller can decide whether to tell the Empath the truth or not. If the goodies are winning, the storyteller could lie, but if the baddies are winning, they could still tell the truth. It can be used as a catch-up mechanic.
Now this might sound chaotic, but it actually worked really well. Most of the information that most people have is correct, but you can never rely 100% on any one piece of information. I’ve been in plenty of games of One Night Ultimate Werewolf where it becomes very obvious to everyone who the Werewolf is and the game just fizzles out. With a skillful storyteller, that’s much less likely to happen here. The lack of certainty provides wiggle room and doubt in any situation.
It also means that there’s more uncertainty about how many good guys and bad guys are left alive, which adds an air of mystery to everything. You may have killed all but one of the bad guys, or you could be surrounded by them!
Overall, I loved it! It is definitively better than Werewolf and any of the longer versions. The main advantage that something like One Night Ultimate Werewolf would have is the length. Blood on the Clocktower is still long (our game with 16 players lasted a little over two hours), but as long as you’re prepared for that, I don’t see it as a downside at all.
We had so many discussions after it had finished about who had done what and when and why this ability didn’t work at that stage. The evening was filled with memorable stories and you can’t ask for more than that from a game like this. If I have the time (and the people!) to play, I would choose Blood on the Clocktower over any other social deduction game at this point. It was fantastic!
Have you had the chance to play it? What do you think?