|Name||One Night Ultimate Werewolf (2014)|
|Review||Meeple Like Us|
|BGG Rank||311 [7.22]|
|Player Count (recommended)||3-10 (4-10)|
|Designer(s)||Ted Alspach and Akihisa Okui|
|Buy it!||Amazon Link|
There are very few games that manage to take five minutes of play and pack them so thickly with activity that light can’t escape their pull. One Night Ultimate Werewolf though is one of them – its four star review measures its black hole density as much as its quality. Let’s say you like the look of it. Let’s say I’ve talked you into making it part of your gaming lifestyle – is it something you could play? The token in front of it will determine whether or not it’s gonna get lynched. Open your eyes. AHR YEW A CAWP?
Nothing to worry about here – colour isn’t the only channel of information in any of the roles.
The game comes with some tokens that can be distributed around the various players to represent ‘communal agreement’ as to who is who – none of these have any colour information that will be lost.
Since the role cards and the tokens are the only components that come with the game, we can regard ONUW as deserving of a strong recommendation.
The game only requires two passes of visual parsing. The first is when you look at your token. These are well contrasted, in a large font, and with unique portraits images. They are relatively easy to distinguish. This doesn’t have to be a time limited step either – the count-down begins when everyone is ready, so there’s plenty of scope for closer examination of the cards with an assistive aid if necessary.
However, during the night phase there will be points at which individual roles are asked to ‘awaken’ and perform some kind of action. This is a more problematic area. For example:
- Werewolves and masons are expected to open their eyes and make eye contact. For those with visual impairments, this may not be particularly feasible.
- Seers are expected to open their eyes and examine either two of the undistributed cards in the centre, or the role of another player.
- Minions are expected to be able to identify werewolves by a raised thumb.
- The robber can swap their card for someone else’s card, and gets to look at it before placing it face down again.
- The troublemaker can swap the cards of two other players, without looking at either.
For some of these, it’s relatively easy to substitute a different mode of identification – raised hands, for example, for masons and werewolves. However, every single thing you do in ONUW can signal information, up to and including the change of air flow that happens when someone beside you raises a hand. The whisper of clothing can be enough to reveal key gameplay information.
The game can be played without app support, or it can be played with an app handling the announcer script. This app is great – it gives a huge amount of configurability over timing, pacing, and volume of the background music. You can put longer pauses in place between role announcements if some extra time is needed. If you’re using a player as an announcer, you can obviously add as much of a delay as you want.
More troublesome though again is the fact that ONUW benefits immensely from stealth. Ideally you want to be able to check or swap cards without anyone knowing you’ve done it, and that may not be possible in situations where visual impairment must be considered. For this, there are rarely any truly effective workarounds other than a non-participating player doing the checking and whispering the results back.
Still, we’re going to offer a tentative recommendation here – the game absolutely will be playable if you can get around the need for time-limited stealthy examination or manipulation of cards. That is a not insignificant barrier, but also not an insurmountable one.
ONUW is not a complex game, and even the roles that you select (aside from the Doppelganger) will have only a handful of rules to go with them. The app talks you through each step of the instructions so that you’ll know what you can do and when you should do it. Rule-wise, it should present no difficulty.
The cognitive cost of ONUW resides in the ‘day’ phase, and the meta-game that emerges. So much of ONUW is focused on deduction, reading people, and remembering how they have behaved in the past. The game has a strict time-limit (although one that is set by common consensus) and the pressures that puts on play can be such that gameplay benefit comes from being able to successfully obfuscate. You’re not just trying to find (or hide) the identity of werewolves, you’re often trying to confuse other people so that they remain in a state of unsure speculation. Time pressures make that easier to do if someone gets confused or flustered.
As an example of this, consider the following. Player A looks at the card of Player C, and finds out that they’re a werewolf. Player B is a robber, and stole the card from player C. Player C was a werewolf, so now their roles are opposite. Player D swaps the cards of players A and B. Then everyone opens their eyes. If we put that in tabular form, we’d see:
|Player||What they started as||What they think they are||What they actually are|
Now, we have Player B that is going to want to pretend they didn’t swap with Player C, because that would instantly give player C the incentive to out them as a werewolf. Player A would be able to offer confirmation of that, since they looked at Player C’s cards. The troublemaker may admit that they swapped A and B, but if B is denying they are a werewolf they have a vested interest in obfuscation. All the while, player C thinks that they are the werewolf.
This is where the fun of ONUW comes in, in unpicking the convoluted role swapping and trying to work out who is lying. However, this does put a fair emphasis on memory (remembering who claims what) and fluid intelligence (to unpick the chain of deduction), and everyone on the opposite team is incentivised to make the flow of logic as tricky to unpick as possible. So much of that depends on credibly running out the clock while everyone is unsure, so that you force a vote on preferential terms.
For the memory management element, the game comes with tokens that can be distributed to show the current communal state of understanding, but that doesn’t necessarily reflect the truth of the matter, especially when the game begins and everyone starts to lie:
|Player||What they started as||What they think they are||What they actually are||What they say they are|
You can’t trust any information you have, up to and including the role you had at the beginning of the game.
The complexity of play is going to depend very much on what special roles are available – some of these are simpler than others. Role swapping is important to keeping the game fresh and interesting, but it’s also the key contributor to cognitive complexity. Other roles can be substituted to reduce the difficulty, such as masons (villagers that know each other), minions (villagers that know the werewolves, but the werewolves don’t know them), and hunters (if they are killed, they kill the person they are voting for too). Some role combinations work better than others, but you can probably find one that is fun whilst not taxing cognitive faculties.
By removing the role swapping, you change the puzzle of ONUW from ‘part deduction, part lying’ to a game that is almost entirely about lying. It won’t be as interesting, but it’s probably interesting enough to keep it worth playing.
We’ll offer a tentative recommendation for ONUW in both of our usual cognitive categories – there is a more cognitively accessible game you can put together from the parts you have available, but whether it’s worth playing (and whether it’s appropriate for your group) will depend very much on the kind of issues you are trying to consider.
It’s a game that is all about lying, and all about being found out in lying. It’s a game of shifting allegiances, and staggering betrayal. If everyone can keep in the mind-set that this is a funny, anarchic game of role reversal and uncertain information, it’ll be fine. If everyone can keep in that mind-set.
Here are some things to consider in ONUW:
- If you are the werewolf, you will have to lie.
- If you are one of two werewolves, you will have to work together and support each other.
- If you are one of two werewolves, and they find out they’re no longer a werewolf, they will turn on you and there’s not much you can do about it.
- What you think you are may not be what you actually are
- What someone else thinks you are may not be what you actually are
- Everyone cross-examining you is trying to force you to reveal information you might not want revealed.
ONUW is a game of very fragile, short-term alliances and of real-world relationships being leveraged for in-game advantage. It’s all fair game to exploit an existing personal relationship to gain sympathy or credibility, only to turn around and make that person look like a fool. And vice versa.
It’s also a game where you are have to arrange at least some degree of ganging up if you are to kill a werewolf. If everyone votes for everyone else, it’s a tie and the werewolves (if they exist) win. The player with the most votes is killed, and only if they get more than one vote. So if you are a villager, you need to convince people to gang up on other players. If you’re the werewolf, you need to turn attention towards an otherwise innocent party. You need to drip poison into the ears of everyone else, knowing that you’re sentencing an innocent person to death. Metaphorically.
More than that, there is game benefit to be had in stridency. You want to keep people mentally off balance, and catch them up on any slight inconsistency and brief moment of confusion. You want to fake motives for them, and then point out to the table how base their motivations are. A hectoring, bullying player (even if it’s artificial) can reap benefits a more calm, measured player would not. And if you don’t cope well with cross-examination or the like, you’ll find yourself sucking the fuzzy end of the lollipop more often than statistical distribution would imply.
As it’s a game of logical deduction, obfuscation, and clever lying there’s an extent to which performance is bound up into the fundamental competencies of your own person. If you can’t convince someone you’re on the level, it’s because you failed – there are no mechanics to take the blame. Likewise, if someone fools you into thinking they’re something other than what they are, they fooled you.
All of this said, it’s not a game that strongly emphasises scoring, or anything other than the immediacy of the experience. Some groups do keep score by assigning tokens to the winners in each round, but it’s entirely optional. Games are over so quickly, and the consequences so slight, that I’m still prepared to recommend it in this category. Being fooled is its own delight, as is being the innocent victim of a wolf-hunt. The meta-game of ONUW will right all wrongs over time, and it can be gratifying to know that your own strengths and weaknesses as a player are helping form the context of each later round. Being the victim of a poor decision can give you an advantage in the next game. As usual though, bear the discussion above in mind when considering it for adoption in your own group.
As we’ve discussed a few times in this teardown, ONUW is a game that is as much about stealth as it is about lying and deduction. Being able to quietly manipulate cards is a key game skill, and while there are ways to limit incidental noise and other signals they don’t eliminate it. For example, playing the night phase while standing means that you eliminate the creak and squeak of furniture, but you’ll still often see the light change behind your eyes, or the sound of your card being adjusted.
If you’re playing around a small table, physical constraints might not be a serious issue – but the more players you have, the more time is needed for the night phase for any role that involves card manipulation. For many players, it won’t be possible to do this stealthily, within a time constraint, without giving away not only that a card was manipulated, but who manipulated it.
Some roles require a degree of physical acting too – for example, werewolves identify each other by eye contact, but identify themselves to the minion with raised thumbs. Obviously you can substitute other gestures for this, or leave that role out of play. You can certainly come up with a role combination that is completely physically accessible, but not one that keeps the most interesting elements of role swapping in circulation.
For the stealth aspect, there are workarounds. The most obvious one is making everyone at the table contribute to background noise – coughing, sniffing, moving, sitting up and down, and so on. It makes the announcer more difficult to hear, but it can mask otherwise obvious sensory clues. This, along with the flexibility of the timer, can do a lot in terms of dealing with the stealth aspects.
That leaves though the necessity to manipulate cards across the table. You might want to swap cards with someone at the far corner of where you are, and swap them with someone else hard to reach. If there is a limited area of interaction for a player, that narrows down the possibilities and restricts their ability to meaningfully lie. You can’t say ‘Oh, I swapped Bill and Jen’ if they’re at the opposite side of a table and you couldn’t physically have done it within the time constraints. Similarly, if you are unable to physically interact at all, you won’t be able to credibly claim you did any manipulation.
For most games, we talk about verbalisation as a solution – that’s possible only if there is someone not playing, but it is otherwise feasible. The interesting thing about ONUW is that it can be as fun to watch as it is to play – there is a real delight that comes from being the only person in the game that knows who did what to the cards. As such, while verbalisation of instructions is not possible if everyone is actively playing, it’s certainly possible if someone is willing to sit out a round to handle it.. You’ll need to work out some kind of silent vocabulary for the inactive player to support in this, but that need not be very difficult. A meaningful glance with the eyes can speak volumes, and the configurability of timing in the night phase means that you can adjust the experience to the requirements.
We’re prepared, just, to offer a tentative recommendation for ONUW, but bear in mind these significant caveats. You can undoubtedly come up with a playable combination of compensations, roles, and background noise. It’ll take experimentation, but you’ll find a way through if you really want to play.
It’s quite rare that we have anything substantial to say in this section, but we’ve got a lot to talk about for ONUW.
First of all, it’s a game of auditory cues. Whether you have a dedicated player acting as an announcer, or if you’re using the app, the expectation is that you’ll be able to hear the instructions and act upon them. You can’t unfortunately just substitute visual cues for this because you’ll see things that you shouldn’t see. Physical cues, such as a tap on the shoulder, would be possible but would require either an announcer that was not playing the game, or some easily missed physical clue such as the vibrations caused by knocking on a table.
At the other end of this, the incidental clues people give in terms of the sounds they make are an important channel of information. They’re not strictly speaking part of the game, but if everyone but you can hear the swish of someone’s jacket it’s going to create an information asymmetry.
Once the day phase begins, ONUW is a game that is entirely about lying and communication, and inevitably the most articulate voices will be the most convincing. There’s a lot of ‘rudeness’ that goes into good play, such as talking over people you don’t want anyone listening to, or trying to confuse them or misrepresent what they have said. Verbal fluency is important to making your point, and there will likely be people around the table trying very hard to actively undermine your ability to effectively communicate. That’s going to negatively impact upon a whole range of communicative accessibility requirements.
Depending on the size of the group, it’s also quite possible there will be multiple sub-discussions happening at once as smaller groups of people argue their own points in parallel with others. For small groups, it should be a bit more civil – for groups of ten (which is what the box supports) it might be difficult to pick out key information from the conversational soundscape.
Even if there isn’t a direct communicative impairment to consider, ONUW puts a huge degree of emphasis onto social communication, and requires a lot of lying, bluffing, and communication of strategy. It’s also a game where your fluency in deceit is going to be an issue. If someone turns to you and says ‘What are you’ and you say ‘The seer’ and they ask ‘what did you see’, any hesitation is going to rob you of credibility. In more convivial surroundings, people would make the effort to compensate for this. In ONUW, that’s just a tool they have to help make their own case while undermining yours. The werewolves are going to be trying to take advantage of any lapse of eloquence. If you are the werewolf, the villagers will be using these same lapses to build their case for lynching you.
Now, you might think ‘So that means communication impairments might be useful, because werewolves will reveal themselves’ but concentrated listening is also a type of deceit if a werewolf wants to appear on your side. So much of ONUW is assessing intention and lying well that it stresses almost every factor of communication.
We don’t recommend ONUW in this category.
The artwork is nicely gender balanced, and even the buxom troublemaker stays safely on the good side of the ‘sexy but not sexualised’ line.
There’s even a blend of skin-tones and body shapes to round out the offering, which is nice. Given the limited number of roles available in the box, greater diversity may have been a little too much to expect.
The theme here is a minor worry, and its largely only if you are dealing with smaller children. As comical as the portrayal of the game is, you’re still voting on killing people around the table. Not only that, it’s a game where you’re basically normalising deceit and lying – that’s a skill you may not be entirely happy you taught so well when they are rebellious teenagers.
At an RRP of £25, it’s surprisingly pricey for a game that you can easily make yourself from a few cards. True, the card quality is nice and the production values are top notch, but it’s still more than you might expect given what you get. Luckily, you can usually find it marked down to a more reasonable £15 if you look hard enough. ONUW does have a very flexible player count though, supporting from three to ten players. I’d advise away from three though, and I suspect it probably becomes a shade too anarchic at counts greater than eight. That’s an observation borne out to an extent by the BGG recommended player counts.
Overall, we recommend ONUW in this category.
We have offered a tentative recommendation for ONUW in both the visual and physical accessibility categories. These are fragile recommendations, and if there is an intersectional consideration then the various issues we have discussed will compound – physical interaction is something that can be compensated for if visual acuity is good. Otherwise, every single attempt to interact with the game will be met with additional awkwardness and fumbling. Likewise, visual impairment need not be a critical problem if physical precision is high. If it is not, then the additional complicating factors likely render the game inaccessible.
The game works around time constraints, and while these are flexible they are likely to be a problem across the board in both day and night phases. You don’t know in advance which roles are going to need ‘extra time’, and there’s no way to communicate that (except via having a dedicated moderator) that doesn’t reveal information to the table. The time needed is going to depend not only on the specific impairments but on the geography of the gameplay. It might be a matter of seconds for a player to swap their card with a neighbours, but an exponentially more difficult task to swap two cards between two players at the other end of the table. For the day phase, while the physical and visual issues will no longer be relevant (since from that point on it’s all about conversation) it will impact heavily on cognitive and communicative faculties.
ONUW is part team based and part competitive, but the problem is that you don’t necessarily know who is on your team, and allegiances you thought were in place may not remain so by the end of the day phase. Competitive games always create intersectional considerations, but it’s especially true here because of the extent to which the competition is directly, and personally, adversarial. Sometimes you win by forcing someone else to look stupid, or clumsy, or inarticulate. That doesn’t create the context within which friendly support for accessibility requirements can be expected. To a certain extent, letting you make mistakes and capitalising upon them is just part of what it means to play. That’s true even if errors are due to accessibility related information deficiency.
The main point ONUW has in its favour though is how short it can be – it’s around a minute for the night phase and five minutes for the day phase (by default). Even if you radically extend the time of each of these to deal with accessibility considerations you’re still looking at a game you can play three or four times in an hour. As such, while it doesn’t technically support dropping in and out of a round, it does support phased involvement as people sit out rounds. As long as you’ve got three (or ideally more) people playing you’re still going to have as much fun. ONUW is also a good spectator game – it can be fun to watch it for those not actively participating.
The other factor ONUW has in its favour is how easily it supports mixing things up – this is great from a freshness perspective, but also tremendous in terms of accessibility. The ability to remove difficult roles, change timing, and support play with the app, is a major boon.
As usual, every game we look at on Meeple Like Us introduces new subtleties. At this point we’ve looked at around fifty games, and there hasn’t been a single one where I could say ‘It’s exactly the same as X’. Here, ONUW introduces a new wrinkle – the need for stealthy manipulation of the cards in front of other people. That one single element gives it uniqueness.
It’s highly likely that ONUW would have received much poorer results if it hadn’t done so much to make the game experience configurable. If cognitive complexity is an issue, make use of simpler roles. If stealthy movement is an issue, pump up the volume on the app (or add in your own noises to play). If time to perform actions is critical, add more time between opening and closing of eyes. Memory problems? Have a pile of tokens to help you out. Its flexible design manages to ensure a reasonably robust performance.
We gave One Night Ultimate Werewolf a howling good four stars. While it’s not going to be a promising offering for those where deafness, expression, or social communication are constrained, it does offer a rich, deep, and very funny experience for those willing to experiment within its parameters. More games could do with offering the same range of possibilities as ONUW, and I hope we encounter more as we go on.
A word about teardowns
Meeple Like Us is engaged in mapping out the accessibility landscape of tabletop games. Teardowns like this are data points. Games are not necessarily bad if they are scored poorly in any given section. They are not necessarily good if they score highly. The rating of a game in terms of its accessibility is not an indication as to its quality as a recreational product. These teardowns though however allow those with physical, cognitive and visual accessibility impairments to make an informed decision as to their ability to play.
Not all sections of this document will be relevant to every person. We consider matters of diversity, representation and inclusion to be important accessibility issues. If this offends you, then this will not be the blog for you. We will not debate with anyone whether these issues are worthy of discussion. You can check out our common response to common objections.
Teardowns are provided under a CC-BY 4.0 license. However, recommendation grades in teardowns are usually subjective and based primarily on heuristic analysis rather than embodied experience. No guarantee is made as to their correctness. Bear that in mind if adopting them.