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Are You the Traitor?» Forums » Reviews

Subject: A werewolf fan's view - including rules discussion. rss

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Lou Mad
United Kingdom
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Myself:

I’m a casual, sometime gamer, who is much more in it as a stimulus to social activity than a dry, rational experience. However I do enjoy getting my brain-cells out for a game that keeps them busy. I’m a big fan of werewolf, and as so many posts in this forum are about wondering how this game compares, and indeed I wondered that before I bought this game, I won’t try to keep them out of this one.

I’m also a person who has a few problems getting werewolf games because of the number of people involved, and also that when I do find myself with ten or so people willing to play, they are rarely gamers themselves, so I have to teach and then lead most games I get to play. I personally was attracted to Traitor mainly for these reasons.

Production:

The game consists entirely of cards. A deck of treasure cards, which reward the team that win, and a set of cards to denote the roles in the game. I enjoyed the artwork, it’s colourful and fun, and gives each role a unique look that lends itself easily to goofy roleplaying and chat. The treasures look nice, and there’s a little reference in there for Pyramid fans.

A nice detail is that player aids are printed on the back of the role cards. This encourages everyone to keep their card in plain sight in front of them. The downside is that these aids are very necessary, as the details of play can be confusing.

Others have complained that the cardstock is a bit light, and I agree. But much like playing with commercial games of werewolf, the role cards will take some beating. During our games they were slapped back to the table in disgust, peeled up so people could peek underneath without showing them to others, held in sweaty palms, and for a party game like this will inevitably get close to food and drink. I’m not a big fan of sleeving, but I sleeved these ten cards after the first few rounds. No matter what quality they were they’d be at risk, I recommend getting the handful of sleeves required.

The box is a little odd-shaped, oversized for the cards with a flimsy insert which can be bent a bit to fit the sleeved cards in. I may be tempted to discard it later, which will let the cards rattle about a little.

The story and roles:

A key that unlocks a great evil must stay out of the hands of evil wizards who would misuse it’s terrible power. A good wizard is capable of destroying the key. The keyholder attempts to carry the key to a good wizard, accompanied by guards. But one or more of these guards is a traitor on the side of evil.

This translates to:
The Key holder(Good) is looking for the Good Wizard(Good)
The Good Wizard(Good) is looking for the Traitor(Evil)
The Guard(Good) is looking for the Traitor(Evil)
The Evil Wizard(Evil) is looking for the Keyholder(Good)
The Traitor(Evil) isn’t looking for anyone.

The roles are determined by dealing out cards at the start of play. Wizards get a second card pick to decide whether they’re good or evil. With various numbers of players, wizards then guards then traitors are increased in number. Again as numbers increase, the knowledge each role gets increased. At first everyone only knows who the wizards are, with six players all but the wizards know the identity of the keyholder. At eight players, when a second traitor is introduced, the traitors know each others identity.

Gameplay:

Play proceeds in rounds, which are quite short. Each round is ended by a player shouting stop, and pointing at one of the others. Each role is searching for a particular other to point at, so it’s important to remember the story above as a rationale for who you’re looking out for. This is laid out in the instructions in a nice diagram with arrows, and on the back of role cards.

If the pointing player is correct, everyone on their ‘team’, good or evil, receives a treasure card with various denominations (kept secret). If they’re wrong (or have pointed out a role they weren’t supposed to be looking for in the first place) the other team receive cards. Then the roles are shuffled and dealt again for the next round. The winner is the first to ten points.

The rules are simple, but of course the game becomes more complex. Actually the complicated system of who is after who makes early games quite confusing. It’s common for new players to point at someone with an accusation they’re the traitor (or something) when they are not searching for the traitor themselves. This of course is an automatic lose. But then the round ends, cards are redealt and it’s easy for that confusion to be compounded by immediately having to play a different role.

Even getting over that confusion, it’s difficult to initially figure out what your own focus is, and what lies it’s in your interest to tell. For example, if the traitor convincingly claims to be the keyholder, this might lead their ally the evil wizard into choosing them and losing a game for the evil team.

For that reason, and I think rightly so, this game is a bit of a slow-builder. As other reviewers have pointed out, sometimes it’s hard to figure out what you should be saying, and the whole game is built on people saying quite a lot. The looney lab website gives some strategy advice, which boils down mainly to ‘ask plenty of clear questions’. The Derren Brown fans in my group favour questions like: 'Look into my face, and tell me again you’re the good wizard and are trying to find the traitor'.

As rounds progress, it slowly becomes clearer what kind of claims to make. But also the need for constant, silly lying lends itself to developing in-jokes and tricks. Players gain reputations for giving particular kind of answers, and you do lots of staring into people’s faces trying to spot their tells. In my group it’s fashionable to claim to be the keyholder at the start of a round, no matter what role you have, meaning it can be quite a safe strategy for the real keyholder to do so.

The strength of the game is that many rounds are played, and as it’s a quick game maybe also several games, so the later rounds become increasingly serious and competitive as you’re able to put your learning about the other players into practice. In my experience this game has had much more of an ‘icebreaker’ quality than werewolf, as the round structure encourages people to warm up and get talking and giggling. Also, it seems less possible for particular people not to speak. In every game the identity of nearly all the roles are important to somebody, so people will question you and urge you to speak no matter how quiet you are.

Comparison:

As I’m sure most readers are thinking this, I’ll give a few points of comparison with werewolf. Overall this game doesn’t feel much like werewolf, so I think I’d say it shares a mechanic more than anything else. That is, freeform talking, and making deductions based on the words and behaviours of other players.

In terms of the shape of the game, however, there are few similarities. Traitor is played over a shorter time period, with a smaller number of players. There’s no leader required, and with this and the smaller number of players, it’s more of a lean-forward, round-the-table game, than a whole-room large-party game where you shout over people’s heads.
These things have several implications. As a 4-10 player quick game, this can be played as a filler for lots of situations, including those waiting for a game of werewolf, or to split a gaming group later in the evening, also it’s much more practical for train stations and waiting rooms.

It’s more manageable size also means players can quickly become more skilled and familiar with the game, and is much more likely to be played regularly. This is a big deal for me, as I play werewolf mainly with quite naive groups, where people aren’t very interested in figuring out elaborate tactics. With Traitor I look forward to my regular groups (and even casual ones as the evening progresses), getting canny enough for some quite tricky play.

I also disagree with several comments round this forum that this game is more random than werewolf. There are lots of clues in people’s actions as to what their role is. Each character is searching for one other, so are really only interested in finding out who they are. The more players there are, the more shared information there is, so traitors for example are trying to signal to (who they hope are) evil wizards their knowledge about the keyholder, while guards are trying to get themselves in the line of fire. This set of motivations, to my eyes, provide more opportunities for suspicious behaviour than such clues as wolves working together. Although I think they may take longer to learn - my one criticism of this game is that early rounds can be very confusing, and you have to quickly shift into a whole other set of motivations when the round changes and you’re given a new role.

A game of Traitor feels less epic than a game of werewolf, and takes another step away from a real roleplaying game (actually there isn’t even the chance for a bit of ham roleplaying, as your identity is secret unless you’re the wizard). No one gets killed and has to sit around for the rest of the evening, factions can’t develop round the room, and you don’t get the benefit of a good leader describing the scene. It’s answer to this is a much quicker and tighter game, which is considerably easier to bring to the table. To my mind it scratches a lot of the itches for a game based on discussion and argument, knowledge of your friends, and shouted accusations, but it’s different enough that it doesn’t replace werewolf and doesn’t need to.
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Ryan McGuire
United States
South Euclid
Ohio
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Re: The cards.

I hadn't noticed the flimsiness before you mentioned it, but that I look at the cards, I kinda see what you mean. Another issue I noticed is that the card backs are all relatively dark. That in and of itself isn't bad, except that it's hard to sort the character and wizard cards quickly between rounds. Sorting them face up doesn't help much, because the art work for the wizard alignment faces is in the same style as for the regular character cards.

As it turns out, the solution to this is also the solution to the flimsiness issue: sleeves. I have blue sleeves for character cards, purple for the wizard alignment cards and silver for treasure cards.

Two birds - one stone.
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Bryan Stout
United States
Annandale
Virginia
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ryanker wrote:
Re: The cards.

I hadn't noticed the flimsiness before you mentioned it, but that I look at the cards, I kinda see what you mean. Another issue I noticed is that the card backs are all relatively dark. That in and of itself isn't bad, except that it's hard to sort the character and wizard cards quickly between rounds. Sorting them face up doesn't help much, because the art work for the wizard alignment faces is in the same style as for the regular character cards.

I was a Lab Rabbit at Origins last year, and I asked about the issues you mentioned -- the darkness and the similarity between the card backs. It turns out that Andy Looney & co. were not very happy with it, but the card art had already gone through several rounds, and they didn't have time for more changes before Origins, and it was good enough to be released for that important event.

Quote:
As it turns out, the solution to this is also the solution to the flimsiness issue: sleeves. I have blue sleeves for character cards, purple for the wizard alignment cards and silver for treasure cards.

Two birds - one stone.

Good solution.
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