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Designer/Developer Diary: By Now, You Should Be Expecting the Ultimate Werewolf Inquisition

Ted Alspach
United States
Louisville
Tennessee
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Board Game: Ultimate Werewolf: Inquisition
(Editor's note: Legend Dan Hoffman, designer of Ultimate Werewolf: Inquisition, wrote the first half of this diary; publisher Ted Alspach of Bézier Games took over after the ••• break midway through. —WEM)

An Idea...

I fell in love with the game of Werewolf many years ago back at World Boardgaming Championships. We used a deck of playing cards, and our moderator frequently stacked the deck and lied about which roles the wolves killed, but the game was still great. I'd look forward to the nightly Werewolf games at every convention I attended. Before too long, I became known as "the Werewolf guy" and people were counting on me to get the game started every night. But oddly enough, the design of Ultimate Werewolf: Inquisition began by not playing Werewolf at all.

Flash to my second-ever Gathering of Friends, designer Alan R. Moon's annual gamefest attended by upwards of 300 gamers, including lots of industry folks like designers and publishers. It's getting close to midnight, and we are all ready to start lynching some villagers. There are about fifteen people milling about waiting for the game to start, but nobody would wait at the table. A known Werewolf player would come to the Werewolf table, see that only a few of us were waiting, then wander away. A few people were playing Tichu "until the game started". Bobby saw that we didn't have enough players and went for a beer run. And so on – after almost two hours of seeing people walk away because we didn't have enough players to start, I began to wish that somebody would make a Werewolf game we could play to keep people at the table long enough to get Werewolf started.

A week later I was back at work, with my mindnumbingly boring job and an empty whiteboard. I filled the time and the board with different requirements that a Werewolf game would need. It had to work well with only a handful of players – four to eight. This new game couldn't have any player elimination as then people would be free to walk away. It had to prevent a player from feeling that "I never get a special character" or "I'm always a freaking villager". And finally, it had to feel like you're still playing Werewolf.

I decided that we as players would be overseers of a rustic village. Through careful scientific research, we have decided that several of the villagers are, in fact, werewolves, and it's our duty as good overseers to protect our villagers and hunt and kill all of the wolves. But some of us would be werewolf sympathizers, people who know that the lycanthropy strain is a rare mutation that needs to be isolated and studied! And the best way to isolate the strain is to kill off everybody else.

The village would be represented by face-down cards, with some cards being werewolves, and the rest villagers. The players would kill off these cards instead of each other, keeping all of the real-life human players in until the end of the game. A player's actions could result in adding votes to different cards, and whichever card got the most votes was lynched.

Let's Play

As for what to do on your turn, I decided to steal/borrow the role selection mechanism from Puerto Rico as this allowed me to pull in some of the fun of Werewolf, namely the dozens of special roles. Let's allow every player to have a special role! After a playtest or two, I gave these roles to the people in the village, which added in great flavor. When you accidentally lynch the seer, you can no longer visit the seer's hut – because she's dead. You monster. After the role selection, each player could add another vote to one of the cards that already had votes on it. This gave a good Werewolf feel to the game, with nominations first and a vote afterwards.

To figure out which roles should be available, I wanted to add in everybody's favorite roles from Werewolf. I also wanted to "force" some decisions to be made. The seer was an easy addition: Look at a villager card, and find out whether it's a wolf or not. Thematic! My personal favorite WW role is the Mason, so he made it in. He'll use his secret information to find out whether another player is working on team wolf. I wanted more than one way to learn information about the village cards, so the Sorcerer came in. She uses dark magic to peek at a card, but using her adds three votes to that card. Now there's some forced interaction: "Oh, crap, this is a good card. Protect it!"

The Bodyguard was another natural fit, protecting one of the village cards from being lynched. The Witch is another card Werewolf players love. I made her move votes from one villager to another. Those were the core roles that I felt should be in every game.

At this point I just grabbed roles and tried out things that could be fun. The Pacifist removed all the votes from a villager. After some playtesting, I realized that both the Bodyguard and Witch did the same thing, only in a more fun way, so the Pacifist was (ironically) replaced by the Instigator, who would add one vote to as many cards as he wanted, as long as they didn't already have a vote on them. Thematically, there's always that one guy in a Werewolf game (usually me) who starts shouting out random accusations just to get people talking. In playtest, this card was usually taken by somebody who wasn't sure what to do, but who wanted to have a lot of fun anyway. The Captain would pass around the start player marker, which let someone in the fourth or fifth seat get first crack at the roles next round. Playtesting found this weak with fewer players, though, so he got to add a vote when he got chosen.

The Hunter was another favorite Werewolf role. He originally added three votes in any way the player wanted, but in practice he never had a reason to split up his votes, so the card got changed. The Minion added three votes to anyone who already had votes. The original version of the game had a Town Council, which was a big building where people could go to shout things; this was the basic choice on your turn if all the more powerful roles were either already chosen or killed off.

I designed lots of other roles, too. One of my favorites was the Judge, who would force a player to skip choosing a role, while allowing that player to vote twice during the extra voting round. Other roles ended up getting cut for various reasons, like the Showman, who would show another player your role, or the Gambler, who let you randomize some cards on the board. Most of these got cut as the game was developed.

My favorite role, which ended up getting cut during development, was a super wolf power called Full Moon (which was also the name of the prototype). This power let a player reveal himself to be a werewolf sympathizer, then add five votes to any villager. This was a great "Muahahahaaaa!" moment for any wolf player. Originally it allowed any player to reveal himself, but I found that the villagers would go there first to show themselves as trustworthy, stopping the wolves from ever getting the chance. Development cut this role, adding a brand new night phase instead to let the werewolves get a kill and give more of an Ultimate Werewolf feel to the game.

From gallery of toulouse

Getting Published

I had been a Gathering of Friends attendee for a few years. I had notoriously pitched a different game design (Survival of the Fittest) to anyone who would sit down with me for a few minutes. The results were an overwhelming "This is not publishable; fun, yes, but we could never publish this". My confidence was a bit shaken, and I didn't want to get another big fat rejection on a totally new project.

I was having a lot of fun with Full Moon, though. I brought it with me to the Gathering, hoping to get a few more plays under my belt and garner other opinions. Imagine my surprise when Cedric of Repos Production came up to me and asked to see this new team game people had been talking about! I showed Cedric the game and he loved it. He took a prototype copy back with him to Belgium to look over.

"But wait, Legend Dan!" you say because you have a fondness for shouting at your computer monitor. "I thought this was being published by Bézier Games!" Oh, it is. We're not there yet. Sit back and let my dissociative narrative tell the tale.

A month went by with no word from Repos. Then another month. Then another. Emails were fired off in a reasonably rapid succession with no reply. Resigned, I printed out a fresh prototype and got ready for another year of playtesting. At next year's Gathering, Cedric told me that while he did enjoy the game and wanted to publish it, there were some copyright issues with the company that owned the French version of Werewolf, and he didn't want to step on anybody's toes. Our emails were, for some reason, just not reaching each other.

My confidence was restored, but I had decided that before I showed it to any other publishers, I wanted to get feedback from the wolfman himself, Ted "I designed Ultimate Werewolf" Alspach. "But Legend Dan!" you cry out, again interrupting the story to yell at your computer. "Ted owns Bézier Games! He is a publisher!" Well, yes, I know that now, but I didn't realize that at the time I asked him for his input on the game, so you can imagine my immense surprise when his feedback was the four greatest words in the English language: "Yeah, I'd publish this."

•••

Development

From gallery of toulouse
So, it's 2011, I'm at the Gathering of Friends playing all sorts of great stuff, and Legend Dan keeps harrassing me: "You gotta play this. I want to hear what you think. C'mon, pretty please" and so on. As a game designer and publisher, I try to be careful about what I play that's in the "not found a publisher yet" state. There are two reasons for this: (1) If it hasn't found a publisher yet, there are good odds it just isn't that good and (2) I'm not typically in a position to publish most games I see. (Bézier Games puts out 2-3 games per year in a good year, and I have a backlog of my own games that I'm working, getting them ready for publication.) More honestly, the spectre of spending a couple of hours on a game with a designer who desperately wants you to like his game isn't that much fun. I had known Legend Dan for a few years, as we both played/moderated Werewolf, but our gaming tastes were distinctly different. I don't think we ever played anything other than Werewolf together (maybe a party game or two), but certainly not the latest Eurogame (which I like) and not the latest dungeony rollfest (that Dan likes). So I had a good reason to think, without even seeing the game Legend Dan wanted to show me, that it just wouldn't be a good fit.

But it was a werewolf-themed game called "Full Moon", and Dan described it as a Werewolf board game, and that definitely interested me, if nothing else than for the reason that I enjoyed Shadow Hunters, which also made that claim, and I was curious to see whether the game had something engaging. So I played, and not only did I love the game, but a series of light bulbs went off in my head: With a little tweaking, this could be a new game in the Ultimate Werewolf family. The possibilities were pretty exciting, so I asked Dan whether I could get a copy to play. He sent me the files, I printed it out and started playtesting with some local playtesters, and the results were good enough that I knew I wanted to publish it.

Dan and I hammered out an agreement and then I was off to see how to make "Full Moon" fit into the Ultimate Werewolf line of games. But first, I stopped and wrote up a list of how Ultimate Werewolf differed from other Werewolf games: why was it successful in the crowded field of Werewolf games, and which of those elements would make sense to bring over to "Full Moon". I came up with several: Engaging artwork, variable gameplay through the use of multiple roles that could be added to games, a balancing system to help out the person setting up the game, in-depth rules, and a relatively small footprint that could accommodate expansions. Oh, and it had to have "Ultimate Werewolf" in the title. Ultimate Werewolf: Full Moon? No, that wasn't quite right. Dan suggested "Watchers of Ultimate Werewolf" and that was the working title for the first few months.

Delays and Enhancements

I had already informed Dan that "Full Moon"...er, Watchers wouldn't be out until 2012 as I knew it would take additional development work to get the game ready to go, so playtesting during 2011 was kind of sparse. However, I did go through and "Ultimatize" the game with more interchangable roles, and along the way I discovered that the werewolves had a really hard time winning. With no apparent solution to the problem, I put the game on a shelf and waited for inspiration. Immediately following Spiel 2011 – well, after the first few weeks of playing everything obtained during that show – I went back to work on it, giving it a new name: UWI: Ultimate Werewolf Investigations. While the name was fun and quite accurate, it was too 21st-century sounding, and of course I didn't want to get a cease and desist from CBS, so the name morphed to Inquisition. And as Legend Dan said – he was the first in what I'm sure will be a million more – in an email on January 30, 2012: "No one expects the Werewolf Inquisition!"

From gallery of toulouse
From gallery of toulouse
See her, the Seer. Now see her Seer's hut.
Lots of little changes were taking place in the game. First, resource management with the votes. This made choosing cards more strategic and less obvious, and also made the choice for each player different based upon how many votes he currently had available. Then, I went ahead and got artwork for the huts and redesigned the cards. The Seer/Sorcerer relationship changed so that the sorcerer could "verify" Seer-viewed cards, and the Seer couldn't see cards that were already veiwed. It was better, and the roles were interchangeable, but those poor werewolves could hardly ever eke out a win, try as they might.

Inspiration struck following a playtest session (which was kind of annoying because the playtesters weren't available anymore), and I added a night phase to take place after the voting, giving the werewolves two advantages: (1) They could kill off a villager of their choice and (2) They could see some of the cards that way. In addition, they now had a night zero phase in which they found out who the other werewolves were, and that changed the "evil" players from werewolf sympathizers to actual werewolves who were now loose on the town each evening. Now the sides were more even, but only with certain roles in the game. Put a Mason in, and the werewolves would still lose a large percentage of the time.

I brought this version to the Gathering, and Dan and I both tested it. There were still some balance issues, though, and things weren't quite right – then I became distracted with Suburbia up until Spiel 2012.

Final Tweaks

From gallery of toulouse
From gallery of toulouse
Following Spiel, I was determined to get Inquisition out, and it became my top priority. More testing occurred, the Troublemaker was added, and a simple fix to the balance issue was discovered – the addition of a fourth werewolf to the village. This meant that the village had to kill a werewolf on four of the six "days" (rounds) of the game in order to win. They could now miss only twice, which turned out to be the magic number, and while some games would end as early as day 3, most went to five or six days, and the tension during those last days was exciting for both teams.

Some time was spent on how to deal with the possibility (7.27% of the time) that a column of character cards with three werewolves in it gets passed around by the werewolves. The eventual solution was that they would indeed kill one of their own, but the remaining cards in the column would be shuffled into all the other unseen cards. This worked for a short "two card" column of werewolves as well. Of course, this rule allows werewolves to throw off their human counterparts by sacrificing a wolf, which is yet another layer of intrigue.

During this time the components list was finalized. For playtesting I had been using a giant red cube for the Grand Inquisitor, but I knew I wanted something better for the final version of the game, so I had a custom Inquisitor meeple designed. He looks very cool, and it's fun to have him in front of you during the game.

Then it was time to work on the rules. Inquisition is a fairly straightforward game, but I wanted the rules to be really easy to read and comprehend, so I made them much more graphically rich and easy to follow. The rules "booklet" is eight pages long, but it's much less: Page 1 is the cover, page 2 is the contents, page 3 is setup, and page 4 is the only page with rules for gameplay. Pages 5, 6 and 7 describe the cards and huts in detail, and page 7 also has some strategy tips. Page 8 is just a page full of credits.

Ultimate Werewolf: Inquisition will make it to the Origins Game Fair in June 2013, but in limited quantities as I'm shipping several cases directly to the show by air to ensure that copies will be on hand. There's been a lot of interest in the game as Ultimate Werewolf: Inquisition really does capture the flavor and fun of Werewolf in less time, with no moderator and no elimination! It was great working with Legend Dan...starting with a great game certainly helped!

Board Game: Ultimate Werewolf: Inquisition
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