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Designer Diary: Social Deduction Nirvana with One Night Resistance

Ted Alspach
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Tennessee
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First off, One Night Resistance isn't a knock off of either One Night Ultimate Werewolf or The Resistance. It's a totally different game that stands on its own.

If you love The Resistance, One Night Resistance provides these new features:
-----• Variable Spy counts (0-3 in each game)
-----• As much fun to be Resistance as it is to be a Spy
-----• Shorter (~10 minute) games
-----• Unique abilities for each player
-----• Engaging at player counts as low as three, all the way up to ten
-----• Role changing

If you love One Night Ultimate Werewolf, One Night Resistance provides these new features:
-----• The ability to play without an app
-----• Lots of public information to discuss following the night phase
-----• The structure of The Resistance, including a Leader and rotating around-the-table gameplay
-----• Roles and abilities are separate
-----• The great artwork and feel of The Resistance universe

Background

I've known Travis Worthington of Indie Boards and Cards for several years, as those of us in the gaming industry "know" each other from seeing one another at trade shows a few times a year. Of course, with Travis it's a bit different because he's local; we both reside in the Bay Area of northern California (though on opposite ends). In early 2014, he approached me to see whether I was interested in having IBC do a "retheme" of One Night Ultimate Werewolf into the Resistance universe, something that had been really successful for Coup. A straight retheme didn't seem particularly interesting, though I knew that there is a huge group of Resistance players who will never give One Night Ultimate Werewolf a chance because of the theme and/or its association with "regular" werewolf.

What did interest me is somehow combining the "Resistanceness" of The Resistance with the "One Nightedness" of One Night Ultimate Werewolf. Let's step back for a moment so that you can understand why this would be interesting.

First off, let me say that I love The Resistance. (As a gamer, I like Avalon more, but that doesn't change how I feel about The Resistance.) My first play of the game was a little rocky, with other gamers who didn't quite get it at first. But I warmed up to it quickly, and I really liked the similar social deduction feeling it had to werewolf. I've probably played hundreds of games of Resistance and Avalon.

Of course, at the time The Resistance was first published in 2009, Ultimate Werewolf was just starting to take off. Ultimate Werewolf was my way to address what I thought the issues with werewolf were (or at least, the issues of all the commercial versions up to that point were): It was the first version of werewolf to have a comprehensive set of rules (including pages and pages of moderator tips and guidelines), names and role descriptions written on the cards, and an appropriate art style for the genre. It also had lots of other innovative things like a moderator scorepad and a built-in game balancing system. It was werewolf for people who already really liked werewolf...and many of them loved it as a result of using the Ultimate Werewolf set.

However, Ultimate Werewolf didn't address the two primary issues werewolf-haters had with the game: the need for a moderator and player elimination. Personally, I like both of those as a good moderator can make any werewolf game better, and player elimination in werewolf creates a tension that you just don't get in any other game; the threat of elimination is the real mechanism here as it drives the game forward with intensity. That said, many people will never play werewolf because of one or both of those mechanisms. The Resistance found a way to solve both of those issues in a novel way.

Most importantly, The Resistance added a very firm structure to the narrative of the game. There's a Leader who appoints a set of players to go on a mission, and those appointees are voted on by all of the players. The players on the mission vote secretly and simultaneously on whether to make the mission a success. It's all very organized and logical, and while the number of mechanical decisions are limited (and thus easy to understand and use in the game), the possibilities are immense, and the discussion during each game is always lively and engaging. The Resistance also simplified the role structure by making each player simply a Resistance member or a Spy. (Of course, this was expanded upon in expansions and more notably in Avalon.) The Resistance is a game that a Vulcan would enjoy (though they would never show it).

Skip ahead a few years to One Night Ultimate Werewolf, which addressed those issues as well, but entirely differently; while The Resistance had a solid structure and limitations on character powers to avoid a moderator, One Night Ultimate Werewolf had an app act as the moderator. (Yes, you can play without it, but the free app is the way to go if you can.) The Resistance addressed player elimination by never voting out players, even though you play 3-5 rounds and some players could be outed as Spies before the game is over. One Night Ultimate Werewolf addressed player elimination by limiting the game to a single night, so the "death" of a player at the end of the day didn't matter as another new game would simply start up because the current game is over.

One Night Ultimate Werewolf added some other novel things as well: Role switching, impossible in "regular" werewolf in one of the two directions for a variety of reasons, gives the game its hook. Now not only are you trying to figure out who to kill, you need to figure out if you're still on the same team you started on (a prerequisite for figuring out who to kill). The addition of three mystery cards in the center of the table eliminated the ability for all players to have perfect information, and also provided the possibility that there might not be any werewolves at all, in which case the village has to agree not to kill anyone in order to win. And of course, the game takes less than ten minutes to play, and can be played with as few as three players.

One Night + Resistance = AMAZING

Combining the essences of these two games would result in a social deduction game that had both a solid narrative structure and the possibility of role switching. And maybe, while I'm at it, I could make it so an app wasn't required, and there would be a way to get the initial conversation of what happened at night moving along.

That was my frame of mind as I sat down and started putting concepts together for the game, which in many ways designed itself based on the framework above. Fortunately for me, the resulting game was as compelling as the two originals, and even more so in some ways.

 
The first set of rules, written about one month after Travis and I first started discussing this project, is remarkably close to the final, shipping game. There were lots of tweaks and balancing of abilities ("specialist" cards in the game), but the core is still there. Here's what I came up with initially:

There are three Spy role cards and one Resistance role card for every player in the game. Always. No chart needed. There are several specialist cards, many of which allow Spies to do one thing and Resistance to do another. The Leader starts the night out by telling everyone to close their eyes, having the spies wake up to see each other, having them close their eyes. Then the Leader does his night action (on his specialist card), and when he's done, he says "Mission accomplished". Then the player to his left does his night action and says "Mission accomplished", and so on until it's back to the Leader, who gets to look at his role card one more time before waking everyone up.

Starting with the Leader, everyone says what action they took during the night (they may lie), in clockwise order. In the final game this is even better as they are required to take a specialist token. This jumpstarts the conversation right away. Players can discuss amongst themselves for five minutes — in the final game the timer is optional; instead the conversation goes until the Leader calls for a vote when a majority of the players agree a vote should take place — at which time everyone must point at someone; the player with the most fingers pointed at him reveals his card, and if he's a Spy the Resistance wins. If he's not a Spy, the Spies win. The Leader token passes to the left and you can play another game.

That's the core of the game right there. Through playtesting and development, the following items were added, removed or modified:

The Specialist cards were modified several times, making sure they were balanced properly. A double-sided reference card was created, with one side being the basic "first game" specializations, and the other having the complete list. The Specialist tokens were added and required to be taken upon waking.

One session of playtesting really stands out: At the end of BGG.CON 2014, Travis and I recruited Jeremiah Lee, Alan Gerding and Sean McCoy of Tuesday Knight Games (Two Rooms and a Boom), and Dan "Game Boy Geek" King to playtest a few games. They wanted to keep playing even after multiple games over a few hours, and even after both Travis and I repeatedly crushed them. (Note to everyone: Travis is not bound by "the truth" in any way.)

While a great deal of playtesting was done with this game, it came together pretty quickly. I'm really proud of the resulting game, and I think Travis and I have managed to create a game that will appeal to both One Night Ultimate Werewolf fans as well as The Resistance fans, and hopefully pick up a few more fans on the way.

Ted Alspach
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