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Subject: Day Zero: A Review of One Night Ultimate Werewolf rss

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Simon Tan
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My cousins and their sons were coming over from the West side (Vancouver and Seattle) for the first time in a long time, and I figured I would get something simple yet strategic. Unfortunately, the ship that carried my copy of Sushi Go (and a lot of other peoples' games) was held up in customs for a long time... I went around shopping, and I saw on one back corner a lone copy of One Night Ultimate Werewolf.

Given that it is a social game that has lying as a requirement of sorts, I wondered if this would go over well. I bought it on a whim, anyway, and while I never did get to play this with my nephews, (We ended up playing Love Letter, instead, which they enjoyed.) I did get to play this with a group of other friends and their kids, and the results were... I'll save the result to the end.

(Jump to Shortcut near the end if you just want a summary.)

COMPONENTS
To this day, I still wonder if sixteen thick cardboard role cards and sixteen tokens are worth US$32. At the very least, they did make them well: the cardboard is quite durable at about 4-5mm thick and has a very nice finish. I eventually sleeved them because of the potential of an "accident" marking the cards, but another bonus came up later.

Another nice touch, and one that made the game quick to get into and play, is the free moderator app that organizes the script for the various roles and reads it out really clear. The background crickets also adds a nice touch, but the group eventually opted for our own music and making our own noise. (Note that tapping the table eventually hurts, especially when you get a run of five or six games in.)

RULES
If a new player says, "Oh, this is like Mafia," then explaining the game is a breeze. The big hurdle in the rules is getting someone to remember what to say during the night phase and in the proper order, something that the app takes care of.

That said, for those who are completely unfamiliar with Mafia or regular Werewolf, just clearly state how the villagers win and how the werewolves in. After that, a brief shot of the roles (and don't forget to let the app remind players what the roles do) and you are good to go.

There are two rules that tend to be forgotten, and the group I play this with eventually ignored them to no serious detriment. The first is that players should turn the cards a bit when everyone wakes up to keep from using card position as an indicator. The few times it came up, they actually were good hooks for deception. That said, putting the cards in sleeves (and a slightly longer timer) helped those with the Seer, Robber, Troublemaker, and Drunk roles orient the cards correctly, and it eventually became a non-issue.

The second rule is the "you-cannot-vote-for-yourself rule." It doesn't come up too often where the game is already decided then and there due to the robber and troublemaker, but I never got around to correcting that rule, and it was interesting when people saw that the person they voted also voted for themselves, and you can see the jaws drop before even cards are flipped. That said, I don't suggest missing this rule if your game group is very good at gaming.

MECHANICS
If there is one thing that makes the game continue to be interesting, it is that the roles scale pretty well in shifting the balance towards which side is more likely to win. Having a middle pile and a set of unknowns creates enough paranoia and plausibility to keep the game from ending quickly, unless someone is caught in a poor fib.

Having a lot of extra roles also changes the dynamics of one game from another, and creates lots of room for experimentation even after one hour of games.

GAMEPLAY
I feel that ten minutes is safe to write on the box; games go by way faster, and get even faster after everyone has a few in their belt. The first game will always be a stumble for newer players, like the Seer who forgets what they can do, or two new players being Werewolves and not knowing what to do. That said, getting past that hurdle is enough to get to know how the game goes, and it becomes a game of knowing the people around you. That said, there is enough going on that I sometimes forget minute details like the Robber actually gets to look at the role he takes, which did put me in a bind... for a while.

There is plenty of room for deduction, and the game can be played that way. There is also plenty of room for social gaming, and the game can be played that way. Having these two and being able to put them together in a see-saw is what makes the game dynamic. It also helps that it is easy for people to get in and just have fun, and having a timer on how long to decide is good in keeping with the quick decision-making theme.

My earliest reservation with the game is the need for deception, since some people aren't great at handling it. I am thankful that the group I play with got the hang of it, and if any it means that we get to know each other a little better...

MY TAKE
This is a very friendly (until accusations fly) game for people who aren't into gaming. When your group wants to keep going, and even convinces the one who "can't handle the excitement" to keep going, you know you got a hit in your hands. When you have to shop around multiple stores looking for multiple extra copies for the others, you know you really got a hit. For that, I am grateful to Akihisa Okui for designing this, and to Ted for bringing it to the mainstream and making it more exciting. Having the app as a free "moderator" is also a big plus, and greatly reduces the barrier of entry.

I am already looking forward to the Daybreak expansion at this point, and may even back it if the price point is right. I am still dubious about having it at its cost, but if the game gets played this often, every dollar in it is well spent.

SHORTCUT
Okay, perhaps you don't like to read walls of text peppered with descriptions, rants, and melodramatic explanations, so I included a short descriptive summary (one word to one sentence) for each possible category that I can think of. It's an experiment, but I definitely don't want to just give stars or numbers...

COMPONENTS: Solid. Free app greatly improves experience.
RULES: Easy to grasp after a sample game or two.
MECHANICS: Does its job of creating paranoia very well.
GAMEPLAY: Fast, furious, and fun.
MY TAKE: Very good entry-level game that still hasn't outlasted its welcome.

SUGGESTIONS TO IMPROVE THE EXPERIENCE:
- Get the app. Having an impartial moderator handle the script perfectly every time reduces feel-bad moments.
- Start with the recommended roles, but don't be afraid to change them up and tip the balance once in a while.
- Don't be afraid to change things up. Predictability is your enemy in this game.

***

It is coming to the point where the Doppelganger may finally see some play. I have intentionally avoided that role as it added the most to the script time, and there were always new players each time to need keeping things simple. I do fear that the game may eventually overstay given that you can't always have new people come over every time.

Which makes me thankful that the ship finally cleared customs...
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