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Subject: Story Board review: Blood on the Clocktower rss

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Original review can be found here:
https://storyboardgamer.com/2017/08/30/blood-on-the-clocktow...



Synopsis

You are villagers in the small parochial town of Ravenswood Bluff. You have all gathered in the central village square to celebrate the founding of your town, but you have discovered your local storyteller is dead, strung up upon the clocktower. Upon investigation, you discern signs of diabolical activity and a hunt begins for the demon among you. Across several nights, you must hunt the demon down or fall prey to their plans.

If good, you win if when the Demon is dead. If evil, you win when only two players are left alive. Each night, the Demon can select a player to die, and at the end of the day, the town may execute a single player. Like most social deduction games, evil players know their co-conspirators but are few in number; whereas the good players are the vast majority but do not know who to trust.

A single game employs a particular script, which comprises a preset list of good and evil characters, each with unique abilities. Townsfolk represent good players with useful abilities, while Outsiders are good characters with abilities that hinder the good team. The evil team consists of one Demon, and between 1-3 Minions. The player count determines the composition of good and evil for the game, to roughly give a 2:1 ratio of good to evil.

Good players’ abilities are designed to gather information about other players, or protect their team. Outsiders present unfortunate problems the good team must reconcile with. Evil abilities usually advance the goals of their team, or otherwise provide contingencies for mishaps. There are also Travellers, characters added after the game begins: everyone knows your ability, but your alignment is chosen by the Storyteller.

When the execution phase happens, each player may nominate once and be nominated once (per day.) A successful nomination requires half of the living players to carry, but may be superseded by a larger subsequent tally. Uniquely, votes are tallied by the Storyteller passing their arm clockwise over players, and only counting the votes of players whose arms are raised at the time of passing.

Generally, the game will work its way down to a high confrontation on the Final Day. There will be three players left alive, and one of them is definitely the Demon. If the village executes the wrong person, evil achieves their victory condition; but if they execute no-one then the Demon kills that night and still fulfils that same condition. Good must choose wisely.



Commentary
Blood on the Clocktower firmly locates itself in the social deduction genre, drawing from the base format of werewolf-like games. This game elevates the core premise conceptually and functionally to high theatre. The methodology of the game forms an complements social deduction (‘I think you’re the Demon because you’re acting dodgy’) with table logic (‘I am the Fortune Teller, and my information is that neither of these players are the Demon’).

Clocktower has killed every other social deduction game for me. Having played it, I find most other social deduction games to be too shallow. The format embraces the parlour game, requiring a small play space to get up and interact. Many players (both good and evil) have reasons to hold secret conversations, to corroborate, and conspire in internecine fashion.

This is not simply a “super werewolf”. Clocktower has extrapolated the core elements to arrive at a pinnacle manifestation. Clocktower fixes many issues I cannot tolerate of standard Werewolf: each player has something fun to do, with no vanilla villagers; there are strategies around voting; all characters are potentially bluffable with the Demon knowing some characters not-in-play (as certain bluffs).

Most importantly, there is no player elimination in this game. When you die, you still participate posthumously with your team. While you neither use an ability nor nominate, you can still talk and interact with others. You also have one final vote you may expend down the track. Dead retain an active stake in the outcome as the game works itself down to the climax of the final day.

Clocktower distinguishes itself through its advanced scripts. ‘Trouble Brewing’ is a great introduction for the game, which nevertheless proves solid for veteran players. Other scripts demonstrate complex characters and character interactions. These more developed scripts feature multiple Demons. So while only one will be in play, each spins the game in a different direction. This sets the stage for the early game tasked to identify the Demon, and responding accordingly.

Voting assumes a political nature, as you can signal an intention to vote with hands up or stay your hand, only to change position in the final moment,. Evil players have even been known to create distractions during key votes, meaning good players miss being counted through inattention. Likewise, because a single player can only be nominated once, evil sometimes proactively nominates the Demon to psyche the group out; making the Demon safe for the day.

I shall also dwell on the grimoire. Functionally, it is a prop that allows the Storyteller to moderate the game by recording the game state and changes within. Yet it also serves as the game box itself. I initially proposed that the designers should shrink the box down from its prototype size, to accommodate cost and ease of shipping. I later concluded that this would be a disservice to the game.

I adopted a position that the design should embrace larger and more sizable style they currently employ for the prototype. Apart from the increased functionality of the larger box, as a prop the grimoire lends the game a deeper gravitas and grandeur that I think many other social deduction games lack.

Clocktower is as much about the theatre and roleplaying as a game of social deduction. It has narrative elements that deepen the experience, and offsetting the transience that many lighter games experience. Such things firmly consolidate my position that this is the heavier and more demanding social deduction game I have come to appreciate.

My primary caveat is the learning curve. To truly get into the feel of the game, it is helpful to develop knowledge of the characters in play and how they interact. In some instances, games can turn on the implementation of some of the more sophisticated characters. The game logic is strong, but if you are the type of person that enjoys an element of puzzle in your social games, this will serve you well.

Other more sophisticated (even advanced) mechanisms resolve in these other scripts. Some abilities malfunction, having no meaningful impact, some abilities can make you mad, forcing you to act out a false idea to the best of your abilities, and it’s even possible to register falsely as a character or alignment that you are not. Learning the rules for these mechanisms introduces an added level of complexity, but these are what makes the game’s intrigue excel.

Accordingly, it is also a game that can need heavy moderation. The Storyteller has to keep their mind on the game state, which is facilitated by the grimoire (where a record of the game state is kept at any point in time). They also often must work of a night sheet, to ensure that night-based characters act in their proper order (poisoners and protectors acting before the Demon and Minions, and then everyone else).

Blood on the Clocktower is my number 1 game of all time. It rose through the ranks of my favourite games in rather dramatic fashion, captivating me in a way few other games have and effectively killing the genre in almost every other iteration. Even with more than 100 games under my belt, I continue to discover new elements and strategies, and it is one of the few games that I can play multiple sessions of over the course of 10 or so hours.

Verdict
In my opinion, this is the best example of the genre I have seen.
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