At MMGaming we don’t just draw the line at video games. We’re geeks through and through and something we have slowly but surely be gaining a profound appreciation of over the past few years is Board Games. So it seems reasonable that now we have developed a decent repertoire of board games, that we could start reviewing them in the same way we video games.
One Night Ultimate Werewolf and the subsequent One Night Ultimate Vampire are both, together (because they are not entirely separate games), easily within my top 3 board games of all time and have been sitting there proudly ever since they soared there so effortlessly.
One Night Ultimate (ONU) follows a similar system to the old-school Mafia/Werewolf party games in which there is a team of villagers and a team of Mafioso’s/Werewolves (or as the case may be) Vampires.
In the original game of Mafia or Werewolf, the game would play out through several rounds of night and day. Everyone is assigned a role in secret and then at “night” many characters would be able to, in secret, carry out an action, while the baddies together would also secretly kill and eliminate one of the goodies. Then during the day, there would be a round of discussion and one character/player would be voted for lynching, again eliminating the player.
Thus the game would continue through several rounds until the goodies either figure out who all the bad-guys are, successfully working together and lynching all of them. Or the baddies successfully lie and swindle their way to victory, killing and eliminating all of the good-guys.
In essence, it is a game of lies and deceit and treachery, where the victory would tend to go to whoever was simply most convincing. The good guys try to figure out who else is good and the bad guys desperately try to pretend they are in fact not evil.
Straight out the gate ONU has an advantage over the more old-school version in that it is played only through one round of night and day. Everyone is assigned a role; the night phase occurs along with numerous secret actions then the day phase occurs with one round of lynching. The villagers win if any ONE vampire/werewolf is killed and the vampires/werewolves win if they all survive (with a few additional rules here and there). This obviously makes the games significantly faster and much more inclusive as nobody is simply killed off in the very first round and cannot interact any more. It allows for several rounds to be played in one session and that just makes it a more engaging and more enjoyable experience.
The key element of what makes ONU so enjoyable is the various roles in the game. Sure you have some staples from the original here, like the Seer who looks at one other player’s role during the night (or two of three cards which are dealt face-down to increase the pool of roles “in play”), but there are also roles like the Robber and Troublemaker. These cards actively switch the roles of other players, and players may only look at their cards at the beginning, and it is important to remember that the role of a player is the card they END the game with, not the one they started with… Therefore if you start as a werewolf and are switched to a villager, you might find yourself on the losing team if the werewolves win.
It adds another dynamic to the game of deduction and lies, people not only trying to figure out who everyone else is, but who THEY are as well. It’s quite amusing to observe this over numerous games. In the first games played all new villagers tend to be very eager to share who they are and what they did, because the initial assumption is to shine a light bright enough on the game that the bad-guys cannot hide, but as time goes on and players become more experienced they learn to be crafty and withhold important information. Because, sure you might have SEEN a bad-guy, but who knows if you are still a good-guy…
Amusing is a key word here. ONU is simply just good FUN. It makes for hilarious and funny games, everybody arguing and shouting over each other. Someone claims to be one character, someone else claims to be the same, everybody laughs and then tries to figure out who is lying. And just when everything is becoming clear, somebody else mentions that actually he switched one of the two anyway! Disaster! Hilarity! Chaos!
It is a game which creates incredible stories of past experiences. Admittedly, there are often situations when it is impossible for the bad-guys from the outset. A perfect example would be of a Troublemaker switching a Werewolf, who learns this very early on and proceeds to sell out his old team harder than David Cameron sold out the UK. This actually means that the most memorable games tend to be those where the bad-guys win, even if you are on the losing side of it, because those tend to be the games with the most chaos, which favours the baddies, and thus the most amusing tales.
A few other notes on mechanics, the game works at night through the action of an “announcer”. This will be a chosen player who knows the rules and will go through each action to take place during the night. For example, “Everybody close your eyes, werewolves open your eyes so you may know each other”. It being important, of course, that s/he only opens his own eyes for his own role.
There is actually a free app that allows you to do all of this via a virtual announcer, removing the pressure on one player to memorise all of the roles in play, and their actions, and the order the cards play in (because this is important for the exceptional balance of the game). From what I understand the app is actually pretty excellent, rather intuitive and the announcer’s voice is excellent.
I say this hedgingly because: in actuality we never used it. The app has the unfortunate downside of playing through phone speakers, and due to my hearing loss, that could present numerous problems. After all, it’s very difficult to ask a phone to repeat itself. As well as this, from what I have seen of the app, it gives very little time between each role for each action to occur, so it makes life a little easier if the game is provided a more relaxed pace by someone who knows the limits of the group (and of its weaker links…).
This is actually my first real criticism of the game. I honestly don’t see how hard it would be to allow players to adjust the timings of the app, it feels like the most miniscule of requests really but would be a real QoL for the game.
My next criticism comes more as a piece of advice to new players: take your own time with the game, but not TOO much time. The official rules of the game actually only suggest “a few minutes” of discussion during the day phase, but I would heartily recommend you ignore that and take longer.
I actually had this discussion with someone once where I said that when my friends and I played we treated the Day Phase almost like a trial, where everybody is the defendant. Thus everybody is given a chance to speak, to argue (to… SOME extent at least) and the discussions basically continued until a majority was satisfied and ready to vote. The person I was discussing with said that they played for only 5 minutes during the Day Phase, meaning it was more like a lynch mob. Hurriedly and desperately searching for someone to accuse of being a vicious and evil werewolf!
To this day I will maintain that the former of the two is the better way to play the game. It allows for more discussion and honestly, when you add more than 5 people into the game, 5 minutes is just NOT enough time to EVER really figure out what is going on (especially considering we always drink whilst playing the game). On the other side of this, I will say now, that after many games which started dragging on for over half an hour, with people consistently delaying the lynch vote due to being unhappy about something or another… That basically ruins the spirit of the game. If you watch the first of our recent One Night Vampire videos you will see this coming into play with the majority of players starting to get frustrated by the end of the game because of its run time.
The important thing to take to heart here is that you should play at a speed YOUR group is comfortable with. We just need the extra time because we are pretty fiercely competitive, enough so that we actually have to put restraints on ourselves.
It is worth noting as well that while the game has not yet lost its edge for me, I can understand that after several dozen rounds with my friends why some might get a little bored. It becomes somewhat about the meta-game for groups like ours where we are no longer trying to use logic to figure out who is what, but rather just figure out who is lying because we know what to look for.
This makes the pool of available players you have a fairly important constraint for the game. If it’s just the same 4 of you, all the time, this definitely wouldn’t suit you. If you have several groups of friends between 4 and 10 who will mix and match and play together at different times, it can make all the difference (I’m just lucky I’m friends with a person who DOES have that many friends… It’s like looking into the sun and trying not to be burned…) That said, if you make yourself mix up the cards you play with regularly that should also limit the issues.
There are a few more minor gripes, niggles and nit-picks which build up over time too.
If you play as often as we do, the character cards inevitably become a bit weathered and battered. And in a game where secrecy is paramount, it can kind of ruin the game when you know that the stain on the back of that card means that it’s the Robber. Admittedly there isn’t much that could be done about this (perhaps supply card cases for a few more pounds?) but it is worth bringing up for those looking to buy it.
Some of the cards are simply not as good as others. I understand that villagers are important for newbie players, so I actually include them on the list of “good cards” even if at my level it’s always disappointing to receive one. In the base game though, the Drunk is an absolutely pointless card. He switches himself with one of the face-down cards in the middle and does not look at what he receives. It adds absolutely nothing to the game, we played with it a few times and have since come to the conclusion that it’s a rubbish addition. The Hunter as well has often seemed like fairly pointless addition, because while he does have a role, it is a passive one which again does not actually contribute to the information available. Also, a final gripe, people constantly underestimate how much fun the Tanner is to incorporate.
Unfortunately to date we have not played with the One Night Ultimate Werewolf Daybreak expansion. On the bright side, Daybreak simply expands upon the basic ONU formula with a few additional cards and roles. It’s also worth mentioning that while the game is probably most certainly worth it for avid fans of the series, it also seems to have not been quite as well received as the more recent expansion: Vampires.
ONU Vampire takes the original formula of Werewolves vs. Villagers and then throws a spanner in the works with the addition of a third team: the vampires. Now the game can be played as just the Vampires vs. Villagers, and indeed the game actually works as a standalone as much as it does an expansion, but it IS possible to play a game of Vampires vs. Werewolves vs. Villagers where each team is trying to beat both the other two.
Vampires also changes the formula somewhat through the addition of Marks and an additional phase prior to the Night phase. Marks are small tokens which can change the role and abilities of your card even though you may remain the same character. For example, there is a mark which turns you into a vampire (so you may be a vampiric villager) and a mark which turns you into a traitor and so must betray your team.
The addition of both vampires and marks is absolutely fabulous and actually surprisingly subtle. As some of the new roles are slightly weaker in the villager team it also refines the balance between good and evil somewhat. At first glance it might seem a very minor addition, but that is what I mean when I say subtle in that the small changes actually add up to make the game surprisingly different and every bit as engaging.
A few unfortunate downsides though are that, while the Vampires expansion is ostensibly a standalone, it also feels like it would be best suited to Werewolves veterans due to a lack of “newbie” cards (like the villagers).
Another actually surprisingly frustrating downside is that with two phases, a dusk and then a night phase, you will actually spend a significant amount of time with your eyes closed. It might sound an odd complaint, but you try and sit still and quiet for over 5 minutes and see how wide-eyed and focused you feel afterwards, which is exactly the sort mindset required for this sort of deduction game where any slip up can be fatal.
I honestly cannot recommend Werewolf enough and equally believe Vampires to be more than worth the money, as an absolutely fabulous addition which absolutely everybody should at least consider getting.
Excellent and totally balanced approach to an old-school game which is consistently fun, funny, and just does not get boring despite its simple framework. One minor downside is that the game tends to shine best at a sweet-spot of 6-8 players so is not ideal for small groups.
The card art is perfectly acceptable, but honestly nothing particularly special. Also the pieces are mostly redundant as the majority of gameplay is spoken.
Beyond the absolute necessities for playing, the game actually has very little. There are no spares, no card protectors; the special “One Night game mat” is even a separate purchase. However, it is also very reasonably priced and contains everything it needs to.
There is a lot of room for playing over and over here, keep mixing up the players and the roles in play, maybe throw in an expansion and I promise many, MANY games of good times.
Social Score: 10/10
Easily one of the most social games I’ve ever played. Has the possibility for the occasional smaller game, but also the potential for really BIG groups of players. Plus as the rules are mostly straightforward it has an extremely low threshold for who can play.