Once Really Isn’t Enough: A ‘One Night Ultimate Werewolf’ Review
Social deduction is a hit genre amongst many board game groups. The Resistance and The Resistance: Avalon both sit in the BoardGameGeek Top 200. Werewolf remains popular in both gamer and non-gamer circles. Secret Hitler has been one of the newer additions that’s hit the hands of many. But all have a play time of about an hour. What about a solid social deduction game that lasts, I don’t know, ten minutes?
To describe my feelings toward One Night Ultimate Werewolf (ONUW), I feel the need to define the word “meta” and provide some context toward it in my life.
“Metagame,” shorted to “meta” or “the meta” by many circles or communities, is defined in the opening paragraph of Wikipedia as “any strategy, action or method used in a game which transcends a prescribed ruleset, uses external factors to affect the game or goes beyond the supposed limits or environment set by the game." (I know, great source. But for a word without a Webster’s entry, we’ll take what we can get.)
The term “meta” has been a word that has floated atop my vocabulary for many years. It began making sense to me as early as 2012 when my roommates and I dove headfirst into the competitive scene of Yu-Gi-Oh. We watched decks like Mermails, Spellbooks, and Evilswarms win tournament after tournament, only to be sifted out of the competitive forefront for every other player that ran a variation of Dragon Rulers.
As I turned my back on Yu-Gi-Oh and found the Super Smash Brothers community, I saw the long-term meta shift on almost microscopic levels. Matchups that were seen highly unfavorable were tossed in the opposite direction, whether by a player dominating that matchup (PPMD’s Marth vs Sheik for example) or discoveries being found that helped a character compete against another they struggled against.
And even now, with years of study on traditional sports, I use the idea of “the meta” to look at each sport in a different light. Basketball relies on the use of speed instead of the big man that dominated basketball throughout all of the 1900s. From the 80s and 90s to today, the shift in tendencies of American Football offense is primarily passing the ball as opposed to running the ball.
So how does all of that relate to a social-deduction game in a box the size of a large sandwich?
If a group of individuals sat down to play a single game of ONUW, those people would think of the game as awkward, confusing and, honestly, unsatisfying. Those were my feelings after my first game. The app (which I will discuss later in depth) counted down for the vote, the seven of us pointed at who we wanted to die, a team won (I couldn’t tell you if it was the village or the werewolves) and we all let out a collective “Alright.”
I was puzzled. “Is that it?” I asked myself. “I’m really confused what just happened." We sat around in silence, someone would say something funny, it would get awkward again before the app would tell us the time is up. There has to be more to this. There’s no way this is the game that people rave so much about.
“Let’s play again,” I said after exiting my thoughts.
I awoke from the night of the second game and was hit with why this game can and does succeed.
This is a game built upon establishing information and developing a meta. The information comes through characters like the seer, (who look at person’s role), the masons, (who look at each other), and even the robber who can reveal whose card he stole.
But alongside that information a meta develops. The werewolves and the tanner (if in play) begin asking how that information can be used in their favor. They may be the ones that manipulate the information just slightly to hide their cover. You can use human senses to your advantage. For example you can point out a subtle movement of a tile card in relation to where it was on the table before everyone closed their eyes to where it is now to get the innocent to understand your entirely false case.
You want to chameleon just enough that your scent goes unnoticed for five minutes. Does the tanner want to look like a werewolf? Yes. Can the tanner look too much like a werewolf? Yes. Same goes for the minion, who is wanting to play the role of a little-too-obvious werewolf.
The information and deception is most produced in the people you are playing with, and this is where the meta is pushed the most. In the last games that we played, we introduced ONUW to a few of my girlfriend’s family, particularly her brother and his wife. Her brother, being a seasoned Werewolf player, picked it up quite well. But his wife did not. In her first game, it was quite obvious she was a werewolf due to the verbiage she used when describing her role, a detail that was caught by one of the villagers.
In Game 2, as the village announced what roles they were and what information they had seen in the night. All of the information lined up correctly, until we noticed our newcomer sitting nervous in her corner of the couch after all the village roles had been claimed.
“I’m really bad at this game,” she half-chuckled, half-whimpered out.
Both villagers and werewolves mentally exclaimed “We got ‘em now!” The village all but assured themselves that she was for sure a werewolf and that she would be dying when time ran out. The werewolves were in route for an easy win. She was a mere vanilla villager. They had laid a foundation full of fake claims that led to fingers pointing once she had provided that lack of confidence.
And this is why ONUW works so well. Unlike the classic big brother, Werewolf, ONUW gives you a mere 10 minutes to either collect info or stretch that collection into a picture that looks like a fun house mirror. This is one that requires manipulation of how people are thinking on the spot. Some are great at pinpointing the roles, so a werewolf must take advantage of it. It’s a genius way to make a social deduction game work in such little time.
How else does this game improve on Werewolf? Maybe the biggest improvement (thanks Technology!) is the use of the app instead of a moderator. A smartphone user downloads the “One Night” app, loads it up, picks the roles that will be used for that particular game and BAM! A narrator bellows “Everyone, close their eyes.” The voice, backed by the sounds of an animated haunted house movie, gives the commands a moderator would do, telling the werewolves to wake up and go back to sleep, the seer to look at a card(s) of his or her choice and so on.
While some enjoy leading a game of Werewolf, weaving stories of how each villager had their life stripped from them in the previous night, many people just want to participate in the actual game. The moderator has no hidden role, no choice in actions, and no say in votes. They just… well moderate, and lead the group through the experience. In the case of ONUW, that job is given to our good friend Technology, who has no preference or opinion if it wants to vote.
Now can the game fall flat? I really think it can. If your game group isn't a fan of lying to win, you won’t like this game. If you are a newer game group, still getting to know one another, this game might cause the forced conversations to be a little awkward. I’ve had some games where the narrator has ended his night monologue and all the players sit in silence for the first ten to fifteen seconds. And it’s one of the more awkward moments in a tabletop game in which I've participated. Until you have a player or two that can facilitate where the discussion is going, no one really knows where to take it.
One final type of player that may not be the biggest fan of ONUW is the shy player. This is a game that, as a mentioned prior, forces conversation. If you sit quiet while everyone makes their accusations and ridiculous claims, you are drawing a bit of attention to yourself.
But in one particular game, this shyness worked in a player’s favor. I pulled out this game with my youth community group for the first time. We had the full count of 10 players crowded around the floor of my apartment. Roles were dealt and I performed a mental fist pump--werewolf again. The app drifted us to sleep, and as the werewolves awoke I opened my eyes to see the shy newcomer to the group looking back at me. She had been invited to join our group for a good number of months, but never seemed very interested in attending until that Sunday.
And you know what, she knocked the acting out of the park. She was confident in her claims as a villager. Any time attention pointed back to her, she shook her hands to add sincerity to her denials. She even used that quiet nature to drift out of conversations when the timing was right. And she had a blast.
So now to my verdict. Is this game perfect? No. There are still better social deduction games. I personally would place A Fake Artist Goes to New York higher and many people in my game group would choose Werewords over ONUW for a quick social deduction game. If time wasn't a constraint then my group would pull Secret Hitler off the shelf instead.
Maybe the biggest thing that ONUW has to overcome to really provide a memorable experience is the necessity of multiple plays. The meta has to build based on that set group’s number of plays. But now that I think about it, is that really a bad thing?
Median Score - 3.5 out of 7
Dylan - 6
Nick - 4
Joel - 3
Scott - 3