Blood of the Werewolf Review

Blood of the Werewolf card game contents

A game that I recently heard about was Blood of the Werewolf.  After it was described to me as "a mix between Hanabi and The Resistance," I knew that I wanted to try it!

In Blood of the Werewolf, there are two teams of players - Villagers and Werewolves.  And, each player is dealt a card to indicate which of those two teams he belongs to.  However, you do not get to know which card you have, though everybody else does (you hold your card so that it is facing all the other players)!  Additionally, there will be two cards dealt into the middle of the table that are used for "accusations" and, if there are an odd number of players, there will be another card dealt into the "wilderness" (which can never be seen).  A player's turn consists simply of "accusing" a player - taking one of the "accusation" cards and placing it in front of whichever player they accuse.  As soon as a player gets both accusations in front of him, he dies.  However, if you have an accusation in front of you during your own turn, you may look at that card (thus getting more information as you try to figure out which team you're on).  Play continues in this way until only a certain number of players are remaining (this depends on player count).  At that point, if the players all think that they are on the same team, they can "claim" that - and if they're right, they win, but if they're wrong, then the player making the claim dies immediately.  At which point the game ends.  Officially, you now add up points - with each living player worth one point, and each face down card in the center worth half of a point.  But, in reality, the team that still has living players wins at this point.

One of my favorite parts of Blood of the Werewolf deals with human nature.  Everybody I know "plays the odds" when they are dealt cards.  What I mean is that they look at all of the cards they can see, and then they determine which team they are "probably" on.  For example, if I see four Werewolves and two Villagers, then I will assume that I am on the Villager team.  And, if the Villagers can figure out who they are and take advantage of the fact that the Werewolf players think they're on the Villager team, they can win though the odds appear stacked against them.  In situations like this, it is very common for a Werewolf to accuse a teammate - with both players assuming that the other person is on the opposite team.  However, the Villagers (in this example) can't be too quick to pounce on these opportunities, or else the Werewolves may realize what is happening!

Villagers and Werewolves - I like the art
As a further extension of my first pro, my second pro is that I have come to love games where one side has full knowledge from the beginning.  Especially if there are an odd number of players.  For example, if you are playing a seven player game, then five Villager and five Werewolf cards will be dealt out.  And, if two players are dealt Villager cards and the other five players are dealt Werewolf cards, then the Villager players will immediately know what they are.  However, the Werewolves will never know for certain which team they are on.  Even if they look at all of the accusations, there will be two cards they haven't seen - the Villager card in the "wilderness", and their own (Werewolf) card.  This means that every Werewolf player will have to entertain doubt about which team they are on - and so smart playing by the Villagers can turn the tide of this game.  However, poor play by the Villagers (immediately killing Werewolves without a thought) can give away what they see!  This tension between one team being terribly outnumbered while the other team deals with constant uncertainty can leave you with a brilliant game play experience.

However, with those two pros, there are a number of cons that I have found with Blood of the Werewolf.  First, the game is very fragile.  What I mean is this - there are several things that can occur that can either cause the game to "break" or cause the game play to be unenjoyable.  The first one to address is the game "breaking."  I have played in at least one game in which the game would never officially end.  Here's what happened - we were playing a four player game, and two of the players were killed.  However, the two players that were still alive believed that they were on different teams - and in a four player game, you only end the game once there is one player left alive (or if the last two players claim to be on the same team).  Now, these players would simply accuse each other back and forth until the end of time - or until the game is ended outside of what the rules stipulate.  (This situation could also occur if there are four players left, believing they know which team they are on, and each player is sitting adjacent to people they think are on the opposite team.)  Each player is given a special once-per-game card that can help get you out of these situations, but in all honesty, I believe that those special cards may have actually been what caused the situation in the four-player game.

Example of a special card - note the flavor text
The next con deals with the fragility that causes an unenjoyable game experience.  The more knowledge is shared (especially early), the worse the game is.  The groups I've played with have played a lot of games of Hanabi, and so our natural response was to try to figure out what team we are on.  By asking.  But, you can't get information without giving information, generally, and so we all wound up sharing too much information.  And, though we could have lied, there were far too many people that were interested in calling out those lies - everybody else at the table knows if you lied!  That makes it a hard sell, unless several other players immediately join your lie.  So, the first few games that we played ended up with everybody knowing which team they were on almost immediately.  And, when this happens, the game turns into a simple numerical exercise - whichever team has more players (and/or the better special cards) will win.  And there's nothing you can do about it.  That's not fun at all.  Because of this, we took the approach to not share anything the first few times around the table, and to let people indicate which team they belong to through actions instead of through blatantly telling people what they see.  Reducing the initial talking made the game work much better, but also goes against your natural inclination - and if a single player decides that he's going to play by telling people what he sees, then it breaks down into the numbers game again.

One last thing to note - the current version of Blood of the Werewolf is a multi-lingual edition, and it seems that English was not the author's native language.  So, though the author's English is drastically better than my Mandarin (or any other language - I only know English), it reads very strangely at times.  After reading through the rules, I understood how to play the game (which is the point of a rulebook, after all), but I'm hoping that if the game is picked up for wider distribution, it will also have an editor.

Overall, I give Blood of the Werewolf a 6.5/10.  After my first two games, I thought that it was terrible (we all knew our role too quickly).  Having played more, I have now also had some amazing experiences playing the game.  However, the fragility of the game keeps me from ranking it too highly.  If you have played it and not enjoyed it, I would recommend trying again, but without talking early on - possibly even making a rule that you can't talk at all!

If Blood of the Werewolf sounds interesting, you might also want to check out The ResistanceBattlestar Galactica, and Shadows Over Camelot.

I would like to thank Homosapiens Lab for providing me with a review copy of Blood of the Werewolf.

EDIT: It was pointed out to me after posting this review that I missed a rule in this game.  Specifically, when a player dies, they place the accusation markers in front of other players.  This will prevent the game from breaking in the 4-player game like I had suggested, as when the game gets down to 2 players, both of those players will have an accusation in front of them, and thus the next player has the option of killing his opponent.  (I do believe that the game can still break in a 4-player situation where everyone thinks the people next to them are on the opposite team.  This can happen in an initially 4-player game when everyone plays their "skip a player's turn" special card in succession, or can happen when you get down to 4-players and everyone has played their special cards.  But, I have not yet re-played the game with the corrected rule, so this is speculation based on previous experiences.)

I'm not sure how this affects my overall score for this game, so honestly, I'm going to leave it the same. I've said all along that you should focus more on the text than numbers, anyway!  And, when I started thinking about this change, a friend of mine pointed out that he didn't think it would change the enjoyment of the game - and isn't that the point of playing games?  This just goes to show that no matter how many times you've played a game, there still might be something you weren't aware of.  (I don't generally disclose this, but I had played Blood of the Werewolf roughly 10 times before posting this review, so I thought I had it down!)

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