On Christmas Day, my roommate debuted a game called Werewolf at our dinner party. Based on Mafia rules, the premise is deceptively simple: Werewolves lurk among a group of villagers, killing them off one by one at night. The goal of the villagers is to identify the werewolves and lynch them; the goal of the werewolves is to kill off all the villagers.
Though the evening started out innocently enough, the 12 of us soon spiraled into a vortex of recriminations, suspicions, double-crossing, and mob justice. In other words, it was awesome.
The game is best for groups of at least seven players. The game is split into successive rounds of night and day in which different roles can take different actions.
The Moderator shuffles the cards and passes one out to each player, who are allowed to look at their card but can’t reveal it to others. There are five basic roles (one non-player role and four player roles):
- The Moderator: The omniscient Moderator serves as the narrator, game master, and chief whip. They know each player’s identity and ensure that the game moves along at a brisk pace. The quality of the Moderator directly affects the quality of the game.
- Werewolves: Werewolves are the game’s “informed minority” whose members are aware of each other. When night falls, the Werewolves choose one victim to kill. Their goal is to kill all the Villagers without being found out and lynched. For a group of seven without any special roles (more on those below), two Werewolves are enough. (For 12 people, three Werewolves was a good number.)
- The Seer: Arguably the most important role in the game, the Seer is a villager who can “investigate” one player each turn to find out if they’re a Werewolf.
- The Doctor: The Doctor is a villager who can “protect” one player from being killed by the Werewolves each turn.
- Villagers: Everyone else is a Villager, the game’s “uninformed majority.” The Villagers must figure out the Werewolves’ identities through deduction and discussion, and avoid accidentally lynching other Villagers.
Once everyone has their card, Werewolf can begin. The rules below are greatly simplified; click here or scroll to the end of the post for complete rules.
Phase 1: Nighttime
- The game begins at night. The Moderator sets the scene (“It was a cold January night with 500 AQI…”), then instructs all the players to close their eyes.
- The Moderator instructs the Werewolves to open their eyes and asks them who they want to kill. The Werewolves must silently agree on a victim, then signal their choice to the Moderator. The Moderator asks the Werewolves to close their eyes.
- Next, the Moderator instructs the Doctor to open their eyes and asks who they want to save. The Doctor silently signals their choice to the Moderator; note that Doctors are allowed to save themselves. The Moderator asks the Doctor to close their eyes.
- Then, the Moderator instructs the Seer to open their eyes and asks who they want to investigate. The Seer silently points to a player, to which the Moderator will either nod or shake their head (you can also do thumbs up or down). The Moderator asks the Seer to close their eyes.
Phase 2: Daytime
- It’s now daytime; the Moderator asks everyone to open their eyes and announces the name of the player who was killed last night. Dead players aren’t allowed to talk.
- This is where things get interesting. The Villagers must figure out who the Werewolves are. They can use deduction, act on hunches, observe other players’ reactions, etc. Meanwhile, the Werewolves must avoid suspicion by drawing attention to other players, lying, acting natural, etc.
- Once the Villagers settle on a suspect, that player is lynched. If the person was a Werewolf, they must reveal their card. If the person was a Seer or Doctor, they can’t reveal their special role.
- Once a player is lynched, night falls and the cycle starts again. The game continues until either the Werewolves or the Villagers are killed off.
Once you get the hang of Werewolf, there are many special cards that can be used to spice up the game. Here are a few:
- The Witch: The Witch is a Villager with extra powers; she has one potion and one poison, which can be used at any point in the game. The potion brings a player back to life while the poison kills a player.
- The Village Drunk: The Village Drunk is a Villager who can only communicate with gestures or noises. They can’t talk at all during the day; if they do, they automatically die the following night.
- The Alpha Werewolf: The Alpha Werewolf is a player who can turn a Villager into a Werewolf. This can only be used once.
One commercial version of the game, Ultimate Werewolf, includes more than 40 player roles. With so many discussion threads dedicated to extra roles, there’s potential for endless variations on Werewolf.
Where to Find Werewolf
The best part? Werewolf is free. Though many commercial versions are available, fans of the game have released their own printable card sets for download. Alternatively, make and laminate your own cards with the kids; even Post-It notes with roles written on them are just fine.
My roommate downloaded the beautiful card set by American designer Max Temkin. (If his name sounds familiar, that’s because he’s the co-founder of the decidedly un-kid friendly Cards Against Humanity). Temkin’s PDF template includes the Witch and six blank cards for extra roles.
Here is another downloadable card set featuring cute stick figures from a website dedicated to “print and play” games.
For complete Werewolf rules, click here.
Werewolf is recommended for ages 10 and up.
Sijia Chen is a contributing editor at beijingkids and a freelance writer who has covered travel, tech, culture, parenting, and the environment. Her work has appeared in Travel + Leisure, The Independent, the Beijinger, Midnight Poutine, and more. Follow her on Twitter at @sijiawrites or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo: mikequozl (via Flickr)