Best of 2015: Best New-to-us Boardgame

Shaun's Best of 2015 Awards

We haven’t really done much coverage of boardgames here on Arcadian Rhythms. In fact, looking back it seems I preceded my one board game review to date with a load of preamble about how we weren’t likely to cover them much because none of us really possessed a breadth of knowledge about the contemporary board game resurgence. Gosh, we are transparent here, aren’t we?

That’s kind of still true. Several Arcadians plus friends have started semi-regular boardgaming sessions, and we’re increasingly dabbling in more modern board games than our traditional fare (Upwords, Fluxx, Bananagrams, Linkee, Cards Against Humanity – the sort of thing you play with your nan). It seems appropriate to at least acknowledge this by picking out a game that was our favourite of 2015, right?

And the winner is…

One Night Ultimate Werewolf cover

It’s One Night Ultimate Werewolf!

This game won us over right off the bat. It’s simple to pick up – with the free accompanying app it will even tell you what to do during the ‘setup’ phase – and its complexities emerge from the truths, lies, arguments and theorising that comes from the players. No two games we’ve played have been alike, and despite many hours of play we’ve not even tried out all of the different variants that are possible.

Let’s backtrack a bit. In One Night Ultimate Werewolf, a set of chunky cards are distributed: one to each player and three in the middle of the table. Each player secretly looks at their card, which contains a role. Their role dictates their team: most players will be Villagers, perhaps with a special ability. One, two or zero players will be Werewolves. Once everyone has established who they are, everyone closes their eyes. During this ‘night’ phase, players with certain roles may open their eyes within brief windows of opportunity and take action – or just recognise who else shares their role. (This is where that app comes in handy! Imagine trying to coordinate all these timings and role orders without some form of exo-brain.)

Varying amounts of certainty and uncertainty are introduced during the night. If a player is the Troublemaker, for example, they will have switched two other players’ cards around without looking at them. The Robber swaps their card with another player’s and does look at their new card. The Seer may look at one other player’s card, or two from the middle set. If there is only one Werewolf, they also get to peek at the middle. There are plenty more roles – these are just some of the basics.

Once night is over, everyone wakes up. Players are not permitted to look at their new cards, but their victory is tied to whatever their new role is. Of course, they may not know if their role has changed, or if it has what to. Now everyone must discuss who they believe the Werewolves are and, after a short period, vote for who they want to hang. Execute. Murderise.

Let’s talk victory conditions! It may be premature, but it works for the US military. So: Villagers win if at least one Werewolf dies, no matter whether villagers die as well. Werewolves win if no Werewolves die. If there are no Werewolf players but the players believe there are, it’s possible for everyone to lose! Because few players know for sure what their role is – even, say, the Seer or Robber may have had their cards swapped by the Troublemaker – there’s a huge amount of uncertainty. This means plenty of opportunity for sneaky Werewolf players to introduce overt lies and misdirect everyone, and players who believe they are Villagers may go chasing red herrings anyway.

One Night Ultimate Werewolf cards & tokens

Take a recent game we played. I mention this one because I won and I like feeling very clever, okay? I was dealt the Robber, and during the night phase I stole a card that turned out to be a Werewolf. I had no idea whether or not there was another Werewolf, so I knew I was potentially in a tricky spot. My quickly devised plan was to wait for other players to volunteer their roles, and then try to ad lib something convincing out of that. I was in luck: a player who had been dealt the Troublemaker said she had swapped cards between the player I had stolen from and another. At this point I said “I can corroborate that: I was the Robber and I stole the Troublemaker from you.”

The player who had been the Werewolf promptly jumped in: “well then, I was a Werewolf – and I was the only one.” She then pointed the finger at the luckless fourth party whose card had been swapped. After this I generally kept quiet. No one suspected a thing; because I only made one small lie, one that appeared to corroborate several other players’ claims, the theories that were constructed to try and understand which roles everyone now possessed appeared to make sense. The vote was taken, the patsy unanimously voted to be hanged, and as soon as it was safe I crowed and ate my victory cake. It was delicious.

So that’s One Night Ultimate Werewolf. It’s fun for about as long as human beings are capable of being tricksy, duplicitous and manipulative: which is to say, infinitely. Plus it’s easy to learn and each game lasts maybe fifteen minutes, tops. It’s an excellent party game and I’d recommend it for anyone’s collection.