No recent game has given me as much pleasure as the parlor game known as Werewolf.* Whenever my extended family gathers for holidays, we play Werewolf over and over. I’ve played the game on company retreats, at tech gatherings, on group vacations. At Foo Camp, a rendevouz for nerds, epic sessions of Werewolf will run all night long till dawn. It is that addictive.
Werewolf can be played with as few as 6-8 folks and as many as 30 or more. A game can last 30 minutes to an hour, and even very young kids can play. It’s a game of bluff and deduction. Think of poker, but without any cards or money. Some fans call it a “mind game.” In brief, the game assigns roles to players at random and in secret. One emergent group — the werewolves — must kill the innocent villagers, but no one knows who is who because the deed is done “at night” in a secret way. On each round of the game, the innocents will lynch a supposed werewolf as voted by the group after accusations and debate but they are never sure they have the right person. Maybe it’s the werewolfs leading the pitchforks!? Both the best and worst of human behavior is activated: lying, leadership, mob psychology, democracy, persuasion, deception, deduction logic, and imagination.
Because of the intense social dynamics, the game is eternally surprising and addictive. Werewolf is the only non-sport game I know of that is as much fun to watch as to play. Players who die early in the game will always stick around till the end, watching in fascination.
Like Charades, you don’t need any equipment, other than some index cards, or a deck of playing cards to distribute in order to assign roles in secret. But over years of playing we’ve found this dedicated deck of cards by Ted Alspach makes it much easier to introduce newbies, and to remember roles. The deck contains 40 or so cards printed with Werewolf roles and instructions. It also contains about 25 additional roles that can be added to the typical 5 main roles, which is why Alspach calls it Ultimate. As you play more often or the groups get bigger, you can keep the game exciting by experimenting with these additional roles.
A pretty good free rule set for Werewolf can be found online here. Grab a regular deck of cards, assign different picture cards to roles, and you are off. If you want a bit more help this Ultimate Werewolf deck includes a fantastic sheet of very clear rules and instructions (the best I’ve seen), with great tips on how to be a good moderator. And the rules stay handy with the ready-made cards. We’ve found that having the roles explained on each card is really helpful for new players.
[* This is an evolving game with many variations (which you can find online), including an earlier one that uses the same rules but a different metaphor: In Mafia, the secret Mafioso try to kill innocents. However, the Werewolf version seems to be dominating.]