Linnaeus

Play-by-Forum Werewolf

In appraisals, boardgames on June 18th, 2007 at 12:40 am

My third play of a forum-based game of Werewolf is winding its way toward a conclusion (this is the public domain party game also known by many other names — notably Mafia — not one of the roleplaying games of that name published by White Wolf). I have a few thoughts that I’d like to share about this style of play.

Full MoonWerewolf, for the unfamiliar, is a game in which a small, indeterminate village is being plagued by one or more of their own who have become rampaging werewolves that are eating the citizenry one-by-one. The villagers are trying to figure out who the predators are, and destroy the threat. At the start of the game, the players are secretly assigned the role of a werewolf or a villager at the beginning of the game, although there are other roles that can also be used by groups that are comfortable with the basics. After a brief period of debate and accusation, the players vote to remove one of their own from the game — lynching, in the language of the game — in the hope that they are knocking off one of the werewolves. Then, while the village sleeps, the surviving werewolves secretly choose a villager to have as a midnight snack. The game ends when all of the wolves or all of the villagers are dead.

I have not had the opportunity to try face-to-face werewolf yet, due to a lack of an appropriate group to try it out on. It is fairly obvious, though that it plays like poker without the money or the luck. Players must read the actions, words and body language of their fellows to try and figure out who is hiding a fur coat and fangs. Poker players use the same skills when reading how strong an opponent’s hand is using probability and body language.

This is the root of a problem I have with playing the game by forum. There is no body language in a forum post. Yes, players give away information in the tone and content of their posts, but for me it lacks the real pleasure of looking an opponent in the eye while looking for a tell.

Also, forum games are essentially a continual process that lasts more than twelve hours a day for a couple of weeks or more. Play begins with the earliest risers, and continues each day until a couple of hours past the “dusk” deadline. Games featuring a heavy contingent of overseas players can be essentially non-stop. This requires a constant monitoring of the game thread which I find a little onerous, even as someone who probably spends an unhealthy amount of time at a computer. Although you are unlikely to miss anything important if you go out for a little fresh air or to spend time with friends the possibility is there.

If you do miss such an event, you may come back to find it too late to prevent yourself from getting lynched, or some other unpleasant outcome that you feel you could have prevented if you had just stuck around. Even if you do not feel that you had a role to play in those events, the fact that you did not participate in them looks superficially suspicious, too, and you are left having to explain your abscence, or else be tagged as a suspicious character. At the very least, you miss out on some of the best parts of playing the game. For someone like me, this is both frustrating and annoying.

The online community, with the help of the automated Cassandra moderation system, have developed a multitude of new roles and variants. Many of these are impractical for face-to-face play, and add a real variety to the game, so there is definitely something uniquely worthwhile in forum-based play. For example, the game I am currently involved in is a rather complex variant themed on the Heroes television series, and uses various methods of private communication that would be hard to manage face-to-face.

While I am eager to try werewolf in a face-to-face environment, I will, at most, only dabble in forum play from now on. The disadvantages, while largely a matter of personal taste, outweigh the fun for me. I will only continue to play at all because some of my online friends enjoy (that is, are addicted to ;) playing forum werewolf, and it’s nice to experience their passion for it. You will not see me playing it mostly with strangers again any time soon, though. As it stands, play-by-forum werewolf just is not my cup of tea.

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  1. Hmm – I don’t think I have played a game with you at all, yet. But I share your concerns about the amount of time required to play properly, especially in a big game – it’s compounded by the fact that I sleep during the north american working day, so often get up to face 10+ pages of posts and a looming lynch deadline.

    I played my first face-to-face games last weekend and found it much more enjoyable than I had expected. There’s just something about murmuring snippets to the person beside you and watching what happens next.

  2. I’ve played probably about eight games of Werewolf on the BGG forums (but haven’t really played in many this year), and while I’ve enjoyed it, it doesn’t really compare to face-to-face Werewolf. Even though both use the same basic rules, they feel like much different games.

    Online play is mostly about taking the clues and evidence you can collect and determining as logically as possible who is a werewolf/seer/sorceror/etc. It also tends to be taken a lot more seriously by the players than those who play face-to-face. I can only guess this is because it requires so much more thought — and the fact that if you get lynched early, you might be sitting out of a game for a week.

    Face-to-face is a much more relaxed environment, and the gameplay is more about intuition. I played it for the first time at Origins last year, and even with a bunch of strangers (some of which were really good Werewolf players), nobody really got angry over a game going sour for their side (something I’ve witnessed far too often in BGG forum games).

    Personally, I play Werewolf for fun. Face-to-face play is just more fitting with my style of fun. Unfortunately, I haven’t had a chance to play Werewolf in groups made up of only friends, though. I have a feeling things would get really silly in such a group. :)

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