Werewolf And The Logic Of Lies

I played Werewolf for the first time tonight, a game you play with just a few scraps of paper. I’ll explain what it is and the specific setup we played at the same time:

There were eight of us, seven played and Kim ran the game. She hands all seven of us a folded piece of paper that we look at and keep to ourselves. Written on it is our role, which will be one of the following – numbers in brackets are how many people are assigned that role.

The Game

Wolf (3): secretly a werewolf. The werewolves know who each other are, and each night can gang up to kill one person.
Villager (1): an innocent person who has no special abilities or powers.
Defender (1): each night, the defender picks one person to protect. That person is safe even if the werewolves decide to attack them. They can’t pick the same person two nights running.
Fortune Teller (1): each night, they can point to one person and the GM, Kim, will tell them that person’s true role.
Witch (1): has 1 healing potion and 1 poison potion. Any night someone is attacked, the Witch is told who, and given the option to use her healing potion to save them. She can use the poison potion on any night to kill anyone, including on the same night she saves someone. Both are one-time-use.

Each ‘night’, all players close their eyes. In turn, the GM tells people of each role to open their eyes, asks them to indicate what they want to do in some silent way (for wolves, point to who they want to kill), and then close their eyes again. This way, no roles know what the others did that night. Since the wolves all open their eyes at the same time, they know who each other are.

During the day, the players can vote to ‘lynch’ someone if they suspect they’re a werewolf. If the vote passes, that person is killed and their true identity is revealed. If anyone is killed in the night, their true identity is revealed as well.

During the day, anyone can say whatever they like, including things that aren’t true. The only thing you can’t do is show anyone your slip, proving your real role.

Our Game

It’s a very cool game, and very quickly leads to unique and interesting situations.

In the second game we played, I was a villager. On one turn, another player Tony declared he was the Fortune Teller, and named two other players as wolves. One of them I already suspected, so I trusted the intel and called a vote to lynch that person. It passed, they died, and were revealed as a wolf. That night, the other accused player and the Witch killed each other – again, the intel was right.

That left me, the now very trustworthy Fortune Teller, and two other players who now both claimed to be the Defender. I had previously suspected one of them, Andy, but wasn’t sure enough to call for a lynching. I tried to test their claims: if you’re the Defender, who did you defend last night? Andy said he had protected me. Dave, unfortunately, couldn’t remember.

That made both of them suspicious. After some deductions, Dave decided he must have protected our Fortune Teller Tony the previous night. I could still call a vote to lynch either of them that day, or I could wait one more night to see what would happen.

Since you can’t protect the same person two nights in a row, and each ‘Defender’ claimed the other was the wolf, each would have only one choice to protect that night, if they were telling the truth. If Dave protected Tony last night, he would protect me that night. If Andy protected me last night, he would protect Tony. Whichever was the wolf, they could use the same logic to deduce who would be vulnerable that night. They could either use that information to kill one of them, or use it to intentionally fail the attack and leave the issue undecided.

In every case, even my own death, I decided it was better to wait one night. The worst outcome would be that no-one died, leaving us just as uncertain as today, in which event I would call to lynch Andy, who I still found more suspicious.

The wolf killed Tony that night. I had to run my own logic by myself one more time to make sure I wasn’t being stupid, then called a vote to lynch Andy. Obviously Dave voted with me, we lynched Andy, and he was indeed the final wolf.

Much more than a pre-written murder mystery, Werewolf lets you feel like a detective. The lies you’re picking through are ones real people made up on the spot, and the logic they’re based on is simple enough that even idiots like me can legitimately attempt to use deduction to determine guilt.

My Question

I have a question about it though, for anyone really. I’ve literally only played two games, so I’m just trying to figure things out.

Isn’t it always in the humans’ interests to declare their roles as soon as the game starts?

If they do, the wolves either make themselves conspicuous by staying silent, or they have to immediately pick a lie and announce it confidently. Even if all three of them do this quickly enough not to arouse suspicion and deliver the lie convincingly, they still reveal a lot.

If more than one wolf claims to be the same role, we end up with three or more people claiming that title, giving a 2/3 chance or better of killing a wolf if you lynch one of them. Eg.

Player 1: I’m the villager.
Player 2: I’m the defender.
Player 3: I’m the witch.
Player 4: I’m the witch.
Player 5: I’m the witch.
Player 6: I’m the fortune teller.
Player 7: I’m the fortune teller.

If you get it wrong and lynch the genuine one, you’ve revealed at least two of the three wolves in doing so.

If the wolves co-ordinate perfectly and each pick a different role to claim, three humans now know the identity of one wolf each – the one who’s claiming to be them. Every human also knows of one trustworthy human – with three wolves and four human roles, one will remain uncontested and is definitely genuine. Eg.

Player 1: I’m the villager.
Player 2: I’m the defender.
Player 3: I’m the defender.
Player 4: I’m the witch.
Player 5: I’m the witch.
Player 6: I’m the fortune teller.
Player 7: I’m the fortune teller.

If two claim to the be the Fortune Teller, the Defender can pick one to defend that night. If the other Fortune Teller is attacked, the Witch will be told and can use her potion to save them. Either way, the Witch can use her poison to kill the wolf claiming to be her. Meanwhile, the real Fortune Teller can use their ability to test one of the Defenders or Villagers to uncover another wolf (no need to test a Witch or Fortune Teller).

If the wolves attacked the Fortune Teller that night, no humans die. One wolf is dead, the Fortune Teller knows the identity of both the remaining wolves, the Witch knows which Fortune Teller is genuine, and by calling to lynch the Defender or Villager imposter he uncovered, the Teller proves themselves to the real human in that role.

If they attacked the Witch that night, the Witch dies but she still got to kill a wolf. The Fortune Teller now knows who both remaining wolves are: the other Fortune Teller, and whatever they learned from their test. And by calling to lynch the Defender or Villager imposter he uncovered, the Teller proves themselves to the real human in that role.

If they attacked the Defender or the Villager, that person will die, but one wolf is dead, the Fortune Teller knows the identity of both the remaining wolves, and the Witch is alive and has her healing potion.

The latter case is less conclusive, but in all eventualities it seems like a great start. The Fortune Teller can’t die the first night, always knows the identity of the wolves by day 2, and if they die any time after that, all remaining humans know they were genuine and hence know the identity of the remaining wolves.

Is instant human honesty ever not a good idea? Is there some way for the wolves to turn it to their advantage? Is it a quirk of our number of players and number of wolves?

Edit: Thanks for the input! From the comments, it sounds like we played an unusual configuration – many say the players aren’t usually told how many of each role exist, and the Witch is an unusual addition. We probably played with too many powerful roles on the human side – revealing your identity to the wolves wasn’t a big deal since almost every human player was important.

Masses of interesting roles and rules on the Wikipedia page (Mafia is the game it’s based on).

14 Replies to “Werewolf And The Logic Of Lies”

  1. Just as a quick, 3:30am brain and really should be asleep so not much consideration thought but I think it may be quirk of number of players. The times I’ve played the forum version of the game, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a witch role before. I think having both a witch and a defender/Guardian Angel might be overpowering the humans just a tad, with your config.

  2. Sounds like it might be a quirk of the number of players you’ve gotten and the fact that you explicitly know which roles will be handed out going into the game. In the forum games I’ve played of werewolf (although I often play it as ‘Mafia’), the exact composition is usually left unknown apart from how many baddies there will be.

  3. Having read up on this post I understand your question much more. In this situation, it’s still murky whether to claim or not immediately(which has various reasons I could talk at length about, I used to play a whole lot of mafia, different name for the same game, around forums, a site designed around the game, and in person). This setup is a case where yes, claiming day one can be a very VERY strong strategy, at least assuming the witch can use her potion on herself. I debated writing up a long description of why, but questions of night-priority and role specifics prevent me from being able to analyze the situation well. I will say, from my understanding while not being sure of these things, this setup may be brokenly town sided for a few reasons, but without knowing specifics I couldn’t say for sure. But, certainly, if the witch can use her healing potion on herself, the town can not lose with a mass day one claim. If she can’t, doing so is exponentially more risky.

  4. You seem to be playing a more complex version of the classic version, which might complicate things. Usually, the only power roles are the cop/”fortune teller” and the doctor/”defender” and adding more overcomplicates things to the point where the game gets a little weird or imbalanced.

    The problem with claiming day 1 is that now the scum/”wolves” know exactly who the doctor and the cop are. They don’t have to claim a power role and it would be _incredibly stupid_ to do anything other than claim vanilla/”villager.” Then it’s a simple matter of killing the defender the first night and then killing the cop the next + then playing the best you can afterwards.

    It’s been a small trend for years on various forums I go to to play it as a play-by-post game, which allows the scum to converse amongst themselves in private, adding more strategy complexity and allowing for more power roles to get added to make up for it [of course, anyone not-scum must communicate in-thread publically, and the dead tell no tales at all]. Without the ability to communicate with your team by playing in public, though, I still think keeping it as simple as possible is best.

  5. Yep, if there were more players the wolves could quite easily hide among the villagers.

    Also, nothing stops wolves from lynching one of their own to build trust.

  6. Another variant of this game that’s cropped up recently (thanks to a successful Kickstarter) is “One Night”.


    In the One Night, starting roles can be swapped during the night phase, when everyone else’s eyes are closed. For example, you may have been a Werewolf when the night started, but then the Thief came and replaced your identity with something else…but you don’t get to re-check, or even know for sure if your card got swapped.

    This adds an interesting layer to the “truth or lie” mechanic. For one thing, players who got to switch or peek at cards have meta information about whose roles have been changed.

    Players declare their role publicly by taking a token. Since these tokens are limited by type, you may think you’re a Villager but you might have to take a Werewolf token because (you would claim), “Someone stole my token before I could grab it!”

    There’s only one round (and it’s timed). Players only get one chance to pick someone to kill, and there are various victory conditions depending on who dies. There’s even a Suicide role who WANTS to be killed by mistake. If he convinces you he’s a Werewolf and the town murders him, he wins.

    I only played two rounds of this so I don’t know much about the best strategies. I did manage to throw everyone off by selecting Werewolf immediately — usually people only take that token if all the others get grabbed first. People assumed I either WAS a Werewolf trying for a double-bluff, or I was the Suicide.

    Actually, I was the Troublemaker… I figured running around town boasting I was a Werewolf was the kind of thing a Troublemaker would do.

  7. @alex, in most variations of the game, killing a player reveals their role to everyone, making the gambit of the werewolves lynching their own ineffective.

  8. Aha, thanks guys. Sounds like we had an unusual set up. I think not knowing how many of each role were out there, or not having a Witch, would change a lot.

  9. In my experience you should always have at least as many generic villagers as you have werewolves. This gives them at least the option to hide claiming to be a normal villager.

  10. You should try out The Resistance. It sounds very similar to this game, in that it’s ultimately about on-the-spot deception and trying to figure out who is on your side and who is against you, but there are cards and missions and stuff that adds enough variables to the game to keep it from being as easily ‘figured out’, if you get me.

  11. Usually MOST of the players are villagers. You are right, though, in that villagers have little reason to lie from a mechanical advantage standpoint though some of the good-people non-villager roles occasionally have reason if you get into the more complicated roles. In general this is true for all non-werewolves, though … the catch is that in most games, a Werewolf will just say they’re a villager because half or more of the game consists of such folk and killing all of the villagers in the hopes that some of them were lying wolves isn’t a very good idea.

    Personally, I loved Werewolf as a curiosity the few times I’ve played it. It’s a fun party activity. I don’t think very well of it as a game though–and not even because I dislike player elimination (which I do). One Night Werewolf is supposed to be a solution to some of it’s problems but I find One Night Werewolf is even worse than werewolf proper, concentrating it’s worst issues into a game that consists of *nothing but* those issues. It is a game of pure luck and charisma; there is very little tactic to it, you have very little agency (you can’t show people your card, you’re part of a voting system so you can’t directly effect those decisions, etc), unless you have a special power an even then you have almost no data to go on in the game proper and even LESS in one-night werewolf were there are no patterns to observe over the course of a longer game–just pure lies and shouting and such.

    In Two Rooms and a Boom, you have agency–your fate is somewhat in the hands of leaders, and charisma and luck matter … but you can show people your card. You have something you can do all on your own that doesn’t require anyone’s permission or a vote. This seems like a small detail that can as easily screw you as help you, but that little bit of agency builds confidence in the mechanical systems and makes players feel more involved with the trust-based mechanics. The resistance carries over many of Werewolf’s problems but diffuses them slightly; again players have little agency–only the villains can even choose whether to pass or fail a mission (not that you’d want to fail a mission as a good player, but that’s just it–the mechanics don’t give you any viable choices to make there, whether or not you’re technically allowed to do it (which you aren’t)), but there’s no voting. You are responsible for who you do or do not trust; your fate is only decided by vote when it comes to approving of a leader’s team (much as Two Rooms and a Boom allows you to vote for a leader, who then makes the final decision personally). The leader has agency, but that agency can be taken away if they lose too much trust; but it’s yet more clever because you don’t vote for the leader, you vote to approve the leader’s decision (unlike in Two Rooms)–you vote based on less nebulous data than in Werewolf, and though it is kind of a toss-up between Resistance and Two Rooms as to which vote uses more nebulous data.

    I like comparing these games because they all have the same sort of goal, and basically all of them do better than Werewolf in at least a few ways–containing the game, creating more usable data, giving players more agency, giving players mechanical systems on top of the social ones (See: BSG, SoC–the latter being particularly clever for reasons I won’t go into since this is already a bit longer than I meant it to be). At the end of it, these games rely primarily on social mechanics which will play out differently in different groups of people, but precisely the same, really, from game to game with only somewhat meaningful differences when you swap around this or that role for this or that other one. Of all these games, though, werewolf (especially One Night) has the most mechanically difficult goal and thus is, to me, the weakest since the social systems are so variable as to be rather difficult to compare precisely. In Two Rooms, the end will always come down to a 50/50 shot even if you have NO data. In The Resistance, you can logically eliminate a good number of possibilities in all but the most specialty-role-filled, expertly executed games leaving BOTH teams a fairly feasible goal though it usually leans a little toward the spies in the classic game, I think, since the good guys have to have utter confidence in the final team. In Werewolf, the data in the game is pretty much entirely social unless you play with something as clumsy as the “Guess who the werewolves are!” card (The Seer? Guardian Angel? Whatever its called). Even when you know exactly how many characters of what sort are left … you have *no* meaningful mechanical distinctions to draw between those players unless you’re playing with a card that simply tells you the answer and even then you run out of meaningful data the moment multiple people claim to have that role and offer contradictory information. One Night, again, makes this even worse. Sure, you might know whose whatsit was swapped with whoms, but you have no idea what the whatsits were before you swapped them unless one of theirs is yours … which would only really be useful and interesting if the player you swapped with could look at their tile so you could see what THEY did with THEIR data and fill in the gaps.

    For a better example of the kind of confusion One Night tries to monopolize on, I highly recommend Mascarade in which you frequently have no idea who you are but can check if you waste a whole turn to do so or bluff and pretend you know who you are and hope no one calls you on it. Or Coup in which you know which two abilities you have access to, how many of each card is in the deck (thus the likelihood of anyone having a particular combination of two abilities), and can always bluff to access the other four abilities … except that getting caught bluffing loses you a) one of your card/ability slots for the rest of the game and b) accordingly one of your two “lives”–the result is a bluffing game in which you have very little room to screw up especially since everyone is stockpiling money in order to remove your cards from you, too–bluff a defense against the assassin and you can find yourself out of the game, losing one card to the called bluff and one card to the assasin itself. Bluff that you HAVE the assasin and you can find yourself losing one of your cards instead. Both of these games are clever, short, easy to teach, one involves elimination and one doesn’t, and they manage to do hidden-information (which always involves bluffing and “no, do it to THAT guy, he’s winning!” type deflections and thus social elements) with much meatier mechanics that make for stronger, more consistent play and make victory through social means feel that much more exciting and cool and victory without charisma entirely feasible.

  12. Once, when playing a protracted online version of this game, I was one of the werewolves. If I remember right, the other werewolf (we only had two) ended up not being so active, and I convinced him to let me publicly suspect him as part of my ongoing trail of deceit to keep the villagers (we had a lot of ’em) from figuring me out. I also at one point killed someone I was publicly friendly towards, in order to throw off suspicions. I actually managed to finagle my way into being one of the prime influences on who everybody else voted off, which is scary in retrospect. The person moderating the game ended up disappearing before we ever finished, but I would’ve liked to have seen how far I could’ve taken it (we’d already voted out quite a few innocents).

    Anyway, I greatly enjoyed your analyzation, I’m curious as to how you’d tackle the more typical version of the game, and I’m sorry my first comment on your blog is so terribly self-indulgent. Looking forward to archives binging – you write some pretty interesting stuff.

  13. Another game you guys might enjoy, Tom and other comment people, is Two Rooms and One Boom, which my brother introduced me to.

    You can download the rules online or buy the proper box. In short:

    People split into two teams . There’s a president and a bomber.

    Each team goes into a different room. If the president and the bomber are in the same room after 3 rounds then the bombers team wins or vice versa.

    A round is 3 minutes and each round gets a minute shorter. You vote for a team leader in each room and they choose a person to switch when the round ends.

    You can show anyone your team, or your role or both.

    That’s a little dumbed down, but if you like mafia well worth a look!

Comments are closed.