Werewolf — originally known as Mafia — was an absolute breakthrough when it was created in the 1980s. Never before had a game so fully employed asymmetrical information and social manipulation. It even started the social deduction game category.
But, as with any early version of a technology, mafia and werewolf have their flaws. The game’s structure requires players to leave the game as villagers or werewolves lynch them. Once killed, lynched players can only observe the drama play out.
Sometimes, this can take hours.
“We hated that our most fun games of werewolf were the games where we were the last ones alive and that our least favorite games were the ones where we were the first ones to die,” said Sean McCoy, one of the designers of Two Rooms and a Boom.
But, like any technology, other designers built upon it..
Here are five board games that have all the social tension of Mafia/Werewolf with none of the player elimination.
The Resistance (also sold under the name Avalon) divides players into two teams. The blue team aims to overthrow an oppressive government. The red team has infiltrated the blue team on behalf of that government. But the blue team knows that it has traitors in its ranks.
The game plays out over a series of missions. Each mission requires one player to choose a squad (usually 2-4 players). Then a majority of the table must approve that squad. Once the table approves a squad, the participating players secretly contribute a success or failure card. If even one player includes a failure card, the red team takes the mission.
The first team to take three missions win.
Ultimate Werewolf: Inquisition
Like The Resistance, Ultimate Werewolf: Inquisition divides players into two teams. Unlike The Resistance, the outcome of each game event has an immediate impact.
The game begins with 12 face-up action cards and 12 face-down villager cards. Each turn plays out in three phases. First, each player takes and uses one of the action cards. This might give the player extra votes or let them look at one of the face-down villager cards. Then, all players vote to “lynch” a face-down villager card. Then, the werewolves kill a villager during the “night” phase.
Players reveal each killed villager and remove its associated action from the game.
If werewolf cards ever outnumber villager cards, the werewolves win. Villagers win by killing all the werewolf cards before that happens.
Are you The Traitor?
In this game, each player takes a secret role that aligns them with a good or evil team and gives them an individual goal. One player holds the magic key, for example. Both the good and evil wizards want to identify this player.
At any time, any player can call a stop to the action and make an accusation appropriate to their role. If their accusation is correct, their team wins. If their accusation is wrong, the other team wins.
The player or players on the winning team get treasure, and then players shuffle and deal out the roles for another round. The first player to collect a set amount of treasure wins.
One Night Ultimate Werewolf
This shortens Werewolf‘s basic structure to one “night” phase.
Each player takes a role card that they can look at just once. During the night, most players secretly gain a small sliver of information — the seer can look at cards; the troublemaker can swap two players’ roles, the werewolves see each other, etc.
After everyone wakes up, the villagers try to assemble their slivers of information into a full picture of who’s a wolf and who’s not. But they usually don’t know who to trust — and they have limited time (usually just 5 minutes) to figure it all out.
Once time runs out, everyone points at another player. The group kills the player with the most fingers pointed at him. The killed player reveals his or her role — which determines the winning team.
Two Rooms and a Boom
Not yet released to game stores, this game has already made a splash on the convention circuit. It divides players in two ways: in addition to dividing players into two teams, it divides them into two rooms. Each room has a leader, and the leaders periodically exchange a number of players with the opposite room.
The two teams have mutually exclusive goals. The blue team aims to protect the president by ensuring that he’s not in the same room as the bomb at the end of the game. The red team aims to do the opposite.
Several players may also have grey roles that give them winning conditions unconnected to the red and blue teams.
After a short period of play — usually 15 minutes — the intrigue stops. The key players reveal who they are, and find out who won.