In Defense of Vanillagers

Plain vanilla Villagers.  A staple of any good Werewolf game.  In fact, no matter how much many people love special roles, it’s difficult to impossible to play Werewolf without them. Rather than being the “boring” part of a game, I would suggest that they’re what make the game the most interesting.

Ted Alspach wrote an interesting article about how, not only do you need plain villagers, but the cards need to be all the same:

After all, I thought, why should everyone have the same picture of a villager on their card? It turns out, because giving each player a different picture of a villager breaks the game! It only took a single play of the game… to figure this out: one person said “my villager is a girl with a green apron” and suddenly everyone was describing the unique villager on their card. Except the werewolves, who were pretty much screwed.

In other words, having plain Villagers gives the Werewolves a place to hide.  I’ve moderated a game or two where somebody begged me to do an “all Specials” setup, and I did it.  In every such case, that person immediately started the game by insisting that everyone should “out” themselves by identifying who they are.  Lynch anyone who refuses, or any people claiming a duplicate role.  Werewolf goes from a subtle and rather sophisticated game about reading people, and becomes a rather simplistic logic puzzle.

The other disadvantage, to me, is that if you use too many special roles, it distracts from the “social” aspect of the social deduction. Rather than interacting with people and trying to get a feel for their reactions — the subtle heart of the game — people start to rely too much on their “powers”.  If you ever make it out to Gen Con, you’ll find large numbers of people playing Werewolf all through the night, and they play almost exclusively bare-bones games with Villagers, Werewolves, and a Seer.  While I do like a few Specials in games I run, I can definitely see the appeal of playing a “pure” game — especially if you have good players.  Even when I do run specials in games, I tend to use mostly “low magic” roles, such as the Hunter, rather than a lot of the spellcaster-type roles.

At some point in the course of running Werewolf at small conventions (which I do often), the phrase “plain vanilla Villagers” comes up a lot.  After a while I adopted the term “Vanillagers” — a coinage of my own that has spread to some extent to the local Werewolf scene through players who have played in my game.  Beyond the touch of humor, I like it because it lends a small bit of personality to the “boring” part of the game.  I’ll consider it a victory when I hear the term coming from somebody who has not played in my game — when it has made its way out into the world, travelled a bit, and made it back to me from another direction.

So here’s to Vanillagers.  Not only a core part of the game, but a vital part of its foundation.  We couldn’t play without them.  So the next time you draw that “boring” card, remember that you make the game work.

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