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I’m a bit late on the trigger here, but interesting artwork on this Werewolf deck:

An Origin-al New Game

I was at Gen Con last week, and had a chance to play an interesting new social deduction game with an unwieldy name: Latitude 90° : The Origin.  There are several significantly original aspects to this game —the most obvious of which is that there is no (human) moderator. Instead, you play it with the help of a smartphone.

You’re all researchers at a scientific camp in the Antarctic. One of the players is secretly The Origin, and a second player is The Corruptor — both infected with an alien pathogen that drives them to spread the infection and reproduce.  (Clearly John Carpenter’s The Thing was a big influence on the theme here.) The infected players are trying to spread the infection to all the other players, and the uninfected Researchers are trying desperately to identify the two original carriers.

Here’s where the smartphones come in.  The game is timed — each game lasts at most, ten minutes. The players are testing samples, and then sharing the samples with other players. The game is broken down into one-minute “turns”; though don’t let the word confuse you — this is real time and there are no breaks.  What happens each turn is you process another sample, and have a chance to send it to another player.  That player in turn can choose to open it or not.  If they open it, they get a single piece of true information, (for example: “Of Tom, Brad, and Alan, one of them is not on the same team”, or “When this was sent, Joe’s samples could not infect you.”)  The twist is that if you open a sample from an infected, you may become infected yourself.

How this plays out is that players are calling out to each other, either announcing who they’re sending a sample to, or reading off the information they get from samples they’ve just opened.  The infected, of course, are probably lying and giving out misinformation.  It takes a few plays to get the swing of it, but you get a lot of info and quickly get a sense of certain people you can trust.  The game also shows, in real time, how many infected players there are; which means that just as you come to know you can trust someone… wait… did they just get infected?

The Researchers have a limited number of tests the can use.  They vote on who to test — again, real time. Select the person you want to test, and if half the Researchers are voting for the same person, that person gets tested.  But they have a very limited number of tests, three or four in the games I played, and two of them must identify the Origin and Corruptor, respectively.  It’s really tight and you simply cannot waste them.  (One tactic for the Infected team is to trick the Researchers into wasting the tests.)

The Origin and the Corruptor have different abilities. The Origin gives out samples that can infect players who open them. The Corruptor can, once per game, simply infect one player of their choice, but otherwise don’t infect.  The Origin can send samples to uninfected players in an attempts to infect, or they can send them to already infected players and in doing so give them a chance to infect others.

I was impressed at the level to which the devices are completely integrated into the game itself. This is NOT like the iPhone “werewolf” games that clumsily recreate a human moderator; it would be literally impossible to play this game without them, as the information shared by the software is updated instantly as the game progresses. (Heh… I suppose you could “play by mail” if you really wanted to; but even then you’d have to communicate via forum or somesuch.)

I ended up playing it three nights in a row, and liked it better the more I played it.  We would play a whole bunch of games, and I actually found myself having to take a break because I was getting overexcited.  This game gets you frantic. My heart was pounding. The first few times you play it’s hard to pick up on much strategy; but as you get used to it (and the games are short enough that you WILL play multiple games) you start to see patterns come out of people’s behavior.  Why didn’t John read out the intel I just gave him?  Who just became infected?  Wait! I just heard two contradictory pieces of intel — one of those people must be lying. …and so on.

The game will be released as a smartphone app.  Only one person will have to buy it per group; they will be able to host games that other people can play in.  There is a Kickstarter project to fund development, which I strongly encourage you to go check out. This is one of the most innovative social deduction games to come out in years, and I cannot wait for it to be released.

Secret Hitler: first impressions

I recently got to play a new game called Secret Hitler.  I seem to be a bit behind the curve on this one, as there was a big Kickstarter for it late last year.  It really is a fun variation on the social deduction game, with secret fascists vying to take over the government and place “Hitler” in charge.

Right off the bat, there are notable differences from Werewolf, such as a much smaller crowd needed (5-10 players), shorter play time, and no elimination.  The game is more structured, so you do have specific information to go from that — even if it doesn’t spell everything out — gives you more to go on that gut feelings.

There is a lot of humor in the game design, though game play itself is serious and tense (well, as serious as any “game” can be I suppose.)  Notably, in the artwork, the Nazis are lizardmen. Make of that what you will.

Secret Hitler fascists

I’ve only had a chance to play it once, so I can only really give initial impressions. Also, that particular play through was more difficult than the rules intended, because I was a fascist, and none of us actually knew who “Hitler” was, even though we were supposed to.  We ended up winning anyway when one of my evil compatriots figured it out and got him elected Chancellor.

(As a side note, I played several different social deduction games that evening, and I was Team Evil in every single one of them.  Again, make of that what you will.)

Overall this game is a LOT of fun, and a great way to get your Werewolf fix when you don’t have enough players for Werewolf.

I recently received my copy of The Lounge — a recently Kickstarted variation on Mafia.  My initial impression: It’s a very nicely designed game for people with truly excellent eyesight.

Overall, the artwork is well done, and it has some interesting characters that I haven’t already seen a dozen times over. So that’s nice.

For some reason I just love it when I meet a young person who’s really good at werewolf. Even better is when a little kid can outwit their own parents.

The flipside is parents using their mommy/daddy powers for evil.  “Oh, now you don’t think Mommy’s a werewolf, do you???”  <– actual quote that determined a game-deciding vote.

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.