Ultimate Werewolf is a curiosity, being a hard game to fit into a category. It’s not really a board game or a card game or a role-playing game. but manages to incorporate elements of all of these. I understand Ultimate Werewolf evolved from a Russian parlour game and there are a number of similar games to UW on the market (one I’ve played revolving C’thulhu worshippers instead of werewolves. The premise of the game is the players are residents of quiet little 16th century village which has suddenly become infested with some very unfriendly werewolves. The villagers must find them before they devour everyone and the werewolves are masquerading as villagers.
UW requires a gamemaster to plan and moderate the game. The UW kit contains a 80 cards and a booklet that provides basic rules and guidance to the gamemaster. The cards include more than than 30 unique roles and 18 different scenarios to allow groups of all sizes and experience to quickly experience a game. The booklet provides the gamemaster with insights, tips and strategies. The gamemaster has materials to allow a group from 6 to 60 people to participate.
To set up a session, the gamemaster selects a number of cards equal the players and deals one card secretly to each person. The mix of cards is determined by the gamemaster, who usually bases the mix on a scenario listed in the booklet. Experienced gamemasters may choose to create their own mix of cards. A mix will typically have a couple of werewolves, a few unique characters with special abilities and a heap of villagers. Everyone sits round in a big circle with the gamemaster on the outer. The game is ready to begin.
The gamemaster will use their narrative skill to weave a story and immerse the players in the experience. Typically they will say how the the villagers all go to sleep for the night. All players must bow their heads and close their eyes. Now you could cheat at this stage and secretly check out what is going on. If that’s the case – DON’T PLAY ULTIMATE WEREWOLF! The game relies on honesty. Once players are ‘asleep’ the gamemaster asks for the werewolves (only) to awaken and be silent. He will ask the werewolves to agree on a victim for the night. Once this has been indicated (non-verbally) to the gamemaster, the werewolves go to sleep and the whole village (including werewolves) awaken.
The gamemaster will describe the horrific discovery of a mutilated corpse slain by the werewolves and point to the player who is dead. That player is out of the game and must leave the circle. The villagers now hold a council and must decide on a person to blame for the killing. The booklet details various ways of running the ‘witch hunt’ trial. This is a great time for people to role play and blame each other and for the werewolves to make sure nobody incriminates them. In the end judgement is made and a player is hung for their ‘crimes’. If it is a werewolf that is hung this is revealed and the villagers celebrate (although their may be more werewolves still in their midst). If it’s a villager that’s hung, the gamemaster chastises the villagers for their decision and they all feel really sad (or stupid) while the werewolves secretly chuckle.
The gamemaster takes the villagers through into a new night cycle and everyone falls asleep again and the surviving werewolves awake to feed again. The game continues with more players accusing each other until either the gamemaster announces that the werewolf threat is over (ie the last werewolf is dead) or there are only one villager remaining who is human (in which case any remaining werewolves transform and slay the poor unfortunate. During the night/day sequence the gamemaster may also activate players who have been dealt a special character which grants special powers. These characters include such roles as the Bodyguard, the Martyr, the Hunter and many more and their abilities add a different dimension to each game. Foe example, the Hunter is awakened after the werewolf kill has been resolved for the night and gets the opportunity to shoot someone they think is a werewolf (this often goes tragically wrong and the werewolves are trying to find out who the Hunter is so as to eliminate that threat).
Ultimate Werewolf is a great game to participate in. There’s no real winner or loser – even the dead players enjoy hanging around and watching the continuing demise of their fellow villagers. What you need to make this work is a good gamemaster who can hepl set the mood and keep the game flowing and I recommend a minimum of 12 players.