So Werewords Is Just Another Werewolf Game? Not Exactly!
You’ll be forgiven for thinking that Werewords sounds vaguely familiar. Most people will know and have played the hidden role game Werewolf. The game has almost achieved the status of being regarded as a ‘traditional’ game, although it is actually only about 20 years old, starting life as a pastime in the Psychology Department at Moscow State University. It exists in many versions, with the Bezier One Night Ultimate version being perhaps the most well known. In Werewolf, players are all dealt secret roles. Some know who others are and they will dissemble and debate, trying to ascertain which player is a werewolf and which are innocent villagers before voting on who the group should lynch.
Werewords is a mash-up of Werewolf and a word game. It was created by veteran game designer, Ted Alspach (Ultimate Werewolf/Castles of Mad King Ludwig/Suburbia). In this game, for between 4 and 10 players, each player is dealt a secret role, just as in vanilla Werewolf. The difference is that players are also asking the Mayor, ‘yes’, ‘no’ or ‘maybe’ questions to try to find a hidden word. The Mayor, werewolves and Seer will know the hidden word. In addition to the role of Mayor, one or two werewolves and a Seer, there may optionally be a Minion (who knows who the werewolves are but doesn’t know the hidden word) and a Beholder (who knows who the Seer is but does not know the hidden word). Everyone else will be ordinary villagers who know nothing. Players have to use the information they have from each other’s guesses and questions in order to determine which ‘side’ others are on. If the word is correctly guessed, the werewolves win only if they can identify the Seer. If the word is not guessed correctly, the villagers have to correctly identify by majority vote one of the werewolves.
Werewords is played against a timer, so you can pretty confident that, even allowing for set up, each game can be finished inside 10 minutes. This makes it very playable as a party game and a great potential candidate as as a ‘filler’ to wind down with at the end of an evening of longer games.
Is This Déjà Vu All Over Again?
This is a game that attracted a lot of publicity in advance of its publication, much of it unfavourable. There was much controversy over similarities between the word game aspects of Werewords and Oink Games’ hidden word guessing game Insider. There are no werewolves or villagers in Insider, but there are assigned roles: a Master who, like the Mayor in Werewords, knows the word and gives yes or no answers to the other players’ questions, and an Insider, who knows the word and hopes to steer the others towards identifying that word in the limited time available and without giving away his identity. The Insider only wins if the players correctly guess the word but fail to identify him by majority vote.
There is no denying that these games have a great deal in common. The fact that, in both, players are guessing a word rather than some other aspect is what most immediately stands out. That aside, neither games deploy mechanics that are entirely novel; there are elements in both games that may give players a sense of déjà vu. Both Wereword and Insider have mechanics that are reminiscent of those seen in Hobby World’s Spyfall, for example. In that game, all but one of the players (or two in the case of Spyfall 2) know a location but the spy does not. With a timer set, players ask each other questions and give answers that are sufficiently pertinent to the location as to show they know it, without being so obvious that the spy can correctly guess it. The spy wins if he identifies the location; the other players win if they identify the spy.
Both Wereword and Insider can also, of course. trace their roots back to the genuinely traditional parlour game of “Twenty Questions”. This rose to its peak of popularity with popular radio versions broadcast in the UK and US in the 1940s, and with a TV version running on the BBC for nearly 30 years. The yes/no parlour game can certainly be traced back at least as far as the early Victorian period: Charles Dickens describes a version of it being played by Scrooge’s nephew and his friends in A Christmas Carol, first published in 1843.
Werewords/Insider? How Do I Tell Them Apart?
Despite the accusations and refutations of plagiarism, Werewolves and Insider are different enough to stand or fall on their own merits. Inevitably, however, potential buyers will want to put the two games to a side-by-side comparison.
Insider is a neat, small box game that comes with all you need to play, including the word cards and an egg timer. The design is simple and elegant, making it quick to teach, learn and play. It’s a game that can be brought out for non-gamers and they will be playing it within a minute. Some people have speculated that, because it comes with a limited number of word cards, there may be a risk that players will ‘learn’ the available words. That possibility seems remote but it is not unimaginable. You’d had to have gotten a lot of play out of Insider for this ever to emerge as an issue.
By contrast, and somewhat surprisingly, Werewords is not a game you can just open up the box and play. Although the text on the back of the box refers to a free app, the labelling does not state clearly that this is an essential component and the game cannot be played at all without it. In that sense, some would consider that the game’s packaging is a little misleading. In fact, the box merely contains the hidden role cards and a bunch of yes/no/maybe tokens to be used by the Mayor in answering players’ questions. The latter are not wholly essential, so you are really just buying a set of 12 hidden role cards (one Mayor, six villagers, two werewolves, one Seer, one Beholder and one Minion). The actual gubbins of the game is contained not in the box at all but in the smartphone app that is available for free download in either iOS (iPhone) or Android versions. The app talks players through the hidden role set up for the game (telling players when to shut and open their eyes, for example) and provides a timer, which can be varied to alter the difficulty of the game. Crucially, it is the app too which generates the hidden word. In this, it definitely scores over Insider because the potential world list is much longer and the app has a variable difficulty setting so the game can be set up to play with easy, medium, hard or ‘ridiculous’ words. The latter appears to take the word ‘ridiculous’ rather literally. It does not, as might be expected, offer words that are ridiculously hard; instead it offers many constructs that are not even recognisably actual words in the English language. For that reason, it may be best to avoid this mode.
In play, Werewords is less immediately intuitive than Insider but experienced gamers may well find it is meatier and has more appeal. The more extensive word list should give Werewords greater longevity, and the interplay of the various hidden roles works slightly better than in Insider. In Insider, it is actually a very viable strategy for the player with the Insider role not even to bother to look at the hidden word. If he doesn’t know it, he is less likely to be identified as steering the group to find it, yet, as “Twenty Question” aficionados will attest, there is a very high probability that players will anyway arrive unaided at the correct word simply through their yes/no questioning. You will know this if you’ve ever played with a 20Q toy or played “Twenty Questions” with an Amazon Alexa. In Werewords, this ‘cheat’ is unlikely to be a workable strategy: the werewolf or Seer do need to actually know what the hidden word is.
Is Werewords a good game?
Werewords is a party game that I’d definitely play again and one I would happily bring out to introduce others to play. I’d certainly recommend downloading the free app. It is hard, however, to recommend buying the game because there is just not enough in the box to justify the purchase. You don’t really need the yes/no tokens, and anyone who already has a conventional Werewolf game could simply use the character cards from that in conjunction with the free app and they’ll be good to go. For that reason, I’d rate Werewords 6/10 for play but I couldn’t give it more than 3/10 as a buy.
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Selwyn has been playing, collecting and writing about board games for more years than he readily admits to. He has written about and reviewed games for Games & Puzzles, Spielbox and Tabletop Gaming, and his Board's Eye View page on Facebook includes short reviews and commentary on both old and new games.