3 Key Principles for Hunting Werewolves

The criminal is a creative artist; detectives are just critics.
— Hannu Rajaniemi

I'll never forget my first game of Werewolf.

The day after my elimination, the village was down to perhaps six people, and this tiny Asian teenager named Michelle took the stand. She was livid. Shaking and red-faced, she channeled a bit of Sarah Silverman as she explained her read on the game, who the real wolves were, and why this newb village was about to blow it by mis-lynching her. I was absolutely convinced.

So was the village. Unanimously, they voted to let her live. And so she ate them.

The sensation when I realized the truth was not unlike vertigo. Perhaps it was my illusions about being an insightful judge of character slipping away. It left me wondering how much I was missing in my day to day life...  And it made me want to fix it.

People think Werewolf teaches you to be deceptive, but they're missing the point. Werewolf trains you to be self aware, resistant to deception, and therefore much more formidable. It's a beautiful thing.

I hope this article gives you a jump on the wolves, but more than that, I hope it helps you approach the game as a vehicle for growth. It really does have a lot to offer.

Okay, enough of that cerebral nonsense. Step into my dojo, we're going to murder some monsters. 

1. LYING IS WORK. MAKE IT GRUELING.

Lies are like a house of cards... The more you add, the shakier it gets.  Push your luck too many times and it might collapse.

The high difficulty of lying is well documented, and often trips up the wolves without any outside help. But rather than passively hoping our enemies destroy themselves, I'm going to show you how to weaponize the burden of lying by forcing them to lie more.

Much more. 

I do this by constantly questioning people on their actions, especially around voting patterns and nominations. Actions, much more than words, are windows into our true motivations, and if evil players are asked to explain them, they will lie. Each lie limits and defines how they can lie next time, ratchets up the pressure, and makes them risk making a mistake.      

Here are a few ideas on how to go about this:

  • Often, during a trial, only a few players will vote to kill (or not kill). When this happens, ask them, one by one, for their thought process. Afterwards, pay attention to whether they continue to act as a voting block.
  • Ask players for reads on other players. This can be very telling, especially if you have a strong read on a few people. Often, evil players will soon take actions that go against their supposed reads, or their reads on clear players they need to eliminate will be uncharacteristically ignorant. 
  • Any time someone is being quiet, you should ask them what they think is going on in the game.

It's as simple as that. Asking questions buys you information and forces evil players to work harder.

2. NOTICE WHEN THE LIE FALLS APART.

Sometimes there's a moment in the endgame when Team Evil's position becomes untenable because the wolves painted themselves into a corner, perhaps by taking too many cleared villagers to the end. When it happens, it's obvious and the game ends quickly. But when a wolf breaks down earlier, it usually takes one of these forms:

  • Inconsistent actions. Quite often, you will catch a wolf when their votes and words are in conflict. Let's say Jim is clearly on the good team, maybe he claimed Hunter and nobody countered. You ask Bob for his read, and Bob concurs that Jim must be the Hunter. The next day, Jim ends up on trial and Bob votes to kill. It's a good thing you asked Bob for his read, because he's almost certainly a wolf and now he has far less room to maneuver. 
  • Inconsistent words. It's normal for someone to change their mind, but if they contradict their own story and don't have a good explanation, you've probably caught a wolf.
  • Thinking too much. Telling the truth is easy. It takes much more effort to fabricate a lie, especially when the lie is slowly growing in complexity. Any time someone repeats your question back or hesitates excessively, they should go to the top of your wolf list.

As a mod, I see these moments go right over the village's head on a regular basis because they aren't paying attention. If you aren't mindful enough to see the break when it happens, nothing else is going to work.

3. WEIGH BODY LANGUAGE CORRECTLY.

The most important thing to remember about about body language is that it's usually misleading. Even among law enforcement, studies show that only Secret Service agents consistently outperform a coin flip when it comes to spotting liars, and no study has ever uncovered reliable, universal signals of deception.

Body Language Reveals Arousal, Not Deception

Unless you take time to observe a player's behavior and establish a baseline, which takes at least one game, understand that you're flying blind. Even if you notice that a player has intense or anxious body language, that doesn't paint a complete enough picture to assume Team Evil, for a few reasons:

  • A larger-than-average slice of the nerd population deals with crippling anxiety on a daily basis. Anxious might be their baseline.
  • They might be excited about a special Good role, in which case it's better not to draw attention until you know more.
  • Always consider that you might just be wrong.

Remember: what you're really picking up when you notice a tick or a change in body language is arousal. And arousal should factor into your calculations, but it's certainly not damning by itself.

All that said, there are a few behaviors that tend to scream Werewolf. As with all body language, these are much more effective once you've had a chance to spend time with someone and establish a baseline, so take them with a grain of salt.

The Werewolf Jitters / Over-Relaxation

I've caught a lot of newbie werewolves with this one. When you get your first few werewolf cards, it often triggers a full-on adrenaline dump. The change in body language is extreme: wild eyes, sudden fidgeting, pale skin, sweating. This person might be excited about a Good role, but the excitement and pressure of drawing Team Evil is still intense for me, and for newbies, it's often so overwhelming they look like they're getting ready to wrestle a bear.

 George Bailey from It's a Wonderful Life. Definitely a wolf.

George Bailey from It's a Wonderful Life. Definitely a wolf.

 

The other side of the coin is what I call over-relaxation. Slightly more experienced players know they're at risk of the jitters, so they compensate by lounging in an exaggerated and uncharacteristic manner. This often indicates Evil, because the special Good players are not usually working so hard to remain hidden. 

 Over-Relaxation. Definitely a douche, I mean wolf.

Over-Relaxation. Definitely a douche, I mean wolf.

 

Canis Lupis Melodramaticus: The Over-Acting Wolf

Funny things happen when nightkills are revealed, especially in games with Full Reveal (where the mod announces not just the dead person's alignment, but also role). When Team Evil nabs an important Good player, it makes them happy, and I've seen people actually smile or refuse to look at the dead person, both of which are hideously obvious newbie mistakes.

Better players manage to look a bit more natural, but sometimes they fumble by covering their glee with what I can only describe as melodrama. 

True story: I caught a wolf at a con recently because when the mod announced that Team Evil ate the Seer, this guy covered his face with one hand, leaned against the table with the other hand like he was having a stroke and said, "No...  Not the Seer."

Which, to me, sounded a bit like this:

The wolf in question was not a newbie, the other players seemed to be afraid of him. It seems over the top, but this is fairly typical.

Are Verbals Tells More Conclusive?

There's some evidence suggesting that paying attention to verbal cues could be more effective than observing body language. I plan to experiment with this more. Recently, a guy in my group played a whole game with his eyes closed, and he developed solid reads on just about everybody.  

This TED Talk, titled "The Language of Lying" gave me some great places to start...

 

CONCLUSION

A few final thoughts on this: constant questioning is an active, vocal villager style, and you have to  do it in a way that doesn't make you a target. For the day or two (depending on game size), you should lie low and observe, avoiding attention without being totally silent. Never badger people or dominate the conversation unless you're convinced you've caught a wolf in a lie. 

If the village is generally chatty, that's fantastic because it lets you turn up the interrogation without losing your spot in the middle of the pack.

It takes practice and discipline to find balance between questioning and blending in, but it's absolutely doable if you work at it. 

There's a lot more to be said about catching wolves. What's your best tip? Leave a comment below! 


 Brian MacKay

Brian MacKay

Brian MacKay is a software developer, entrepreneur, chess nerd, kick boxer, musician, writer, and father. He likes games of all kinds, but especially social games, and Werewolf in particular.