We’re Werewolves, not Swearwolves.
The hairiest of the classic monsters (no, Cousin It doesn’t count) and the most likely to be adapted into a live theatrical version of a social deduction game.
Forget the mafia, Werewolf was always where it was at for me – Robin Bates of Coaching for Geeks!
And that’s what lured me in to see Werewolf: Live at the Vaults Festival in 2017. A stage version of the group game of death, accusations, and lynchings – all family fun.
And boy, was I surprised that it worked!
Ahead of their Edinburgh run I caught up with Werewolf Master Jon Gracey and the team to find out who make the best werewolves, the challenges they’ve overcome in bringing this to stage, and what’s next.
Hello! First off, for the uninitiated, what is Werewolf?
Hello! It’s a hidden role game where you are given a card telling you if you’re a villager or werewolf. The goal of the wolves is to remain unsuspected and slowly kill off the villagers, and the villagers have to figure out who around the table is lying about being a villager, and persuade the group to kill the wolves.
And how does it work on stage?
I get 10 volunteers up from the audience and give them each a role card and silly hat. Then I put on the voice, pull up the hood of my cloak and the magic happens.
What did you have to do to make it work as a stage show?
First of all, we had to really streamline the show. We tried doing it as one huge game of 20+ players a few times, but it takes a long time and if you get knocked out on the first night then you’re a bit screwed.
So we came up with doing a couple of shows during the hour, with short, timed rounds to keep it snappy and the only special roles being the Werewolves and the Seer. That way, it’s less disappointing if you get killed during the first night, and I bring back those players into the final game.
Then we had to take a leap to see if people would want to come to just watch – and it turned out people did. Lots of people say “can I come but not play?”, which is great.
In a world where you can play Werewolf on Virtual Reality, why should I leave the comfort of my home and come see it as a show?
To be modest, you should come to see me host it. I’m really funny.
Boasting aside, there’s nothing like live comedy, and there’s something very special about the energy in the room. Plus the players get to be the stars. It’s one thing sassing a random over the internet, slamming a player in front of a room of 50 people, then outing them as the Werewolf, hearing the roar of the crowd and then wheelieing off into the sunset (metaphorically) is a feeling like little else.
Werewolf is seen by some as a little old hat compared to the likes of Avalon, Codenames, Two Rooms and a Boom, Secret Hitler and the more modern hidden role games. What is it about the game that makes it so enduring?
For me, it’s the simplicity of the game. I love Secret Hitler but I find something very appealing about something you can play with just scraps of paper if you want. When I first played it I was at a conference and we were looking for something to do in the evening – I pulled my shirt up over my head and put on a silly voice, lit some candles and found some spooky music. The production is much slicker these days, but all the foundations were there.
It’s also something anyone can understand. “Figure out who’s lying” or “lie and stay hidden” is a very simple set of instructions. I ran it for my 88-year-old grandparents a couple of Christmases ago – my Grandad got it immediately. He was a beast. Never seen anything like it.
What’s been the funniest moment on stage so far?
Probably the time we had two 12-year-olds on stage and another player said “We’re all thinking it, let’s kill the kid”, and the kid he killed turned out to be the Seer. He really paid for that mistake.
Do children make the best liars?
I haven’t played with many kids but we are thinking of developing it into a show for young people, so I’ll get back to you. Early signs are they tend to be erratic, making it hard to read them, which means incompetence can be mistaken for strategy.
Has anyone ever cried, I only ask as I’ve seen tears at megagames and Werewolf is pretty brutal for player elimination?
Not so far, but there are 26 performances to do at the Edinburgh Fringe and anything could happen.
How do you make sure everyone feels safe and has a good time?
Great question. For me, games are only fun if everyone is having a good time. I kind of play the voice of the reason – I nudge people this way and that but no-one has to do anything they don’t want to do. It’s all voluntary, and the whole goal is to make an inclusive, safe space for people to play in. Ultimately, I make myself the silliest person in the room, freeing everyone else up to feel cooler than me.
You’re about to embark on a run at the Edinburgh Fringe – tell me about about that.
After we got nominated for Best Newcomer at the Brighton Fringe Festival last year, we realised it would be great in Edinburgh. Since the festival goes for a whole month, there’s a real opportunity to get some momentum going. We avoided comedy ‘prime time’ – around 6pm till 10pm in Edinburgh, when all the big comics are playing – and we’ve got a 10.50pm slot.
We chose our venue very carefully – we’re at Underbelly Cowgate, which has a kind of dank, cave-like vibe, very atmospheric. We’re also doing something very scary, which is doing a big charity special in a 410 seat venue. Instead of audience members, we’ve got big name comedians playing.
What challenges have you had to overcome to bring it to Edinburgh?
The challenge has been to develop the project over the years. For so long we didn’t know how the show would look as a theatrical show, it was more of an intimate experience. I did Edinburgh for years as part of sketch group The Beta Males, so once we had the show, we had a lot of ideas about the how to approach the fringe.
And I believe you have a preview show in London?
Yes, if anyone in London would like to see it but can’t make it to Edinburgh this August, we’re doing a preview date at 2pm on June 30th at the King’s Head Theatre in Islington. Your readers can use the discount code WOLFPACK to get 20% off tickets. It’s going to be great!
Do you have any advice for someone with an idea to bring something to life?
Test it loads! Werewolf came out as a reasonably complete and fun basic idea the first time we played it, but it took literally years to hone it down to the tight theatre show it is now. I have moderated so many, many games of Werewolf, and I know it like the back of my hand. If you’ve got something you want to make, iterate, learn what works, then build on that.
Well I’m convinced, as long as it’s not a full moon I’ll be along to the preview!
See you there!
Robin Bates – is hairy enough already thank you very much