Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Review: Are You the Traitor?

It’s been some time (read: ages) since I wrote a review, so it’s time to remedy that with a review of Looney Labs’ Are You the Traitor?

I’m a big fan of Werewolf, and I particularly enjoy moderating games. Of course, being a moderator means not participating in the game as a “player”, so it’s good to be one of the villagers every now and then.

One of the other “issues” with Werewolf is that once you’re night time fodder for the werewolves, or a victim of the noose during a day phase, your participation in the game is over and you have to watch the rest of the game play out from the sidelines (although this can have its own voyeuristic fun).

If you are one of those people who doesn’t like that aspect of Werewolf, then Are You the Traitor? could be the game for you. It features similar secret roles and a good team and an evil team, but everyone plays at all times, and everyone can change roles multiple times throughout the game. It does, however, max out at 10 players, but can be played with as few as 4.

OK, that’s enough of the lycanthropic comparisons for now. Here’s what you get in a game of Are You The Traitor?: 56 cards.

Well, 56 cards and a rule sheet.

The cards themselves come in three types: Character, Wizard Alignment, and Treasure cards.

At the start of each round, the character cards are shuffled and each player receives one card face-down. You can end up as one of four characters: The Key Holder, a Guard, a Wizard, or the eponymous Traitor (insert evil organ music here).

The number of each type of character is determined by the number of players. For example with four players, there will be one of each character, but with 10 players, the split is: 1 Key Holder (there is only ever 1 Key Holder), 2 Traitors (double the trouble), 3 Wizards (triple the wizardry1), and 4 Guards (quadruple the, er, guardiness).

The Key Holder and Guards are on the side of goodness while the Traitor is, as one would suspect, captain of the evil team (note: there are no actual captains, but given the title of the game, anyone playing a Traitor has a right to a certain degree of cockiness).

That leaves the Wizards. These guys can be good or evil. That’s where the Wizard Alignment cards come in.

Anyone who is a Wizard must reveal his or her Character card. They are then given an Alignment card which must be kept secret. In any game with two Wizards, one will be good and one will be evil. Things get more interesting in a 9 or 10 player game when there are three Wizards. At least one is Good and one is Evil, but no one knows what the actual Good/Evil split is.

Now the Key Holder, while quite an important role, doesn’t get to remain as secret as he or she may wish. If there at least 6 players, then everyone except the Wizards gets to know who the Key Holder is. So it’s ye-olde-close-yon-eyes-thou-casters-of-magic-while-yonder-Key-Holder-makes-it-known-the-Evil-Magic-Key-is-in-his-or-her-possession time.

The last reveal belongs to the Traitors. If there are two Traitors (as there are in 8-10 player games) then everyone must close their eyes and allow time for the Traitors to open their eyes and identify each other.

After that it’s a free-for-all with unstructured conversation between all players. Everyone tries to figure out who everyone else is with suspicions flying left, right and centre. Who looks shifty? Which of the Wizards is good and which is evil? Who are the dastardly Traitors?

This can go on for some time or be over very quickly. The round ends when one player points to another player and cries “Stop!”

Why would they do this? Well, the thing is each player has a job to do. Everyone except the Traitor(s) has a target they are trying to identify:
  • The Evil Wizard, who wants the Evil Magic Key for his or her cunning and evil plans, is trying to find the Key Holder.
  • The Key Holder wants the Evil Magic Key to be destroyed and so wants to give the Key to the Good Wizard.
  • The Good Wizard and the Guards, meanwhile, are on the hunt for a Traitor.
  • The Traitor doesn’t have a target player so his or her job is to lie low and try to help the Evil Wizard.

    If any player thinks they have identified their target, that’s when the finger pointing and “Stop!” calling come in. The round ends immediately and everyone reveals their cards. If the player who called “Stop!” has correctly identified his or her target, then everyone on that team (good or evil) wins the round and receives a Treasure card. If the person is wrong, then the members of the other team each get a Treasure card.

    The Treasures are valued from 0 to 5 points, and the idea is to collect at least 10 points worth of the shiny stuff in order to win the game. This can be aided using the 1 Point Magic Rings which you can trade in in order to steal a random Treasure card from one opponent. You’d better hope that person doesn’t have a worthless Gilded Statue, as you have to take that card if the person has one.

    Once the loot has been divided, all the Character and Wizard Alignment cards are shuffled and re-dealt, and the next round begins. You may very well find yourself on the opposite side of the Good/Evil divide and gunning for the Key Holder instead of trying to protect him or her.

    This keeps going, round by round, until one person reaches the 10 point threshold. At that point, everyone else curses their misfortune (read: inability to bluff well) and quite possibly voices the desire to play again.

    And that’s the game. From a fairly simple premise, the game can get quite clever with players learning how to play in their best interests. If you are the Good Wizard, you not only want to find a Traitor, which can be difficult, but you can also appeal to the Key Holder to give the Key to you.

    Similarly if you are the Evil Wizard, you probably want people to think you are the Good Wizard. If you can convince the Key Holder to point to you, then you win. Of course, you don’t necessarily want everyone to think you’re good, as you also win if a Traitor, who knows the identity of the Key Holder, can surreptitiously point out the Key Holder to you.

    And that’s just the start of the strategies. Usually at last once in games we play, the Traitor just comes right out and shouts “Key Holder!” while pointing at that player. It then becomes a race between the Evil Wizard on one side (who now knows who the Key Holder is) and the Good Wizard and Guards on the other (who have just had the Traitor revealed to them) to point at their respective targets. It usually comes down to whoever is most on the ball. And in the race to point to someone, players can often point to the wrong player!

    There is even more room for cunningness with the maximum number of players. With fewer players, and only two Wizards, it is in the Evil Wizard’s best interest to claim that he or she is the Good Wizard. Christine tried the truth once when she was the Evil Wizard. No one targets the Evil Wizard, so Christine’s plan was to announce herself as the Evil Wizard so the Traitor would then point out the Key Holder to her. Unfortunately it backfired when the Key Holder (me) immediately pointed to the other Wizard and shouted “Stop!”

    With three Wizards in play however, there is an incentive for an Evil Wizard to claim he or she is evil. As the Key Holder can’t be sure if one or both of the remaining Wizards is good, the Traitors have time to secretly signal the Evil Wizard. Then again, there’s nothing to stop a Guard pretending to be a Traitor and signal secretly to the Evil Wizard and point him or her to the wrong target...

    And so it goes. On most occasions I’ve played this we played more than one game. It’s quick, easy to learn, and a lot of fun. There’s just something about secret role games that tickles people’s fancy. It’s the thrill of having your own little secret and being able to keep that secret or, even better, convince the other team you’re on their side.

    On the down side, whether you win or lose a round is often outside your control, and whether you win or lose the game can come down to the luck of the Treasure card draw. But hey, if you get screwed by the Treasure cards, then that’s just an incentive to play again.

    If you’ve never played one of these secret role party games, or if you can’t muster the numbers of players needed for a decent game of Werewolf, or you just want to try something new that’s not overly taxing on the grey matter, then give Are You the Traitor? a try.

    1. Back in my youth I used to play a Commodore 64 game called Wizardry. Not to be confused with the RPG of the same name, this one was an isometric “graphical adventure” game in which you walked round a dungeon trying to find hidden objects and shoot spells at monsters and walls. I seem to recall it was incredibly fickle. If you didn’t line up a spell precisely (usually by lining your character up on just the right crack on the floor) it wouldn’t hit its target and you pretty much had to start the game all over again (being the C64 you couldn't save your progress). Of course with the incredibly obscure puzzles, knowing exactly what to cast and where was nigh on impossible without the walkthrough that came with the game. Except the walkthrough was only for Level 1. I think I eventually trial-and-errored my way through Level 2 but didn’t get much further. I much preferred the isometric adventuring of Head Over Heels, my all time favourite Commodore 64 game.
  • No comments: