Review: One Night Ultimate Series
Designer: Ted Alspach, Akihisa Okui
Artist: Gus Batts
Publisher: Bézier Games
Category: Social Deduction
Price: $13.95 Amazon.com
The One Night Ultimate series contains some of the most popular social deduction games on the market. This series is excellent for gamers and non-gamers alike.
This series has some characters that may make folks uncomfortable, such as the Drunk, the Seer, and the Vampires. While all of these roles are presented in a cartoonish, tongue-in-cheek manner, it’s something to be aware of. Additionally, this game often requires players to bluff and lie.
Christmas 2016 was fun for a lot of reasons. It was one of the increasingly rare times my entire family was able to be together. Ten adults and a one-year-old inside a Virginia townhouse, and we had a blast. Our days were spent doing the tourist thing, but our evenings were spent gaming. Far and away, the smash hit of that vacation was One Night Ultimate Werewolf.
My siblings and I probably clocked sixty rounds of this game in the span of a week. Every night, we were up for hours throwing around accusations, burning through my iPhone battery, and laughing so loudly we had to remind ourselves that hell hath no fury like an awakened baby.
One Night Ultimate Werewolf is a party-style, social deduction game. In standard genre fashion, a number of role cards are selected and shuffled together, each player receiving a secret identity. Three extra roles are used, such that everyone is dealt one hidden card, and the remaining three are placed face-down in the middle. Depending upon their role, players will either be on the Villager team (the good guys), or the Werewolf team (the bad guys).
If you’ve played other social deduction games like The Resistance or Deception: Murder in Hong Kong, you’ll know that this genre often involves players closing their eyes at the beginning of the game. One or more players will usually be instructed to open their eyes and take a secret action or share some hidden information. It’s a pretty common start-of-game mechanism.
Well, ONUW made an entire game out of it. And that game launched an entire series.
A round of One Night Ultimate takes less than ten minutes, and it uses a free smartphone app to narrate the action and provide instructions to players. Once everyone has seen their role, the app will tell everyone to close their eyes. Then, one at a time, it will call on different roles to “wake up,” perform a particular action, and close their eyes again. Once everyone has taken their action, the app will instruct everyone to wake up. At this time, players will have five minutes to calmly, truthfully discuss what happened while everyone’s eyes were closed.
I’m just kidding.
ONU is all about bluffing and arguing. And it’s HILARIOUS. Since ONUW came out, publisher Bézier Games has released multiple standalone expansions and promo packs. I will be covering them individually below. With the exception of the base game, I won’t delve too deeply into specific roles, simply for the sake of length, but I’ll instead be giving my general thoughts on each.
ONE NIGHT ULTIMATE WEREWOLF
To help explain how the core system works, here are some of the roles in the basic game:
WEREWOLVES: Wake up and look for other Werewolves. If there is only one Werewolf (because the other Werewolf card is in the center), that player may look at one of the center cards.
SEER: May look at another player’s card, or two of the center cards.
ROBBER: May trade cards with another player, and then look at the card she just received.
TROUBLEMAKER: May switch cards between two other players (without looking at them).
DRUNK: Exchanges her own card with a card from the center, without looking at the new card. (In other words, she gets a new role, and doesn’t know what it is.)
INSOMNIAC: Wakes up last, and views her own card. This lets her know if her role has changed throughout the round.
When all actions have been performed, everyone wakes up. At this time, players may have different roles than those with which they began. As the five-minute timer counts down, players deliberate about who is who. Once time is up, the app will tell everyone to simultaneously vote. To do this, each player points at another player. The person with the most fingers pointing at her is “killed,” and her card is revealed. If at least one Werewolf dies, the Villager team wins. If no Werewolves die, the Werewolves win.
Some roles do not wake up. For example, there is the Tanner (my personal favorite role), whose goal is to be killed. The Tanner needs to act like a Werewolf to arouse suspicion, but cannot be so obvious that others start to think she is trying to be killed. As you’d imagine, this leads to some very amusing shenanigans.
There is an insane amount of game in this box, and I think this is an absolute staple of the party game genre. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
ONE NIGHT ULTIMATE WEREWOLF: DAYBREAK
One Night Ultimate Werewolf Daybreak is the second entry in the series. It adds a ton of new roles and abilities, taking the customizable nature of the system to a whole new level. There are no major mechanical changes to the game, but the new possibilities amp up the interaction substantially.
Perhaps the most intriguing part of Daybreak is the Werewolves with special abilities. These allow players to modulate the strength of the Werewolves, which can be very useful at different player counts.
Daybreak is a great expansion, and it integrates very well into the base game. If you love the original like I do, I strongly suggest this one as well. It takes everything that is great about ONUW and builds on it.
ONE NIGHT ULTIMATE VAMPIRE
One Night Ultimate Vampire is a sort of reworking of the original Werewolf; I think of it as ONUW version 1.5. In an interesting twist, Vampire introduces a “Dusk” phase, which happens before the normal “Night” phase. The game comes with a plethora of “Mark” tokens that can give players an in-game status. During the Dusk phase, certain players will be called on to wake up and place one or more Marks on players. To give some examples:
MARK OF THE VAMPIRE: Vampire players give this to a non-Vampire player, turning that player into a Vampire.
MARK OF LOVE: The Cupid player wakes up and gives the Mark of Love to any two players. These players are now “in love” and must make sure the other survives.
There are many others, but those should give a sense of how Marks work. After Dusk, players wake up and view their mark, possibly changing their strategy for the coming Night phase. It’s important to keep in mind that these Marks are in addition to the players’ normal roles, so everyone has more to think about. As for the roles themselves, they feel very similar to those from the original. For example, there is a role that copies another role, a role that allows a player to switch marks, and a role that allows a player to view cards/marks.
Because it adds an entirely new level of strategy, Vampire is kind of its own thing. It can be integrated with other ONU sets, but I find it works best by itself. Things can get a bit confusing if players try to add a bunch of Vampire stuff into other ONU games. This one is good for players who like the original, but wish it had a little more depth. I recommend that players be familiar with Werewolf before playing this one.
ONE NIGHT ULTIMATE ALIEN
One Night Ultimate Alien is only entry in the series to expressly require the app (although, you should always use it in any of the games). In Alien, the app may give different instructions from game to game, from varying specific players’ actions to completely repeating the night a second time while one player keeps their eyes open. The core of the game remains the same, but these new mechanisms may seem a bit gimmicky to some people.
Because of the random elements, Alien feels a bit less “pure” than the other sets, but it still works fine. As with Vampire, I think this one is best played on its own. A couple of the roles, like the Mortician, can be easily integrated into other sets, but many of them, like the Leader and Cow, require Aliens to be in play in order to work. Alien is a good choice for players who don’t mind a bit more chaos. Its variety keeps the bluffing and metagame from becoming same-y.
ONE NIGHT ULTIMATE SUPER VILLAINS
One Night Ultimate Super Villains is the fifth entry in the series. With a new, vibrant art style a la 1990’s Nickelodeon, it features a colorful band of heroes and villains, as well as a mad scientist or two.
The roles in Super Villains are very similar to those from other ONU iterations – this game could just as easily have been called “One Night Ultimate: Greatest Hits.” Though they have all-new names and themes, the new characters are more or less clones of existing ONU characters. They are mechanically identical to roles like the Cow, Tanner, Apprentice Tanner, Thing, Insomniac, Robber, Troublemaker, and Alpha Wolf.
Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing will largely depend upon your experience with the other games. Super Villains cherry-picks some of the best roles of the entire series, so for newcomers, it is a great jumping-on point. For experienced players, however, it doesn’t add any substantive new content.
Because I fall into the latter category, this one was not my favorite. Even though every ONU title is based on the same fundamental game system, each one before this has thrown new ideas in the mix. Super Villains is more of a re-hashing of what has come before.
Personally, I’ll stick with the other ones.
Bézier Games offers three additional Bonus Packs, which add special promo roles. The roles are playable with any ONU set, but a couple, such as the Squire, must be used in conjunction with other, specific One Night roles (i.e. there must be Werewolves in play for the Squire’s action to take place).
The Bonus Packs add some roles I really like, such as the Aura Seer, Thing, and Apprentice Tanner. If the basic roles are starting to feel stale, these can keep things fresh and offer some interesting variety. As an added bonus, each pack comes with alternate-art cards for some of the basic roles.
Though it comes from a genre that many gamers malign, ONU is truly one of my favorite series ever made, especially Werewolf and Daybreak. These games represent everything I enjoy about social deduction. The One Night series is humorous, lightning-fast, and easily accessible to new players. The app integration is seamless, and there are a wealth of strategic nuances that reveal themselves with repeated plays.
Brave players may want to venture into “Epic One Night,” combining Werewolves, Vampires, and/or Aliens into a single game. I do not have much experience with this, and I would only recommend it for expert players, but if folks don’t mind having their heads explode, it can be done.
This is an amazing series. These are the kinds of game you can’t play just once; they simply demand to be played again. And again. And again. And again.
Review copies of One Night Ultimate Vampire, One Night Ultimate Alien, and Bonus Pack 3 were provided by Bézier Games.
The Bottom Line
The One Night Ultimate series is amazing. If you like social deduction games, this is a must-play.