Recently, there’s been a bit of hubbub about a few Tweets from Oink games, claiming that I copied Insider with Werewords after they supposedly turned down a request to license the game from them:
This article is to clarify what actually happened, and also includes all of the correspondence between myself and Oink. To the best of my knowledge Oink has never played Werewords prior to their tweets.
I hope this article helps readers gain an understanding of the chain of events and clears up any misconceptions based on those short tweets.
Like many game designers, I work on lots of games in various stages all the time. I have literally several hundred unpublished designs in varying states of development. No one would be surprised that I am working on a ton of different social deduction games, given the games I’ve designed and published. One of those designs ended up being Werewords. The premise of the game when I first started working on it was “what would happen if everyone was trying to figure out a word (like Password, Codenames, and a myriad of other word games), and there was a traitor involved who was secretly working against the group?”
I played Insider sometime after Essen, and I noticed some similarity to my game that I had in development. This isn’t a new thing for most game designers: You work on something for a certain period of time only to find out that there’s a published version of a game that’s similar to what you’ve designed that you hadn’t heard of.
I sent a note to Oink asking if the English licensing rights were available, and explained that if we were to license it, we would have to include more roles, fix the word lists, integrate it with an app, and more. It would essentially be a different game, but since Insider had some similarities and had been on the market already, I approached them.
Here is the email I sent to Jun @ Oink games on October 31, 2016:
I’m Ted Alspach, the owner of Bezier Games, Inc., and I’m a fan of your company and your games. I’m interested in licensing Insider for the worldwide English market. I know that Insider (which I purchased at Gen Con*) is in English, but I believe we can “Americanize” it and tweak it a little and make it very successful in North America and other English territories. We’ve been very successful doing this with One Night Ultimate Werewolf, and this year’s Colony (both previously from Japanese publishers).
Thank you very much for your response,
Bezier Games, Inc.
*I think I meant Essen, as I don’t think the game was available at Gen Con.
Jun didn’t respond, and instead I received an email from Lauri at Oink on November 2nd:
I am not Jun, but I answer all the English messages we get.
Could we continue talking via [direct email address]?
Would you want to change the design of “Insider”? Can you tell me a bit more about what you would like to do with the game?
Have a great day
Based on what I perceived as a partnership opportunity that would be mutually beneficial, I responded immediately (also on November 2nd) with some of the things I felt I could take from my existing game and apply to Insider:
Hi, Lauri. Thank you for getting back to me!
Regarding changing the game design (rules), we need to do further playtesting. Based on my initial plays, I believe there is an opportunity to add more special roles besides the Master, Insider, and Commons. In addition, we found that some of the words don’t work as well as others that we’d want to swap out. I would also like to integrate it with an app that incorporates a timer and tells the Master and Insider when to look at the word before the game starts.
In addition, I believe repackaging the game in a larger box with more theme cards would also make it more likely to be carried by brick-and-mortar stores, including large retail outlets (we currently have some of our One Night games being carried by Target, which is the 2nd largest department store in the US).
Personally, as a gamer I really like the small Oink boxes, and the quality of games that Oink has produced, but I also realize that they present challenges to retail, and I think we can address some of those things.
Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing back from you.
Encouraged by Lauri’s initial response, I put together a prototype that had some of the items I suggested in it, and continued playtesting. After not receiving a reply for about a week, I followed up with another email on November 7th:
Hi, Lauri. Following up on this…is this something you’re interested in pursuing?
While I waited for a response, I continued to develop the game, toying with a different name (“Mole and Fink” was one of the worst ones, but I was oddly attached to it), and trying out some of my initial suggestions.
I wasn’t really happy with the direction Mole and Fink was headed and after some playtests with groups at BGG.con I decided to go back to my original design and started working on that instead.
Oink has never responded to me since my reply to them on November 2nd.
As Werewords took shape, it was clear that it was substantially different than Insider. So much so that while both games have 20 questions at their core, playing either of them was an entirely different experience.
Here are some of the things that Werewords has that Insider does not:
- Two teams: Villagers vs. Werewolves, with the Werewolve team actively trying to stop the Villager team from guessing the word
- Plays up to 10 players
- Five different secret roles: Villagers, Werewolves, Seer, Beholder, and Minion
- The theme and winning conditions are logical (in so much as any game about werewolves is logical)
- The Mayor can be any secret role, including a werewolf, who may lie when handing out answer tokens
- The Mayor can choose from up to 5 words to determine which word is most likely for players to figure out
- The Mayor may not speak until after the word has been revealed
- Answer tokens provide end game information to all players, indicating how helpful each player was in figuring out the Magic word
- Yes/No tokens are limited in number, providing another end game condition
- If the Villager team does not guess the Magic Word, they can still win by killing a Werewolf
- If the Villager team does guess the Magic Word, the Werewolf team can still win by killing the Seer
- Two Werewolf cards for larger games where the werewolves know each other
- When playing with two werewolves, the Villager team can win by killing either werewolf
- When playing with two werewolves, each werewolf may kill a different player when looking for the Seer
- Roles are printed on 12 thick cardboard tiles
- Dozens of thick cardboard yes/no/maybe answer tokens for tracking correct and incorrect answers
- Box bottom doubles as a token tray for the Mayor
- Free iOS/Android app manages the flow of the game.
- The app has a customizable game timer to change the amount of time players have to guess the Magic Word
- Customize the length each role has to view the Magic Word
- Customize the number of words the Mayor is able to choose from
- The app is narrated with authority by BBC voice personality Mark Ryes
- Choose from a dozen different background music options for the app’s night phase
- The free app has over 10,000 words
- Word lists cover a wide range of topics, from simple nouns to rock stars
- Word lists are divided into four difficulty levels: Easy, Medium, Hard, and Ridiculous
- Word lists have been extensively tested and categorized into difficulty levels
- The app supports user-customizable lists, which can be set to any difficulty level
- Word lists can be in any language
- Werewords.com provides a shareable repository for custom word lists which can be set to any difficulty level
- Custom word lists on werewords.com can be effortlessly loaded into the Werewords app
- A themed Movie set of word lists from Bezier Games is already available on werewords.com
- Combine any number of word lists for a totally customized experience
In short, I contacted Oink and provided them with my design ideas as a courtesy, in the hopes we might be able to partner on a project. Due to the lack of any response to my ideas, I continued developing my original game. Now, seven months later, these accusatory tweets from Oink have been brought to my attention. I don’t wish to engage in online arguments. However, there has been enough chatter about this which may potentially affect my reputation that I felt the need to clarify the chain of events.
For Oink to state that Werewords is a copy of Insider without having played Werewords or even read the rules is an overreach on their part. For them to go further and strongly imply that I copied their game, even though they don’t have any firsthand knowledge of Werewords, its rules or how it plays, is irresponsible. My hope is that once they have a chance to play Werewords, they’ll retract those tweets.
I’m really excited about Werewords, and the game experience it evokes. Developing it was a lot of fun, and now it’s time for others to enjoy it. Werewords has already received incredibly positive reactions from reviewers and playtesters alike, and I hope you’ll have a ton of fun playing the game!