Review by: Eric Edens
Blood on the Clocktower (BOTC) is a social deduction game which requires a Storyteller to play. To explain how to play I will briefly compare this to Werewolf but please know this will be the last time I compare this game to other games in this review. It’s easy to talk about BOTC as if it is just an iteration of other games and I want you, the reader, to see how this game “is” instead of how it “isn’t” like other games. To play this game, like Werewolf, you need a large space for at least 5 (better with at least 8) players and 1 Game Runner, called here Storyteller. There is a good team and an evil team and the game ends when either the good team executes the leader of the evil team (the demon) or the evil team outlives the good team. Players will randomly be given their secret role and alignment. The game is played in two recurring phases, day and night, just like Werewolf. During the night a murder can occur and during the day a voted on execution can occur. The game continues until one of the two teams has won. If you’ve played Werewolf, this is likely feeling similar and at this point I’ll leave that comparison for good.
So, Not Like Werewolf?
In BOTC, the beginning of the game actually starts well before the players are seated and gathered to begin. It is the Storyteller’s responsibility to determine the Script for the game based on how they want to have the game interact. In the base box, there are 3 Scripts provided with enough laminated quality “menus” to hand one to every player. These Scripts provide a list of possible roles, the rules for the roles, and potential unique interactions. These 3 Scripts were created by the game makers to be balanced and, well, fun. They are also ranked in difficulty for players so that you can start with the most straightforward or go directly to the most complicated. But the Storyteller is also given the ability to go “off-script” and create their own by combining roles from multiple existing Scripts, creating home brew roles, or going online to the official website and getting roles from there. The only downside here is the Storyteller has to then print a new menu with these roles and rules for them to hand out. So it’s possible that being the Storyteller also means you have to be crafty too. This decision, which Script to use, is the first decision the Storyteller will make among many and will color the way each game will be played.
So now you’ve determined which Script to use and your players are seated in a circle (the preferred social deduction seating arrangement it seems). Now, the Storyteller makes their second decision of the game, before it begins. The Storyteller decides, based on player count, which roles from the script actually go in the draw bag and determines, in some cases, which roles may malfunction or be lies to the player outright. An example of this is the Drunk. This role believes it is something else, is given the fake roles token, and only the Storyteller knows they are truly the Drunk. If the Storyteller chooses to use the Drunk, they must keep track of which role is “a lie”, mark it on their Grimoire (a physical replication of the seating arrangement on which the Storyteller keeps the player tokens and tracks what is happening throughout the game) and remember to always treat that player as their”lie” role. This is Stress Point #1. I’ll try to keep track of them but just be aware, there will be a lot of them. If at any point the Storyteller forgets this player is Drunk, or misplaces the token on the wrong character, the whole game is at risk for falling apart. And we haven’t even started playing.
As a player, all of the above is done without your knowledge and you are insulated from that stress but don’t worry, you will have some stress soon. A player is seated in their assigned seat around the circle and has in hand a menu for the Script being played. Off the list, only some of those roles will be in the bag of course. So already you are working based on limited information. The Script has the “Seamstress” on it but maybe that role isn’t even in the bag at all. When the bag comes to you, you take your role and secretly peak at it before soon handing it back to the Storyteller. Stress Point #2 is seeing your role token and memorizing your power. You better be sure or else you’ll be talking to the Storyteller in a later round and asking for a reminder. You could be a Townsfolk, Outsider, Minion, or Demon (yes there are technically other possible things like Traveler but I won’t be explained them in this review, and if you know they are you likely already own or have played this game a lot anyway). Townsfolk are “normally” on the good team and have powers that benefit the good team in almost all cases. These are the players that really have the best chance of figuring out the Demon and winning for the good team. Outsiders are “normally” on the good team and have somewhat balanced powers that can help and hurt the good team in figuring out the Demon. Minions are “normally” on the evil team and meant to both conceal the identity of the Demon and cause chaos to harm the good team’s attempts to figuring out the Demon. The Demon is “almost” always evil and has to survive (technically there are some ways that isn’t the case, Zombuul) to win for evil. Getting a role and remembering your power seems like an easy thing and you are probably wondering why I said this is a stress point. Well, depending on your role, there could be excessive knowledge you will need to remember and be accountable for during the game. If you are the Savant, you will learn two pieces of information each day, one of which is true and one is false. This could be a lot of specific information that you’ll hear from the Storyteller and it’s up to you to remember this and be able to tell the group playing in the future if they ask you to prove your role. That’s stressful.
Wait, We Still Haven’t Started The Game?
So now that you have a role, the First Night can begin. In this portion of the game, a demon may learn who their minions are, the minions may learn who their demon and fellow minions are, good players may be asked to make choices or be told information, and evil players may also affect the game. Here comes Stress Point #3. There are minions and even good players and demons that can make players poisoned or drunk. A player that is poisoned or drunk may have a power that yields false information, true information, or the affect of the power may seem to work but not. And the best part is, you have no idea of this is happening at all. And all of this is up to the discretion of the Storyteller, Stress Point #4. The Storyteller can decide information or powers malfunction or work in order to balance the game when things like drunk or poison are involved. The Sailor is a player whose power says they cannot die. But each night they choose a player and either that player is drunk or the Sailor is. The Storyteller decides which and could now make the Sailor vulnerable to death or the other player receive bad information. It’s all a mystery to the player and the Storyteller is the ultimate decision maker.
Can I Wake Up Now?
Ok, now that Night One is over it’s time for Day One. Everyone wakes up and you now get to actually “play”. Playing this game involves chatting with your fellow players in groups, one on one, or in the circle. You should attempt to learn about other players and their information while being coy about yourself and your information. And remember, that 100% true knowledge you have may be a lie told to you by the Storyteller because you are drunk or poisoned. There is no “wrong” way to play but finding your preferred method will take time. Maybe you just start the game telling the whole group you are the Saint. You don’t want to be executed because if you are, your team loses. But by telling the group that, now the Demon can decide if killing you is good or not. You also may have players that see that as a bold lie and want to execute you thinking you are a liar and the Demon trying to protect themselves. Who knows? Stress Point #5 is trying to figure out what, how much, and to whom to tell things. You will inevitably confess your role to the Demon, befriend and trust a Minion, and completely disbelieve your fellow good players. And the reason could always be because the Script and the Storyteller interacted in a way that forced lies and wrong information to you and you’d never know. But enough of that. Let’s execute someone. The end of any day phase happens when and execution occurs. You can nominate any player each day once and each player can nominate only once each day. Then a prosecution and defense occurs and a majority vote happens to see if the nominated player will be executed. In the case of multiple nominations, a majority vote with the most votes is the one to be executed but a tie there would yield no executions. The Storyteller will arbitrarily decide the day is ending and give proper warning to the players. If someone is “on the block”, having enough votes to be majority and also no ties, then at the end of the day they are executed. And “might” die. But regardless, everyone goes to sleep.
Might Die? What?
Yes. Might. There are plenty of roles and powers that can prevent death by execution. Also, there are powers that require an execution each day or evil automatically wins. Also, you can die just by nominating some roles like the Virgin. Also, you can vote on and execute an already dead player. Also, dead players can vote only once after they are dead. Also, the Zombuul must be executed twice for the good team to win. Also, well, you get the idea and that Stress Point #5.
When Does The Demon Actually Kiill?
Glad you asked. In Night Two, the Demon will finally get to kill, possibly. It all depends on the Script, the choice, and powers. But normally this is when the Demon gets to finally be all demony. Who do they choose? Well hopefully they choose a good player. And you may be wondering why they wouldn’t. There are roles that can keep the evil players from knowing who their teammates are. There are also Demons that the Storyteller actually chooses the kill for them. But at the end of Night Two it is likely someone is now dead.
Ah, Death, That Must Be A Stress Point
Actually no. Death isn’t the end in BOTC. You can still talk, vote (once more), and help to solve the game or be a thorn in the side of the other team. You just don’t, normally, get to use your power. But death is also good because some roles require death to work. An Undertaker needs an execution to be able to learn the role of that person. The Cannibal needs a player to die so they can get their power. The Pixie needs their cohort dead so they can now have that power. Other roles want to die because they can be a hinderance to their team like the Damsel who doesn’t want to be alive and a minion figure out their role. Death is actually a good thing usually.
Ok so we have done a night, day, night, and a day. At this point you are finding your groove and are slowly, hopefully, solving the game or impeding that solution. Kill the Demon or kill all the good players and you win, depending on your alignment. Stress Point #6 is the fact that you can start the game good and become evil or vice versa at any point. You can even, as the Snake Charmer, go from good to the Demon overnight. You finally solved the game and are about to wake up and point to the Demon and win but while dreaming of executions you are tapped on the shoulder and told, sorry pal, you’re evil now.
6 Stress Points Is A Lot
Yes, and Stress Point #7 is the worst of all. There is a role, an experimental one, called the Atheist. In a game containing the Atheist, the true bad guy is the Storyteller. And it is up to the players to realize this and vote to execute them to win. Isn’t that just lovely?
Why Put Yourself Through All That Stress?
Well, I for one have to say because it’s fun. But I also know this game isn’t for everyone. It probably even isn’t for most people unless the group they play with is all prepared for it and like it as well. This is a game built on trust. Trust that your fellow players can handle stress, handle being bold face lied to and not take it personally, handle lots of information and possibilities, and handle knowing emotions will run high. This is an adult game. Not due to themes or art, but due to interactions. You need a certain maturity to be able to play this and age isn’t always an indicator of that. But if you have the stomach for the stress, the maturity to be able to lie and know you may be lied to, and be able to sit in a circle for up to a few hours with a handful of other like minded people this game could be for you. But that first game is going to go wrong. Any Storyteller’s first game is going to have errors. It’s a lot of work. Trust me I know. And players will mess up and out their role by asking a question that seemed innocuous but ultimately lead to everyone knowing their power. And frankly this can happen with every new play of a Script. So not only do you need the right group, the right Storyteller, and the right amount of time to play, you also need to play this game a lot to get the most fun out of it. If you finish your first game and everyone says “Let’s do it again right now” you likely have the right group. But if not, you’ll probably never get the game played enough to see the true genius that lies within. I would suggest playing this at least 3 times on the same Script before deciding if you are a fan. And if you are a Storyteller, watch at least 5 games on YouTube to get a feel for what to do. This isn’t just an open at 8pm and be playing by 8:30pm game. This is a set aside a Saturday and provide refreshments. It’s a lifestyle game. You could end up with a weekly standing BOTC game night. Just make sure you trade off that Storyteller hat so everyone gets a chance to play.
So What Do You Think?
I love this game. I don’t know if I’ll ever get to play it enough to get the most out of it though. Without the right group and enough time, it’s hard to see me dedicating enough of myself to it in order to have the best experience. But the times I have played it (and been Storyteller) are definitely up there with any other game I’ve played.