When not working as a chemist and business manager, Jeremy enjoys gaming.
What Is "Blood on the Clocktower"?
Blood on the Clocktower is a Kickstarter-funded social deduction game. The "good" players use logic and teamwork to see if they can identify and execute the demon before time runs out; the "evil" players pretend they're good while secretly assisting their demonic leader.
Noble townsfolk need logic and strategy to sort good from evil; treacherous minions need to bluff and deceive the group to ensure their leader isn't discovered. This setup greatly mirrors similar titles like Werewolf and Mafia, but Clocktower mixes in a variety of fun twists—is it worth your time? Here's what to expect when playing Blood on the Clocktower!
"Blood on the Clocktower" Rules
For a full guide, visit the Clocktower website, but here's a quick summary of the game's basic flow:
- Players are randomly assigned secret characters. Evil players are "woken" by the storyteller (moderator) to recognize their team; good players remain unaware of each other.
- Gameplay consists of two phases: day and night. Day is when players publicly argue over who is evil and can execute someone by majority vote; night is when the demon attacks.
- Good wins by killing the demon; evil wins when only two characters are still alive.
1. Every Player Is Different
Standard social deduction games like Mafia have special roles such as doctor, but most of the players don't have unique abilities, leading to less interactivity and overall enjoyment. That's not the case with Clocktower, where everybody (both good and evil) has a unique power and role.
Most are beneficial, like the Empath's ability to learn the alignment (good/evil) of their neighbors and the Undertaker's power to uncover the identity of executed players. The evil demon kills every night, but non-demon minions also get unique traits, like the Poisoner's disruption of other powers and the Scarlet Woman's transformation into the demon if the original dies.
This makes the game incredibly replayable; not only does your experience change based on whether you're good or evil, but also by which role you receive.
2. Dead Players Stay Engaged
Perhaps Mafia's biggest fault is that dead players have little to do once killed; Clocktower sidesteps this issue with several mechanics. First, the deceased don't have their identity revealed, meaning their actual alignment remains uncertain. Also, they get one final vote token, so they can participate in any one future vote to execute a player (living players vote for as many nominations as desired).
This means dead players still have power over the living and are generally more trusted by the good team (though evil can kill its own as decoys). Plus, dead or alive doesn't matter in terms of victory; you win if your team wins, whether you're deceased or not.
3. Travelers Help Players Come and Go
Clocktower incorporates unique "travelers." Like other townsfolk, these characters have special powers (and can be either good or evil), but they're designed for players who show up after the game has started. No longer do latecomers have to sit on their phones until the current round ends; they can hop in immediately. Crafty storytellers will even use this as a balancing tool if one side is taking a heavy beating and could use some help.
With advance notice, the reverse is also true; players who need to leave early can receive a traveler character at the start, letting them exit gracefully without disrupting the game.
4. Three Included Variants
By default, Blood on the Clocktower includes three variants, so you're kind of getting three games in one: Trouble Brewing, Bad Moon Rising, and Sects & Violets.
Not only are they all well-crafted and fun, but each emphasizes different styles. For instance, Trouble Brewing serves as a well-balanced game good for beginners, Bad Moon Rising offers strong character abilities but high death counts, and Sects & Violets provides a prolonged deceit-infested war perfect for advanced players. You can also mix and match characters from each faction for custom-made games.
5. Numerous Player Counts and Balancing Tools
Clocktower can skillfully handle many player counts, adjusting to fit squads of 5–20 without hassle (though BMR and S&V need at least seven). You might worry the game could skew towards one alignment based on the number of players. For instance, in Avalon, if you have five players, three will be good and two evil—but if you have six, four will be good, making it harder for evil to win.
However, Clocktower alleviates this issue with its "outsider" characters. Like townsfolk, these players belong to the good team, but since their abilities are harmful, they don't necessarily slant the game in that team's favor. So, if you play Trouble Brewing with six players instead of five, good will indeed have a higher ratio, but one player bears a handicap that might actually help the evil faction.
6. Component Quality
While not really a "board game," Clocktower includes a "Grimoire" with several tokens and reminders to help the storyteller keep track of things. The Grimoire is actually just the game box opened in a certain fashion, and it's a well-crafted tool. Its high edges prevent players from seeing (purposefully or by accident) the storyteller's notes.
The designers helpfully made felt pieces to prevent tokens from moving by accident as the storyteller walks around, although they contribute to one of the game's few flaws...
First and foremost, Clocktower will burn a bigger hole in your wallet than most social deduction games, costing around $80. But to be fair, the price tag is somewhat justified by the game's three modes, making the cost much more reasonable if viewed as a three-for-one pack.
The price also pays for the game's high-quality components. In particular, the team emphasizes their belief that felt was necessary for the storyteller's pieces, as other materials are too easily scattered and limit the storyteller's freedom of movement.
Personally, I love the fact that each player has a unique power. But the trade-off is that there are simply more rules to learn. This can be tricky with new storytellers or players who receive evil characters; for them to convincingly bluff as good townsfolk, they need to know who they can imitate and what those characters do.
That said, not everything needs to be known from the start, and Trouble Brewing offers a good starting point. Characters guides also help, and questions to they storyteller are allowed, but should usually be asked privately to avoid revealing one's identity. But be careful to avoid...
3. Private Conversations Reduce Interaction
Some board games ban private discussions, forcing players to publicly declare information if they wish to communicate. However, in Clocktower, players are allowed to disperse and scheme in private if they wish.
This isn't a bad thing per se, as it helps evil players concoct strategies, but it can exclude some players (especially ones who aren't well-acquainted with everyone present). Fortunately, you can fix most issues by simply limiting "free time" to a few minutes per day.
You can also use travelers or storyteller-implemented "fabled" characters to help; for instance, the Matron traveler prevents players from leaving their seats to communicate, while the Buddhist fabled lets new players talk before veterans.
Blood on the Clocktower Review
Despite a few nitpicks, Clocktower offers an incredible deduction/bluffing game with near-infinite replayability. The numerous character powers make each player feel crucial to their team, and discovering everyone's identity (even good players often bluff) remains a blast.
The price is offset by the game's quality and numerous modes, and the rules are available online, letting you peruse their contents before spending money. But for now, as we await more Clocktower characters and variants, share your thoughts on it and I'll see you at our next gaming review!
© 2019 Jeremy Gill