Blood On The Clocktower
Strategic Depth: Intermediate
Setup Time: 15 mins.
Play Time: 30-120 mins.
Players: 5-20 (Best with around 10-13)
Mechanics: Bluffing, Social Deduction, Negotiation
Production Info: 2019 | The Pandemonium Institute
Game Designer: Steven Medway
Kickstarter Campaign: Mar, 2019 - Apr 2019
During a hellish thunderstorm, on the stroke of midnight, there echoes a bone-chilling scream. The townsfolk rush to investigate and find the town storyteller murdered, his body impaled on the hands of the clocktower.
It is evident some sort of Demon is on the loose, murdering by night and disguised itself in human form by day. Some townsfolk have scraps of information that could lead to revealing the identity of the demon. Other folks have abilities that fight the evil or protect the innocent. But the Demon and its evil minions are spreading lies to confuse and breed suspicion. Will the good townsfolk successfully work with each other and put the puzzle together in time to execute the true demon and save themselves? Or will evil overrun this once peaceful village?
Blood on the Clocktower is a very unique social deduction game that is akin to the various Werewolf games but has some very crucial differences that could lead this game to be favored over a game of Werewolf.
Blood on the Clocktower consists of two teams (good/evil) where no player knows the entirety of their team. There is also a game moderator that guides the game but is also given the leeway to screw with everyone! For example, the moderator under certain circumstances may be given the opportunity to change someones unique character ability or neglect their ability altogether. This makes being the moderator much more exciting and interactive.
There are two phases to each round of Blood on the Clocktower: day and night. During the day, players are encouraged to interact with each other and try to put together information from previous rounds to narrow down who might be evil. Players on the evil side will try and deceive the innocent townsfolk claiming to have certain “good-side” abilities. When nightfall hits, all players will close their eyes and the moderator with work with players to manage any special abilities that occur during the night phase.
As the sun rises, players may find that one or more players did not survive the night. Blood on the Clocktower has a unique mechanic where players who die keep playing the game as they would normally with the caveat that they no longer have their special ability. Players may also choose to put townspeople up for a vote to execute them with the claim that they are the demon or it’s evil minions. This adds even more tension to the game as innocent players may end up getting executed due to majority vote.
Play continues in rounds until either the Demon is killed or only two townspeople are let alive. There are no individual winners, so one or the other team will end up winning in the end.
While Blood on the Clocktower as a TON of unique mechanics integrated into the gameplay, I worry that it may get too complicated for more beginner-level players (who often lurk around when you get a big enough group to play one of these types of games). My hope is that the gameplay feels very natural after the first couple rounds to where the complexity/relationships of all the possible character abilities organically makes sense to first-time players. Being a big fan of social deduction games and the interactive nature they provide, I am quite looking forward to experiencing my first game of Blood on the Clocktower!
While there are not a lot of official reviews of this game so far, the Blood on the Clocktower team scored some major credibility with the endorsement of one of the largest board game blogs out there Shut Up & Sit Down. These bloggers even broke their own “Kickstarter review ban” to get the word out about this game early. I’ll leave you with one quote from their review on Blood on the Clockertower, which I feel strongly sums up their experience playing the game:
The following summaries are meant to be a high-level reminder of how to play this game. If this is your first time playing, we highly recommend that you read your board game's included rulebook which will go into much more depth. You can download a digital PDF copy of the official rules by clicking the button below. There are also a few video tutorials near the bottom of this section to help all you visual learners out as well.
- Setup Overview -
One player will need to designated as the Storyteller (typically an experienced player)
All other players should sit in a circle in an open space (no table in the middle for this game)
Place the Town Square board in the middle of the circle
Add Life Tokens for each player respective to their position in the circle
Add Vote Tokens to the middle of the board
Place the Traveler Sheet next to the board
Choose an “Assistant” who will be responsible for updating the Town Square board
Determine which Player Tokens you would like to use in the game and place them in the black bag. Each player will then secretively pick a Player Token from the bag.
The Storyteller will then collect the Player Tokens and place them in order inside the Grimoire
- The Night Phase -
Players close their eyes and depending on their character may be woken to perform an action or gain knowledge
While awake, the Storyteller may give the following signals:
Tapping a Player - Signals to the player they should open their eyes
Hand over Eyes - Signals player should go back to sleep
Nod of Head - Signals a “Yes” or confirmation
Shake of Head - Signals a “No” or disagreement
Thumbs Up/Down - Signals whether a player is good or bad
Pointing - Referencing a specific player
Number of Fingers - Signal a specific number
Showing a Token - Sharing a specific character
In the first Night Phase, the Demon and Minions will learn each others identity while awaken
The Storyteller will wait ten or more seconds after the last player has gone back to sleep before moving to the Day Phase
- The Day Phase -
Players open their eyes and are encourage to talk with each other
They can leave the group and talk in private or not talk at all and just listen
Players may talk with the Storyteller in private if they have questions
When the Storyteller wants to end the open talking, they will ask for nominations to execute a player
Only one player may be nominated at a time and put up for a vote
Only living players may nominate
Both living AND dead players may vote
After all nominations have been voted on, the player with the highest number of votes (excluding ties) will be executed
Highest vote count must also exceed more than 50% of the amount of living players
Any executed player must flip over their Life Token and is dead for the remainder of the game and immediately lose their character ability
Dead players still close their eyes at night
- End Of Game -
Good wins if the Demon is executed
Evil wins when there are just 2 players left alive
This Kickstarter campaign reached it’s full funding of $65K within 16 hours! They currently have well north of 3,000 backers.
A $79 pledge will give you a copy of the game plus any stretch goals achieved. You do need to cover the shipping cost though (there’s a table on the Kickstarter page that will inform you of your countries shipping cost)
Stretch goals appear to be consistent in unlocking new roles for the game.
We were able to connect via email with Blood on the Clocktower game designer Steven Medway who resides in Sydney, Austraiila to get the scoop on his latest board game and to find out a little more about him as a gamer. Let's learn a little more about Blood on the Clocktower and game designer Steven Medway!
[Q] Tell us a little about yourself and your experience within the board game industry.
I have zero experience in the board game industry! I’ve been designing games since I was a kid, but it’s only been recently that I’ve felt that I had something good enough to produce. I’m actually a bit of a hermit, and know very little about the industry as 'industry'. Every so often, a famous designer or producer will play Blood On The Clocktower and get in touch to say “Hey, I had a great time, here is some feedback…”, and I’m stuck there yakking away like a deer in headlights, not having any clue who they are. My team tells me after the fact that I would have had every right to be more nervous.
The downside to being such an Outsider is that I’m unfamiliar with the standard way of doing things. There are all sorts of things I’m learning that make me think “Huh. That makes sense.” I just found out that it’s actually kosher to approach famous artists and ask them to be a part of your project, and have them say yes. That wasn’t something I thought happened. I thought you needed to be a big publishing house to do that.
The upside to being such an Outsider is that I’m unfamiliar with the standard way of doing things. When I design something, it is rarely something that has been seen before. Sometimes that doesn’t work, but sometimes that works really well. There is a great quote by the mathematician G.H. Hardy, when he refers to Srinivasa Ramanujan as being in “blessed isolation from the world of formal mathematics.” I’ve probably butchered that quote, but that was roughly the sentiment. Sometimes, it really helps to be isolated from something in order to contribute to it, as your ideas are not invisibly bounded by the standard way of doing things. Of course, the standard way of doing things is often the best. But not always.
I’m proud to have a team that are also figuring out the industry as we go too. They are each stepping into their roles admirably.
[Q] What type of person will enjoy playing your game?
People who like interesting and unusual social experiences. People who like to play games of genuine intellectual challenge. People who like to joke around and have fun with people, more than pieces. People who like to work as a team. People who like to solve puzzles, or to really challenge themselves in terms of words and wit.
Blood On The Clocktower is a battle of wits against real human beings, not a challenge of mathematical knowledge and intuition against a system. If you like talking, listening, playing with people, being with people, and are a rapscallion at heart, you will probably like Blood On the Clocktower. The game provides the framework for a genuinely interesting and solvable murder-mystery, but it will be the people you play with that either turn that into a complex, confusing, and brain-meltingly challenging logic puzzle, or into a game of powers and game elements.
[Q] What excites people about your game?
The Papyrus font on the character tokens. (jokingly) No, seriously, that is provisional. It’s changing! I swear!
What excites people is the thrill of being evil – bluffing, lying, deceiving people, all whilst thinking on your feet. It’s not about body language, or “who voted for who,” but a logic puzzle that can be derailed by clever thinking and cunning use of character powers. You have to really work to win. Victory is never an accident, and the thrill of creating a story, on the fly, based on true information that people are talking about, all without breaking a sweat, is difficult to describe. I had a game with Evin Donohoe, recently, where the win felt more like winning the Superbowl than a board game. I was the Poisoner, deftly giving the Empath and the Undertaker false information, whilst claiming to be the Washerwoman to the Monk, and claiming to be the Slayer to the group. Evin, the Imp, who was claiming to be the Empath (to the real Empath’s chagrin), revealed that he was the Ravenkeeper after killing himself, and told the group that I was actually the Washerwoman. This convinced the group that I was indeed the Washerwoman, which led to a chain of events that allowed us to pull victory from the jaws of defeat. I’ve never felt such exhilaration!
Or, just ask about the game where there were 12 Demons, all pretending to be suspicious of each other, just as an act of theatre to convince the 2 living good players that they were actually good. Truly devious.
Many players prefer to be good. The excitement and satisfaction of figuring out who is lying, who is drunk, and who is simply confused, is less thrilling, but really feels good, because in the process you have worked as a team to accomplish something challenging, and made new friends along the way. And, of course, players on the Good Team are themselves often presented with opportunities to tell lies for their strategic benefit, as they set traps for Evil players to step into.
[Q] What can frustrate people about your game?
Some players don’t get the nuance of particular roles, and feel that their character ability is not powerful or important. Many roles in the game require a play-through or two to really understand how and why they are crucial, and that initial learning period can be frustrating for some. For example, the Ravenkeeper (which I mentioned before), learns the identity of one player of their choice… but only if the Demon kills the Ravenkeeper. An experienced player knows that bluffing as a more juicy target, such as the Empath, so that the Demon kills them, is a wise move to make. They die, but the information they learn can change a game. However, a beginner player who gets the Ravenkeeper role may feel that their ability is useless if they believe that death is a bad thing, and feel that they “have nothing to do”. It’s a shame, and I do my best to help new players figure out their particular strategies for themselves, but some people do have a frustrating game or two before things click.
Also, the length of a game is difficult to time. With 15 players, some people are going to want a 20 minute game and some people are going to want a 90 minute game. It is up to the Storyteller to judge what is best for the group and adjust their hosting style accordingly, but with so many different points of view, some people want things to go faster and some slower.
[Q] How did you come up with the idea for this game?
I don’t know if I can really answer that question well. I think the game itself asked to be born and just used me as a chump. It grew piece by piece, over a period of five years. Massive amounts of play-testing and frequent “back to the drawing board” moments later, and we have the monster that it is today.
[Q] How long did it take you to develop the game?
Trouble Brewing took about two years. Each successive edition took about 18 months, and I’m still working. I could have sworn it was Orson Wells, who said it in regards to movies, but a google search brings up Paul Valéry: “A poem is never finished, only abandoned.”
[Q] Besides this game, what are your top 3 favorite games to play right now?
Battletech and Mysterium top the list. Battletech is fun. Mysterium is fun, coherent and well designed. I like the depth and strategy of Battletech (with extensive house rules to remove the janky rules and broken equipment) and I like the way that Mysterium can provide an interesting and challenging puzzle that is both intellectual and intuitive, and can incorporate players of all skill levels. I’ve been playing Battletech for 25 years with good friends, and I’ll play Mysterium with anyone, anywhere, anytime. For number three, I'll have to go with Codenames – It's Pictionary! It's Charades! It's Articulate! But its.... cool.
[Q] Publishing your own game is hard work, what motivated you to pursue this Kickstarter?
I wanted to self publish for two reasons.
(1) Firstly, Blood On The Clocktower is a deep and subtle game. It has adult themes and complex strategies that really provide a challenge for beginners and veteran players. It is also a big game, that has some unusual manufacturing requirements. I was concerned that an established publisher would be afraid of producing something so unusual and different, and would reduce things down to something more marketable and generic. You see it all the time, where unique and interesting books get turned into Hollywood films, and the characters are boiled down to stereotypes and explosions added to appeal to a wider audience. If we self publish we’ll find the people that really like Blood On The Clocktower – potentially at the expense of the wider audience that a large publisher would give us, but we get to maintain creative control and produce what we actually think is best. For me, that means that I get to make the game that I actually want to play… not the game that I think will sell.
(2) The second reason is that I wanted to provide an opportunity for my friends to get involved and succeed. The group is very talented – Andy on social media; Evin on promotions and production; Eden on finance, legal, and business; Amy as technical manager for Websites and such. They are all new at this and have talent, gaining experience as we go. This also means that we can do things that established companies can’t do. We are forced to come up with creative strategies to succeed. For example, instead of just going to conventions and advertising Blood On The Clocktower, we have hand-made over a dozen copies and set up gaming groups worldwide, helmed by enthusiasts of the game. As a games designer, my desired end result is not people buying the game, but people playing the game – so we decided to skip the monetary step and do what we can to set up communities where people get to do just that. It’s incredibly rewarding, just not financially rewarding. On any week, there may be games in Boston, Los Angeles, Sydney, London and Pavia. That’s pretty cool.
[Q] What has been the reaction from folks who have played this game already?
Mostly one of drooling, wild-eyed fanaticism! Clocktower really taps into something in people who like people. I’m inundated with people suggesting characters, asking for copies, and just turning up again and again and again for games days and wanting to take part in the design process. One of the Sydney players, Belinda, said on the third week of January “I’ve played every single day this year.” It is the kind of game that people want more of, because each time they play, they learn something new, and get better and better. It’s hard to describe the level of enthusiasm that I’ve encountered over the last few years… it is really encouraging, and I love to run games for people to facilitate that.
That is not to say the game is for everyone. There is occasional vitriol from players who prefer other social deduction games, or other styles of game in general, or from people who had a negative social experience whilst playing. Blood On The Clocktower is very much a game where you outwit (or are outwitted by) other people first, and by the game mechanics second, so if you find yourself playing with unpleasant people, or have an unpleasant storyteller, the experience can go sour. It’s a shame, and I’ve done what I can to include game mechanics to encourage positive and inclusive social behavior, but it comes down to finding the people that you want to play with, and not those you don’t.
[Q] What do you plan to use the Kickstarter funds for?
The kickstarter funds are almost completely going towards setting The Pandemonium Institute up as a business – getting copies manufactured to be sold via the website, recuperating the costs of conventions and hand-made copies, and paying staff for their contributions thus far. We’ve all been working for free for years. For me, this is a labor of love, but graphic designers and web developers and such need to eat more than velvet and cardboard.
[Q] If funded, when is your game targeted to be released?
As soon as we can, but our estimate is January 2020 (but hopefully it will be sooner than that).
The game is written, exhaustively play-tested, and growling like a caged lion. Apart from a few minor wording tweaks and the addition of some art, it is ready to be let out. The manufacturing and distribution systems are set up with various companies, but there may be unforeseen delays, because shit happens.
[Q] Where can people find more about you and your company?
If you like how this board game plays, you'll definitely want to check out these great games which play with a similar Social Deduction mechanic.