Board in the Stacks: The Legend of the Wendigo

The Legend of the Wendigo is a werewolf-styled social deduction game for 2-6 children aged 6+ from Iello Games. In this “lighter” themed version, the Chipmunk Scouts are out telling stories around the campfire and, unbeknownst to anyone, the legendary Wendigo is lurking in the shadows. Each night the Wendigo returns to camp and steals away with another camper and then hides in their midst, camouflaged as an innocent camper.

To be fair, the theme isn’t really much lighter than Werewolf. But the artwork sets the mood and is not particularly frightening despite children being dragged into the night by a creature that then returns in their skins to carry away another. Think of it as Goosebumps level spooky. 

The components consist of 64 round tiles. 32 are camper tiles pictures of campers on both sides and 32 are Wendigo Tiles with an matching camper on one side and a (kinda adorable) Wendigo on the other. One player is chosen to be the Wendigo. The rest of the players are campers trying to suss the Wendigo out. I had some concerns about a “one against many” game for younger children. To keep the game even I recommend a total of four players — one Wendigo and three campers for the most balanced game. Too many campers and the Wendigo will be discovered quickly. Too few and the Wendigo will likely succeed easily. Rotate the Wendigo between players and you’ve got an even game for everyone.

IMG_7497.JPG

The game is split — werewolf style — into two phases: Night Phase and Day Phase.

Night Phase:

The Wendigo player shuffles their tiles and chooses one randomly. They then locate the matching Scout tile from the 32 on the table. Once the scout tile is located, Team Camper has to turn around and close their eyes (or leave the room, etc.) while the Wendigo replaces the scout tile with the Wendigo tile.

When the switch is complete, Team Camper can return to the room (or turn around or open their eyes) and a sand timer is flipped. They have about one minute to memorize as much as they can about the layout of the tiles. Once the timer runs out, Team Camper turns around and closes their eyes. The Wendigo then removes a Scout tile and places their Wendigo tile into the same space, leaving the space empty where the Wendigo used to be.

Once this is done we move to the Day Phase.

Day Phase:

During the Day Phase, Team Camper examines the table to determine what changed during the night. They discuss which tile they believe to be the Wendigo and when agreed on a single tile, they flip it over!

If the Wendigo is on the back of the tile, they successfully sniffed out the Wendigo and won. If not, the tile remains on the table and the players get ready for another round and they continue with another Night Phase. The game continues until the Wendigo snatches five tiles or is discovered.

IMG_7499.JPG

Review:

For a simplified hybrid of Werewolf and Scotland Yard, The Legend of the Wendigo has kept several groups of children engaged at my library. There is a small social deduction element with Team Camper trying to read the Wendigo player for any tells as they search for the correct tile. The game lacks hidden roles and bluffing. These elements are generally standard for this type of game but they can be challenging for younger children. The integrity of the experience was surprising coherent with such a simple ruleset. Pattern recognition and memory games can be grueling and dull at times but Iello has consistently pulled it off. Players will try to recognize and recall earlier patterns (each iteration of the children are similar with slight variations). This will sound similar if you played another of Iello’s games “Baba Yaga” where the tiles have subtle differences while seeming similar at first glance. Unfortunately, this need to make all the tiles similar with slight variations led to camp composed entirely of white kids. I think steps could have been taken to better provide minority representation without negatively affecting gameplay.

A concern is the amount of experience required to take on the Wendigo role. A consistent failing of one-against is the difficulty an inexperienced player will have in the “one” role. In Letters from Whitechapel or Scotland Yard, generally it is recommended that the most experienced player take the role of Mr. X or Jack. However, The Legend of the Wendigo does provide an experience where anyone can walk into the role of the Wendigo and generally succeed without undue stress. 

An issue playing social deduction games with children is that the game hinges upon bluffing and deception. This is a shame since elements of these games are large player counts, simple rules, and minimal components of social deduction games seem to make them the perfect game for children. Here is where The Legend of the Wendigo is spot on. It allows for deception aimed at the arrangement of the tiles rather than about a deceit over a hidden role. The Wendigo player is known to everyone from the start. 

One particular element of the game I enjoyed is decision making between the children on Team Camper. Eventually, the will figure out that the easiest way to find the Wendigo is if each player takes and area of the board to examine intently rather than having everyone try to memorize everything. This technique will make the game much harder for the Wendigo. However, I still love this with new groups of children at the library. The components are sturdy and set up is simple enough.

Bottom Line: If you are looking for a twist on the traditional memory game that hinges on pattern recognition then The Legend of the Wendigo is an easy grab. It provides a delightfully tense albeit light-hearted atmosphere and will certainly generate some cheers when the Wendigo is finally revealed. It plays quickly for repeated play but experienced campers will eventually be able to snag the Wendigo in a few rounds. Representation is an issue with all the campers portrayed as white. 

Board in the Stacks: Deception: Murder in Hong Kong

In Deception: Murder in Hong Kong, 4-12 players are attempting to solve a murder and just arrived at a crime scene loaded with clues and potential murder weapons. Players need to sort through the clues with the help of their forensic scientist. Everything seems simple enough except that the murder is standing in their midst and in uniform. Players will need to suss out what the forensic scientist is hinting at, find the murder, and protect their start witness before three rounds of play elapse.

Start the game with determining who will be the Forensic Scientist. The Forensic Scientist is presenting hints so they should be the most experienced player (or at very least the one who read the rules already). Similar to the ghost in Mysterium, you have an oddly mute forensic scientist (who in my head-canon has such a strong case of social anxiety) who is unable to speak to the investigators and instead just points to their notes.

Everyone else is randomly given a roles: Mostly Investigators plus one Murderer, and in larger player counts, a Witness and an Accomplice. Everyone except the Forensic Scientist is dealt a hand of four clue cards and four weapon cards which are displayed in front of them. Similar to Werewolf, the forensic scientist has everyone close their eyes and then asks for the Murder to open their eyes and point to one of their weapon cards and one of their clue cards. This is the information that the Forensic Scientist must relay to the investigators. The Witness gets to see who the murderer is but not their murder weapon or clue and wants to survive and remain hidden. The Accomplice gets to see who the murder is and wins if the murderer gets away.  

IMG_6612
Investigator, Murderer, Forensic Scientist roles and for higher player counts the Witness and Accomplice.

The game is played in three rounds. The forensic scientist has to place bullets on the six random tiles. Two tiles (“Cause of Death” and “Location of Crime”) are always used with four additional “Scene” tiles. Placement of the bullets will hint at the murder weapon and the clue and thus the identity of the murderer. It is best to place these slowly so players can discuss the clues and help guide the investigator to the next placement. Each player (including the murderer) then gets to make brief presentation about their opinions on the case and can once per game make and attempt to solve the murder by announcing “I plan to solve the murder” and then pointing to one murder weapon and one clue in front of one specific player. If you guess correctly, the investigators win! But if you guess incorrectly, you turn in your badge and are unable to make a guess again. However, you can still partake in the discussion on how others can make their guess. This continues for three rounds with the Forensic Scientist adding one new “Scene” tile to replace an older one of their choice.

IMG_6610
The Location of Crime (green), the Cause of Death (purple) and four Scene tiles.

If playing with the Witness, and the correct weapon and clue are guessed, then the Murderer gets the opportunity to guess who the witness is to win the game.  

Deception is to The Resistance what Mysterium is to Dixit. It takes an enjoyable activity and adds a subtle layer of mechanics on top to create a more salient game experience. All this while retaining a quick set-up and pleasant flow of play. The tension and distrust from other social deduction games such as The Resistance or Werewolf is present but not overwhelming. You have an experience where players are working together but always glancing slightly askance at each other rather than heavy bluffing and accusations.

Deception places the emphasis firmly on the deduction part over the social part of social deduction games. Discussion more often revolve around what the Forensic Scientist is trying to hint at over whether someone is lying or not. It just feels gentler and more about subtle misdirection over outright argumentation. The murder can slink into the background and let everything play out while gently nudging people in the right or wrong direction.

img_6611.jpg
A handful of clues and a smattering of Investigator badge tokens.

The Endgame: Deception: Murder in Hong Kong can play a large group easily and the set-up is minimal (especially when compared to Mysterium) and I prefer it over Werewolf or The Resistance since the game-play is less “social” and the discussion a bit more gentle while still tense.