Playing Blood on the Clocktower Digitally
Every Halloween, we host a get together with our friends that usually ends with us playing multiple board games. With COVID this year, that was not an option so instead we decided to hold a digital party. Without telling the guests, I retrofitted Blood on the Clocktower to work digitally. I found all the rules, roles and more online.
Had I played Blood on the Clocktower before this?
No. I saw it demoed at PAX Unplugged, followed the Kickstarter and saw SU&SD’s praise though. It felt more thematic for the evening than the other social deduction games I thought of using (Secret Hitler, Escape from the Aliens from Outer Space).
I used the Trouble Brewing module and the following roles:
Empath, Fortune Teller, Investigator, Soldier, Undertaker and Virgin for the Townspeople.
Scarlet Woman for the Minion.
Imp for the Demon.
On the character sheet (which I downloaded from the BotC script site), I included Chef, Mayor, Monk, Slayer and Washerwoman as additional Townspeople (so that no one knew who all was truly in play). I included the Outsider roles of Butler, Drunk, Recluse and Saint and the Minion roles of Baron, Poisoner and Spy (again to seed some doubt for the players).
The game mentions using the Chef instead of the Soldier when playing with eight-players but we (my SO and myself) swapped them because we felt the Chef may be slightly confusing without the true visual of the seating arrangement. The Soldier was chosen as they were a straightforward character ability and the player we chose to play them has a small child, so we were unsure how engaged they would be able to be.
My SO and I were the game masters and planned to run the game together for our eight friends over WebEx. Why WebEx? My work uses it and it wouldn’t time out (like Zoom) and offered breakout rooms (unlike Google Meets).
What did we do for pre-planning?
Every character received a one-pager that showcased their character/character ability, examples of how the character can interact with others and most importantly, how their power would be used.
They also received a pre-made seating chart (we just downloaded a circular template). For those unaware, BotC relies heavily on seating arrangement and interacting with players non-verbally. The change we made was that during the Night Phase, we would mute ourselves and turn off our camera (but everyone else kept theirs on). They could spend this time chatting, catching up, discussing The 100 while we would message the players via WebEx chat or text. This way, players could see other players (sometimes) responding. We also made sure to message everyone regardless of whether they had a power to keep the mystery alive.
Players received a one-pager of the rules. The rules were strictly what the phases were and how nominations/voting worked. The goal was to leave the onus on the nitty-gritty to the story tellers and for everyone else to just react.
In addition, I also drafted a script in Word that would detail each phase, the order of the players and pre-made text that would detail how a murder and/or execution would play out. This helped immensely as it helped players immerse themselves more in the story, all the murders/executions were unique and there was some slight flavor added depending on who died. For instance, when the nomination of the Virgin resulted in the death of the Undertaker, we mentioned how noble and pure of heart the accused were.
Using chat/text was also a decision made ahead of time (as well as messaging everyone regardless of ability). We had multiple couples playing and we wanted them to share a computer if possible (due to microphone feedback and the weirdness of making people sit in different rooms of their apartment/house).
Why did you not use an Outsider?
We debated using an Outsider heavily but decided against it. Our main concern was that it would be way too much to keep track of and there was no character that could influence an Outsider either way. We then debated adding the Barista (who can change someone’s status) but thought that would be too much for this game; the idea of not knowing that your power works when you only just learned what you’re doing did not seem fun for our group in my eyes. However, we did leave them included in the character list. This worked just the way we wanted as one player clung to the notion that their character was drunk and the information they were receiving was incorrect.
How did it play?
Oh man. So the plan was for my SO and I to tag-team this bad boy. We had notes and checklists and everything. Then our 18-month-old basically told us to suck it and clung to her mother all night, eliminating her as a storyteller. Everything fell to me (which was fine but if we had not done the pre-planning and script this would have been an absolute disaster). Each round, I would fully enunciate the round and phase and anything that happened of note. Players were free to talk in public, join a breakout room or communicate via chat/text. No one elected for the breakout room option and most discussion occurred in the public chat. Some players shared their roles openly; others were vague. Players keyed in on the Imp on round two but the nomination did not succeed. The Imp killed themselves, which made the Scarlett Woman the new Demon.
Unfortunately, I made an error around round two with order when relaying information to the Empath. In doing so, they became certain they were Drunk and that everything I was telling them was false. This was purely a blunder on my end and while shitty for the player(s), they did not know any better and honestly, it provided an interesting dynamic as the game went on. Without this mistake, the game probably ends in round two or three (I’ll explain why in a moment).
The highlight of the game was the nomination of the Virgin, who had played it cool all game and from my perspective given no one any inclination that they were evil. This nomination doomed the townspeople as they had narrowed the Demon down to two-players. Unfortunately, the killing of the nominator (done by stoning) pushed voting on one of those two back another round and resulted in the Demon eventually winning as they were one of two players remaining.
I fully expected this to suck. We had done some virtual escape rooms and murder mysteries and they were just okay. I even gave everyone an out by saying that if they are not feeling it, we can cut the game short and it would not hurt my feelings.
Everyone had a blast. More importantly, the players that were on the fence had a lot of fun. The game ran about forty to fifty minutes (which probably would be thirty minutes or so if you cut out first time playing questions and the need to oversee why my daughter was hysterical).
The game worked well virtually with the only caveat being the amount of prep the storyteller needed to do. Obviously, someone could wing this and keep track of the information in their head but that person is not me. The prep is very important and in hindsight, I should have spent more time on the seating arrangement. I ended up with the “evil” players near one another, which resulted in the Empath knowing who exactly they were in the second round. Without my mistake, they would have known exactly who the two evil players were and with the death of the Demon, they would have keyed on who the Minion (now Demon) was.
Being the storyteller was fun but I will admit, it won’t be for everyone. I enjoyed weaving the narrative and seeing where my friends went with their allegations and deductions but I’d be lying if I said I enjoyed just being an observer. Granted, I don’t know how I would do that virtually (I’m sure with thought something would come to mind) but it is worth mentioning. I really enjoy these types of games and not playing was a drag.
I think I may have preferred this more than playing in person as my Baltimore City rowhome would not easily facilitate eight (or more) people sitting in close confines. We did discuss after the game that this would be a fun outdoor or campfire game (which I agree).
Lastly, I did not create or use the box that the game uses. Keeping track of everything with pen and paper was much easier. While I enjoyed the game, I still have reservations about spending the amount of money BotC is asking for.