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  • Writer's pictureBen Nobles

Tabletop Review: Blood on the Clocktower

Developer: The Pandemonium Institute

Publisher: The Pandemonium Institute


“I think my mom is sus.” says the tween to the group. In return, the mother retorts, “I make your breakfast and clean your clothes, you best be careful before you start throwing around accusations.” The tension and eye narrowing increases palpably between the two players. Meanwhile, I am struggling to contain a giggle because I know for a fact that the mom is indeed the demon and it’s hilarious that a “Mom Card” is being played while lying through one’s teeth. I hope you like this kind of drama because, in the make-believe town of Ravenswood Bluff, even familial connections can’t be trusted.  


One Night in Ravenswood Bluff


Blood on the Clocktower is a social deduction game made by The Pandemonium Institute in which 7-14 players (not including the “Storyteller”) attempt to uncover the Demon who has infiltrated the village. Meanwhile, the Demon, who is randomly assigned to a player, is trying to methodically murder a member of the village each night. Each villager has a specific role, like a soldier or maid, each with unique abilities to help them identify the demon. If you have played Mafia, Werewolf, or Town of Salem then you will be familiar with the premise. One player, likely the one reading this review, must be the one to put the story together and orchestrate the day and night cycles and corresponding player actions.  



In a way, this gives the player three distinct gameplay experiences: good team, evil team, or narrator. For the good villagers, the focus is leveraging the limited tools at your disposal and any alliances you can form with other players to piece together the puzzle created by player actions and the unique ways their powers interact with the rest of the group. If successful, the villagers will expose the evil players and win the day. Huzzah! For the evil players, it’s all about deceit. Can you keep the good team off your tracks long enough to get to the final round? The demon can employ an endless number of strategies to stay undetected. One could lay low and stay under the radar or ridiculously spew as many untruths and lies as you can get away with (the latter obviously being the more entertaining option). Finally, as the narrator, you get to see the chaos unfold and are also responsible for picking which roles/powers are in the game. Being the only one fully in the know, you get to effectively play God and internally giggle at the failings and missteps of your friends. 


Blood on the Clocktower does offer something different from every other social deduction game by changing how death is handled. When a player is killed, they can keep on participating! I find this to be one of the most appealing parts of gameplay. After death, they no longer have powers, and their votes are limited but they can keep communicating and scheming along with the alive players. Death doesn’t mean you have to sit quietly on the sidelines, ruining the fun and removing players from the interaction. This simple change really keeps the momentum of the night alive and keeps everyone maximally engaged. Clever players will realize dying may in fact be a game-winning move. As death can reveal surprising truths. 



Felted Necronomicon


I hope you have some shelf space because Blood on the Clocktower is large, to say the least. The “Grimoire” functions as your carrying box as well as the narrator’s presentation tool when leading a game. This box is jam-packed with multiple booklets, icons, player deliverables, and more felt than the Christmas decoration box in your attic. The felt serves a highly functional purpose allowing the narrator to stick characters discs within the Grimoire with no fear of them shifting around. Organization of all the character icons, character reminder icons, and player instruction sheets take some effort and meticulousness. Luckily for the Good and Bad team, that is a Narrator problem. My only complaint with the felt is often the character discs would stick together causing players to accidentally draw more than one character, forcing the narrator to re-deal everyone’s roles.



Friends Not Included


Blood on the Clocktower is no small social investment as you’ll need a large circle of friends. This game requires you to confidently bring 7-14 other people along to play with you and takes around an hour a game session depending on the group size and their experience level. I can’t stress enough that a smaller group of players does not create quite the same grand experience. More players mean more chaos and more ensuing drama, which will be what keeps players coming back. The good news is that even hyper-casual gamers can enjoy this experience! Out of three sessions I hosted, I only had one player drop out of further rounds/ She said “interrogating” that many people that she didn’t know that well made her uncomfortable. All other players from my games, from tweens to middle-aged moms, were enthralled by the mystery and were excited to play another round.


Blood on the Clocktower also requires financial investment in comparison to other similar games. It is not cheap nor does it feel cheap. I paid $148.95 retail because frankly, I am always looking for an excuse to get my friends together to play games and drink beer. 

 

Good and the Evil


I can’t emphasize enough that this game, if you can get the right group together, absolutely sings. Players are lobbing accusations, others are pleading, and everyone can allow themselves to be swept up in the narrative. The simplicity of gameplay is also another huge selling point. If your narrator has played before, it should be a pretty simple effort to get all players up to speed. There are several well-done themed videos that can be played to help instruct the group. 



The most notable challenge is that it can take a little time for players to understand the logic and strategy behind the character abilities. The first round with a new group can be a little awkward as players don’t fully understand the plot yet or see how their abilities can be fully capitalized on. They may need a prompt or hint to help the discourse get flowing. As they play a few more rounds and they understand the synergy of character roles, players will jump into action each day cycle breaking off into small groups to plot and scheme. Perhaps the developers could have considered a game mechanic that jumpstarts the first-round pause.


Value Proposition


My final verdict is that this game is certainly worth it if you have a broad enough social circle that is willing to get together at least several times to play. If your gamer group is more limited, or it’s tough to get people to commit, this might not be the best fit for you. Without the network and commitment, you likely will not get your money’s worth. Perhaps you can try one of the online variants, which I have not explored yet, or a local event first. However, if you can pull off the coordination (I found bribing friends with beverages and snacks to be helpful) trust that you will create a unique experience that you will all be talking about for weeks and hopefully months to come.


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