I’m spending most of this month working as a mad scientist on a couple of different summer camps for primary school aged children (typically 6-12 year-olds).

Monday’s group was quite small in number but mostly boys and most of them probably around the 10 years old mark. They were pretty rowdy and at one stage we ended up sitting them down in a circle and having a game of wink murder.

It worked OK, but I felt we could up the ante a little so I asked them if they wanted to play werewolf. None of them had played it before so I sold it to them by saying it was “like wink murder; only much better!”. They went for it!

After hastily drawing up some smiley-face cards on torn-up bits of paper I gathered the players all together again and did my best to remember and then explain the rules. Perhaps I wasn’t clear enough in saying that the werewolves should absolutely not broadcast who they were in any way whatsoever because when they were asked to wake up and select a victim on the first night they both promptly (and noisily) stood up! Hey ho, we got through the game some how and I thought that would be that…

…except that for the next day – with about 50% new faces and 50% returning from the day before – someone requested that we played werewolf again.

Again we scrambled for pencils and scrap paper and again we kind of muddled through a game (this time with a text to a friend to check on how the voting process was supposed to go!)

Today things got really interesting.

As soon as I arrived, one of the kids came up to me and requested that we played werewolf again today. Naturally I was more than happy to oblige and since there was still 15 minutes or so before the science activities started I told him he’d better use the time to get some cards ready. [For those of you who aren’t familiar with the game, players are randomly given a card that tells them whether they are a villager, a werewolf, a healer or possibly another specialised character type, depending on the game. More information here.]

Before long, all the other children were gathered around, mass-producing villagers and werewolves. They came up with some beauties – I’ll be randomly peppering the rest of this post with them!


We played 3 or 4 games throughout the day and, other than being delighted that they had been bitten by the bug, it was really good to see the learning curve that came with repetition.

I moderated the start of the first game and, after a re-start when a few people opened their eyes when they shouldn’t have, we were cooking on gas with one werewolf, a healer, a seer and seven villagers. That’s essentially nine people all pointing at someone and screaming “KILL HIM! KILL HIM! KILL HIM!” very, very loudly! My aim for the day was to get people talking more about their reasoning for wanting to lynch a suspect and to be a lot stricter with the voting procedure. We’re not quite there yet, but take it from me; nine people all pointing at someone and screaming “KILL HIM! KILL HIM! KILL HIM!” very, very loudly was a big improvement on the previous days!


Not too far into the game the boy who had asked about playing that morning was killed off and he begged me to let him take over the moderation. I handed over the reins and he preceded to mimic my fairly theatrical commentary. That was amusing to watch!


Things took a twist when the villagers correctly lynched the werewolf. With about 5 villigers still alive and the game already won, our new moderator decided he didn’t want the game to finish! He kept on going through the motions of asking werewolves, healer and seer to wake up and select their chosen ones. Excellent! Our first hack!


I missed a lot of the detail of what happened because I was continually having to take the newly-dead aside and explain to them what was going on. It was interesting to see the range of responses but I think the bewilderment got to a few of them and fairly soon they were announcing it to the remaining players.


In later games we did away with the seer role, and brought in an extra werewolf. We also let the children moderate more – often with 3 boys taking it in turns to ask the various characters to wake up. Nice bit of collaboration there, even if it did still involve a lot of argument!


By about the 3rd game I was starting to notice a bit more evidence of strategy and deduction. Definitely an achievement: our roles were mostly as crowd control rather than as coaches, so this is largely where they arrived at by themselves. We had a healer declare himself as healer in an attempt to prevent himself being lynched, but a good bit of werewolf persuasion meant they eventually got their man (they had tried to kill him for the previous few nights, but he kept healing himself). I wonder when we’ll start seeing some bluffs as defendants cotton onto this as a potential lifesaver?


We did see signs of progress with the reasons given for wanting to lynch suspects. Most of the time their accusations are based on hearing movements start – or snoring stop – during the night. Today we had justifications that included the accused not wearing any shoes and someone else having a red mark/blood on his nose (a remnant of the smell-testing quiz).


As for learning through play: there was a beautiful moment when J (one of the more unruly boys in the group) in trying to get the villagers to calm down and vote properly suddenly twigged what a difficult job we (the ‘teachers’) faced in trying to keep the group under control during the sciencey bits of the day. I swear you could see the thought process move across his face!

I think we’re going to lose a lot of the veteran players over the next few days (to parents, rather than to lupine predators) so I’m interested to see how the enthusiasm for the game waxes or wanes accordingly. Can we keep this up for the remainder of the fortnight?

Meanwhile, the residents of today’s villages are presented on Flickr for your viewing pleasure.