Mentalist trick to win a game of Werewolf (or Resistance)

I want to share a story of how I helped win a game of lying yesterday with a little psychological trick that was inspired by the TV show The Mentalist.

A good number of folks who read this blog probably attend some kind of conference, most likely in the field of technology. There’s a phenonmenon that occurs at the end of most days of the conference.

Folks get together to play Werewolf. Also called Mafia. Which is the variant I played in highschool. Recently I was introduced to another variant: Resistance.

The basic premise of these games is that everyone is given an identity to play. Some people are “bad”; some people are “good”. Bad people are the liars of the game, and lying to all the good people about their identities. Good people have to play the game not knowing anyone’s true identity except for their own.

Yesterday I was playing with the crew behind Everyblock (You should check out Everyblock by the way if you haven’t already. It’s like a social network for your neighborhood/city, and is incredibly useful if you want to know what’s going on around you.)

For this particular game I’m telling you about I was “good”. This is a villager in Werewolf. Or The Resistance in the game of the same name.

So the game proceeds and we all need to start figuring out who the other good guys and bad guys are. This usually involves accusing people of being good or bad and watching their verbal cues. Does someone talk or smile out of character? Or doth someone protest too much, methinks?

Yesterday, I was inspired by The Mentalist to try a psychological trick. In The Mentalist, the main character constantly uses psychological tells of the other characters to try and ferret out who might be a criminal. Seems like the perfect show to watch to get ideas on how to be a better Werewolf/Resistance player.

The principle I wanted to try and exploit was that people tend to act slower on a lie than a fact. Liars have to spend more time thinking about what they are about to do or say next so they can stay consistent with their lie. Here’s an article summarizing a few points about the behaviors of lying.

Since people tend to act slower through a lie, I decided to simply ask everyone at the table: “Raise your hand if you are part of The Resistance”. Immediately 3 other people and myself (a good guy) raised our hands. The rest of the table was noticeably slower.

Through the rest of the game I assumed the 3 other quick responders were good guys and weren’t lying to me.

The good guys won that game. Easily.

I can’t take sole credit for the win of course, because some of the other good guys didn’t buy into my technique to make their decisions, and they still made wise choices. But my suspicions certainly helped when I was on the line in choosing who good guys and bad guys were, and when I needed to influence some others to make their decisions.

The final outcome was that the 4 of us were indeed the good guys and truth tellers of the game. There was one other good guy/truth teller that wasn’t ferreted out by my technique. He was extremely slow to raise his hand.

I wasn’t expecting perfection though. Just a little more information to help win the game. And having an idea of 4/5 of the good guys is tremendous information to have when playing a game like this.

Of course this particular technique will work less and less the more my playmates expect it. But to play a game like this, you need to get better and better at reading people, and this might be one more useful tool to add to your game once in awhile.

P.S. You might dig following me on twitter.


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