Two weeks ago, I reviewed a rather clever timed social deduction word guessing game by the name of Werewords. And because it isn’t enough to play only one weaponization of Twenty Questions, that old nugget of cross-country trips and standing in amusement park lines, it was suggested to me that I ought to try Insider from Oink Games.
If you’re the sort of person who enjoys reading about publishers accusing one another of plagiarism (nerd), then you’ve likely already heard this one. Long story short: Oink made a game, Bezier made a concurrent game, some licensing emails were exchanged and/or ignored and/or dropped, and now there are two rather clever timed social deduction word guessing games on the market.
As Grand Justice for our entire hobby (self-appointed), how could I pass up this opportunity to utter infallible judgment?
After approximately twenty plays of Insider — which takes far less time than you’d think — three truths had made themselves evident.
One. Nearly everything I wrote about Werewords is also true about Insider. Nearly. I’ll return to this, but the gist is that Insider is much more about the word itself, as the primary object of everybody’s attentions, while Werewords is about guessing the word but also about sometimes not guessing the word.
Two. It’s totally reasonable that the folks at Oink would be pissed. The similarities are pronounced.
Three. Whether Werewords is a ripoff of Insider is impossible to tell, and even impossible-er to do anything about. It’s different the way two barely-themed deck-builders are different, or two Risk clones, or two train games — or at least that’s my assumption, since I avoid train games at all costs.
Insider works like this. One person, the master, knows a word, drawn at random from a deck and further randomized by the number on the next card in the deck. This master wants people to guess the word, but can only answer “Yes” or “No” when queried about the nature of the word. Everyone else is a commons, as earnest about shades of lexical meaning as any peasant, while one person is the insider. This insider also wants the word guessed, and will hopefully prod along everybody else’s questioning — which is only reasonable, as the whole thing is timed. For their service, insiders are hunted by their fellows as soon as the word is correctly guessed, resulting in either the master and commons winning together by correctly ridding themselves of the insider, or the insider winning alone.
And for the most part, its thrills are identical to Werewords. It’s minutes-fast, forces people to talk about words under pressure, and has a minor hidden-person element that gets everybody pointing fingers. Literally, in fact, since you points fingers to vote on the identity of the insider.
That said, there are significant differences lurking beneath the surface of Werewords. The werewolves, for one. These guys are infiltrators, trying to derail everybody else’s investigation and suss out the identity of the sage, their game’s version of the insider. I won’t belabor something I’ve already reviewed, but between the rivalry between humans and monsters and the presence of additional roles, the whole thing is spun differently enough that it steps into safe territory — if only by barely sweeping over the landmine underfoot.
The thing, though, is that I’ve come to appreciate Insider even more than Werewords. Its focus on the word itself is sharper, for one thing. Without the need to detangle everyone’s loyalty — you’re only ever after one person — the whole thing tends to be faster, quippier, and, sure, a bit less stressful. Which is perhaps a silly comparison to draw, since Werewords couldn’t rightly be called a stressor. But the observation stands: Insider is the one I’m more likely to bring along to a gathering of people I don’t know, because there’s so little that could make anyone feel singled out. In a party game, that’s a positive.
But both are delightful, and often for the same reasons. It’s a joy to not only hunt for a word, but to also then hunt for anyone who seemed to know the word before you. It isn’t often that you’re left reluctant to reveal your ah-ha moment. In both Insider and Werewords, epiphanies signal guilt as often as they show off those smarty pants you’re wearing. If that isn’t a delicious inversion, then nothing is — and it’s no less clever for the fact that two designers came up with it at roughly the same time.