Why Werewolf Matters at TechStars Cloud

Downtime at TechStars Cloud usually involves Werewolf. If you’re not familiar, here’s a summary of the game:

Werewolf takes place in a small village which is hunted by werewolves.

Each player is secretly assigned a role – Werewolf, Villager, or Seer (a special Villager). There is also a Moderator player who controls the flow of the game.

The game alternates between night and day phases. At night, the Werewolves secretly choose a Villager to kill. Also, the Seer (if still alive) asks whether another player is a Werewolf or not. During the day, the Villager who was killed is revealed and is out of the game. The remaining Villagers then vote on the player they suspect is a Werewolf. That player reveals his/her role and is out of the game.

Werewolves win when there are an equal number of Villagers and Werewolves. Villagers win when they have killed all Werewolves. Werewolf is a social game that requires no equipment to play, and can accommodate almost any large group of players.

Here are some aspects of Werewolf that may not be obvious:

  • Players are confronted with enormous amounts of datamost of which is totally unimportant.  Facial ticks.  Changed behaviors.  Faux drunkenness.  Freudian slips.  And so on.  The challenge for players is to identify actionable information from this avalanche of data.
  • Players can easily get distracted by shiny objects.  The challenge is to develop beliefs but be willing to change your mind.  In a recent game, one class member was so convinced I was a werewolf because I had a strange facial reaction to a comment that he adopted a strategy that ultimately almost cost our side (the Villagers) the game.  I was a villager but he thought he had a tell.
  • Players must learn how to elicit the information they need.  For example, in our early games, we newbs would make a mistake of feeling rushed in important decisions.  As we progressed, we learned to be patient to elicit more data — and thus become more confident in our choices. 
  • Players must make big decisions based on incomplete information.  The players don’t know who the werewolves are, who’s been killed, who’s lying and so on.
  • Players need to be able to logically evaluate scenarios.  You must identify the best courses of action with consideration as to how your opponents will act in response.  
  • Players are confronted with strong, often radically different opinions These can come from trusted (or potentially untrusted) actors throughout the game.
  • Players must control be able to manage their communication, verbally and nonverbally.  If you’re a werewolf, you obviously have to keep it a secret.  If you’re not, you want everyone to know you’re valuable to the village so they don’t lynch you.

What skills are essential for startup founders? There’s many, clearly.  But, someone who is able to do the above in the real world is going to have a leg up.

What’s cool is that the skills demanded by Werewolf are the same as those developed in TechStars.  The teams are overwhelmed with data from customer interviews and mentor meetings.  They’re required to pitch their business repeatedly, even if it’s not solid yet.  And so on.

Werewolf is one of the many reasons I’m super impressed by the elegant design of the TechStars program in shaping budding entrepreneurs.  Even in play, TechStars is teaching.  

Michael Girdley