Article #22: Stopping the Juggernaut
- written by GeneralHankerchief
Note: This article is primarily geared towards classic-sized games with 17 players or so. Nevertheless, some of its principles can apply to mashes.
It is far easier for a mafia team to come back from a precarious situation numbers-wise in any given game than it is for a town to do so. Have a player well-distanced, kill a glue guy or two keeping the town from imploding, and with a little luck and effort a lone wolf can go deep and deliver the win for their team despite being down in numbers early. This is one of the inherent advantages of wolfing.
This is not the case for the town if they go down early. In the case of, say, starting the game off with two consecutive mislynches, they find that their greatest advantage - numbers - is reduced. A proportionally greater percentage of wolf voices in the thread means that there's a higher chance than ever of being misled. With enough mislynches, the town's margin for error diminishes and the entire situation can snowball into being embarrassingly swept. Unlike with the mafia, the town cannot necessarily rely on good night actions to close this gap. Instead, their work will have to be done in the thread.
This article deals with how to bring a town back from the brink with a specific focus on identifying and countering the effects of powerwolfing.
What is powerwolfing? Thingyman's article The Art of Power Wolfing is an excellent guide on what it is and what it accomplishes. Similarly, Mantichora's Practical Guide to Open Wolfing touches on many of the same points. In essence, powerwolfing is a strategy that relies on thread control and coordination to push mislynches through with comparatively less thought to bussing. It is an active approach designed to take control of the game and dictate which lynches are and are not acceptable - more active than a "standard" wolf game where players mostly lie back and concentrate on looking villagery moreso than trying to dictate matters themselves.
You will need to keep this definition and its tenets in mind during unfavorable gamestates, as identifying a powerwolf game in progress is absolutely critical to stopping it from happening.
This article is primarily concerned with gamestates where the town has:
a) mislynched at least twice in a row, and
b) is down by two or more lynches
If you lynched two wolves in a row to start the game and then followed it up with two villagers in a row, yeah, your morale isn't going to be the best but the gamestate is still reasonably favorable. You're losing bodies, but the wolves are hurting too and the game could go a number of ways. This article is more concerned with the more desperate situations, such as Day 3 after two consecutive mislynches, or Day 5 with only one dead wolf and LYLO fast approaching. These are the situations where you need to act quickly if you want any chance of salvaging the gamestate. But before you do act, you need to do something that probably runs against the very essence of your training and experience as a mafia player, and that's to stop.
Identifying the situation and your place in it
It's Start of Day 3. Both EODs so far have ended in disaster. The night kills have been expectedly damaging. The vig may or may not have misfired and contributed to the carnage. And you are still alive. It may be your first impulse to dive in and start sorting through the previous EOD immediately and chat with whoever else is around and try to make sense of what's happening. By all means, you can certainly do this to some extent. But you need to be devoting the bulk of your thoughts to the overall gamestate as well as your position in it.
To put it more simply, if you're alive in this situation, it's for a reason. While every individual game situation is obviously unique to some extent, the bottom line is that the wolves have left you alive because they deem it advantageous to their win condition. In other words, they like the gamestate the way it is with you a part of it. It's your job to figure out why.
If you're constantly under suspicion and were the counterwagon in an EOD or two, then this "why" is fairly easy to figure out: you're a designated mislynch. No further introspection required. However, you need to be aware of your position in the gamestate and work within it. You know that you're a designated mislynch. Take a look and examine how people have treated your slot specifically. Have they genuinely and strongly pushed for your death? Have their reads on you evolved at all? Have they kind of treated you with kid gloves? Being in this situation can sometimes feel like you're drowning, but recentering yourself and focusing on a single aspect of the game can prove useful for both yourself and others in the game as they try to get a read on you.
Alternatively, if you're regarded as consensus town or close to it and still alive in this situation, this is a problem. This means that despite you not really being on the table for the lynch, the wolves have actively chosen to leave you alive in favor of killing other targets. Medic dodges, PR hunts, and SPKs aimed elsewhere can explain a night or two of survival, but the longer you live despite your status, the harder it is to justify your own continued existence without some serious self-reflection. There is an extremely high chance that one or more of your reads, perhaps even one of your core reads in either direction, is very wrong. This doesn't necessarily mean that you have to flip your entire reads list upside down, but if it was close to being accurate, the wolves would have found a way to kill you.
If your position in the thread is somewhere in between these two poles - i.e. you're in the general outer POE or something - then it becomes a little harder to self-evaluate simply because there are a number of reasons why the mafia could have left you alive. In cases like this, it's still worth your time to stop, take a breath, and evaluate your reads as well as other people's treatment of your slot, as this is simply good town play regardless of the gamestate.
The reason it's necessary to do all of this is because powerwolf games, once a certain threshold has been reached, are all about momentum and the wolves maintaining it to secure their victory. Simply going with the flow means that you're caught up in that terrible momentum and remain part of the problem. The first part of the solution requires nothing more than you centering yourself and understanding that this is what the wolves are trying to accomplish.
Once you have taken the step to focus examine the gamestate as it revolves around your slot, your next task is to do the same but with the other players.
The roles that others play
Most townies, whether they're able to express it or not, have an innate sense of how a game is going horribly wrong (if so) and the directions they should start looking in if they're to reverse the tide. Many times though, due to that terrible momentum as well as mob mentality (which may or may not be initiated by wolves), they struggle to divert from their course of destruction in the name of "resolving slots" or "information" or something similar. Once you have figured out your own role in this unfavorable gamestate, your next step is to do the same with those around you.
All successful powerwolf games are different, but they all carry the same themes. If you can figure out these patterns and apply them to your own reads in this game, there's a reasonable chance of being able to turn the game around. I would go as far as to say that figuring out individual roles in the gamestate, at this stage, is even more important than making typical reads based off tone or associatives. Not all of these archetypes appear in every game where the town goes down by a lot early, but at least a few will.
- Firstly, we have the player quietly in the POE but isn't really pushed. What makes this archetype so important is that it has a high chance of flipping wolf. Unless you're facing an incredibly strong and coordinated team, there's probably going to be at least one wolf player who just isn't as able as the rest of their team to influence the gamestate for whatever reason. Examples of this player archetype can be found in the two most recent Champs Finales as of this writing: DaBackpack in Season 6 (before he fake claimed), and Secondhand Revenant in Season 5 (before he subbed out). Both players were part of strong mafia teams that were successful at pushing through mislynches, but due to RL circumstances, neither was able to keep up with the posting and found themselves dropping in the POE as a result. Despite being consensus "probably just a wolf?" per the thread, they were mostly briefly touched on in reads lists and comments and then ignored in favor of more pressing targets. If a player looks like this in a powerwolf game and is consensus wolfread without ever really being seriously pushed, this player could be the key to blowing the game wide open.
- Secondly, there's the player who realizes what's happening and is trying to stop it. Again, I will turn to the two most recent Champs Finales for ease of reference: Paratroopa in s5 and Macdougall in s6 both realized what was happening and did their best to reverse the tide. A lot of townies have an inner radar for this thing and their suspicions will come out whether it's conscious or not. If you can find the person or persons who are demonstrating this awareness, it can be a big help to you solving the game - especially if they're in the POE. They might not necessarily be correct, but they're probably town, and that matters just as much. One thing to watch out for though is fake gamestate awareness from wolves looking to take advantage of this, perhaps especially after this article comes out. It will be your job to sort the truly concerned from those putting on an act. One step to doing so is contrasting a person's words with their actions.
- Thirdly, there's the player who's actively trying to solve not necessarily in line with the status quo but is mostly ignored. This player archetype in an unfavorable gamestate has some overlap with the one directly above it, which makes sense as both are usually town. This player's reads might be more correct than those of their louder counterparts, but for whatever reason they're not listened to. Take a look at this player when they deliver their reads and try to chart out the reactions and responses to said reads. Are they briefly discussed before the line of conversation fizzles out in favor of more familiar subjects? This might be something worth exploring and following through on. The one caveat to this is that the player has less of a chance of being town than the above archetype, because there's always the danger that the player could be a wolf simply looking to set up a mislynch down the line once other options have been exhausted, or even a villager unknowingly pushing a mislynch that the wolves are leaving alive for the same reason. As always, context is king.
- A player you really need to be on the watch for is the player who looks to maintain the status quo. This desire can be found through a number of sources: their votes, their reads progressions or lack thereof, their treatment of slots, their hesitation to seriously push the first listed player archetype here, their insistence that "the POE is good, we just misfired a couple of times," etc. Understand that the situation you're in and the current status quo is unfavorable for your alignment and that wolves, at this stage in the game, want to maintain it. At its very core, this is what you need to be able to realize and identify. Act accordingly once and if you've found someone that fits this description.
- Probably the player archetype most difficult to categorize in these gamestates is the player currently at the bottom of the POE, because their reason for being there is so game-specific. Who is pushing the slot? Have they been saved in the past, and if so, by who? Could it be a wolf bailed out by their team? A villager being kept around by the wolfteam to be lynchbait and to focus the town's attentions away from what truly matters? There is no one all-purpose answer here. However, it's a good bet that the bulk of the players' attention will be focused around this player and this slot. It might be more worth your time to try to solve around the slot rather than adding your own voice to the mix on this specific matter.
Not every game with this specific gamestate will have a player or players that fit every above archetype, and obviously you will have players that do not meet any of these qualifications. The above categories are merely a handy reference guide for you to use to better focus your mind on the overall gamestate and how everyone fits into it as opposed to simply reading into individual posts for wolfiness or townieness. This will be of more use to you anyway.
Once you've fully taken a step back and examined the bigger picture, it's time to get back in there and do the dirty work of turning the game around.
Your greatest foe at this stage of the game is momentum. Picture the mafia team as a group of people who started rolling a giant boulder down a hill that's set to crush your village. It's a lot easier to stop that boulder before it's really picked up steam than when it's halfway down the hill and still gaining speed, but you're past that now. The boulder is still stoppable, but you need to marshal the entire village to do so. Luckily, there are ways to accomplish this.
Many times in the aftermath of a mislynch, villagers lament that a player "just looked so villagery" at the end or at some portion of the dayphase, even if they said villagers were part of the mislynch. These facts, while appearing to contrast on the surface, aren't necessarily opposed to each other. Momentum is usually at fault - players may feel compelled to follow through with the lynch anyway in the name of resolving the slot, or a previous EOD, or because there are no alternatives, or simply because otherwise the thread will spend another full gameday talking about that player tomorrow if they don't take care of this Right Now.
Why do these players who get mislynched "look so villagery" in the first place? It's typically because that in their moments of final struggle, they have a better concept of the gamestate than any other town player: this lynch is about to go poorly, and the town isn't in as good of a position as it thinks it is. Assuming said player keeps posting, this absolute truth will usually express itself in a number of ways: tone, conviction, etc., in ways that are nearly impossible for wolves to mimic. Many times, other villagers are able to partially pick up on these signals, but ignore them until it's far too late.
It is your job as a townie in an unfavorable gamestate to pick up these signals from other players and broadcast them yourselves whenever possible. All that introspection you've hopefully done about the gamestate, your own slot's treatment, and other players that I've outlined above? Your next step is to share your work with the other players. Take back the lines of discussion from the wolves. They have no desire to reexamine and legitimately reevaluate the lay of the land. The current gamestate suits them just fine! What they want to do is continue to push individual villagers and bring the game home. You need to make the conversation beyond that.
Hammer home the bigger picture as much as you can and try not to get distracted by specifics. Your goal is to reshape the conversation around how you perceive things to be going and call for a full reevaluation of reads that are less based around traditional methods such as tone and more on what I talked about above.
Find out who else is feeling what you're feeling. Do what you can to separate those who truly believe it from those who are merely paying lip service. Work together with people and talk about the player archetypes above and what they potentially signify in the specific context of the game they're in. Emphasis on working together, because town cohesion becomes supremely important in unfavorable gamestates. And for the love of Thingyman, lynch the player who's in everybody's POE but nobody has really seriously pushed. That dude is probably just a wolf.
In terms of lynching, you don't need to go after a specific target, nor should you necessarily try to bring down the "alpha wolf". Beggars can't be choosy, and if you're reading this article during an ongoing game looking for guidance, chances are good that you're a beggar. Just try to bag one wolf, any wolf. Get people talking about targets and go from there. The downside of powerwolfing for the mafia team is that if it fails, it can usually lead to a chain of correct lynches. If you're town, just get one and then go from there. Everybody does better solving after a redflip anyway.
- It's harder for town to come back from an unfavorable gamestate than it is the mafia, but it's possible with the right skills and more importantly mindset.
- In an unfavorable gamestate, being able to conceptualize the bigger picture and people's overall roles in them is more important than the accuracy of individual reads.
- In a potential powerwolfing situation, there stands a good chance of certain player archetypes being filled. Understand these archetypes, how they come about, and the likelihood that a player in a certain archetype is a certain alignment, and you're on your way to turning the game around.
- Most town players have an inner radar that the game is going horribly wrong that they may or may not consciously express. Your first step to engineering a town comeback is to make big-picture discussion the forefront so you can better find other town players who are having similar thoughts to you and work from there.