Witness is similar to popular games such as Mafia, Werewolf, Murder in the Dark...but on crack! Meant for 8-30 players and ages 12+, this game requires stealth, intuition, quick thinking, and a little bit of luck! These instructions are derived from "oral tradition," if you will, and can be adapted to fit your group and playing space.
First, we will describe the roles you can play as. Not everything will make sense until you read the instructions, but the instructions won't make any sense without having some basic knowledge of the characters!
Step 1: Essential Roles
You need a minimum of eight people to play. The following roles are the most important in the game:
Witness: Your goal is to not be found. Leave ahead of the rest of the group and hide somewhere in the designated area. You can't call out to players or purposely make noise. If found, you can tell them you are a witness (rather than a dead or hiding player) but not that you are the witness. Only when you have been found by three citizens, a murderer, or a judge can you reveal yourself.
Murderer: Your goal is to find the witness or to kill enough of the citizens that it is impossible for them to win. In other words, there are less than three citizens left alive and that none of them are the judge. You kill someone by touching the front of their throat. Be gentle! It's easy for people to get hurt if you aren’t careful!
Judge: You are a citizen, and your goal is to find the witness. Instead of needing two other citizens to help you, you can find the witness by yourself! If you find the witness, the game is over.
Doctor: You are a citizen, and your goal is to find the witness. You have the power to raise players from the dead by touching their hand. You may not bring murderers back to life.
Lawyer: You are a citizen, and your goal is to find the witness. However, you can choose to play on the murderer’s team instead. You have the power to bring murderers back to life by touching their hand. If there is only one murderer left in the game, you only have five seconds to bring the murderer back to life before the game ends and the citizens win!
Phoenix: You are a citizen, and your goal is to find the witness. You get one extra life to use during the game. There is no limit to how long you can wait before coming back to life, but you can only use it once.
Ghost: You are a citizen, and your goal is to find the witness. When you die, you can continue to move around and speak instead of laying on the floor like other dead players. You may reveal who the murderer is to other players. However, you do not count as a citizen when finding the witness.
Mortician: You are a citizen, and your goal is to find the witness. You are also the only one with the power to move things, like furniture and dead bodies. To move a dead body, you don't have to physically drag the player; just tell them where you want them to be. Be careful when moving things; be sure to leave an escape route in the case of an emergency.
Step 2: Extra Roles
When you have more than 8 players, add these roles in as you choose. After 14 players and all the cards are in, add additional citizen cards into the mix. We don't recommend going above thirty players; it becomes hard to keep track of everyone and make sure everyone makes it back to the meeting place.
False Witness: Your goal is to not be found. Leave ahead of the rest of the group and hide somewhere in the designated area. You can't call out to players or purposely make noise. If found, you can tell them you are a witness (rather than a dead or hiding player) but not that you are the fake one. Only when you have been found by three citizens, a murderer, or a judge can you reveal yourself. If you are found by the citizens, you are allowed get up and walk around just like a regular citizen. However, if you know where the real witness hid, you can't help find them. If another citizen finds them, you can count as one of the three needed in order to win.
Assassin: You are a citizen, and your goal is to find the witness. You also have the power to kill murderers and can win by eliminating all murderers! If you are killed by a murderer, you have five seconds to touch the front of their throat. Be gentle! If you do so, they die and you become the murderer. Remember, this only happens if the murderer kills you first. If you kill the murderer first, they die and you continue as the assassin. Be careful, as this situation can easily become dangerous if you fight back.
Executioner: You are a citizen, and your goal is to find the witness. You have one kill to use on whoever you choose during the game. Use this kill by touching the front of the target’s throat. Be careful! If you want to, you can turn on the citizens by killing a witness. However, the witnesses cannot reveal to you whether they are real or fake until after you have used your power.
Shapeshifter: You are a citizen, and your goal is to find the witness. However, you can change roles into any other role by touching the top of the player’s head. When you do this, you become that role and they become the shapeshifter. That person cannot shapeshift you back, but once someone else becomes the shapeshifter, you are no longer immune. You can shapeshift dead people.
Freelancer: You have the power to choose any role in the game apart from the real witness. You have to do this quickly, before anyone goes into the designated area. If you choose to play as a false witness, leave with the other witnesses as if you had drawn one of the witness cards. If you choose any other role, wait with everyone else and play as your role once the game begins. There will be two players in the role you choose. You can't switch roles once you have begun the game, and if someone shapeshifts you, they become that role rather than getting to choose again.
Citizen: Your goal is to find the witness. You have no special powers, but that doesn’t mean you’re not special! When you and two other citizens find the witness, you win the game!
Step 3: Before the Game
1. Begin the game at a separate staging area from where you will be playing. Set boundaries for what the playing area will be, and be clear about where players are allowed to go. Make sure the playing area is dark and that it is large enough that players will not all be visible to one another. There needs to be plenty of places to hide.
2. Count how many players you have and include that many cards in your deck. Include the basic eight cards first, which have the logo in the upper right-hand corner, and then add in extra roles until you get the number you need.
3. Shuffle your deck, and deal every player one card. You may not reveal this card to anyone else, but you can look at it immediately to see what role you have for the game.
4. Once everyone has gotten a card, the witnesses - real and fake - reveal that they are witnesses and leave the staging area to go to the playing area. They do not reveal whether they are real or fake.
5. After a few minutes have passed and the witnesses have had enough time to hide, the rest of the players leave to the playing area. Powers activate as soon as everyone has entered the area.
A dark park, like the one pictured, could be an excellent spot to play if it's warm!
Step 4: Playing the Game
1. If someone with the power to kill you touches the front of your throat, you die. You can run away if someone tries to do this, but for safety reasons, do not fight back.
2. Lights of any kind are not allowed. If you have to use a light to read your card, be very careful to keep the light hidden and not use it to light the area.
3. Unless you are the mortician, you aren't allowed to move furniture or dead bodies.
4. If you find a witness, they can't tell you whether they are the real or fake witness until you have the appropriate number of people to win.
5. The game ends when the real witness is found, enough citizens are dead that they cannot find the real witness, or the murderer is dead. If multiple murderers have been added, such as the freelancer choosing to be a murderer, all murderers must be dead in order for the citizens to win (in the case where the witness can't be found).
Step 5: Ending the Game
1. When something happens to end the game (the witness is found by the judge or 3 citizens or when the murderer(s) is dead), announce loudly that the game has ended and who won.
2. Make your way back to the staging area and ensure that all players are accounted for. Games can often be very short, so if you want to play again, collect all of the cards and re-deal!
Please note: the knife in the picture is just a steak knife, and it's just ketchup. Obviously, do not play Witness with any weapons of any kind. This picture was taken for thrills, not actual demonstration.
Step 6: Tips and Tidbits
- The phoenix and the executioner have powers that can only be used once. If someone shapeshifts into one of these roles and the power has already been used, they do get to use it once themselves. However, if you have already used the power, become the shapeshifter, and then shapeshift back into that role at a later point, you do not get another use of the power.
- In a basic game, there is only one murderer. Depending on the choices players make, you can end up with multiple. More murderers can be added to the game via the freelancer or the assassin.
- It is suggested that players wear closed-toe shoes for safety and dark clothing for better hiding purposes.
- Be creative with your roles! There are a lot of ways to use your powers that might not be obvious upon first learning the game. For example, if the mortician and doctor work together, the mortician can help find and carry dead bodies to the doctor.
- The citizens must find the witness together in a group of three. If one citizen finds the witness, they can win if they bring two other citizens to the witness together.
- If you choose to play with more people, you can make the game more fair by adding in doubles of roles, such as a second murderer or doctor. It is also suggested that as you get into larger groups of people, you increase the number of citizens required to find the witness.
Here is a printer-friendly filefor your use. It includes the full instructions and printable cards to use!