Trial By Tabletop: Reviewing ‘Town of Salem’

town of salem

I have to admit that when I first found out about Town of Salem courtesy of the LPer RPGMinx, I was excited. I have always loved the tabletop gaming scene even if my fidgeting, anxiety, and lack of like-minded friends would get in the way of that. Aside from a few very successful games of Werewolf, my only other tabletop experience was a painfully awkward session of Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition (I believe), which felt a lot like playing World of Warcraft but without the graphics, atmospheric music, and fun.

So when I found out that there was going to be a game where I could basically play a tabletop game that I loved without having to gather a big group of people, I was elated. The basic premise of Werewolf is that you have a wolf or two chosen and you have to discover who they are. It’s a murder mystery since the wolves will kill someone during the night and the town will execute someone (who they think is the werewolf) during the day. With each member of the town having a role that could help them discover who the werewolves were or to protect themselves, it became really engaging.

Enter, stage right, Town of Salem.

I bought a couple copies so my friend and I could play together before going through the entire installation process. I was so excited that the instant my download was done, I started the game and immediately found myself bewildered by the user interface. Since this is an indie game, things can get a little confusing. When you want to create a party so you can play in a group, you need to click “Play” and then create your party on the next screen. It also took me forever to figure out how to add someone as a friend, but that didn’t deter me, and within five minutes or so I launched myself into my first game.

The games are addicting. Imagine a murder mystery where it feels like everyone is against you and that’s Town of Salem. There were awesome things happening like figuring out someone named Angelou was the serial killer because the note left by the killer was a poem by Maya Angelou. There was also someone running around with the name Bill Clinton and I couldn’t stop myself from calling him “Mr. President” whenever I saw him. It was just good, silly fun.

The game is structured so that even when you’ve been murdered, you can still help affect the outcome of the game, and thus, win. There is a Medium who will talk to your dead spirit and listen to what you have to say. The anxiety I thought I would feel when I was playing the game never really came because I didn’t care about dying. It was fun either way, and since I was playing with a friend, we would talk on Skype without giving away our roles. This meant that I had someone to ground me while I was playing and the nerves that I thought would be overwhelming barely even made an appearance.

There are drawbacks, of course, and they go beyond the user interface that I couldn’t immediately understand. Every time that you have a game that relies on communication with other players, you’re going to end up with a mixed bag. The first few games that we played were great and I had a fantastic time. Then we started seeing strange things.

town of salem

It started with a game where a bunch of people decided to use Pokémon names (I was Squirtle), and whoever was Gary Oak decided he was going to be creepy as hell. I was a Veteran and ended up winning that game without dying, but I was told by my friend that Gary Oak and Ash Ketchum (both of whom are young boys in the show) were making out in the chat. There was also the time when I was playing Mafia and the jailer executed me after spending his entire time telling me how I was gonna get “Rekt,” calling me various names which were all meant to be insulting to my intelligence (but the joke was on him since we won).

Then there was the game where someone’s name was “Sucky Sucky” (from now on referred to as SS). I thought that maybe I was allowing too much of a knee-jerk reaction when I saw the name, but my fears were quickly confirmed when SS spent their entire time in the game saying “me love you long time” and offering to give people “sucky sucky.” It was uncomfortable to say the least and I’m not sure why anyone would think that was funny. There is the option to leave the game if you die or if you don’t like the people that you’re playing with, but I wished there was a better way to moderate the chat or, at the very least, stop people from going around offering blowjobs as a racial stereotype. That was the game that made me want to stop playing, which left me with a bad taste in my mouth when it came to Town of Salem.

Other issues are the ones that you would expect from a game that wasn’t made by a larger game studio. The user interface is clunky and takes up most of the screen when you’re in a round. There is very little explanation as to what you do and you have to learn all the roles from being told by a text box at the right side of the screen what you’re supposed to be doing. A tutorial would be a godsend for this game or at least a way to learn the roles while in-game. There are lists for it on the Wiki, but the fact that you have to go out and search for these kind of things doesn’t speak well of the game’s design.

Town of Salem can be a lot of fun to play, but the game could be a masterpiece of design while still being shot in the foot by its players. So far, my experiences with other players have been 50% bad and 50% good after two hours of playing, so take that as you will. It’s a fun little game that you can get really wrapped up in when other players aren’t saying things in the chat that draw you out of the experience. There aren’t many other games where I can say that I got to play with the 42nd president of the United States of America.

It was truly an honor to serve as your Mafioso, sir.

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