Tag: The Resistance: Avalon

Let’s Get Together

A sample setup of Archipelago. Sort of.

I’m finding more and more that the games that I truly enjoy playing with other people aren’t necessarily straight-up competitions. Oh, I still enjoy a good game of Magic, don’t get me wrong. And Blizzard’s collectible game Hearthstone scratches that particular itch while having a purchase system that makes you want to buy packs to both explore and collect, not just to “buy power” as you can in other free-to-play games. But with JayCon approaching, I figured I’d gather up the games I plan on taking which might get played, and I noticed that all of them have at least some level of cooperation.

Both Escape: The Curse of the Temple and Elder Sign are fully cooperative, with players rolling dice together to overcome the obstacles presented by the game. Elder Sign is perhaps best described (if somewhat derogatorily) as “Arkham-themed Yahtzee”. Players are investigators in an old museum whose exhibits are making it easier for some sort of horrific elder god to awaken. The investigators must gather the mystical signs and defeat monsters to prevent the end of the world. There is a ticking clock, and investigators have limited amounts of stamina and sanity. Escape, on the other hand, is a game played in real time. Instead of taking it in turns to explore the temple, battle its curses, and unearth its treasures while looking for the exit, players move and act as fast as they can roll their dice. The game comes with a soundtrack, which both provides atmosphere and audio cues as to when players must race for the safe room before losing one of their dice permanently. It’s a great, intense little burst of fun and adventure that only takes ten minutes to play, and it’s even fun to take on solo.

I’m sure some people are tired of me going on about The Resistance: Avalon and Battlestar Galactica, cooperative games with hidden threats. Player cooperation is not so much encouraged as demanded, and the fact that one or more players are intentionally deceiving the others adds an entirely new wrinkle to the gameplay. It’s entirely possible that two completely different levels of cooperation are going on simultaneously, all without direct communication, and that makes for a great time with friends who you may end up resenting because they were so good at fooling you. But perhaps the game I’m most eager to play (or play more of, I tried it out Tuesday night) is Archipelago.

I don’t have enough experience with the game to write up a full review, but the game is fantastic. It takes a series of various game mechanics – player bidding, worker placement, card drafting, and so on – and chains them together into a rotating arrangement of ever-evolving depth and complexity. From a relatively simple starting point, just a couple of turns in, the game explodes with choices and challenges. Each turn sees a problem on the islands that must be overcome through a combined effort of everyone involved… but not everyone has to participate. In addition to all of its other systems, Archipelago gives each player a personal, private objective. This could be as simple as having the most money or building the most churches, but it could also be supporting the natives in a war for independence. The fact that the players do not know what each other’s objectives are, and can interpret the actions of an obstinate player in multiple ways, lends even more depth and nuance to a game that is already keeping several plates spinning at once. I’m very curious to see how the game players with more than two players, especially if one is aggressive and ambitious, or if one is manipulative and keen to whatever fears may be sweeping the islands at any given moment.

Needless to say, I’m very much looking forward to this weekend. Be it rolling dice, dealing cards, or buying local beef to export pineapples to Europe, it’s going to be a great time at the tables.

Game Review: The Resistance

Games are meant to be fun. In general, they are distractions from the tumult and tedium of our daily lives, and interesting exercises in thought and interaction. You play them with your friends, to share an experience and grow closer. For the most part, at least. Some games, though, pit you mercilessly against your friends. Some games make you suspect your friends, your trusted companions, are capable and even willing and eager to stab you in the back. Some games make you feel like Caesar on the Senate floor as Brutus and Cassius approach with long knives unsheathed. The Resistance is one of those games.

Courtesy Indie Boards and Cards

In the original version of The Resistance, between 5 and 10 friends gather around a table as members of a covert cell of freedom fighters, dedicated to toppling the oppressive near-future government that has clamped down on individual liberty and thought. The members take it in turns to lead missions against the government or its lackeys, choosing team members from those gathered. The missions themselves are formless and ultimately irrelevant. What matters is that some of those around the table are actually government spies, traitors who will stop at nothing to sabotage the efforts of the Resistance. The game, then, is figuring out who the spies are, and succeeding in enough missions to win the day despite their dastardly efforts.

This game is relatively light on rules, but deep in its nuances. At the beginning of the game, the spies reveal themselves to one another in secret. Each knows who the other spies are, but the other members of the Resistance have no idea who could be a spy and who is loyal. When the leader for the turn chooses her team, the rest of the Resistance votes on if the team should proceed or not. If you’re loyal to the Resistance, and you suspect one of the members of the team is a spy, you can vote against the mission, but be careful: if too many votes fail, the spies win. If too many missions fail, the spies win. The loyal members have to rely on deductive reasoning and clear heads to prevail, while the spies must use deception and undermining of the truth to win.

After you get the feel for The Resistance and how it plays, you can throw more variables into the mix. These take the form of Plot Cards, two of which are drawn by the leader for the turn and given away to other team members. These cards allow players to see the allegiance of others, take control of the team, or voice their opinions before anybody else does. These are powerful tools for both sides, and more often than not reveal information regarding loyalty and motivation. As such, they tend to give the Resistance an advantage over the spies. This isn’t always the case but it happens more often than not.

Courtesy Indie Board & Card Games

Recently, Indie Boards & Cards have started changing things up. A variant has been released simply called The Resistance: Avalon. Instead of the near-future and Plot Cards, the game takes on an Arthurian theme and features particular roles. Loyal servants of Arthur are assisted by Merlin, who knows the identities of the traitors, here called Minions of Mordred. However, one of those Minions is the Assassin. If the Assassin can name Merlin after the loyal knights and ladies complete three quests, the bad guys still win. This means that the loyal servants must conceal information almost as much as the Minions do. Other roles include Percival (who knows who Merlin is), Morgana (who appears as Merlin to Percival), and Mordred himself (who is unknown to Merlin). These roles add more mystery and intrigue to the game than the Plot Cards of the vanilla game do, and I’d have to say it causes me to lean more towards the Avalon variant than the base game. Not that I’d turn down a game of either…

If The Resistance has a flaw, it’s that playing it multiple times with the same group of people leads to deductions based on previous patterns rather than in-game behavior. I’ve discussed this previously, and while it’s certainly not a deal-breaker for the game, it does point to an advantage players might have if they can pick up on the behaviors of others in a short amount of time. In other words, if you’re good at poker, you’re probably going to be pretty damn good at The Resistance. And if this is the only flaw the game has, the only thing I can say I really don’t like, it’s clear that the game is a winner.

Indie is not quite done with this game, as they recently held a successful Kickstarter for a variant based on the deception & bluffing game Coup. I’m curious about it, but I guess I’ll have to wait for them to do another run of it before I can pick up a copy. In the meantime, I’ll definitely be playing more of The Resistance during lunch breaks and gaming get-togethers, and if you have a group of friends interested in a game that requires no dice, no grand strategy, no big time commitment, and a willingness to stab your friend in the back, I can’t recommend it highly enough.

The Hidden Threats

Courtesy Universal Pictures

There are many board games where all of your information is public. Monopoly players can see just how badly they’re boned with a glance around the table. Many other games prefer to keep a player’s information hidden. In any classic card game, from poker to rummy, it can be difficult to determine how good or bad the hand of an opponent is at any given time. Some games mix an element of the unknown into their gameplay. Lords of Waterdeep keeps the true identity of its players hidden until the very end, as does Archipelago from what I understand. And then there are the games where hidden information and deception are a focal point of gameplay, a system without which the game could not operate at all.

I’ve recently been playing Mascarade at lunch with the dayjob crew. Technically a party game, Mascarade distributes a number of role cards to its players, each with an ability to earn gold coins from the stockpile in the middle. Some, like the King and Queen, generate wealth on their own, while others, such as the Bishop and the Thief, take that wealth from other players. Not only are these roles hidden from all players, but the main action of the game is in swapping roles. The swaps happen out of sight of all players, as the swapping player must execute the swap under the table. A player may not know what role they have until they either spend their turn looking at their card, or get challenged by another player when they try to use their assumed role’s ability. In addition to requiring deductive reasoning and a decent poker face, it’s a good test of memory skills as well: did you actually swap your Witch card for that guy’s King card, or did you lose track of which card was which while they were under the table?

I’ve mentioned The Resistance: Avalon here before, and it’s still a favorite of mine. Another game of hidden roles and deductive reasoning, Avalon‘s sole focus is on making the most of scraps of information gathered through observation. You have to pay attention, actively, to what other players are saying and doing, to either determine who among you are the traitors, or shift and deflect blame like some form of deceptive judo. Avalon adds the roles that The Resistance lacks to give the game an additional layer of deception and deduction: if the traitors can determine who Merlin is, they will win even if the loyal players succeed in their missions. It requires a great deal of concentration.

I think the pinnacle of this use of hidden threats may lie with Battlestar Galactica‘s board game adaptation. The game is, essentially, cooperative: players take on roles of the Galactica’s crew and characters, from hothead Viper pilots like Apollo and Starbuck to well-reasoned leaders like Adama and Roslin. Every turn, players will face a crisis that either requires them to work together, presents the active player with a choice that could sap the group of precious resources, or places Cylon forces on the board that must be fended off while the Galactica prepares to jump to the next system. The game could function well enough with just this system, but on top of this is the fact that one or more players around the table could be Cylons themselves. At the start of the game and at about the halfway point, Loyalty cards are dealt to each player to tell them what side they’re on. A player can reveal themselves as a Cylon at any time, activating a special power that can cripple Galactica or cause other kinds of trouble. However, an effective Cylon will remain hidden for several turns, perhaps working to sabotage a crisis here and there to make victory all more the difficult to attain for the humans. Savvy players must then try to discern who at the table might be a Cylon at the same time they’re trying to keep the civilian population safe and the Galactica’s supply of Vipers repaired, all while searching for the route to Earth. I’ve only played the game once as of this writing, but given how much fun I had in spite of the rules confusion and other factors, it’s safe to say I will definitely be playing it again.

The Meta-game

Courtesy Indie Board & Card Games

If you’ve thrown polyhedral dice to slay monsters around a table with friends in a role-playing game, chances are you’re familiar with the term “meta-gaming”. It means using knowledge from outside of the game to benefit you or justify a decision. If your character is a pilgrim from the backwoods who’s never seen a city, and you begin talking about Parliamentary political machinations, that’s meta-gaming. It’s normally frowned upon in role-playing games.

Other games, however, find uses for the meta-game that are less obviously detrimental. The Resistance: Avalon is a lunchtime staple at the dayjob office. With six or more people around the table, the roles are shuffled and distributed as folks wrap up their meals. We’ve played a lot of the game, and we’ve come to learn things about one another as a result. “Player X likes to play slowly,” for example, or “Player Y tends to behave a certain way in a certain role.” Knowing this meta-game exists, players can work actively against it, making the game just as much about reading people and deduction of the situation as it is about which player likes to pull a fast one on his buddies on a regular basis.

I’ve certainly played enough of Avalon to give it the full review treatment, but until I do, I’m wondering what other games can benefit from meta-knowledge. Can you think of any examples?

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