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.
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.
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.