Thursday, April 21, 2016

Just Be Coup

I've written before about the card game The Resistance, a large group game in the style of "Werewolf." The makers of the game have been busily spinning it off over the years, with expansions, an Arthurian version... and then a different game set in the same universe -- Coup: Rebellion G54.

Besides the same science fiction setting, Coup shares other elements with The Resistance. Both are meant for larger groups of players. Both take only 10-15 minutes to play, with the idea being that you'd play the game multiple times in one sitting. And both revolve around lying convincingly to your friends.

Each round starts with five different character roles known to all players. Some characters accumulate money. Some launch attacks on other players. Some are more subtle and devious. From a deck containing copies of all five roles, each player is dealt two characters, kept secret from the group and representing influence ("health"). On your turn, you simply declare that you are one of the characters, and carry out its associated ability. That may or may not be one of the actual characters you hold in secret, but that doesn't really matter... if you can get away with it. Any opponent can choose to challenge the role you've declared. If they challenge, and you then reveal a character card proving your identity, they lose one point of influence. If they challenge and you were lying about it, you lose the point of influence. When you've lost both of your influence, you're out of the game.

Coup is thus part Resistance, part Bullshit (that card game sometimes known by tamer names). And kinda-sorta, it's part Dominion, in that the game comes with 25 different roles, only 5 of which are actually used in any given play of the game. You can thus refresh and vary the game as often as you like by switching out the roles in the mix.

On the one hand, it's good that a game in which players are knocked out as a matter of course is also a short game -- you never have to wait long after being eliminated. On the other hand, I felt as though the game always concluded before it really got interesting. You have only one chance to be wrong; your second mistake takes you out. So you really don't get to enjoy lying about your role much before someone calls you out. You really don't get to challenge other players much before being proven wrong. Hell, you barely even have time to learn what all the 5 roles in your particular playthrough even do before being eliminated. The game simply ends too fast, before I think it reaches its full inherent potential for fun.

I'm also not sure the game actually has a "sweet spot" number of players, either. When I played with just four, the "it's over too fast" feeling was magnified. When I played with the maximum of six, the mechanisms of the game made it too easy for one player to be ganged up on by the rest and eliminated without any ability to defend himself.

The idea of the game seems fun, but this particularly execution felt quite flawed to me. I couldn't see choosing this game over The Resistance itself. I give it a D+.

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