Killing the Resistance

I’ve got a few regrets about the CanCon weekend, most of them are not playing games and that just comes down to hours in a day (or night for me), and the other one is not taking more pictures. I really wanted to play Rampage and Tash-Kalar but unfortunately didn’t. I did get to play Mush Mush which wasn’t on my list and surprisingly fun. There were two games on my list that I did get to play though, Coup and Two Rooms and a Boom.

 My copy of The Resistance: Avalon gets a fair amount of play for a number of reasons. First of all, it’s a game that plays quickly (depending on the players) and is easy to pick up, there’s no complicated game rules or mechanics. Secondly, it’s a highly social game and the key aspect of the game is discussion, it doesn’t require any gaming knowledge or skills to do well. But the main reason, it gets a lot of play is my personal gaming eco-system. As I’ve been developing my own games over the past year, I’ve been trying hard to make gaming more a part of my life, and that means playing games with some friends who never got beyond Monopoly. The Resistance works well as game evangelism because of the aforementioned points. It’s a game I can pull out after a dinner party as guests look at my shelf, quickly explain and start setting up. We’ll play one game and then inevitably another, and then look at the time, and say, just one more.

Both Coup and Two Rooms and a Boom have been touted as potential successor to The Resistance’s crown of best party game for gamers. They’re both games I’ve been meaning to get my hands on for a while and finally managed to get some play in over the CanCon weekend.

Coup’s a hidden role game, re-released and rethemed to fit into the Resistance universe, that’s primarily bluffing based and plays super quick. It only plays six so it can’t quite fill The Resistance’s shoes as a big group game but it does scratch a few of the same itches that Resistance does. The basic concept of the game is that you have 2 player role cards that act as lives, those cards give you special abilities and those abilities are known to the whole group while the actual card in your hand is not. This means you can claim to be a character and use his ability, but other players can call you on it, and if you’re lying you lose a card and a life. If you’re telling the truth, the calling players loses one of their cards instead.

I played a few games and it went pretty much like most bluffing games do. Players tended to play either aggressively or conservative. You could identify an aggressive player easily after the first game or two, and know it was safer to call his bluff. You needed to be more wary of a conservative player accumulating power to make an unblockable move. Beneath all the bluffing and character roles was the chip-taking game. Every turn you could take chips from the central pile (or another player if you claimed a specific role), one action gave you a guaranteed chip, another action gave you two chips but could be blocked by a certain character role and there was also a specific character role that let you take 3 chips. Once you had enough chips you could spend them to take out another player’s character in an unblockable high-cost move or in a low-cost, blockable move.

You might have picked up on my rather unenthusiastic tone by this stage. I will say that the other players seemed to really enjoy this game, but I was pretty underwhelmed. From all the hype, I was expecting something much more spectacular, rather than the chip-taking game with hidden roles on top. There was just no spark there for me. If I’ve got six players and I want to play something quick that’s slightly confrontational and the group doesn’t mind player elimination, I’ll go with Get Bit over Coup.

We played Two Rooms and a Boom as the last game on Saturday night. It was a big game with 17 players. The basic concept of Two Rooms is that there’s 2 teams, a blue team led by the President and a red team led by the Bomber. The game happens across two rooms, each of which elects a leader who must decide which players to send to the other room at the end of each round. There’s a series of rounds and the amount of players you can send between rooms decreases over the game so in the final round, you can only send 1 player from each room. At the end of the game, the bomber explodes, if the President’s in the same room as the bomber, the red team wins, if not the blue team.

 I was the bomber and had the misfortune of being in a blue-controlled room throughout the entire game. The room quickly separated into the two teams and at the end of the first round, all the red team members were sent out except me. And at the end of the next round. And at the end of the next round.  It was bad luck, but I literally was unable to contribute to the entire game. I just sat there, hoping my team could do something to get me out of the room, which they did try to do, but ultimately failed. By the end of the game, the blue didn’t seem to have realised I was the bomber but they had a binary choice. Did they (A) keep the president in my room, expecting that the red-controlled room would not send the bomber over or (B) send the president to the other room, expecting that the red-controlled room would send the bomber over. The entire game boiled down to this choice, which was based on guessing what the other room’s choice would be. The blue team chose wisely and won the game.

I think it’s inevitable with such a large player group that some players will feel left out of the decision making, whatever the game, and I just happened to be one of those players. So while I didn’t enjoy my game, I would still like to play it again. Two Rooms and a Boom offers a lot of expandability and variability with lots of character roles, many of which sound fun, but I worry that the experience isn’t designed enough. A game that’s supposed to be about hard decisions and team building seems to devolve into political bullying and one big decision at the end that hinged on a Schrodinger’s Cat prediction.

Now, I did also get to play a couple of games of the Resistance. The Resistance, like Two Rooms, is a game that mostly happens directly between players rather than through game mechanics. Each player is given a hidden allegiance, they’re either loyal members of the resistance or spies infiltrating the resistance. The spies know the identity of each other, but the resistance members do not know what anyone’s true allegiance is. Throughout the game, players go on missions picked by a leader, and each player on that mission secretly submits a card which makes the mission fail or succeed. Before each mission goes ahead, it must be approved by the majority of players, so players must convince each other that they aren’t spies and will make the mission succeed. If the mission is voted down, the leadership passes on to the next player around the table. The game ends when the resistance has won by successfully completed three missions or lost by failing three missions.

I’m going to tell you about our second game. The first mission of three players succeeded. The second mission of the original three players plus me failed, with two failure cards, meaning that two out of the four player’s on that mission were spies, so I was immediately under suspicion. I was, in fact, a loyal member of the resistance but I wasn’t likely to convince anybody else of that. I got a lucky break when one of the missions I voted against failed, making it seem likely that I was for real (as I would have voted for the mission if I was a spy). I started to regain trust of the group, and we managed to succeed on the next mission. The final mission was being proposed by one of the four players on the first failed mission. Now, I didn’t really trust him, but the next player who would be leader explicitly stated that he didn’t trust me and one other resistance member that I did trust. I knew that if this mission was voted down than the leadership would pass on, and the next player would choose a five player team that didn’t include what I believed were two out of the six loyal resistance members, and was therefore guaranteed to fail. With no other choice, I decided to trust the leader and voted for the mission which went ahead by a single vote and failed. The leader was a spy and my trust was misplaced.

My team lost this game as well, but I felt that I took part in that failure. It was game with lots of discussion and interaction, and where my position in the group changed throughout the game. After the first failure, I was immediately under suspicion but managed to win back the trust of my comrades, only to cost us the game by trusting the wrong player. I thoroughly enjoyed losing, and it was all (or at least partly) my fault.

Now, I said that The Resistance gets a fair amount of play, but I should have qualified that a little, because compared to the way others play, my copy is relatively unused. My copy has gotten a fair amount of play since I got it (a few months ago) with my non-gamer friends when we’ve gotten together (which has only been a few times), so I’ve really only played a dozen games. The Resistance is a 2009 release, and The Resistance: Avalon (what I play) is 2012, and some gamers have played the game dozens upon dozens of times. Like Battlestar Galactica, you know when you’re playing with seasoned players as certain strategies and tactics emerge to better ferret out the traitors. But in my play, I haven’t even got to use the extra roles yet, as we’ve had new players each time. I bring this up because many gamers, notably Quinns of Shut Up & Sit Down, are saying that The Resistance has had it’s day; it’s done, overplayed and doesn’t offer as much as Two Rooms and a Boom or Coup. From the perspective of someone who hasn’t played The Resistance to death, I very much disagree. The Resistance is far more engaging and inclusive than either. The emergent narrative in The Resistance is much more richer than both these games because it genuinely comes from the players and the way they choose to interact with each other. I can see myself playing The Resistance several dozen more times, as I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of what the game can offer, and it’s successors? Well, I’m not sold on Coup but if someone brings out a copy, I’ll give it another go, partly based on other people’s reception of the game and partly because it probably deserves another chance with an unexhausted brain. And while Two Rooms didn’t blow me away, there aren’t many games that go beyond ten players so if we ever get to that player count, it’ll definitely see another play.

PS does anyone know if Quinns still plays with voting wrong as in the play video? Because while his opinion is both valid and more powerful than mine (honestly, I trust his judgement more than my own), I think his point that the game is flawed because it doesn’t give the players enough information to arrive at the truth is somewhat undercut by playing the game with a house rule that removes a key deduction element of the game. (Also, you’ll notice they’re having a boat load of fun in the video)


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