Coup Review, How To and Variants

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I can’t say enough good things about this game. What I will say is anyone who doesn’t like this game either hasn’t played it enough, or is simply stupid. Sorry ladies and gentlemen, but it’s true you are wrong about it.

If you are interested in how to play the game please watch my how to play video. If you are interested in some hard hitting variants, scroll below to read all about them. (I do also go over the variants in the video.)

Review

Coup is a simple and compact deduction game with deviously deep lines of thinking. It really feels remarkable how much decision making goes into every action a player does, and how much information a player gives with each action. The problem is it often takes many game sessions to really get it.

From my experience players go through three phases of appreciation for the game.

  1. Amusement
  2. Apprehension
  3. Breakthrough

The first phase is people getting used to the game, generally fumbling around using the reference card and clumsily attempting to pretend they have duke after 2 players ahead of them take foreign aid which they “forgot” to block. They have a few laughs about how tense getting assassinated is and generally have a good time.

In the next phase people have a firm grasp on all of the roles and possibly even begin understanding which roles are more or less important or powerful at different stages of the game. This is also the phase where people begin thinking they have this game figured out, and the winner is mostly determined by luck. This is often when you will hear cries of frustration that sounds like “must be nice to ALWAYS have contessa…” or “Wow you start with duke every game.”

After an extensively long and intense session players will finally have a breakthrough. This is when the game truly opens up to them and they will realize that the cards in your hand almost do not matter. All that really matters is reading your players, not making blunders and extracting the maximum amount of information from everything available. This is the phase in the game where a player might knowingly let 2 people call foreign aid, and even call foreign aid themselves while holding a duke for a future tricky play.

With strong players who know the game well, you will never experience a more brutal psychological deathmatch.

Player Counts

This game runs best at 3-4 player. I personally feel it drags a little at 5-6 but it is still certainly playable.

The 1v1 variant presented in the manual is pretty poor and I am happy to present a superior and excellent 1v1 variant below. (I didn’t come up with it, I read about it on BoardGameGeek.)

Components

The entire game consists of 15 cards (3 each of 5 characters) and 50 currency chips called ISK. The box also comes with some large reference cards which new players can have in front of them reminding them what all of the actions and counteractions are.

CoupCards

The cards are an awkward size. They are quite a bit bigger than your standard playings card and will require 65mm x 100mm cases to fit. I highly recommend you buy the cases too, because unlike many other games, if a single one of your cards gets noticeably damaged the entire game will be ruined.

As for the currency, they are a thick cardboard little hexagons with futuristic designs on them. When I play the game at home I use poker chips instead, but these tokens do the job.

Variants

After my hundreds of games, and input from many players both from my playgroup and from avid posters on Board Game Geek, I have determined that these two variants greatly enhance the game. I highly recommend you try them out.

Call the Coup Variant

After many dozens of games playing standard coup, someone on reddit tossed the “Call-the-Coup” variant my way. It is so simple I can’t believe it isn’t the default way to play.

When you perform a coup, instead of simply spending 7 coins and targetting a opponent, you need to correctly name one of the opponent’s cards. They must answer truthfully if they do not have it, otherwise they reveal the named card face up and lose it. If the player who performed the coup guesses poorly, they simply lose 7 coins and the game continues.

This improves the game in the following ways:

It disincentives honesty

The advantages of being honest are enormous, not only because you are 100% certain your action will succeed, but because if someone challenges you they lose! Because of luck/fate, it’s possible to always have the perfect cards and never have to lie which is overpowering in standard coup. It happens rarely, but it can happen during a key string of plays.

Of course I will admit being honest CAN be harmful, but this variant pushes player to lie to conceal their hand even when playing honest might be the best course of action. Which is good for gameplay.

It reduces textbook play

In the standard game of coup actually deciding who to coup isn’t much of a decision at all. You simply always coup the most powerful player, usually that is a richest player, or the player with the most cards. It’s obvious and non-interactive. With this variant you actually need to think. Sure you still WANT to coup the strongest player, but that player knows who he is and it keeping his hand a secret. Do you blind-guess? Or do you take a sure thing on a weaker player? Additionally, when you are the strongest player you actually have some defenses from getting torn apart by the table. (Keeping your hand concealed.)

It buffs Ambassador

The ambassador is arguably the weakest card. In the base game the ambassador is only used when your hand is poor, or sometimes late game to gain information. But generally, any action which doesn’t actively get you closer to killing another player is weak. With this variant, once a player reaches 7+ coins, players who have played their hands in an obvious ways have a good reason to mix it up as a coup defense. Which, in turn, gives them a great reason to bluff having an ambassador.

ambassador

It allows you to coup defensively

It is easy to think this variant is a nerf on the coup action, now a coup can wiff. However, there is also subtle buff. You can neutralize a specific character. Take this hopeless situation: You have a single Captain in hand, your opponent (still 2 cards) just used the Assassin to clean up an opponent and you are confident the assassin is legitimate. You have enough money to coup, and your opponent has enough money to assassinate again. With standard rules this situation plays out in a very boring fashion, you coup your opponent, he flips the non-assassin. Then you are assassinated. Sure you can bluff contessa. But with this variant your coup is so much more powerful. You simply name the assassin and it must be discarded. Now it’s an even game and you actually get some gameplay.

My group and I are hundreds of hands deep into this variant and we are all convinced that it is far superior to the standard rules.

Coup Duel (1v1 Coup)

The standard rules, frankly, work like shit in a 1v1 game. It’s just both players playing chicken with duke until someone blind-calls and that is pretty much game. There is no meta game, and there is no deduction. Basically, it’s unplayable.

Thanks so much to Anarchosyn and Zakimos for helping me develop this variants which makes 1v1 play an absolute blast. Both players have 5 total loyalty, but still limited to holding 2 cards at a time. This means once a player loses his first loyalty, he places it face up as normal, but then draw another card. If he loses again, place the next card face up and draw another. Once he loses his third card, and draw back to a 2 card hand, he will not longer draw. His last 2 cards (his 4th and 5th) are the last he gets.

The longer you play / the less starting hands matter / until bluffs are called

It is possible to have both player down to a single card, which means a whopping 8 cards are already revealed face up. This really opens up the game to plenty of deduction and metagame plays. Usually when we play this way we play first to 5 wins, which takes about 45 minutes. By that time we feel like we are taking camping trips inside each other’s minds. It’s a blast.

7 replies
    • AlexKrasny
      AlexKrasny says:

      If you make a bluff call, and you are wrong, the revealed captain still gets reshuffled and re-drawn. So he isn’t “destroyed” he just gets replaced to a new random card.

      Reply
  1. AH
    AH says:

    Coup Duel Variant sounds like a really great idea.

    Regarding Call-the-Coup, I don’t know if I like how it suddenly adds an honour system rule into this otherwise 100% lying game. It seems like a good opportunity for more bluffing/counterplay and having the defending player answer “honestly” is pretty much unenforceable.

    Reply
    • AlexKrasny
      AlexKrasny says:

      Well that is true, but not entirely without precedent. The game Love Letter is 100% based on the honor system but that hasn’t stopped it from being a super popular and highly regarded game.

      Lying in response to being couped in this game would simply be regarded as cheating. There are ways to cheat in many board games and you just need to trust your play group to not contain any cheaters. The additional gameplay this rule adds to the game is awesome and you shouldn’t be too concerned with cheaters if you have a regular group of trusted friends right?

      Reply
      • AH
        AH says:

        not to say an honour system is always a bad idea (as you say Love Letter is 100% honour system), but the ‘default mode’ for coup is 100% non honour system, so putting honour system into it seems less consistent (and for my feel, less fun) than somehow accommodating bluffs which are the central mechanic of the game.

        its not really a matter of trust, i have no problem playing love letter with peeps. Though sometimes i do wish there was a good version with bluffs

        Reply
        • AlexKrasny
          AlexKrasny says:

          Hmm… well I am pretty confused by your complaint. What Iw ill say is this variant increases players incentive to bluff and rooting out who is being honest and who is lying becomes a larger part of the game than before.

          In the original game you simply Coup the winning player regardless of what they have. With the variant you need to get in that players head to Coup correctly. This is MORE fun and interaction.

          Reply
          • AH
            AH says:

            i definitely think the call-the-coup variant sounds superior to the standard coup-always-succeeds rule. I think that the fun and interaction would be further increased by removing the honour-system aspect and making it possible to bluff out of a coup and to call that bluff.

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