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Resistance is a social deduction game of imperfect information. Although the game can be played with 5-10 players, I am going to focus on the 5-player game in this essay. In a 5-player game there are two spies (red players) and three resistance members (blue players). The red team are aware of each others’ identities, while the blue team members have no information other than their own identity.
The game beings with a randomly assigned captain who must select two players to go on the first mission. All players vote to approve/reject the proposed team. If the majority of players approve, the mission’s player composition is accepted. If the majority of players reject, the captain marker moves clockwise and the mission marker is moved down the track. Until it gets to the 5th missions proposal.
In our game, we don’t even have a vote for the 5th mission, we simply let the captain pick his team and auto-approve it. There is 100% no reason for blue players to reject this mission and it only leaves the door open to game-ruining blunders, so we just skip the voting. We call the captain of this last mission “the hammer.”
If the 5th mission proposal is rejected, the red players win the the entire game. That essentially means the 5th proposed player composition must be approved.
The Optimal Mission 1 Meta
Before we even begin this analysis, I want to mention the caveat that resistance is a social deduction game and much of the game is about reading your opponents. Obviously every playgroup and dynamic is different and it is pretty fruitless to discuss tells, since they are unique. If you have a sick read on someone:
Danny always tweets a photo of his role card when he is a spy!
By all means use that information and disregard any of my advice. Reads and tells are a thing in the game, but I am assuming you are playing with poker-faced pros and you only have logic go on.
After playing over a hundred games of Resistance with many different playgroups (and consulting with many other player groups, as well as discussing this topic at length on BoardGameGeek) I have noticed the same metagame develop multiple times. Here is how the game ends up looking with advanced players:
The first captain selects himself and any other player. All players except the two on the mission vote reject. The captain marker passes, the captain chooses himself and another player. All players except the two on the mission vote reject.
This process repeats until it gets to the hammer, at which point whoever is captain chooses another player and that mission is automatically approved. The key takeaways are that this process is completely automatic, everyone always rejects each mission they are not on, and you can gain some minor information from who leaders select “randomly.”
However the more developed and automatic this meta gets, the less information there is to gain from who the captain chooses.
This meta tends to evolve on its own after a seed begins to lay roots in observant players’ minds. When they finally ask the question,
“Why would you approve a mission you are not on?”
Analyzing why people act the way they do is the core gameplay in Resistance, and asking people why they are acting a certain way is one of the only ways to gain information. So why do they approve a mission they aren’t on? They will say things like,
“I just had a good feeling”
“I just wanted to see what would happen”
“I wanted to keep the game moving.”
However, after multiple games something else becomes apparent…
The Rational Case
Who has an incentive to approve a mission they are not on? Red players. If a red player is on the proposed mission, the 2nd red player knows that and has a very strong incentive to approve and send this mission. Either so the red friend can fail it, or gain trust. Both good outcomes.
A blue player, on the other hand, has no incentive whatsoever to send a mission they are not on. Blue players have no information on the first mission other than the fact that they are blue. If a blue player ends up on a mission and that mission fails, then they get to be 100% sure the mission’s other participant was red. Until then, up-voting random missions can only hurt you.
Why does it hurt you? Because if good players sometimes approve missions for no good reason (or the above stated reasons) it gives red players an angle to do exactly that.
Imagine a world in which all blue players never approve missions and red players still do. Now each time anyone approves a mission everyone knows they are a red player! Sure, they are going to claim they are blue and they are just “trying to see what happens” but everyone knows it’s a lie because no blue player will ever approve. This is what blue players want, not to give the reds an opportunity to hide.
You might have heard, or even considered, the following counter-argument. Shouldn’t a player mix up his play when they are blue in order to increase their chances when they are red? The answer is no, you should always optimize your play to maximize blue victory. You are a blue player 60% of the time and a red player only 40% of the time. Hurting your chances (and all blue players chances) by playing sub-optimally 60% of the time to give your team an edge the other 40% is not a good idea if you care about your win rate.
Basically I am suggesting that for optimal rational play, the blue players should want the 5th leader to simply declare the mission. Let the hammer decide. Not sure why letting it go to the hammer is better than approving any random team? Well before we get into the numbers, remember if you approve you aren’t JUST sending a random team, you are making yourself look like a spy and damaging your reputation. That should be enough, but if you want numbers…
The Mathematical Case
If you are on a mission, and you are blue, that means the other person on the mission with you is going to be red 50% of the time. Other than you, there are two blue and two red players left, and from that pool of players you are on a mission with one of them. This is as good as it’s going to get for blue players on mission one, a 50% shot to get a clean mission.
On the other hand, if you are sitting out and two other players are going on the mission, there is going to be at least 1 red player on it 5/6 of the time! Think about all the possible combinations of 2 red and 2 blue:
That means if you are not on a mission as a blue player there is an 84% chance the mission is dirty and only a 16% chance that it is clean. You don’t want to approve that! You being on the team increases the likelihood of a clean team from 16% to 50%.
Always reject if you are on the sidelines! You need to be on the mission. (Of course just because a dirty team goes on the mission certainly doesn’t mean this mission will be a fail, but what happens beyond this vote is not in scope here. We are focusing on not sending dirty missions.)
Benefit of the Hammer
The inevitable conclusion of all this rejecting is going to the hammer. The logic here is pretty simple: you know who the hammer is going to be. If the hammer is you, well we know how that shakes out. You have a 50% chance to making a clean team.
If the hammer is not you… 50% of the time the hammer leader will be another blue player, and 50% of those times they will select a blue player (including you) giving this team a 25% chance to be clean. This is actually better than a team that is guaranteed not to have you on it, which is only a 16% chance to be clean. A completely random team is actually good for the blue players. To put it into simpler terms, a new team with the potential to have you on it is better than a team that doesn’t have you on it.
What Does it All Mean
The sad truth is that if everyone understands this, and everyone decides to play optimally, mission one is a pretty trivial and boring experience. Many people have said, “Shouldn’t we just fast forward to the hammer and go from there?” I can’t say that is a bad idea, as you will save yourselves a little time. We still haven’t started doing this yet in our games preferring instead to have a rather stale robotic experience just in case something weird happens.
I have heard the argument made that it is still worth it for good players to “mix it up” because they can fish reads from the red players. The thinking is, since the red players have an incentive to point out this player breaking convention to make the other players mistrust. Once the accusations start flying a talented player might be able to determine which players are spies.
The major problem with this is even if you are insane at reads, and you 100% identify one of the spies, you will likely never be able to convince the others. PARTICULARLY if mission one actually fails. You will certainly look like a red player. (Conversely, if you are a red player on a mission which is approved by an outside blue player… THROW THE FAIL. The blue team will probably never recover.)
Don’t get me wrong. This game is still a blast after the game starts rolling on mission two. Also many expansions break up this meta a little bit because they give players different incentives. For example in the commander/assassin or Avalon variation of the game one of the blue players, the Commander, knows who both the spies are. This blue player can up vote missions they are not on because they may know for sure that a mission is clean (probably not a good idea since this makes you very easy to assassinate but it’s something to think about). The reverser module is also interesting and has the potential to mix things up though I haven’t fully explored it yet. Also consider the plot thickens which adds some variety by giving the leader a variety of changing plot cards to hand out.