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Board Game Night Report September 8, 2017

Shane, Eric and I played something I am calling “The Kitchen Sink” Merchants & Marauders. I recently purchased the Seas of Glory expansion for this game and I am eager to try it out. It adds something like 12 modular upgrades and variants players can mix and match to add exactly the level of complexity they desire. Of course I want to add the maximum level of complexity so I can have the most premium pirate experience.

I may do a detailed review of this expansion at a later time but you give you a general idea of what this expansions adds:

Contraband cargo adds an interesting new twist for generating income through cargo for both merchant and pirate players by accepting a little risk. Delivering contraband to the port listed on the card pays 10 gold for a single cargo item. This is awesome for pirate ships which have small cargo holds anyway, but is also good for merchants because you can have multiple ports to travel to to still get paid. Every two cumulative contrabands delivered earns a glory point.

Weather (wind spinner) opens and closes opportunities for traveling around the map. If you travel with the wind you get a free movement action, and if you travel against the wind you must pay two movement actions. Sometimes windmight completely mess up your plans, but other times it will offer you a great path forward! It’s random, but feels thematic.

Favors can be used to mitigate luck by letting you re-roll dice or redraw cards at critical moments. This is great when you really need to get a good cargo pull, or to not waste an entire turn missing a scouting roll. You can have up to five favors at a time and you can buy them for two gold each as your final action at any port.

Crew morale forces you to keep your crew happy either through consistent glory gain, or monetary payments. Having a happy crew also offers a very easy way to actually get ship specialists! In the original game getting a specialist feels almost impossible. You need to get a glory card which offers you the opportunity to get one if you go to a specific place and succeed on a roll. You would be lucky to get one in a game. But with a happy crew, you can just get one for free at any port!

Of course there is also the typical more, more, more! More ships, weapons, mods, events, rumors, missions, glory cards! The biggest general change these make to the game is to lengthen it. Which might seem bad, but is actually good. One of the biggest complaints about this game is that it ends just as it’s ramping up. Once all the players get nice ships suddenly it feels like a game ends. Now with the crew morale mechanic your income is essentially “taxed” having to pay your crew a salary. I am only one game deep, but I think these are positive changes.

Anyway, let’s get to the game report. I got off to a good start because I picked up a sweet mission called Letter of the French Marque which turned me into a French privateer. This means whenever I performed a merchant raid on any non-French nation I received a bonus three gold. This made it easy for me to consistently earn 12+ gold from merchants raids and gain glory points which naturally kept my crew in good spirits.

Meanwhile Hart had a captain who let him buy ship mods for only one gold, and he made use of that decking out his sloop into a real gun boat. He also had some decent luck with merchant raids and delivering some contraband cargo.

Shane… Well Shane’s crew hated him so much they mutinied and killed him. So he had an early reset, at which point he got a very strong pirate captain with insane stats, but he chose the merchant ships. Maybe he knew something I didn’t but unfortunately with such a setback he was unable to make anything happen.

At a critical moment I found myself slightly wounded with 40 gold on my ship floating off the shore of Old Providence. Hart spotted me and seized the opportunity to attack me and steal my gold! It wasn’t a very epic battle as I was quickly overcome and crushed by his legendary pirate sloop. Lucky for me I had a the “Ship with a History” glory card which let me new captain start the game with the broken remains of my old ship. Despite the damage, that ship did have some mods and weapon upgrades still on it which gave me a bit of a boost.

I got back on track doing merchant raids and started earning more glory points and stockpiling more money. I decided to get myself a bigger ship. This turned out to be a pretty stupid idea because I think I could have just won the game by stashing my money… I guess I was blinded by revenge as I committed myself to getting a war ship to find Hart and sink his ass. I saw that he wanted to come home and stash gold so I camped his home town waiting for him. Unfortunately he isn’t totally stupid so he didn’t go home on his turn… Passing it back to me. Lucky for me I was only 3 glory points from winning and the wind was in my favor. I could take a free move action toward my home, do a quick merchant raid to earn 12+ gold for a glory point leading me with 20+ gold to stash and I would still have enough actions to get home and stash it. It was an epic final turn but I got it done to steal the game.

Resistance the Mission 1 Metagame Analysis

Game Intro

Skip to next section if you already know how to play.

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.

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.

Quantum

battle of Thor Six / decisive red victory / war isn't over

battle of Thor Six
decisive red victory
war isn’t over

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

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