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Subject: Coup - A disappointment most foul rss

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Pap Qaq
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I am about to tell you a story - a sad story to be true - if only you could be sure it was true. Such is coup.

Coup is one of those hot new games. Small deck, simple rules, quick play, lots of fun. Just like love letter only sort of like citadels except not very much like either.

In coup, each player starts with two cards and trifle of coins. The cards represent life and power and remain hidden. On you turn you can choose from one of eight possible actions. Five require that you claim to own a certain card while three are generic. The card based powers are of course more powerful, but the danger of claiming a card based power is that you reveal information. Or do you?

The other danger of claiming a card power is that you can be challenged by anyone at the table. If you are challenged you may show the card claimed, in which case your challenger loses a precious card, or you must forfeit a card yourself. Lost cards are turned face up, revealing information to all players. You only start with two cards, which means that this is a dire consequence indeed. Or is it?

The game ends when no player has a card left, which generally occurs when one of the final two players kills the other. There are two ways to kill someone, either by claiming to be the assassin, in which case you must pay three coins, or by engineering a coup, which is a generic power that costs 7 coins. While assassination can be blocked by claiming to own the correct card, a coup is forever.

On the surface this seems like an enchantingly interesting game for those who favor social deduction. Unfortunately, Coup suffers from some very serious problems.

The game invariably reaches a three player ending, in which each player has one card and some number of coins. The game now turns completely upside down as the loser will be the player forced to kill their opponent first. Why? Because they in turn will be immediately killed by the player they left alive. This creates some truly bizarre game play. Each player will, in turn, attempt to take the least constructive actions possible. Do I know you have the duke? Then I will claim foreign aid, hoping that you will be foolish enough to block and therefore ensure that I gain zero gold. Do I have the ambassador? Then I will exchange card every turn while always keeping the ambassador and discarding the other two cards. Are there three people at the table with the ambassador? You may be in for a long night.

Once one person has been determined to be the loser (they have ten coins in hand at the beginning of their turn and must therefore coup), they at least have the joy of tormenting the remaining two players by acting as king maker. Have you played the better game, outsmarting your opponents at every step? A fine achievement my friend! But if you have failed to properly burnish your friend's fragile ego whilst he regaled you with his recent leaf raking exploits, he may repay you with a seven coin slap. Coup is, after all, a social game.

If the end of the game can be a grinding calculation of optimal mediocrity, the beginning of the game soon becomes tedious as well. This is because challenging an assertion is an iffy proposition.

When you challenge and win, you gain nothing relative to most of the table. Your only benefit is that one opponent loses a card, a benefit which you share with all the other table dwellers who declined to take any risk themselves. If you lose a challenge, you lose half of your life. If you've lost half your life already, you can go grab a beer and turn on the tv.

This means that one generally shouldn't challenge assertions unless something really important is at stake. And that means that at the beginning of the game, no one is challenging assertions. So in the first round, you may as well swing for the fences. This has two advantages - first you score a big gain, and second you communicate no information to others since they assume you may be bluffing. Ergo, the first round may look like this:

Duke - take three coin. Duke - take three coin. Duke - take three coin. Duke - take three coin. Duke - take three coin. Duke - take three coin.

The only untedious aspect of this comes from the realization that there are only three duke cards in the game in spite of the six players who claim to possess them.

But what if your duke happens to get called by a particularly reckless rapscallion? No problem, you've just earned your ticket to easy street. Why? Because Coup solves the runaway leader problem by identifying leaders as sure targets.

In general, when playing Coup the best strategy is to do nothing. Don't make enemies, don't challenge others, don't appear too strong, just quietly accumulate a not too large stack of coins while you hope to earn your lottery ticket in the three person ending.

Unfortunately, as exciting as this sounds it cannot last. Eventually people will be forced to start killing others. And this is when it is not such a good idea to appear to be a strong leader. Have the most cards and a lot of coins. Hello bullet! After all, if you're in the middle of the pack, it generally doesn't make sense to fire your gun at the straggler. That just costs you coin and eliminates someone that wasn't much of a threat. So you fire at the leader instead, since they're the one most likely to bump you out of the endgame hope fest.

So remember having your bluff called in round 1? That just means that when people starting firing bullets you'll be last on the list for a while. Which brings up yet another peculiar sub topic. Is it ever too early to focus on mediocrity? Perhaps the most devilishly clever play in round one is to tortoise while everyone else hares.

Coup does shine for a brief moment in the middle game. At some point decisions and bluffing really do start to matter. Once most people have lost their first card you can begin to look around and evaluate what needs to happen to get you into the terminal trio. Can you force a favorable chain reaction? Is it finally time to call someone's bluff? Do you have to start at least considering honesty on your own behalf? How many of those lies that you've patiently endured so far have actually been truths? Scheme away my friend, for soon enough you will either be enjoying the effervescent majesty of a tall ale or down shifting your progress as fast as you can grind your gears.

In the end, the best you can hope for is a coin flip, and that makes that pint seem a pretty tempting alternative!


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Robert Forrest
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p1q0 wrote:
The game invariably reaches a three player ending, in which each player has one card and some number of coins.


I don't think you understand what the word invariably means.
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Brian Newman
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p1q0 wrote:

The game invariably reaches a three player ending, in which each player has one card and some number of coins. The game now turns completely upside down as the loser will be the player forced to kill their opponent first.


I've played Coup around 20 times, and I can only recall seeing three players with one card each once in all those times.

Also, with enough discovered information about the other players, you can engineer their deception yourself by playing into it and make yourself less of a target.

Also also, if you think having a pile of money makes you "the leader" in Coup, I submit to you that you are under an incorrect assumption. The leader is the one who is not being targeted by anyone's doubts (sotto voce or otherwise).
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Ben Turner
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Maybe try the game again with a different group ? Every group I encounter playing this game goes down different routes, and maintains different "truths", such as "always be Duke in round 1" which I have seen shattered and overturned several times by new players and different approaches.

This game is certainly not closed strategically, and there are several different avenues to explore.
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Christian K
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You make it sounds like every game ends with three players with 9 or 10 coins and 1 life. This is not true at all.
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Aditya C
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I am shocked that everyone just calls Duke all game. There are several issues here. One, everyone is ignoring the wonderfully mean captain. Two, the first person to 7 coins should be dead before he gets another turn. Three, challenging early and losing a card is often a great move because it makes you less of a threat and puts the target on other people's backs. This game is best when people play tactically (and negotiate a bit).
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Karl Fast
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Duke, Duke, Duke, Groupthink.
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Justin Dugger

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I've seen three general strategies:

1. Kick em while they're down. If you can knock someone out of the game, do so. Mostly performed by novices.

2. Tall Poppy Syndrome. Attack the leader. The usual emergent consensus. When everyone adopts this strategy, I figure few people able to predict who will make it to the Standoff.

3. Do as little as possible. Don't expose yourself to challenges by claiming a role. Usually accidentally performed by someone too timid to bluff in the opening rounds, but those that watch this in action may adopt it when they realize it's a good survival strategy.

It seems likely that none of these strategies is actually optimal, and may be subject to a groupthink / metagame. This seems fairly obvious, if one person is using the tall poppy heuristic, and two other players understand this, by attempting to appear less threatening than the other, their strategy will shift towards strategy 3.

Similarly, if your matches end up with three people with one influence and similar amounts of coins, it seems to me that a winning strategy is to find the assassin, out the Contessas, and work toward a pile of six coins for the Mexican standoff. This strategy would probably work better if you were allowed the option of keeping your revealed card post challenge.
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Zach Moir
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I posted this variant a few months ago:

http://boardgamegeek.com/thread/1203820/my-favorite-way-play...

I have played Coup hundreds of times - it's the only game my coworkers would play with me at my previous job. I found the game disappointing with the rules as written, so we incorporated this simple variation and it became much more interesting and fun.

If you haven't given up on the game yet, give it a shot.

 
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Mark Mitchell
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Interesting alternative, although no punishment for guessing wrong takes some tension out of the game, but I can see it builds in another way. Could make the Ambassador too strong as swapping out cards is more effective.

Our only house rule is starting with no money. Stops early coup and helps develop a longer and more satisfying mid game.

Regarding the review, 'Grinding calculation of optimal mediocracy' sounds like Agricola not Coup. As you state it's a 'Social' game, if your grinding variables I think you've missed the point. You seem also to have developed a groupthink approach if you playing it the same way everytime.

Your obviously looking for something in Coup which it doesn't offer. Its a fast, light, social game. The emphasis is on face to face bluffing with some minor memory and calculation aspects. It's not complex enough to 'grind' at. I've not seen any repetition of play tactics, my group just have fun, but then we don't play it all night. 3-4 quick games is perfect before getting a bigger game out.

Coup doesn't have any serious problems, your examples do not carry through with my experience (played about 200+ times), not sure how it could considering the high degree of social play. This would indicate it's maybe the 'social' part of your play that's the issue not the game.
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Karl Fast
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Note also that

(a) The game definitely improves when played with Reformation. It adds only a few small yet critical rules. This is the only way that I play it anymore.

(b) The designer has a new game called Coup: Guatemala 1954 that he has described as more of a gamer's version of Coup. It will debut at Essen 2014 this fall.
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Kikki Hau
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Don´t agree with the review at all. Our games are all over the place. Captain gets called alot and assassin as well. Maybe the group´s the problem.
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Pap Qaq
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pwnguin wrote:
I've seen three general strategies:

1. Kick em while they're down. If you can knock someone out of the game, do so. Mostly performed by novices.

2. Tall Poppy Syndrome. Attack the leader. The usual emergent consensus. When everyone adopts this strategy, I figure few people able to predict who will make it to the Standoff.

3. Do as little as possible. Don't expose yourself to challenges by claiming a role. Usually accidentally performed by someone too timid to bluff in the opening rounds, but those that watch this in action may adopt it when they realize it's a good survival strategy.

It seems likely that none of these strategies is actually optimal, and may be subject to a groupthink / metagame. This seems fairly obvious, if one person is using the tall poppy heuristic, and two other players understand this, by attempting to appear less threatening than the other, their strategy will shift towards strategy 3.

Similarly, if your matches end up with three people with one influence and similar amounts of coins, it seems to me that a winning strategy is to find the assassin, out the Contessas, and work toward a pile of six coins for the Mexican standoff. This strategy would probably work better if you were allowed the option of keeping your revealed card post challenge.


Justin-

I think you get it. I tend to dismiss the group thinkers who apparently have netted over 800 games between them with no three person endings. I think they attack the pints before, and not after they've been eliminated!

With regards to your post, we can divide the game into two ending possibilities - either 3 man with one card each (by far the most common ending among good players) or 'other'.

Other means two players with either a 2 on 1 card ending or 2 players with a 2 on 2 card ending. Both cases require a lot of bad play from the others at the table, as it doesn't take a genius to realize that as cards begin to deplete, those with 2 cards will beat the 1 carders unless addressed.

As you say, strategy 1 - kick em while they're down - is the novice strategy and is the only strategy likely to lead to the 'other' ending. I suspect this is what the group thinkers practice. Within this strategy bracket the ideal position to be in is one where someone else is the one doing the kicking. They spend resources and eliminate the competition while you wait to eliminate them later on. It's really a dead end strategy, as the player who does the kicking becomes the one most likely to be next kicked due to lack of resources. Ironically enough, even in this metagame the best strategy is to do nothing, be unobtrusive, and hope that the elimination cascade starts with someone else.

Strategy 2 & 3 are the advanced strategies and tend to merge. As I mention, there are opportunities to break in the mid game, but unfortunately the game is pretty tiresome because of the negative expectations around issuing challenges or being active.

Another angle, as others have pointed out, is to just have fun with it as a lightweight social game. There's nothing wrong with that, although I can think of more fun things to do than play a game poorly for fun, and of course the great irony with Coup is that as long as the other players play well a single incompetent player won't suffer at all (at least until the late mid game / end game)! Whether they routinely make dumb calls, waste money or generally mismanage their hand, it really doesn't matter unless they somehow manage to challenge their way out of both of their cards. The other players will just 'play around' them and they will be in largely the same position as everyone else when the time comes for the final culling before the eventual 3 man lottery.




 
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Pap Qaq
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kjerulf wrote:
Don´t agree with the review at all. Our games are all over the place. Captain gets called alot and assassin as well. Maybe the group´s the problem.


My games don't all run 'Duke Duke Duke' - this is just a likely first stage for any Coup group when the realization hits that as long as you don't call something that will hurt someone else no one will challenge an early call due to negative expectations.

Calling Captain and Assassin have a problem - they are much more likely to be challenged. For example, if the game starts 'Assassin Assassin Assassin Assassin Assassin Assassin' then someone is going to speak up sooner rather than later.
 
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Pap Qaq
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Caibre wrote:
I am shocked that everyone just calls Duke all game. There are several issues here. One, everyone is ignoring the wonderfully mean captain. Two, the first person to 7 coins should be dead before he gets another turn. Three, challenging early and losing a card is often a great move because it makes you less of a threat and puts the target on other people's backs. This game is best when people play tactically (and negotiate a bit).


I'm curious as to how this takes place given that no one else has the power to Coup by that point. I suppose your answer will be - two people at the table call Assassin. Assuming that is possible (the second one if not the first will obviously be challenged) than the new situation is that 1 player is eliminated, 2 players are known to have the assassin card, few or no coins, and be trigger happy, and the remaining players have the coin lead and are likely to target the assassins, which makes their instakill at 7 a losing strategy.
 
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Heiko Möller
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Having the game played probably 25 times by now (and having loved every game so far), i can't fathom how you get to your conclusions.
I'd recommend to be bold & try new strategies. There are plenty.
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Justin Smith

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Pap, you must have the most group-think prone group out there. I haven;t seen these issues at all.
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Karl Fast
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robininni wrote:
Love Letter, which is similarly simple, has some great deduction and strategy hidden in it's mechanics. It doesn't take long to see the genius in its design. Coup, unfortunately, doesn't have anything great hidden anywhere, just a bunch of guessing and predictable endings.


I'm precisely the opposite.

I find Love Letter to have few interesting decisions and too many situations where randomness or lack of meaningful choice (I have at most six options and you can usually eliminate most of them immediately) dramatically reduce opportunities for creativity in how one plays. I have no desire to play again.

With Coup I find the opportunity landscape much more open and interesting. I'll admit that the experience is highly group dependent, it's best with at least 5 people, the Reformation expansion helps quite a bit, and I personally would rather play several games in a row rather than just one. While it has lost some shine for me, that only happened after 40+ plays though the Reformation expansion has certainly extended that and for me, anything that gets played 50+ times is--at minimum--a good game. The latest version, Coup: Guatemala 1954, uses the same basic structure but with 25 different roles. For each game you choose 3 of them to play with. I expect this will keep the game fresh for a long, long time.

However, there is no question that Love Letter is a much more popular game. It's just not popular with me. In the which-microgame-is-better-debate, Love Letter or Coup, I am firmly in the Coup camp. It is the minority camp.
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Aditya C
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If you don't bluff profusely in Coup, you're playing wrong and will lose unless everyone else is also not bluffing (in which it basically turns into a complete luck fest).
 
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Karl Fast
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Caibre wrote:
If you don't bluff profusely in Coup, you're playing wrong and will lose unless everyone else is also not bluffing (in which it basically turns into a complete luck fest).


I don't know that you need to bluff profusely. You can't always tell the truth but you can't always bluff either. You need to bluff at the critical moments to the right person. There is definitely "luck" involved, but not in the sense of, say, "I rolled a two when I needed at least a three so therefore I lose," but in the sense of "I didn't expect that person to do what they just did!". These surprises come from the players, not from game mechanics, and I enjoy that.

To bluff is necessity. To bluff well is victory.
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Glenn Rauch
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p1q0 wrote:
The game invariably reaches a three player ending, in which each player has one card and some number of coins. The game now turns completely upside down as the loser will be the player forced to kill their opponent first. Why? Because they in turn will be immediately killed by the player they left alive. This creates some truly bizarre game play. Each player will, in turn, attempt to take the least constructive actions possible. Do I know you have the duke? Then I will claim foreign aid, hoping that you will be foolish enough to block and therefore ensure that I gain zero gold. Do I have the ambassador? Then I will exchange card every turn while always keeping the ambassador and discarding the other two cards. Are there three people at the table with the ambassador? You may be in for a long night.

Once one person has been determined to be the loser (they have ten coins in hand at the beginning of their turn and must therefore coup), they at least have the joy of tormenting the remaining two players by acting as king maker.


I've played several dozen games of Coup and I have literally never seen this happen.

I never see a game where someone has 10 coins. 10 coins! Are you serious? Why isn't someone stealing from that player? Why isn't that player launching a Coup? Or attempting an Assassination? Or being Assassinated?

When my group plays, you're very unlikely to even see a Coup. People are getting Assassinated and Challenged and Counter-Challenged all over the place.

Try actually playing the game, instead of just sitting there with cards, everybody taking Income and then Couping every seven rounds.
 
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Pap Qaq
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Glenn-

I don't think you understand the problems with this game. Consider the following decision tree:

3 man ending w/1 card arises - winner loses and becomes king maker.
2 man ending where 1 person has 2 cards - 2 carder wins - how did the other two players at the 3 player stage possibly let his happen? Whatever they did guaranteed their loss.

One of those two outcomes has to happen in almost all circumstances and since the latter is an auto loss for two of the participants at the immediately prior 3 man stage it should be avoided by sentient players.

Maybe this game can be fun if you just say random things and periodically challenge for fun and all have a good laugh, but that's not much different than rolling the dice and calling the outcome as it tumbles. Once you start to think about this game you realize it's a dead end.
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Robert Forrest
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Nonsense.

The palyer with one card could easilly still be in the game if they've been playing well.

If they've been playing well, the other player doesn't know what they have. They can take money and then assassinate, for example.

Or perhaps they've convinced the other player they have a duke, when the whole time they've been holding a captain, they suddenly steal from their opponent and they call them to find out they do indeed have a captain.

I have seen plenty of games with the player with one card beating the player with two.
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Pap Qaq
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Edward J Grug III wrote:
Nonsense.
I have seen plenty of games with the player with one card beating the player with two.


And now we've reached the point where reality is out the window and people are simply arguing their love of the game.
 
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Robert Forrest
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p1q0 wrote:
Edward J Grug III wrote:
Nonsense.
I have seen plenty of games with the player with one card beating the player with two.


And now we've reached the point where reality is out the window and people are simply arguing their love of the game.


I don't know what you are basing that on - I have played close to 200 games of Coup, and I'm telling you winning depends on a lot more than on the number of cards you have left.

I'm afraid you're just not very good at the game.
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