Drew Hauge
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The following is an excerpt from www.thetopofthetable.com, where I'm writing about my journey of attempting to find and play every game in the BGG Top 100.

Since the 1980’s, social deduction games have been riffing off of the same winning formula: a knowing few versus the uninformed majority. In these games, players have hidden roles, and the ‘good guys’ simply need to organize and wield their voting majority to win. The one problem is that there are a few ‘bad guys’ in their midst, unbeknownst to the masses but known to each other.

The Resistance: Avalon and its predecessor The Resistance (aka “vanilla Resistance”) both follow this same script, with one significant feature: rather than voting players off one at a time, these games instead have players vote to elect a mission team. The mission team then votes on the success or failure of the mission, with just one vote for failure usually able to sabotage the whole mission. This process repeats five times, and three missions must succeed for good to prevail over evil.



It’s a clever take on social deduction, and it does a good job of dealing with the problem of player elimination. While it can be fun to spectate, some players may feel bad about involuntarily being made to sit out the majority of the game, particularly the typically climactic ending. This is the very reason that when my friends and I first discovered vanilla Resistance, one game of it (or two, or three) was never enough. It was addictive, fast paced, and intense – a fantastic party game.



So when Avalon came out, I was naturally excited. It was vanilla Resistance with a Camelot theme, and some intriguing roles added into the mix. The central roles of Avalon are Merlin and the Assassin. Merlin flips the trope of social deduction on its head, because he’s a good guy who knows the identity of the bad guys. Meanwhile, the Assassin keeps Merlin in check, having an opportunity to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat if she is able to correctly identify Merlin at game end. There are a handful of other optional roles, all riffing off of this same Merlin-Assassin dynamic:

-Percival is a good guy who knows the identity of Merlin (and can thus work to deflect suspicion)
-Morgana is a bad guy who also appears to Percival as Merlin
-Mordred is a bad guy who is unknown to Merlin
-Oberon is a bad guy who shares the same goal but acts alone, unknown to his team and without any knowledge of who is on his team



All of this sounds awesome, right? I certainly thought so. But here’s the thing: Avalon is like a car with wings glued onto it. It seems like a great idea until you actually take it out for a spin and realize that in practice, it’s a bit awkward and half-baked. Here are the two primary flaws with Avalon, in my opinion:

1) The Roles Force Some Players Back to the Sidelines

In giving so much power to Merlin and the Assassin, the outcome often rests on the actions of these two players, and what is done by the others matters relatively little. Avalon claims to accommodate 5-10 players, but at the lower end of that range, the Assassin’s chances of winning on a complete guess are way too high (33% with 5 players; 25% with 6-7; and 20% even with 8-9). This essentially dismantles the core element that made The Resistance so good: giving every player a chance to influence the outcome right up to the end.

The other four roles add a level of intrigue and agency for those players. Mordred and Morgana can certainly help their team to an outright win. When Percival is played well he can deflect suspicion from Merlin, but I’ve found that he just as often tips Merlin’s identity, particularly when Morgana is in the game. While these roles are interesting, they’re like controlling a rook or bishop while someone else gets to move the queen. But they’re still far better than being assigned one of the generic roles, which is like controlling a single pawn.



2) The Final Product Lacks Polish

For a game whose selling point is that it’s the new and improved version of a previous title, Avalon has a surprising lack of polish. The character images and dashboards are great, but beyond that the components are bland and seem to lack a consistent theme. I think this was a missed opportunity, as the re-brand was one of the two selling points for people who already owned the original Resistance (the other being the new roles).



As for the box art– why not display some of the central characters, instead of just picking out one generic servant of Merlin with a low-cut top?



One other area where the publishers could have added some value is through a companion app to perform the narration phase. One Night Ultimate Werewolf is a prime example of a game in the same space that is significantly improved by such an app.

Conclusion

Look, I should make clear that while Avalon has its flaws, it’s not a terrible or broken game. Clearly, popular opinion about the game is positive enough that it’s well within the BGG Top 100, which is no easy feat with the quality of competition out there.

However, in my personal opinion I don’t think it’s an improvement over the original Resistance, and I wouldn’t recommend it. There are a lot of really great social deduction games out there and while I think the idea of an ‘constrained informant’ put forth in the Merlin/Assassin dynamic is quite clever, I feel that it doesn’t translate to a more fun experience.


Thanks for reading this post! If you liked it, I'd appreciate if you could click the thumb to recommend it to others. If you didn't like it, I'd welcome your feedback in the comments below!

If you'd like to check out more of my content, you can follow my blog in any of these ways:

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Martin Larouche
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Everything in Avalon is also available for base Resistance in a cheap widely available expansion.

Base Resistance has everything Avalon has to offer, and more...

The choice to go Avalon is therefore purely cosmetic/thematic.
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Nigel Clarke
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The assassin winning on a complete guess should rarely happen? It's up to the other loyal servants to sew enough doubt that the assassin thinks Merlin is one of them.
I do not agree that what "the others do matters relatively little".
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Richard Pickman
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banzai123 wrote:
The assassin winning on a complete guess should rarely happen? It's up to the other loyal servants to sew enough doubt that the assassin thinks Merlin is one of them.
I do not agree that what "the others do matters relatively little".

This always comes up when I'm teaching the rules. "But can't the Assassin just guess?"

Well, yeah, but... in practice, the Assassin never guesses blindly. The Assassin can't help but sift through everything that happened through the game, wondering which player was acting the most "Merlinesque." And this, of course, gives the Servants of Arthur an opportunity to bluff, in order to fool the Assassin... with potentially hilarious consequences, as they fool each other instead.

We've been playing this game for years, and it always makes us laugh.
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Chris G
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Where to begin...

It's a perfectly valid opinion to prefer vanilla resistance. But I do have a bone to pick with some of the specifics from my 150+ games of Avalon:
1) Vanilla is better with 5-6 players?
I actually fully agree with this one, although I think with 6 there's room for debate. Nothing is stopping you playing vanilla resistance with the avalon set.

2) Roles force some people to the background:
It's true in any social deduction game that some roles are usually more mischievous/involved/exciting. Definitely true here too. But I firmly disagree with the premise that the other roles are just background players. As a regular loyal servant, you have the task is deducing the identity of spies, looking for merlin undercurrents, while being flexible and vague enought to leave open the possibility that you might be merlin yourself. It's a delicate act that is an improvement on the base game of resistance because of the rich subtext the merlin dynamic provides. Sure, you might look down at your card and wish you were Merlin or a bad guy instead, but the game is still richer for regular villagers thanks to this subtext. Oh and more people get more involved roles than in base resistance. Side note:a Percival who gives away merlin's identity is playing badly.

3) Aesthetics not bwing thematic enough:
Obviously the theme is pasted on and the dystopia is better. But who has ever played a werewolf/mafia style game for the rich theme? The components are good but not great, but you spend most of the game looking at the other players anyway. If only average components is a major ding for you in this style of game, I think you're looking at the wrong criteria or maybe this isn't your style.

To sum up, your experience with the game is valid and you are not the only one who prefers base resistance. But your critique sounds like you took this game for a quick spin, had some players make newcomer errors that can quickly be learned from, and concluded because of that and the pasted on theme that the game wasn't for you.
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Drew Hauge
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Hey Chris G, thanks for your well-thought out comments. It sounds like you've played Avalon a lot more than I have, and I can definitely see how the Merlin/Assassin dynamic would work really well in some groups, particularly ones where everyone is familiar with the game. I think you're also right on point that this game is not a great fit for me.

I really enjoy playing social deduction games, but it tends to be when I get together with large groups of friends that tend to have some casual gamers and maybe a few non-gamers. (Whereas when I get together with other gamers, we tend to gravitate towards heavier stuff since that's the only chance we get to play those games.)

Because of this, I tend to have the best experience with 'gateway' social deduction games that are easier to teach and pick up on the first few playthroughs. I'd love to play Avalon sometime with a group where everyone grasps the nuance and is deep in the Merlin-esque mind games. But in terms of which social deduction games I currently get the most mileage out of, I'd go with the One Night Ultimate Werewolf series and vanilla Resistance.

Also I agree with you that the theme is not a big deal for a game of this type -- just felt that if the theme and the roles are the two noticeable changes in Avalon, I don't think the theme is a significant improvement or selling point. Ultimately it's about whether or not you like the new roles.

So in summary, I think we can agree that both versions are good, but which one is right for you depends on who you're going to play it with.
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Chris G
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I think we can agree on that, although we can debate the various degrees of accessibility: I find as many people get tripped up by a simple seer play and troublemaker play in ONW. Difference of course being the short play time of one night.

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Clyde W
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My opinion, in case anyone cares:

At 5-6, "vanilla" Resistance is really good, and if you wanna mix things up, I encourage you to look into the Excalibur and Dirty/Good Lances modules (they work best together).

At 7+, Avalon Resistance (ie, with Merlin plus all the buddies) is strictly better than vanilla. I never teach new players vanilla Resistance at these counts. Just introduce Merlin/Percy/Mordred/Morgana and go for it.

To me, the theme is irrelevant, so I don't care about that.

I sleeve all my cards/components, so I don't notice the lack of "polish" on some of the components listed here. (And in fact, I hardly use most of the components. Just the role cards, pass/fail cards, mission board, and mission results trackers. Everything else is superfluous. In a pinch, you can play this game with a deck of cards quite easily. The game itself is incredible, so I'm happy to support the designer and publisher by buying multiple copies, but none of the components are important.)
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Max DuBoff
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I largely agree with what other posters have said, but I'll give two cents:

I don't play Avalon 5P when I can help it because there are too few Merlin candidates (plus I love 5P vanilla).

I think Avalon works quite well 6P (because there are 4 Merlin candidates) and consider it better than 6P vanilla, but both are good.

At 7P Avalon is pretty universally agreed to be better because it adds more skill and can be better balanced (7+P vanilla is unbalanced in favor of spies).

But I think the biggest error you make is in your assessment of non-Merlin play. A lot of people think Merlin needs to look like a PoR, but in reality, every player should do their darnedest to look like Merlin. If the non-Merlin rebels don't find the spies, Merlin will need to be obvious and then will get shot.
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Drew Hauge
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Clyde-- thanks for your comment and the suggestions re: vanilla Resistance modules. I also like the "Plot Thickens" cards that came with the edition I have.

Also, DC represent! I might have to get that microbadge myself.

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Clyde W
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drewhauge wrote:
Clyde-- thanks for your comment and the suggestions re: vanilla Resistance modules. I also like the "Plot Thickens" cards that came with the edition I have.

Also, DC represent! I might have to get that microbadge myself.

I'm not so into the Plot Thickens, but it's ok if you can't play Avalon. I think Avalon fixes every single thing PH tries to fix about vanilla.

I would also say that PH is far more "gamery" than Avalon. You have timing issues to deal with, etc.
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Daniel Blumentritt
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Quote:
The assassin winning on a complete guess should rarely happen?


Even if it's not literally a random guess, it still happens through luck about as often as you would expect based on a random guess.
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Max DuBoff
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Statalyzer wrote:
Quote:
The assassin winning on a complete guess should rarely happen?


Even if it's not literally a random guess, it still happens through luck about as often as you would expect based on a random guess.


This discussion comes up every so often, and while you're technically correct, good non-Merlin rebels make the Assassin not want to guess randomly.
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Jeff Shoot
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chg21012 wrote:
Where to begin...

It's a perfectly valid opinion to prefer vanilla resistance. But I do have a bone to pick with some of the specifics from my 150+ games of Avalon:
1) Vanilla is better with 5-6 players?
I actually fully agree with this one, although I think with 6 there's room for debate. Nothing is stopping you playing vanilla resistance with the avalon set.

2) Roles force some people to the background:
It's true in any social deduction game that some roles are usually more mischievous/involved/exciting. Definitely true here too. But I firmly disagree with the premise that the other roles are just background players. As a regular loyal servant, you have the task is deducing the identity of spies, looking for merlin undercurrents, while being flexible and vague enought to leave open the possibility that you might be merlin yourself. It's a delicate act that is an improvement on the base game of resistance because of the rich subtext the merlin dynamic provides. Sure, you might look down at your card and wish you were Merlin or a bad guy instead, but the game is still richer for regular villagers thanks to this subtext. Oh and more people get more involved roles than in base resistance. Side note:a Percival who gives away merlin's identity is playing badly.

3) Aesthetics not bwing thematic enough:
Obviously the theme is pasted on and the dystopia is better. But who has ever played a werewolf/mafia style game for the rich theme? The components are good but not great, but you spend most of the game looking at the other players anyway. If only average components is a major ding for you in this style of game, I think you're looking at the wrong criteria or maybe this isn't your style.

To sum up, your experience with the game is valid and you are not the only one who prefers base resistance. But your critique sounds like you took this game for a quick spin, had some players make newcomer errors that can quickly be learned from, and concluded because of that and the pasted on theme that the game wasn't for you.


Well, this critique of your critique seemed a little harsh to me... at first I thought overly so.

Upon second reading of the original review, however, it pretty much matched its tone, and thus seems appropriate.

My takeaway (from reading both) is that if you are only going to play occasionally or with newcomers, Avalon is probably not worth it, esp. if you already own Resistance. However, if you're playing with more people, and esp. if you are going to play it... like 150 times! surprise ... you'll find out what Avalon has to offer.

The longer I "game", the more I realize what kind of gamer I am influences the whole experience- sometimes MORE than the game design.
Appreciate BOTH of your insights... OP for the review, and of course Chris with such depth of experience! Good to hear BOTH sides of the "argument" so to speak. IMHO, both valid!
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