Disclaimer: I have both games. I have played both games. Neither game publisher has given me any money, promos, copies of games, tasty snacks or other bribes. This is my opinion and not yours. Sometimes my opinion may differ from yours and that's ok.
I've always liked traitor games and secret identity games. There's just something inherently fun about deception and backstabbery in the gaming world. In D&D I usually played the Thief (back before they gave him an image makeover and started calling him "the Rogue"). So when I first picked up The Resistance a couple years ago I couldn't wait to flex my prevaricating muscles and sprung it on my game group ASAP.
It was...ok. My main gripe with it was the complete and total lack of any backstory, theme, flavor, characters or theme of any kind. Just a threadbare intro about a resistance trying to accomplish missions and some dystopian future government sending spies in to stop them. Well, I sort of inferred the dystopian part from reading William Gibson novels, and it's not entirely clear if the government is actually all that bad. The picture of skyscrapers show that they at least have a decent architect working for them. Still the government traitor cards show people scowling in front of a red/black background with upturned collars and goatees, so they must be evil. I guess.
Needless to say we weren't blown away and were actually a bit underwhelmed by this otherwise lean and elegant traitor game. Soon the Resistance disappeared on my bookshelf (partially because the box is so tiny) until a couple days ago. Then we played it again back to back with Shadow Hunters. This brings me to my comparative review: do you need the Resistance, Shadow Hunters, or both?
Note: My game group is usually 5-6 players which is on the lower end of the player count spectrum for both games, so please note that your mileage may vary.
The Resistance, as previously mentioned is practically themeless. It styles itself a "social gaming experience" and feels like a party game where everyone is talking rather than hunkered over a table staring at cubes and VP tracks. The lack of theme makes it attractive to the literalists in my group who have no interest in learning a new vocabulary or remembering that orcs hate elves. Still, I would have liked some semblance of a story.
Shadow Hunters on the other hand took a completely opposite approach. This game is almost too thematic. From the anime artwork to the horror inspired characters, special powers and equipment there is theme wherever you look here. That theme is very heavy handed though, and for those who like their games without meat cleavers and blood sucking may even be prohibitive.
How the Games Play
In the Resistance it's the rebels against the spies in their ranks. The spies know each other's identities and can collaborate a little. A lot of the tension lies in the spies going on missions and letting them succeed only to sabotage the next one and sow confusion among their duped associates. It's simple, yet effective. No board, no dice, no drawing cards (well, the advanced game has a few cards to mix it up). This is the traitor mechanic at its most pure.
In Shadow Hunters there are 3 factions: Hunters, Shadows and Neutrals. The Hunters want to kill the Shadows and the Shadows want to kill the Hunters. The Neutrals just need to stay alive or fulfill a special goal. You move from area to area by rolling dice and then use Hermit Cards to glean clues about the identities of the other players. Once you're ready, you can reveal your identity and start using your special power to kick ass and take names, but then expect the other faction to squash you like a bug if they get a chance. This makes the game have a relatively slow build up when nothing much happens for a while and then a furious endgame of attacking and player elimination until a victor emerges from the bloodbath.
So if you like pure deduction then the Resistance will appeal. Shadow Hunters tosses in the randomness of the dice, cards and some old school player elimination (not too bad because usually once someone dies the game is almost over). Shadow Hunters also has a large character roster as opposed to the generic non-characters of the Resistance.
I like both games. Shadow Hunters gets the edge for me because I'm a sucker for theme, but I can also see where its reliance on all those thematic details bog down the game a little and make some of it about the luck of the draw. The current edition comes with the 10 characters from the expansion.
For a five player group, Shadow Hunters is the better game. There is just more game there. Just make sure the art/theme are to your liking first.
However I'm not getting rid of the Resistance just yet. It's a different game entirely, and the lack of player elimination and general party game accessibility makes it a keeper. Still I'll probably switch it out for The Resistance: Avalon because I love the Arthurian legends, but even that is on the dry side.
I'd give them the same ratings, but for different reasons.
In The Resistance, everyone is claiming to be good, but a subset (who know each other although no-on else does) are actually bad. It's about the bad guys trying to stay hidden for as long as possible by use of bluff and misdirection without their actions giving them away (and at some point they will have to act if they want to win). It's almost a reworking of Werewolf without the clunky nightly lynching phase.
In Shadow Hunters there are two teams (one notionally good, the other bad) and some independents with their own unique win conditions. You need to figure out who everyone is, find out who's on your side (assuming you're on a team) and what independents are in play because some of them can snatch a solo win unexpectedly.
The Resistance is a much tighter design. However, while I enjoyed it immensely at first it paled quickly for me. I find it plays much the same each time and (with experienced players) can really drag with single votes taking 5-10 minutes as the 'debate' gets stuck (sometimes people can tease out a 'tell' from a bad guy, but often it just feels like louder and louder waves of people shouting 'No, YOU'RE a spy!!!')
Shadow Hunters' mechanics are clunkier but there's a bit more to it including some tactical elements to go with the theme. That there are two teams, independent players, and no-one knowing anything about the other players' alignments at the start mean for me that I think it requires more careful deduction based on how the other players interact with each other. Plus there's one character who's allowed to lie about his alignment in certain situatons meaning you can't always be 100% sure the information you get from the card play is true. Plus once everyone is revealed it's not a given that one side will win (although I think it favours the good guys - aw, sweet) And finally, it's always fun to be a Vampire with a chainsaw.
I've sold on The Resistance but have kept Shadow Hunters.
This space for rent.
I vote for Shadow Hunters over The Resistance as well. For me, the neutrals are really what makes this game. It's not just us versus them, it's us versus them and possibly the neutrals. I like The Resistance as well, but I like the chaos that can ensue in Shadow Hunters even more.