Adam Porter
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With thanks to W Eric Martin for use of image


Avalon is a re-implementation of The Resistance, with a new theme set in the world of King Arthur, Merlin, and the Knights of the Round Table. The game excels with a large group of close friends, who are comfortable enough with each other to wildly accuse and deceive, without hard feelings.

Let me tell you a story about a grumpy man.

My first experience with The Resistance was not a positive one. Some time ago, I was introduced to the game, in a small-group configuration (5 or 6 players I believe), with a bunch of gamers who were unfamiliar with each other. The game limped on for 20 minutes or so, and we decided to play something else. I wrote the game off.

At a subsequent gaming meet-up, I overheard an adjacent table of nine or ten players howling with laughter as they repeatedly played The Resistance over and over again. Perhaps I was having an off-day; in the light of my previous experience, I was sorely tempted to go over to that table and dutifully inform the gamers that they were delusional: they could not possibly be having as much fun as they were purporting to be having, and their elaborate demonstration of phoney joy needed to end. Perhaps I could educate them further with a lovely quiet game of Tigris and Euphrates. Do other gamers have these thoughts? It's a rhetorical question; I don't really want a chain of responses telling me that they don't ever feel this way, that I'm a misanthrope, and that I should really stick to solitaire gaming.

Many months later, my non-gamer partner casually mentioned to me that she had invited a group of eight people for dinner, and that they wanted to play board-games. Unsurprisingly, my board-game collection doesn't contain too many 8-player gems, so I found myself in the game-shop perusing the party-game section. I confess to feeling a little miffed at the naive decision to invite eight people. One fewer and we could have played 7 Wonders. Take two out of the mix, and a myriad of options open up. With eight, Dixit Odyssey was a must, but what could we play after that? I had an inkling that my girlfriend wasn't going to endure the chaotic Saboteur. I'm still enamoured with the new world of board-games, and am loth to return to the world of Articulate, Pictionary, and Taboo. This holds me back from picking up newer party games such as Snake Oil or Such a Thing? which, fun as they are, essentially hark back to that old world: comfortable, unchallenging games for the uninitiated - the "jogging bottoms" of the gaming world. Yes, I am a gaming snob: I want my friends to be wowed by the beautiful aesthetics and ingenious mechanics of the new-generation board-games. Wits and Wagers won't cut it. Reluctant after my first experience of The Resistance, but encouraged by the excited buzz around the game, I picked up Avalon. At the very least, my girlfriend is a big fan of the BBC series "Merlin", so she would probably give it a go.

Avalon was a hit. Everyone enjoyed it, and it has become a staple for these sort of occasions. Reflecting on my past experiences with the game, it seems to me that this is a game for friends to play. If you play with strangers, you will find there is little substance to it. The game is all about spotting changes in vocal inflection, eye-contact, and shifts in the chair, wild unfounded accusations which force the traitor to decieve. Victory or failure depends on the traitors' competence at deception, and the faithfuls' instinct for detecting lies.



With thanks to BGG User mdanuser for use of image.


Very Brief Summary of the Rules

Players are given secret role cards, indicating that they are on the good-guys' team, or the traitors' team. Everyone closes their eyes, and the traitors make themselves known to one another. One player then picks a selection of people (usually 2-3 people) to go on a "Quest". Everyone votes whether they are happy with this group going on the quest or not, based on their own intuition as to whether these people are part of their own team or not. If the vote is passed, the group gets to secretly vote whether the "Quest" succeeds or fails. One vote for failure is enough to cause the quest to fail, and scores a point for the traitors. Of course, no-one knows which player it was who voted for failure (the votes were secret), so the accusations begin. The sequence is followed a number of times, until either the good-guys have scored 3 points (i.e. 3 successful quests), or the traitors have caused three quests to fail. One player on the good-guys' team will have been given a "Merlin" card at the start of the game. They have known all along who the traitors are (they were allowed to look when others' eyes were closed at the start of the game), and may have been giving clues to their own team-mates. If the good-guys have 3 points, and are about to win the game, the traitors now have a chance to accuse one player of being Merlin. If they are correct, they win the game instead.

There are a number of alternate optional roles included with the game, which alter the gameplay and balance, generally by giving more or less information to one team or the other. These can be introduced incrementally over subsequent game offering more variety and longevity.





With thanks to BGG user joakim589 for use of two images above.


Components

There's not much to it: a small box with a small selection of cards and tokens. Indie Boards and Cards favours an almost photo-realistic art-style which seems to split opinion. The same style is used in The Resistance, Avalon, Flash Point, and the upcoming re-print of Coup. Personally, I quite like it. The landscapes are sublimely illustrated. The characters are a little close-up and full-on, but still nicely done. The tokens are sturdy and useful. You may wish to sleeve the cards, since these give away a lot of information, and small bends or scratches will ruin the game. The rulebook is short and nicely done.



With thanks to BGG user jgoyes for use of image


How well does the theme hold up?

It doesn't really hold up. This is why the re-theme has worked so seamlessly. The Resistance could be set anywhere. The game is really about a bunch of people throwing around accusations. It is a re-imagining of Werewolf, which is in itself a re-imagining of Mafia. There's a great-looking re-working of Werewolf on Kickstarter as I write, revolving around foxes infiltrating a community of chickens (Fox and Chicken). I mention these other games utilising similar gameplay because they demonstrate how easy it is to paste a theme onto this central mechanic. This is not a negative. The reason the theme is so irrelevant is that when players send a team on a "Quest", we don't actually get to play out any part of that activity; we simply see whether it succeeds or fails. If the game featured actual fantasy RPG-style quests, it would all feel a little more thematic. This lack of thematic integration justifies the lavish artwork. The imagery screams Camelot at you throughout the game so we do, at the very least, have an atmospheric setting.



With thanks to joakim589 for use of image


Complexity

The core gameplay is not complex, but it can be a little confusing at first. This is partly because two key elements are quite similar in their implementation. The concept of using Approve/Reject tokens to pick a team initially resembles the concept of using Success/Failure cards to determine whether a round is won or lost. I have found new players get confused about which stage of the game we are in: Are we voting to reject a team, or are we voting to reject (fail) a mission? The game needs at least one individual to be very confident and familiar with the gameplay sequence, to guide others through it. This is also true of the initial opening-and-closing-of-eyes game set-up. The most familiar individual will generally lead this sequence, and again it needs to be done confidently to avoid confusion.

Once the rules are understood, the depth of strategy involved is immense. This is because strategy is not only based on mathematical calculations of who may or may not be the traitors (although there is an element of this), but also on fine nuances of body-language interpretation, acting ability, deception and bluffing. Poker players will excel at this game.

Complexity increases incrementally with the introduction of new characters, and tokens, with differing special abilities. The game has been produced with longevity in mind - you can constantly refresh by using new gameplay elements. These are also useful to balance the game. If the good-guys constantly win, you can throw a new element into the mix, tipping the balance in the bad-guys' favour, or vice versa.



With thanks to BGG user joakim589 for use of image


The Luck factor

Luck doesn't really play a part in this game. There are no dice-rolls. The character distribution is random, but this is carried out before the game begins.

Number of players

The game plays well with five. It is very manageable and easier to keep track at this number. It might be a nice way to start with the game, although it doesn't really demonstrate the game at its highly sociable best. Six to eight players is the ideal range for me. There is enough going on at that level for some quite involved deception and teamwork, while key details remain manageable. At higher player counts (9-10) it is easy to forget information that has been revealed previously, and the whole thing becomes a little chaotic. It is still fun though, and with a focussed group the game will shine at this level too.

Will my non-gamer partner and friends enjoy it?

Some will like it; others, not so much. Enthusiasm is the key. This is not a game to drag a reluctant aunt to the table. If players are interested in throwing themselves into a deep, sociable, experiential exercise, with a simple ruleset, they'll get on fine. There are a lot of laughs to be had playing Avalon. Players seem to be naturally good or bad at the game, and it can sometimes surprise you. It is not a particularly enjoyable game for a bad player. I have seen very intelligent players really struggle with the deduction elements, and ultimately switch off. This is a game which requires emotional intelligence, not just a high IQ. I would also add, it's a fun game to play while drinking, but one drunk player will ruin it! If someone gives too much information away accidentally, the whole thing falls apart. It is not robust in that setting like other more traditional party games.

You also need to think about which theme will be more attractive to your group - the original futuristic spy theme, or the Camelot fantasy theme. This will be a matter of personal taste.

What other games is it like?

Avalon has the same core ruleset as the original Resistance, but many have concluded that the central role of Merlin is a genuine enhancement to the game. That said, there is nothing stopping you from incorporating Merlin into your games using the original set. Indeed Indie Boards and Cards is producing "Merlin" promo cards using the original art-style to slip seamlessly into the original game.

Werewolf is the precursor to The Resistance (also known as Mafia). This game has been around for a long time. Avalon offers a couple of useful enhancements to the Werewolf concepts. Firstly, in Werewolf one player sits out of the game and distributes roles and information without taking part. Avalon and The Resistance involve all players in the game at all times. This also extends to elimination, which is a feature of Werewolf. In Avalon and The Resistance, there is no player elimination. Finally, Avalon and The Resistance play very well with only five players. Werewolf really demands eight or more.

The traitor mechanic is a fashionable one at the moment. Battlestar Galactica uses similar Success/Failure mechanics to The Resistance, but packaged within a much larger, and very much longer board game. For my taste, The Resistance takes all that is good in Battlestar Galactica and distills it into a focussed package. Saboteur is a simple card game for large numbers with unkown roles and deduction. There is a lot more luck involved in this game than in The Resistance, drawing cards and building a maze of tunnels on the table. There is also a lot more direct conflict, playing cards to prevent other players from doing their own thing. It is chaotic, but fun. Saboteur 2 introduces more roles and different cards, making it a more interesting game. The accusations that fly around the table in Battlestar, Saboteur, and The Resistance, all feel similar.

As a side-note, The Resistance: Coup is currently being promoted on Kickstarter. This is a different style of game, using a completely new ruleset, but set within the futuristic environment of The Resistance. This type of hidden-role game is more closely related to recent big-hit Love Letter, than the traitor games, but it does fit nicely in the setting. I have to confess to being disappointed that it isn't set in the Avalon universe. I would have much more chance of getting my partner to play it, if it was! Here's the link to the Kickstarter project.

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/2012515236/coup-bluff-an...

Positives:

- Highly social
- No-one is left out
- Plays with large player counts (but also good with five)
- Good production values
- Generates lots of laughter
- Simple rules, but lots of depth
- Complexity can be incrementally increased
- Balance can be altered by incorporating new elements

Negatives:

- Some players will be naturally bad at it, and this might turn them off
- It needs a close-knit group to really shine
- The setting is incidental - there isn't much thematic integration
- You need at least five people to play it

Is it a keeper?

The Resistance is an essential purchase for any board-game collector - which version is a matter of taste. It completely fills a niche. There are not many games for eight players plus, and this one works very well in a short time. It looks nice too!

See my other reviews at http://boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/146115/europhile-reviews-a...
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Anthony L.
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Adam78 wrote:
Reflecting on my past experiences with the game, it seems to me that this is a game for friends to play. If you play with strangers, you will find there is little substance to it. The game is all about spotting changes in vocal inflection, eye-contact, and shifts in the chair, wild unfounded accusations which force the traitor to deceive. Victory or failure depends on the traitors' competence at deception, and the faithfuls' instinct for detecting lies.


My first ever experience playing any Resistance game was a 6 player game of Avalon with total strangers at a convention. The only people in the game I knew was my one friend I went to the con with and the guy who owned the game who I met literally 20 minutes before the game. It probably helped that the two spies were myself and my friend, but we all absolutely loved the game, me so much that I went and bought The Resistance from one of the con vendors as soon as the game was over. I wouldn't say that you must play with friends, but rather, it depends on the particular people you are playing with.

Personally I find playing with strangers more fun. When you play with the same people over and over, you get to recognize patterns and behaviors over time, but with people you don't know, it's a lot more chaotic and exciting.
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