Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Resistance Review: Voltage over Current

I like Werewolf. Quite a bit actually. I’ve not had the opportunity to play it a lot since most groups I game with are Euro players more interested in strategy than player interactions and more irritated than some by the early and repeated player elimination. Getting enough people together to make Werewolf interesting can also be prohibitive, but there’s nothing quite like a well run game of Werewolf with a group that’s willing to really get into it, especially when played at a convention with 30 other people (I won that one, by the way...).

There are a number of recent Euro/Ameri-style games that use a traitor mechanic (including one of my own designs if it ever comes out), and I tend to play a lot more of these due to the reasons above, but they rarely evoke the same level of involvement and pure character analysis that a good game of Werewolf does. The Resistance successfully straddles the line between Werewolf and more "gamer-y" games with a straightforward system that provides significantly more information and clues as to who the "spies" are, while remaining open enough that the interpersonal aspect remains front and centre.

The system is extremely simple, to the point where everyone I brought this out with seemed initially dubious that it would even be interesting. There are two phases of voting in each round, the first done publicly with everybody to determine which players will comprise the "Mission Team," and the second done secretly by the mission team to determine whether that round’s mission was successful. Accidentally putting even one spy on the team is potentially disastrous since it only take one to sabotage a mission, but then again the spy may choose not to do so in order to earn the group’s trust.

Once players get into the swing of things, they may be surprised at the amount of subtlety present. There are a number of different ways to suss out who might be lying, and equally many ways to lie and subtly manipulate. I definitely recommend playing with the plot cards as these are anything but fluff and add a lot of complexity to the deduction while being quite straightforward and adding minimal randomness. The game definitely rewards being able to successfully read people and lie, but it also heavily rewards logical deduction. I frequently made my head spin trying to form an explanation for myself of who the spies were that could even match up with everything I’d seen and heard, regardless of who I suspected, realizing that my two prime suspects couldn’t both be spies, unless Player A was more savvy than I thought...

Despite its simplicity, the game is a tiny bit fiddly. There are several different sets of cards, and the way the mission cards need to be repeatedly sorted and passed around can cause some confusion. I haven’t thought of any solutions, and it’s more than acceptable given the game’s strengths, but it did turn off some players at first. For example, players are asked to close their eyes at the start ala Werewolf to allow spies to identify each other. At first several people scoffed at this as seeming stupid and unnecessary, and there is even a variant in the rules that allows skipping this step, but after a half-dozen plays I definitely think it improves the game in a number of ways if the spies know who each other are from the start.

If I were to point to any serious flaw, it would be that some games are not going to be as interesting as others simply because players get lucky and manage not to send the spies on any missions. This happened in my first game before we had gotten into the groove, and it seemed as though the game was outright broken. This situation is rare though, and the game is short enough that it shouldn’t be a big deal to ride out the occasional session where the resistance just gets lucky and the spies can’t do much except impotently scheme and pretend to look pleased, and if your group has eased into the accusatory spirit then even these less-interesting sessions are still enjoyable.

The game also seems noticeably better with more players. As I say, I’ve only played a few games, but I had a lot more fun with seven players than with six. The deduction becomes a lot more complicated, and there are more people trying to talk at once (which you want in a game like this). More players also makes the above issue occur less frequently.

The Resistance doesn’t quite scratch all the same itches for me that Werewolf does, but it has a number of notable advantages over it, the main one being no player elimination. And while I prefer it with more players, The Resistance does work fine with as few as five, which is not something I can say for Werewolf. It also feels like less of a popularity contest as there is more tangible evidence on which to argue your case (even if you’re a spy).

Despite the fact that there is more information on which to base your decisions, I generally prefer games with a little more "game" to them apart from the social aspect. My favorite hidden roles game is probably Battlestar Galactica since it combines the sociopolitical element with solid tactics and strategy and a well-fleshed-out theme. But it must be noted that Battlestar achieves its level of player involvement largely through it’s considerable gamelength. The Resistance had us vehemently arguing and hurling complex accusations in minutes.

In the end, if these sorts of social deduction games just aren’t your cup of tea, I don’t think The Resistance will convert too many people, but if the concept sounds at all interesting, or if you like Werewolf/Mafia but wish it didn’t have player elimination, then I suggest checking out The Resistance. On the other hand, doing so might put you on some government watch list, so maybe it’s safer if [Message Redacted]

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