Every Week It's Wibbley-Wobbley Timey-Wimey Pookie-Reviewery...

Saturday 7 April 2012

Are you Loyal?

This last weekend I was lucky enough to try two games, both of which are semi co-operative. The first was Locke & Key: The Game, Cryptozoic Entertainment’s card game based on the Locke & Key comic book series written by author, Joe Hill. The other was The Resistance: A Game of Secret Identities, Deduction, and Deception, a social game for larger groups published by Indie Boards and Cards. That I played it twice in an afternoon of trying little games is indicative of which one of the two that I preferred. This though, will not stop me returning to review Locke & Key: The Game at some point.

The Resistance is a game of deduction set in the near future when a group of resistance fighters have banded together to bring down a powerful, but corrupt government. Members of the resistance believe that if they are to succeed, the Empire must fall. They are nearing that final objective, and need only to strike at five key bases. If three of these bases can be taken, Imperial strength will be broken, the people will be freed, and the Empire will collapse. Unfortunately for the members of the resistance, the Empire has infiltrated the subversive organisation with spies ready to sabotage the resistance’s efforts. It only takes one spy to pass information to his government masters and prevent one of the resistance’s missions from succeeding. Although the resistance suspects that one or more of its members are spies in the employ of the government, it does not know the true allegiance of every one of its members. So any leader sending members of the resistance out on a mission will have to choose carefully, and learn from the success or failure of the mission as to whose allegiance lies where…

Designed to be played by between five and ten participants, The Resistance shares many features with social games like Werewolf and Mafia, but in either case, it plays quicker, a game rarely lasting longer than thirty minutes, and nor it does involve players being eliminated from the game. It is also more focused, involving just the five missions. All the resistance has to do is successfully pull off three of these missions, whilst the spies need to betray three of the missions.

The game comes in a small box. Inside are several sets of cards, three sets of wooden counters, and a small card board. The cards consist of a Leader Card, plus Identity, Team, Vote, and Mission Cards. The Identity Cards determine which of the players are loyal members of the resistance and which of them are spies; the Team Cards are used to indicate which of the players are going on a mission; the Vote Cards to determine if a proposed team for a mission is acceptable; and the Mission Cards are used to determine the success or failure of a mission. The Leader Card indicates which player currently has the task of nominating the members of a Team that will go on the mission. The game’s board shows how many players of the resistance are actually spies and how many members need to go on each of the five missions. Using the counters, it also tracks the number of successful or failed missions, and the number of failed votes for the nominating a Team for a mission.

At game’s start, each player is dealt an Identity Card. On its reverse, it shows either a person wearing blue, in which case that player is a loyal member of the resistance; or it shows a person in red, which means that he is a spy working for the government. The number of spies will vary according to the number of players. It is never less than two, but in larger groups, it can be as many as three or four. A player’s Identity Card is never revealed, but before play begins, the spies reveal themselves to each other so that they can work together to undermine the efforts of the resistance. Everyone also receives a pair of Vote Cards, one for “Yes” and one for “No.”

Then the first Leader is randomly selected and given the Leader Card. It is his job to nominate the players who are going on the next mission. The number needed for each mission varies according to the number of people playing, but it always starts out at either two or three and grows. So in a five player game, the first and third missions only require two participants, but the others need three. In an eight or nine player game, the first mission needs three participants, the second and third needs four, and the fourth and fifth needs five. What this mechanic does is force the need to find the spies quickly as the requirement for more players increases the possibility that one or more spies will be included on the Team for that mission.

Once nominated, everyone gets to vote on the make-up of the Team. This is done by playing the Vote Cards, either a “Yes” or a “No” card. If the Vote passes, then the Team goes on the mission. If it fails, then the Leader Card is passed to the left and the new Leader gets to nominate the members of a Team for the current mission. If the Vote for a Team fails five times, there is too much dissent amongst the ranks of the resistance and the spies are deemed to have successfully prevented the mission from going ahead.

Should a Team be successfully Voted for, it goes on the mission. Each player on the mission now has the chance to determine its outcome. He receives two Mission Cards, one indicating a Success, the other a Failure. He will secretly play one of these two cards onto a mission pile. If he is a loyal member of the resistance, he must play a Success. If he is a spy, then he can choose to play either a Success or a Failure card. Once everyone on the mission has played a Mission Card, they are all revealed and the mission’s outcome is determined. If they are revealed to be all Success cards, then the mission has succeeded. If only one of them is a Failure Card, the mission has not been a success.

This continues until either the resistance has successfully completed three missions or the spies have successfully stopped three missions. The Resistance is as mechanically simple as that.

Yet, The Resistance is much more than this. Both sides are up against the time limit of five missions. Failure is an option in the game – certainly early on. Failure for the members of the resistance hopefully enables them to identity the spies, but failure for the spies enables them to hide their identities. Neither side can afford to fail more than twice of course… Whilst the primary means of working out who the spies are is deducing who played the Failure cards on a mission, a secondary means is by watching how the players vote for members of a Team.

In addition to the deduction, there is nothing to stop the players from accusing each other of being a spy. This can because one player has an idea that another really is a spy, or it could actually be a spy sowing dissension. In fact, table talk of this kind should be encouraged, and it really works if all of the players participate. Nor is there any reason to stick to the game’s futuristic flavour. Any conflict can be used as a source of flavour when playing The Resistance, whether that is Communist revolutionaries against the military junta of a Banana Republic or the Rebel Alliance against the Empire in Star Wars.

The Resistance is simple. It is quick. It is fun. It is easy to teach. It is a good group game, working well with gamers as well as non-gamers, both of whom will be able to grasp the rules and the theme of the game easily and quickly. The social dynamics will take a little longer, but for the most part, the participants are going to be supplying those themselves. It perhaps works best with six or seven players rather than five, or eight or more. At five players it is easier to identify the spies, whilst at eight players, it becomes harder, and the spies also need more than the one Failure to be played for each mission for it to fail. The Resistance: A Game of Secret Identities, Deduction, and Deception is an excellent social game, a good filler, and just working out who the spies are can be frustratingly fraught!

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