Dare to Challenge: A Review of Coup

Coup's influence cards

When it comes to picking a game to play with a large group of people, I immediately reach for The Resistance. Sure, it's incredibly difficult for one team (the titular Resistance) to actually win. And yeah, it's been known to cause shouting matches. But what's funner than an afternoon of yelling at friends? If you don't enjoy that, WARNING: Coup, a card game that takes place in the same universe, may create the same atmosphere.

The plot behind Coup is simple. As the Resistance is doing its thing, tearing apart (or failing to tear apart) the government, the people in power are playing their own game: Survival. Each player has influence over two members of the ruling class, and the goal is to wipe out everyone else's influence — basically by staging a coup d'etat. This is done through, as the tagline states, "secret identities, deduction, deception."

In the beginning, you're given at random two influence cards representing members of the royal court and an income of two coins. On your turn, you can either take your standard income of one coin, take two coins from foreign aid, or pay seven coins to initiate a coup against another player. Complicating matters is that each member of the royal court has a special position: Duke, Assassin, Ambassador, Captain, or Contessa. The positions have special actions or counteractions. Example, a Duke can levy a tax and take three coins from the bank or block another player's foreign aid.

A typical set up of Coup

Here's where the game gets fun: Your influence cards are a secret, so you can totally lie about which members of the court you represent. On my turn, for example, I can say my Duke is blocking another player's foreign aid, but the cards in my hand are actually a Captain and a Contessa. The other players have to decide whether I'm lying or not.

If they're not sure, I get away with it. Sucks to be the other player. But if they don't believe me, they can challenge me. Basically, player two can say "I don't think you have a Duke" and force me to reveal my card. If I'm not carrying a Duke, I lose one of my influence cards. And if you lose two influence cards, you're out of the game. On the flipside, if I actually have a Duke and someone challenges me, they lose an influence card.

Once a card has been revealed during a challenge, like in the last example, the influence card goes back in the pile and the player takes a new card. This throws off the other players because while they may have guessed I had a Duke before it was confirmed, now they have no idea which card I pulled.

The "challenge" is an interesting mechanic. It relies entirely on your ability to bluff. If you're terrible at it, the game ends pretty quickly. On the other hand, you could be dealt a great combination of influence cards, like a Captain who steals and a Contessa who blocks assassinations. Then there's no need to lie. The only goal then is preventing another player from accumulating enough coins to stage a coup. There's no way to block that.

Money, money, money

Games run pretty short — a two-player game can last between 5-10 minutes. The game can be played with a maximum of six players. Since each game is short, a fun variation might be to play Coup alongside The Resistance, using Coup to determine team leaders. But then you're just asking for a fist fight at your party.

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