Coup offers a lot of game in a small box. The rules are easy, turns are quick, and every move is critical in establishing your influence over other players. Coup is a social deduction game pared down from the larger team-based affairs we have enjoyed over the years. Instead, each player strives to be the last standing through bluffing, double-bluffing, counter-bluffing, counter-double-butterscotch-bluffing, and, of course, telling the truth. As the game progresses and players are eliminated, more information becomes available and decisions become tighter. But getting knocked out is no big deal – the game is short enough you’ll get another chance soon; meanwhile, you can learn something about your opponents for the next round of Coup.
The current incarnation of Coup takes place in a similar sci-fi dystopian universe we enjoyed with its predecessor, The Resistance. But this time cloak-and-dagger take a backseat to aristocratic subterfuge as we exercise the influence of Ambassadors, Dukes, and deadly Assassins. While the titles of these characters offer a cohesiveness to the game, the mechanics of Coup are independent of its present theme and card names are typically used interchangeably with the ability they provide the player. Similar to The Resistance, where the Avalon title was made available as a fantasy-themed option, the dystopian motif could easily be substituted without affecting the atmosphere of the game; but the aristocratic landscape fits tightly into the shape provided by the mechanics and offers a great backdrop for suspicious glares and quiet distrust.
Oh the lies we tell, shamelessly posturing our way to victory.
COMPONENTS AND ART
There are very few components in this small box. Fifteen cards and a handful of tokens would fit well within the micro-game genre. The portrait-styled cards are well made and hold up to all the shuffling this game requires; however, players will spend most of their time checking the player-reference sheets provided rather than looking at the cards on the table. Use of these reference cards go a long way to teaching and learning the game and provide players with the information needed on cards they don’t have in front of them. As the most used component, I’d say the reference cards are easy to follow and just about the right size for their purpose (and the clever player might even use the uncertain interaction with a reference card as part of a bluff).
The basic goal in Coup is to eliminate players by forcing them to reveal both of their hidden cards. This is accomplished through character abilities provided by the different roles each card utilizes. There are multiple paths to forcing players to reveal a card but it’s very likely you will need to take an action provided by a card you don’t have.
That’s okay because you will spend half of the game pretending you have the cards you need to accomplish your goals, anyway. That brings us to the first mechanic on which this game hinges: bluffing. Oh the lies we tell, shamelessly posturing our way to victory. There is a risk to bluffing as getting caught means revealing a card of your own, but it becomes difficult to win a game without dipping into this well of deception and lies. Alternatively, it can be just as dangerous challenging someone else’s claim to an ability, for it puts one of your cards on the line. As players lose their influence and cards are revealed it becomes more difficult to mislead your opponents – which leads us to the second mechanism driving Coup: deduction. With only 15 cards (3 sets of 5 different characters/abilities), information is currency. The two mechanics – bluffing and deduction – constantly tug at players as they assess the risks involved in taking actions or challenging the actions of others.
Try this game if you like:
- The Resistance
- Love Letter
This one is a no brainer. As a very small, inexpensive game that can field up to 6 players in rounds of under 15 minutes, I really feel this game should be in everyone’s gaming “first-aid” kit. The short play time makes for a flexible filler, brief elimination periods, and convenient learning rounds for new players. The game gets tighter with the max number of players which really ramps it up in a good way. And like any good social deduction game, playing multiple games with the same group adds a complex dimension to building and detecting reputations and play-styles. I immediately fell in love with this game on our first night together and it has yet to let me down.
THOUGHS FROM THE PUB
A game that I really enjoy playing is Werewolf, but it tends to be hard to get out because you need a minimum of seven people to play. Coup fills in the gap with a lower player count that gives a very similar experience. It also plays quicker by providing individual decisions instead of having an open-ended discussion each round that could last for who knows how long. That is, of course, if you don’t take too long making your decision. I wouldn’t recommend doing this, though, as too much analysis paralysis will alert people to possible deception and you’ll likely be dead before you can say “I block your foreign aid!”
…that was a Duke reference; if you missed it. (Go check out our Microbrew)
Anyway, where this game fails for me is the interaction and role-playability that comes with Werewolf. In my opinion Coup is more of a deduction game than a bluffing one. Sure, you bluff but it’s mostly to help you figure something out. I spend the majority of my time trying to run the numbers: “What percentage chance does he have…[insert character here]” There are various strategies to figure these things out too but they can get a bit samey once you know them. Finally, what really grinds my gears are the guessers. Players who take a stab in the dark at who they think you are. It frustrates me to no end because they’re not playing the game, they’re flipping a coin.
Overall, I really do enjoy this game. It gives me the deduction and take-that! mechanisms I look for in games. It’s also an excellent replacement for Poker or Clue which I find very boring. BUT, given the opportunity I would much rather play Werewolf. That said, I would recommend you go ahead and buy this game for your collection. You get a fun little game for a rather low price that can be a nice filler when you need it.
When I first played Coup, my first inclination was to compare it to other social deduction games out there like The Resistance, but after further plays and thought it is more akin to Poker. Coup is a bluffing game. Yes, you do take on roles, but you have multiple at a time, and they can change throughout the game. Coup is more about using the information you have to know when to call someone’s bluff, or when to bluff yourself.
I think this is why I like Coup more than social deduction games. It is, in fact, more of a game than an activity. I love it’s simplicity and how much it packs into a short amount of time. It is a game with only a few cards but because it leverages player interaction so well it feels like a much bigger game.
The only negative I will call out is the learning curve. It isn’t huge, maybe just a few games to really be comfortable enough with the roles to not be looking at your reference card, but it is enough that your first couple games may feel disjointed or you may feel at a disadvantage with experienced players. The game’s strength is in its bluffing and you need to know the game well before you can do that.