Everyone needs a good party-game which involves you ruthlessly lying and backstabbing your friends. Here’s the why and the how of playing Resistance.
This story originally appeared in November 2018.
Sure, you could play Secret Hitler or One Night Ultimate Werewolf, or Coup, or Battlestar Galactica. (You should not play Mafia, or Werewolf, for reasons.) But there is no other game with the purity, the intensity, the logic and the tactics of Resistance.
My friend reckons we’ve clocked 200+ plays on The Resistance, and if we had our way, we would pull it out at the end of every games night.
- Designer: Don Eskridge
- Publisher: Indie Board & Cards
- Game time: 30+ minutes.
- Players: 5-10.
- Ages: 13+.
- Recommended for serious board gamers who want a lighter party game where you still use your brain.
- Not recommended for casual gamers who want a happy, uplifting game; or those who have problems lying.
Resistance is the perfect game to kick-off or round out a night of board games. Play while people are coming in, or gather people who want to stick around for one last game. The core of the game is subterfuge, deduction and betrayal, and has deep tactical elements.
A frequent complaint about Resistance is that it’s not tactical, but if that’s your experience, this is the article to forward to everyone else in your gaming group.
I’ve played the other deduction/party games. Some of them are okay. Some of them are good. But the game I’m taking to a desert island (assuming I’m stuck with 4+ other people) is Resistance. Here’s why you should play, and here’s how to get good at the game.
Fair question. Resistance has been around for a decade, so there are several variations.
But to cut to the chase, there are only two worth your consideration: Resistance: Avalon, and Resistance: Hidden Agenda.
The former sets Resistance in an Arthurian setting, in and amidst Mordred’s treachery against King Arthur’s court. Instead of single-use cards, it introduced player roles. Roles affect who or what you know in some way.
As the entire game is about deduction, this changes patterns subtly and differently every time you play.
The latter has identical mechanics, but re-sets these roles into the original dystopian setting of Resistance, as you play a band of Resistance fighters taking down a corrupt government. It strips out the ability cards of the original Resistance (which were okay, but adds some unexpected randomness, and remove the invaluable patterns of play), replacing them with roles.
This affects my nomenclature: I will continue to talk about the Spies and the Resistance (from the dystopian setting) as well as Merlin, Percival, and so forth (the characters from Avalon), but y’all are smart enough to follow, yeah?
Why is Resistance: Avalon / Hidden Agenda so good?
Let me set this straight.
Common to all versions of the game is this key mechanic: in and amongst a group of resistance fighters are double-agents who work for the evil government. So in a group of 10 Resistance fighters, 4 are Spies (i.e. secret double-agents).
Spies know each other. Resistance members are clueless. Over the course of five missions, each side needs to succeed at least three missions, which requires electing a subset of the resistance cell to go on the mission. It only takes one traitor (spy) to fail a mission. The Resistance has the benefit of greater numbers, but the Spies have the benefit of knowledge and choice (i.e. they’re able to succeed a mission to pull off a double-bluff).
Avalon and Hidden Agenda add extra roles, who know more and less which I have condensed to this handy table.
|Role (Avalon)||Role (Hidden Agenda)||Team||They…|
|Servants of Arthur||Resistance||Resistance||…know nothing.|
|Minions of Mordred||Spies||Spies||…know each other.|
|Merlin||Commander||Resistance||…know who the Spies are.|
|Assassin||Assassin||Spies||…win if they identify Merlin.|
|Percival||Bodyguard||Resistance||…knows who Merlin is.*|
|Morgana||False Commander||Spies||…pretends to be Merlin to Percival.|
|Mordred||Deep Cover||Spies||…hidden from Merlin.|
|Oberon||Blind Spy||Spies||…hidden from the other Spies.|
Notice that each role is designed to counterbalance each other. With Merlin, The Resistance gains someone with perfect knowledge, however with The Assassin, the Spies gain a second way to win, and ensures Merlin cannot use his knowledge to full effect.
Percival adds protection for Merlin, which prevents skilled spies winning too easily. However having a bodyguard who has complete and utter knowledge of another skews things in favour of the Resistance, so bringing in Morgana counters this and adds doubt.
Mordred removes Merlin’s perfect knowledge, but Oberon removes the Spies perfect knowledge.
All of that means that as you play, you watch the other players and notice when certain patterns of behaviour occur. You make your hypotheses, line them up against the cold hard facts (which are harder to get at than you might think), and use your logic. And with a bit of patience, everything slowly becomes clear. Unless someone is pulling a long con on you.
Playing as Merlin / The Commander
You know almost everything: Who cannot be trusted, and therefore who can be trusted. But you can’t let that on, because the spies win if they figure you out. So your constant conflict is to try to share some of your knowledge without letting on. If you’re playing with experienced and clever players, they’ll be watching your every move. One frequent tell of a Merlin is that although they might do a great job of acting clueless, they unintentionally vote correctly on every single vote, and always pick a perfect team.
In that regard, you have to intentionally play the game imperfectly. Don’t always vote correctly. Don’t always accuse a spy of being a spy, even though you know they’re a spy. Indeed, you can go a long way by pretending to trust a spy and vouch for them. But of course, you also want to be careful to not let the spies win too many rounds…
Merlin can be a difficult role. You have all the knowledge, but not all of the power. And you have a big target on your back. Having said that, there’s nothing better for learning the intricacies of the game then the pain of being Merlin, watching the Resistance being systematically dismantled by spies who know what they’re doing.
Conversely, there is nothing so delicious as being a Spy watching Merlin get more and more desperate while the Resistance flounders. They have a terrible dilemma – and they really need to share what they know, but also risking giving themselves away.
Finally, if Percival is added to the mix, do your darndest to locate your Bodyguard.
Playing as Morgana / The False Commander
Morgana isn’t a terribly difficult role. All the usual spy-rules apply (build trust, don’t play erratically). On top of that, pretend to be Merlin. Which is to say, try to identify Percival and build trust with them.
Playing as Percival / The Bodyguard
Bad Kevin Costner movies aside, The Bodyguard is one of the more enjoyable roles to play. In a simpler game, you’ll know exactly who Merlin is. So you can watch for their tells, follow their lead, and draw attention away from Merlin.
Also, because you know the identity of Merlin, you can always reliably put Merlin on the team and use that to reduce the odds of figuring out the Spies on any particular failed team.
A more advanced play is to behave exactly like you think a mediocre Merlin ought to. Make cagey declarations, but vote consistently. This means you need to be pretty good at detecting spies, but you can use Merlin himself as a bellwether.
Even if Morgana is added to the mix, knowing that exactly one of the two is a spy and one of the two is a good guy is very helpful knowledge. If one is a spy, the other must be trustworthy. That diagnostic will help you a lot once half the game unfolds.
Playing with The Assassin
Although The Assassin gets the final call on who to assassinate, the Spies get to discuss the assassination at the end of the game, so it’s worth taking everyone’s input. There are several things to look out for.
Sometimes you can identify a rookie Merlin because they always vote correctly, i.e. they always voted down missions when you, a known spy, were on the team. A more experienced Merlin will know to double-bluff.
If you notice people who have absolutely no idea what’s going on, that’s most likely to be a regular Resistance member. Don’t vote for them.
Thoughts on Strategy: Playing as a plain old Resistance member
The biggest mistake a lot of new players make is being too willing to approve a mission. Lets say there’s seven players. If you’re good (i.e. Resistance), then of the remaining six players, 50% of them are spies. Those are bad odds, given you only need one spy to fail a mission. So first and foremost, you should be wary of any team that doesn’t have you on it. Secondly, you should be wary of any team, full stop, because everyone except you is an unknown.
So my mantra is straight out of the X-Files: “trust no one.”
The biggest tool you can use is to walk through the logic, both forward and backward. Let me explain with a common example. Seven players. Three people go on mission #1. There’s one fail card played, so the mission is a bust. At that point, it’s simple human nature to distrust everyone on the first team. A common pattern I’ve seen is to launch mission #2 or #3 with a completely new team. That’s a perfectly normal psychological response, because you know now a fact: there is at least one spy on mission #1. But that’s a logical fallacy.
But the fact is this: the most likely scenario is that there is only 1 spy and 2 resistance members on team #1. (Why? Because spies have very little capacity for coordinating amongst themselves without table-talking and giving themselves away. So experienced spies will do their best not to put themselves on a team with other spies; for fear that they will both play a fail and out themselves.)
Assuming only one spy is on the failed first mission, then each person on mission #1 has a 33% change of being the spy, which is lower than you started with. Conversely, that means of the remaining three players (not including yourself), two of them (66.6%) are spies! That’s significant, and you’ll need to cross-reference that data against the voting data.
Also. Just because you’re not Percival doesn’t mean you can’t pretend to be a) Percival, or b) Merlin. If you sit back and play with exactly what you know (i.e. nothing), then you make it easier for the Spies to pick up Merlin, and that’s bad for you.
Having said that, don’t be too chaotic, otherwise your other Resistance members will not trust you. You can always respond, but the Spies need to instigate things, either by playing Fail cards, or putting themselves onto the team in some way, shape or form. That allows you to sit back and be reactive, which in this case is a good thing.
How to get away with being a Spy
My #1 play is to play consistently. I spend the first half of the game voting exactly the same way I would if I were a stock standard Resistance member, which is to say, vote every team down, and pretend I have no idea what’s going on.
Here’s another neat psychological trick I often use. People trust people who (ostensibly) trust them. We can’t help it – it’s basic human psychology. During the game, find something someone does that might plausibly earn trust – “look! She didn’t vote for the bad team. She must be good!” And vouch for that player consistently throughout the game. Insist they be on missions. Her first and second reactions will be to place trust in you.
You can extend that further, actually. A doctrine we often espouse in The Resistance is the “circle of trust”. As Resistance, you’re trying to establish who you can trust. If you and someone else trust each other, and you have good feelings about another person, then you’ve got a circle of trust. If you’re all Resistance, that’s great. But if one of you is a spy….
Playing with The Defector / Lancelot
Actually, don’t play with Lancelot. He’s a maniac. He ruins games. And not in a fun way.
My friend reckons we’ve clocked 200 plays of Resistance, I think it’s only in the 100s, but nevertheless this is a finely honed opinion based on many many plays, with experienced players and new players. I’ve played many of the other social deduction games. Some of them have a time and place, but nothing else has replaced The Resistance for me, and that’s high praise.
It’s a game that constantly has you growing and developing as a player. There’s the mechanical element, there’s the deductive element, there’s the psychological element, and it all combines to be a wonderful and delicious experience.
My final tip is this: remember to have fun. The Resistance is an intense game–which contributes to the game experienced. You want everyone invested in the game! But also remember to reflect on the experience. You’re having fun, and you can have fun even if you’re losing. Just remember to tee up a rematch so you can have your vengeance.