So, games where you can bluff to your friends/enemies are pretty good right off the bat. Since every action is laced with an extra hidden meaning, these games mean you are always very interested in what your friends are doing rather than closing in on your own player area.
One such game that I’ve played a lot is Mascarade. A game of pretending to be different characters in order to accumulate money. While I’ve played it a lot and it has maybe the best art I’ve ever seen in a board game, I think I’ve found a game to surpass it. That game is Coup, a game of pretending to be different characters in order to accumulate money.
Coup is fantastically simple to teach and with a pretty straight forward objective, be the last player standing. Each player has two cards in front of them representing their lives, these cards will also have one of Coup’s cast of five characters on it. While nothing special the art here is ok and does the job. Coup also has the great quality of being cheap and portable, allowing it to come to my favourite location, the pub.
A player turn is nice and simple, only giving you one action per turn. You might take one of the generic actions, gaining a little money or spending 7 to launch a coup, eliminating one of a players cards. Another option is to claim you have a particular character to use their ability. At this point other players have an opportunity to call you out, asking you to prove that you are who you say you are, if you don’t then you sacrifice a card and move on step closer to being eliminated. But these accusations are also fraught with risk because if you falsely accuse someone, you will lose a card instead and the revealed character is shuffled in with the unused characters and replaced. This restores some secrecy to the accused player and allows them to continue bluffing away. You may also claim to be a character in order to counter another player’s actions and can be called out on this in a similar manner.
The bluffing and accusations are extremely high risk but also high reward, which I think compares very favourably to Mascarade. Mascarade does have a much less severe penalty for being wrong this goes in with the fact that in mascarade you don’t even know who YOU are. As a consequence Mascarade definitely has more potential for silly accidents where you both get your characters wrong, but the game does come with its own series of drawbacks that I’ve seen from playing it a lot. As the game is about hidden information a player who can figure out who they are has a serious edge, as such you are often obliged to spend your one action for the turn swapping characters to re-introduce some confusion. While this does offer potentially devious planning, I find that the obligation to give up your actions to stop your opponents all the time quite annoying, especially when anything you plan can be undone by other players doing the same.
This is not to say that Coup is without fault. If you get some good combinations of characters you might never feel the need to lie, and the high price for an incorrect challenge can make you timid sometimes. Another downside is that players can be eliminated unlike Mascarade where everyone is in until the end however unlikely you are to win. Coup’s cast of characters is also much smaller than Mascarade so the variety is definitely lacking. This makes me very interested in checking out the expansion that is available especially as it bumps up the maximum player count.
Having played both games I can definitely say that they feel different even though they superficially seem similar so you can own and play both no problem. But Coup’s high stakes, very fast play (~10 mins) and relative freedom from having to sacrifice your fun options to block other people make it the game I’ll probably be playing most from now on.
Thanks to @Gardnerd_ on Twitter for providing the game.