The Force Behind The Power – Coup review

Coup COVER

It’s often been said that I am an idiot, it’s just that I don’t often admit it. After this year’s Essen, I came home with a stack of games that needed playing and so, dutifully, they’ve hit the table one by one. Sometimes the decision on what to play is made by seeing just what’s on top of the pile. Sometimes it’s triggered by reading a review or seeing a video and going “hey! I have that and really need to get a proper look at it!”. Sometimes the call is down to someone else looking through the stacks and picking something they like. And sometimes a game will sit on my table for days, weeks perhaps, just wanting to be played and getting bumped out by another title.

Coup, I am really really sorry. Sorry that you got bumped by game after game of Machi Koro. Sorry that you were ignored. But mainly I’m sorry that I didn’t crack the box open earlier, because it’s a bloody winner.

Regular readers will know that I am a fan of games where bluff and lies are at the forefront of play and Coup‘s simple mechanisms are powered by just that. Originally released by La Mame Games back at Essen 2012 with a kind of renaissance vibe, Travis over at Indie Boards and Cards picked up the licence and inserted it into The Resistance universe (a move that has brought in a fair few complaints, but I reckon it works fine – after all, it’s about the game, not the art, surely?). A Kickstarter campaign in early 2013 brought in $166,000 and the game is now hitting tables around the world on a regular basis as players lie, and lie, and lie again in a bid to be the most influential person at the table.

The game itself is pure simplicity. Five different roles are represented in a deck of fifteen cards – so, three cards each – and players receive two of these cards at the start of a round. These tell you the characters in the Royal Court that you currently hold sway over, but you do not reveal them unless entirely necessary. Think of them as your lives in the game, where if both get flipped over, you’re out for the rest of that round. Players also get a couple of coins at the beginning of the round, and the game is built around the idea of getting more income in order to perform a coup – in other words, forcing someone else to reveal one of their cards, losing them a valuable life and perhaps even kicking them out of the game.

plam plam plam

The six characters upon whom you’ll exert your influence! Click to make massive and check out the detailed art.

When play comes around to you, an action must be chosen. General actions are available – take a single coin from the pot, take two at the risk of being stopped, or spend seven to perform a coup, more of which on that subject shortly. The five different characters in the deck also have their own powerful abilities and you can choose to trigger one of them, regardless of whether you actually have one of their cards in front of you or not. Of course, doing this has its’ risks. You may say you have a Duke in front of you, allowing you to collect a hefty three coins from the central pool… but what if someone else has a Duke card face down before them? Or even two? The likelihood of you having one is much reduced, and it’s here where the fun starts. You see, if you don’t believe someone has the necessary influence card in front of them, you can call them out on it.

These challenges are brilliant but dangerous. The active player now has the choice to either back down and let play pass to the next person, essentially admitting that they have lied, or they can push on with their claim. If they choose to continue and they flip the card that shows that they do have the necessary influence at court, the action goes ahead, the card is shuffled into the deck and replaced with a new one. The challenger is punished, forced to reveal a card of their choice permanently, losing a life and bringing shame upon themselves – reflected in the fact that they now only have one face down card and their influence is much reduced after such a baseless accusation. On the opposite side, what if the challenge is right? The active player must admit their wrongdoing and the boot is on the other foot. Their lies have shown them up and a card is revealed in front of them instead! Thankfully, it’s entirely possible to win with a single face down card… it’s just an awful lot harder.

Some of the cards grant the ability to cancel actions – the Contessa, for example, will stop the powerful Assassin from killing someone. What’s even more entertaining is that you don’t even have to be the person being affected. Alliances are fragile and ever changing in Coup. One minute you can step in, saving someone from revealing a card, the next you can become the aggressor and utterly screw them over. It’s all down to bluff and making opponents believe that you’re holding certain cards. What you actually have in front of you doesn’t really matter that much… well, until someone else calls you on it. When that happens, it’s all about who blinks first. A coup action, however, is unstoppable – those seven coins are spent and immediately half your influence is gone. Such are the whims of this future society.

An alternative character, the Inquisitor, is also included in the box. Replacing the Ambassador (who has the ability to switch cards out for new ones from the deck), the Inquisitor does the same but more; they may also examine other players’ cards and even force them to exchange. It’s an extremely aggressive action to take, and one that will surely single you out as dangerous, but that’s all part of the fun.

Coup is not a game for the timid. It is best, in fact, when a bunch of forceful personalities are around the table, folks who are not adverse to a bit of trash talk and rubbing each other up the wrong way. Once you leave the table all is good in the world again, but that time spent playing the game gives you licence to be the meanest, most dishonest, cut-throat bastard around. In fact, I can’t think of anything I’d like to play more over the holiday season; it fits into the traditional Fox family Christmas of fights and arguments like a hand in glove. I just wish I’d started playing it earlier… I have so much to catch up on!

Designed by Rikki Tahta for La Mame Games, Coup is now available through Indie Boards and Cards. Between two and six can play, though I’d recommend three or more – the two player rules are a little different and offer a slightly weaker experience in my opinion. Games take anywhere from five minutes and upwards and I’d suggest playing the first to three rounds – with such a quick play time, Coup certainly has that “one more go” feeling down to a tee. Should you want a copy, Gameslore will see you sorted for a mere £11 – a bargain price for such an impressive little game. Chuck it in your bag with Love Letter and you’ll never be disappointed!

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