New year! New focus! New series of posts that I might even get to the end of this time!
I’ve probably spent less time playing computer games this year than I have any year since getting a 32K BBC B Microcomputer at age 10 (still the best Christmas present ever. Thanks mum and dad!). What’s filled the gap? Well, to a certain degree it’s been, y’know, this but it’s also been boardgames. Due in no small part to the impending arrival of aforementioned dangerously adorable time-consuming inconvenience, preparing for a proper RPG session has been incredibly difficult this year and so most of our more-or-less regular Monday night get-togethers have been spent messing about with lovely, lovely, no-prior-legwork-required boardgames. I’ve also taken considerable joy in inflicting the odd game or three on any family members who’ve been foolish enough to sit still for long enough for me to lunge at the bookshelf. And so! Why not splurge some words about my 13 favourite boardgames that I played in 2013?
No reason why not, that’s why not. And so: hurrah! Let us celebrate this new endeavour by immediately disregarding the rules and jamming two games into one slot!
Mascarade and Coup are both small, quick, light card games where each card depicts a role with grants its owner the chance to take a different action each round. The role you hold is determined by a card or cards that are dealt face-down in front of you, however you can take any action from any card so long as nobody challenges your claim. Unsuccessful challenges bestow a penalty on the challenger so you can’t call people’s bluffs with complete impunity. I’m grouping them together here because it’s fascinating to me that despite the fundamental similarity of their premises these games feel nothing like each other in play.
Coup is a game of calculation and bare-faced lying. It’s quite intense and very cutthroat, with negotiation and politicking playing a fairly major role – deals in the style of “target your assassin somewhere else and I won’t coup you next turn” are reasonably common. There are only five roles, three copies of each role in the deck and you know what the two cards in front of you are, so you actually have a decent amount of information about what’s in play, particularly as the game goes on and more and more cards are turned face-up. This happens if someone pays to have one of your cards killed, or else if you’re caught in a bluff or unsuccessfully challenge someone else’s role claim. Once one of your cards is face up, you can no longer claim its ability (unless you can convince people that your other card is a second copy of the same role, of course!) and if you have to turn over both your cards you’re out of the game so every decision to bluff or call is tense and weighty. It’s not enough to believe that someone’s lying, you have to weigh up how much you want to block the specific action they’re currently taking because if you call and are wrong it’ll see you halfway out the door.
Mascarade is a different animal. You’ve only got a single role card in front of you and there’s only one copy of each role in the game. Since anyone can use their turn to swap (or pretend to swap) cards with you and because you’re only allowed to look at your role if take your entire turn to do so you’re very rarely totally sure which role you’re currently holding. To balance that, if someone claims a role it’s not enough to know they’re lying (which they like-as-not are, they just might not know it). To challenge in Mascerade you have to counter-claim the same role. This leads to hilarious situations like three people claiming to be the King only to discover when they flip their cards over that none of them are. However since the penalty for unsuccessfully bluffing or challenging is much lower than in Coup, Mascerade is a somewhat loosey-goosey game with bluffs called frequently.
Coup is an icy game. There’s humour in it, but it’s black and vicious – the amusement of watching someone punished for their hubris. You win the game only by knocking everyone else out so you can’t get ahead except over the broken bodies of your rivals. The rulebook explicitly states that there’s no second place in Coup, there’s only one winner and a bunch of losers. By contrast, Mascarade is warm and jovial. There’s almost a feeling of everyone being in it together, because almost everyone has equally little idea what the hug is going on at any given time. There’s no player elimination and the win condition is accumulating 13 coins, so while you sometimes drag someone else down to lift yourself up it’s not actually necessary and it’s perfectly possible to win by just quietly taking coins from the bank until you hit the magic number. Coup’s defining moment is when you claim a third different role for your one face-down card and someone finally calls you, only for you to smirk thinly as you reveal that this was the time you were actually telling the truth. Mascarade’s defining moment the expression that crosses a player’s face after they’ve taken someone’s card to swap under the table and realised that they’ve forgotten which hand had which card in it and so are now at least as confused as their “victim”, to the general amusement of the table. Coup is a game for B’stards. Mascerade is a game for people who don’t take themselves too seriously. They’re both fantastic, although it’s entirely possible that your group/friends/family/random passers-by might take to one but not the other.
I love bluffing games. I am terrible at bluffing games. These will not be the last bluffing games on this list.