Friday, June 27, 2014

Friday Games at Work, Session II

Last week, I began running lunchtime boardgames in the conference room at work. Three people showed up and we had a good time playing Coup. 

This week, I ran it again. Five people showed up. I gave 48 hours notice this week instead of the morning of. At least one of the two new players said it was that advance notice that allowed him to show, so I guess some planning ahead does work! With six players, I switched up the game and got in two rounds of Avalon. I was the only person who had ever played it before, once. 

Overall, Avalon may be one of the most perfect party games I've ever played. It's heavy enough to be interesting, but light enough to be taught in minutes. For those of you unaware, Avalon is a "hidden traitor" game a la Battlestar Galactica or The Resistance (in fact, Avalon is made by the same people as The Resistance, and can actually be combined with that game). There are two groups: good guys who are servants of King Arthur, and traitors who are servants of Mordred. The bad guys know who the other bad guys are. The good guys do not know who the bad guys or the other good guys are. Each turn, a player elects a number of other players to go on a quest, and everyone votes to either approve or reject the elected group. If the vote passes, the players assigned the quest then vote secretly on passing or failing the quest. The quest vote must be unanimous, so if there is even one "fail" vote that turns up, the entire quest fails. Three failed quests, and the bad guys win. Three successful quests, and the good guys win. 

There is one other important wrinkle, though: Merlin and the Assassin. One of the good guys is Merlin. When the game begins, he gets to know who the bad guys are. The Assassin is one of the bad guys. If the good guys win, then the Assassin player gets to try and guess who Merlin is. If he correctly picks Merlin, the bad guys steal victory away from the good guys. So Merlin can be a great boon to the good guys in terms of choosing groups for successful quests, but if Merlin is too helpful, the Assassin may find out which player Merlin is, making victory impossible for the good guys. 

So the first game was a little clunky, but to my knowledge, we played it correctly. The two preceding paragraphs are literally almost all of the rules to the game, so it's even simpler than Coup. The good guys (my team) won. The second game was more intense, as the players became more comfortable with the rules and were engaging in more political behavior. The bad guys (again, my team) won by assassination. I was the Assassin, but thankfully I listened to my fellow Traitor instead of following my own instinct, which proved to be wrong. My co-conspirator had deduced who Merlin was, and we won.

I accidentially revealed I was a traitor in the second game. When I was re-explaining the victory conditions, I accidentially phrased "good guys" as "you guys." That unfortunately was all it took for two players to immediately jump on me, leaving me to awkwardly backpedal. Again, we won anyway, but had I not made that mistake, we might have won by questing rather than assassination. 

That actually leads to one of my two minor problems with Avalon: the high possibility of shenanigans. One accidential phrase, one accidential card flip, or one loud movement during the setup can potentially ruin the entire game. It's not that big of a deal because games are short and the possibility of shenanigans is equal on both sides, but nevertheless I can see a game getting very frustrating if things are intense and uncertain, and then one guy sneezes over his card and reveals he's Merlin.

My other minor problem with the game is the blend of deductive logic and politics. For whatever reason, this blend is a real strain on my brain. Keeping track of who voted what, properly inferring who is who from that vote, all the while making your own case for your innocence (or deception) can be very complex. Despite the short duration of the game and the ease of the rules, I find it as mentally exhausting as much longer, more complicated games. One can argue that that is part of what makes Avalon so awesome. I can agree to that, but I can't see myself playing this game more than once or twice in an evening of games. It'd just wear me out! I find Coup's blend of statistics/card counting and politics much easier to digest over extended plays.

Anyways, it was another exclamation point on an otherwise mundane work week. I plan on doing it again next week, and, if the player count exceeds eight, I'll finally be able break out Panic on Wall Street (ironically, this is the game I started this whole thing for, but attendence hasn't been high enough to crack it out, and I don't want to play it with anything less than its optimal player count).

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