#8 – The Resistance: Avalon

The Resistance - Avalon 001

Base price: $20.
5-10 players
Play time: 30-60+ minutes, depending on your group.
BGG Link
Buy on Amazon (via What’s Eric Playing?)

Well, this had to happen eventually.

The Resistance: Avalon is an expansion / sequel / sort-of-that-Timon-and-Pumbaa-Lion-King-1.5 to The Resistance, a social deduction game about spies trying to infiltrate the eponymous group in order to sell them out to their corporate masters or something. I don’t really know if the plot matters all that much, but it’s kind of also like Mafia? In Avalon, however, the spies are now minions of Mordred, the traitorous villain from Arthurian myth, and The Resistance are loyal followers of King Arthur, locked in a lengthy old-timey conflict for the ages. Or something. I will henceforth refer to “spies” as “bad guys” and the Resistance as “good guys”, for simplicity.

Contents

setup / how things work

There are a lot of moving parts, here, so let’s get a few things straight, starting with the goal of the game.

aside – what’s the goal of this game?

In Avalon, your goal is to “win” three out of five quests for your team, be it good or bad. You do this by going on quests with a team assembled by that quest’s leader, and playing a Success or Fail card. While bad people can play Success or Fail, good people can only play Success. This is important. Unless otherwise stated, it only takes one Fail card for the quest to fail. This may seem a bit confusing right now, but it’ll make more sense shortly.

It’s very difficult to set this game up without understanding how the game works, so I’m going to dangerously attempt explaining both simultaneously, and then going a bit deeper in the next section. First, take a playmat out of the box corresponding to the number of players you have, along with the shield, crown, and success/fail tokens and cards. Setting those aside, your play area should look like this:

Avalon Play Area

Quickly explaining:

  • The crown token designates the leader for the round. The leader chooses people to go on the quest, and gives them each a shield token.
  • Once the quest is approved (more on that shortly), each player on the quest gets a Success and Fail card.
  • The blue and red cards are for the Success and Fail cards during a quest. Players will play their chosen card face-down on the blue card, and discard their leftover card face-down on the red card, so nobody knows what they played.
  • The blue tokens on top are for denoting successful or failed quests (they’re red on the other side). Once a quest has succeeded, cover it with a blue token. If it should fail, use a red token instead.
  • Finally, the purple bag token denotes what voting round we’re on.

So, what does it mean to “approve” a quest? As you might have surmised from the last bullet, everyone votes on whether or not a quest should go. To enable that, take these tokens out of the box and give one to each player:

The Resistance - Avalon 023

I’ll explain more of the strategy behind voting later, but you might be able to reason out how it works, given there are “approve” and “reject” tokens and the leader proposes a quest. Now, take all the character cards out of the box (they’re the ones with pictures of people on them and probably one of only a few things left in the box), and sort them into “good” and “bad” piles.

Good guys look like this:

The Resistance - Avalon 014

Note the blue background and the blue symbol.

And bad guys look like this:

The Resistance - Avalon 013

Note the brown background and the blood.

Cool. Now, in Avalon, the bad guys all know who each other are (unless otherwise stated), and the good guys do not. This means that the bad guys also know who all the good guys are. Now that you’ve done that, you should have noticed that some roles have names on them. I’ll go through each of them in turn and briefly explain what they do or get to know. Note that all of these roles are optional, and you can play Avalon without utilizing any of them. I’m not sure why you would, though. Bear with me; this is gonna get complicated:

The Resistance - Avalon 006Merlin. This super-impressive wizard is the goodest of good guys, and he has access to secret wizard knowledge. Namely, he gets to see all of the bad guys at the start of the game. This is really useful for the good guys. In fact, it’s a bit overpowered. What’s to stop Merlin from just saying at the start, “I’m Merlin; all of these guys are bad.”?

The Resistance - Avalon 010The Assassin, namely. Should Good win three out of five quests, the bad guys can use the Assassin’s ability to kill one good guy. If they kill Merlin, the bad guys win. Just, straight-up. So it might help Merlin to stay hidden. However…

The Resistance - Avalon 007

Percival is kind of a boon to Merlin. During the setup phase, Merlin shows himself to Percival, giving Percival a clear idea of who to trust. Also, it means that Percival can attempt to make the bad guys think he’s Merlin, and take the bullet or sword or whatever people in Arthurian times settled their differences with. It’d be great if things were that easy.The Resistance - Avalon 009

However, Morgana makes things more complicated. During the startup phase of the game, she appears as Merlin to Percival. This means that Percival sees two people, but only one of them is actually a good guy. How confusing!

Author’s Note: These roles are really for advanced games only, as misusing them can really tilt the scales in one team or another’s direction. Use at your own risk, kids. They’re also fun as hell.

The Resistance - Avalon 005Mordred: Unknown to Merlin. Just when you thought it was easy to be Merlin, Mordred shows up. He’s invisible to Merlin, so Merlin sees one fewer bad guy. This makes the game MUCH harder for good guys, as Mordred still sees other bad guys and they see him.
The Resistance - Avalon 008

Oberon: Unknown to Evil. If you want things to get real strange, add in Oberon! He’s a bad guy who doesn’t see other bad guys, and they don’t see him. To make things more confusing, Merlin still sees him as bad, but doesn’t know that he’s Oberon. Fun!The Resistance - Avalon 011

The Lancelots. These promo guys (currently out of stock, sorry!) are so confusing that they have their own special cards. Why are they confusing? Because there’s Good Lancelot and Bad Lancelot, but sometimes? They swap. Now Good Lancelot is bad and Bad Lancelot is good! This is exceedingly complicated and will throw off new players, as the Lancelots don’t change role cards, they just know. However, for balancing purposes, Bad Lancelot, like Oberon, does not see other bad guys, but other bad guys and Merlin still see him, for what that’s worth.
The Resistance - Avalon 012

GuinevereNot a “real” role, but perhaps a bit necessary to balance out the rampage that is the Lancelots. She sees both Lancelots, but not their alignments. This helps good since Good and Bad Lancelot on a quest is a guaranteed failure.

Alright, so now you know a bit about the characters (or maybe more than you wanted to know). Mix them up and deal them out. I will say that there are some suggested / demanded / required pairings:

  • If you have Merlin and Percival, you need Morgana as well.
  • If you have Morgana and Percival, you need Merlin as well. Duh.
  • If you have The Lancelots, you need Guinevere as well.
  • I cannot recommend playing with Bad Lancelot, Oberon, Mordred, and Morgana, but you do you.
  • I would not play Oberon or Mordred with any fewer than 7 or 8 players.

There is one other way you can play…

randsistance

This is a more aggressive setup for advanced players and smaller games. Usually, this is what I’ll play if I’m playing a five- or six-player game. If not playing with the Lancelots, shuffle all the good guys and bad guys and create a deck randomly (four good and two bad for six players, for instance). Then dole out the roles randomly. These games tend to be short and terrifying, as it’s possible to get things like:

  • Merlin and Percival, but no Morgana
  • Oberon and only one other bad guy
  • Percival and no Morgana or Merlin
  • or, worst of all, Percival and Morgana, but no Merlin.

This can cause some crazy situations. Just play the game as best as you can and hope for the best.

If you’re playing with the Lancelots, you should take them and put them both in a pile of two, and then make randomly-generated piles of one good and one bad guy. Take what you need, then fill in the remainder so you have the correct number of good and bad guys, then deal out roles randomly. You may be playing with the Lancelots, but if you are, then you’re playing with both.

Other than that, go crazy! Let’s talk about how to actually play Avalon.

gameplay

So, once the game is set up and everyone has their roles, all players should close their eyes and put their hands out in front of them, closed. This begins the information phase of the game, where people get to learn things. I’ll just include the steps that you should go through (unless you’re playing with the Lancelots, in which case this changes somewhat).

  • All spies (except Oberon) should open their hands and eyes. Give them a second to establish who each other are, then have them close their eyes and leave their hands open.
  • If playing with Mordred, he should close his hand now.
  • If playing with Oberon, he should open his hand now.
  • Merlin should open his eyes. Give him a second to see who the spies are, then have him close his eyes.
  • All spies close their hands.
  • Merlin and Morgana open their hands.
  • Percival opens his eyes. Give him a second to see who Merlin and Morgana are, then have him close his eyes.
  • Start the game.

That’s the basic setup. If you’re playing with the Lancelots, use this setup instead:

  • All spies (except Oberon) should open their hands, but not their eyes. 
  • Each spy in turn (except Bad Lancelot and Oberon) should open their eyes, see the other open hands, and then close their eyes. No two spies should ever have their eyes open at the same time, so that no spy knows which player is Bad Lancelot.
  • If playing with Mordred, he should close his hand now.
  • If playing with Oberon, he should open his hand now.
  • Merlin should open his eyes. Give him a second to see who the spies are, then have him close his eyes.
  • All spies close their hands.
  • Merlin and Morgana open their hands.
  • Percival opens his eyes. Give him a second to see who Merlin and Morgana are, then have him close his eyes.
  • Lancelots open their hands.
  • Guinevere should open her eyes. Give her a second to see both Lancelots, and then have her close her eyes.
  • Start the game.

Usually, we start the game by either using Chwazi or spinning the crown token and whoever it ends up pointing at is first leader. (In subsequent games, whoever was last Merlin goes first.)

As previously stated, the leader proposes a quest based on what size quest is on the playmat for this round:

Avalon Play Area

So, for reference, in a 6-player game the first quest has two people. Actually, let’s talk about quest planning real fast:

  • Once you’ve picked a quest, everyone (including you) votes in secret and then reveals their vote. If there are more “Approves” than “Rejects”, then the quest is a go! Otherwise, nope. Try to pick quests that will get widespread approval!
  • If you are good, you want to go on quests. This is so that you can play a Success card and potentially win a quest for your team.
  • If you are bad, you want to go on quests. This is so that you can play a Fail card and win a quest for your team. Oh, wait.

As you might surmise, you pretty much only want to take good people with you on a quest, regardless of your role. This is so that you have a high chance of success if you’re good, and you can scapegoat another player if you’re bad and choose to play a fail. Also, it’s kind of awkward if your two-person quest goes and both of you are bad and play fails. That’s a “Double Fail”, since it’s really not hard to name things like that. You will likely never go on a quest again, should that happen to you.

Once you’ve proposed a quest, there’s a bit of discussion, usually from people asking you to take them on your quest instead. This can go on for a while, so don’t be afraid to force the vote by counting down from 3 or 5. Once you’ve counted down, everyone reveals their tokens, as previously stated. Most people use the votes to try and determine other players’ alignments and roles, so don’t get too discouraged if people don’t vote the way you’d expect. In fact, feel free to ask people why they voted the way they did.

Alright, you pick a quest and it gets rejected. Sad times! You lose your leader status and it’s the next person on your left’s turn to be leader. Move the purple bag token up one on the vote track. You might notice that the “5” on the Vote Tracker is red. If the fifth vote gets rejected, bad guys win the game IMMEDIATELY. This usually means that the fifth quest proposal gets automatically accepted, but you should still vote anyways.

Instead, let’s say you pick a quest and it gets approved. Congratulations, maybe! You might want to be suspicious if too many people approve your quest. Note that bad guys know who other bad guys are, so if they all approve your quest, you probably brought along a bad guy. Take a success and fail card and play the one that you think is best. Remember, even if you’re bad, you can still play Success cards. This helps convince people you’re not bad, probably.

Now, someone shuffles the blue card pile and reveals them. One of two things can happen:

The Resistance - Avalon 021

All successes! Hooray! This means almost nothing in the early-game, since bad guys can play success cards too. However, in the late-game (especially if bad guys have won two quests) this might mean that everyone on your quest team is good, which is critical to winning.The Resistance - Avalon 022

One or more fails! Oh no! Someone played a fail card on your quest, meaning that there is at least one bad guy. Now you have to find them and kick them off your subsequent quests. Unless that bad guy is … you.

Gameplay continues like this until:

  • Good wins three quests. Then the Assassination Phase begins.
  • Bad wins three quests. Then the game ends.
  • The fifth quest proposal is rejected. Then the game ends. Bad wins!

Let’s talk quickly about the Assassination Phase.

The Assassination phase

So, good’s won three quests. Now, the Assassin reveals their role (and nobody else’s) and tries to decide who Merlin is. It’s usually good practice for everyone who isn’t a bad guy to remain silent. They play their role card on top of the role card of their assassination target, and their target reveals. If they reveal Merlin, bad guys win! Otherwise, good guys win!

That being said, I don’t particularly like this for three reasons:

  • Games can be won or lost randomly. In a 5-player game, this means the spies usually win because they have a 1/3 (usually 1/2, honestly) chance of guessing Merlin.
  • Lot of pressure on the Assassin. That’s a bit stressful of an endgame, and it can be a bit irritating.
  • The “who is Merlin” discussion drags on. Sometimes people can take, like, 15+ minutes discussing who they think Merlin is. That means you’re sitting in silence for that entire time, if you’re good. This is really boring.

I’ve proposed a different version of this, namely “Assassination By Committee”, that works as follows:

  • Nobody reveals roles. 
  • There is a 1-2 minute discussion, followed immediately by a blind vote. Only bad guys vote, but all players close their eyes.
  • Whoever gets a plurality of the votes is assassinated. If no plurality occurs, then nobody is assassinated.

I’ve playtested this a few times and I think it works a lot better. Merlin still gets assassinated if he’s being too obvious, but it prevents the Assassin incorrectly overruling other teammates and takes a lot of pressure off of them. It also introduces a failed assassination effect, which could be interesting.

The Lancelots

One last thing before I go to strategies; the Lancelots. Like I said earlier, these guys come with their own deck of cards. It’s 7 cards with two intertwined snakes on the back. Now, five of those cards are blank, but two of them have this symbol:

The Resistance - Avalon 003

We’ve also kicked around the name “Swapsalot”

Shuffle that deck before the game starts, and immediately before proposals begin for a quest, flip and reveal the top card. If it’s blank, no swap. If it’s a swap, a swap occurs. Note that this happens after Merlin sees the spies, but before any quest 1 teams are proposed. It adds in a lot of chaos, which is always nice.

strategy

This is a social deduction game, so a lot of the strategies depend on who you’re playing with, but there are definitely some basic suggestions that you should usually keep in mind.

  • People are watching how you vote. That can be used to help convince them you’re good (you rejected a quest that failed!) or can betray your role (only one player rejected every single quest with a bad guy on it — they must be Merlin!). Keep that in mind.
  • You CAN claim roles, but that eliminates potential Merlin targets. If you absolutely need to prove that you’re good, you can claim your role, but now people know that you’re not Merlin. However, this means that Merlin can also claim roles. This can cause problems if someone counter-claims, though, so be careful.
  • Beware false dichotomies. You’ll see this a LOT.  “A quest failed! That means either the new person added is bad or one of the previous team members is bad!” Now, while that seems pretty much correct, you fail to consider that two people could be bad in this situation. Most of the time this happens with one-fail quests. People will say that one player is good and the other is bad, but really, they could both be bad.
  • Don’t give up. Usually, people take a lack of participation as a concession that you’re a bad guy. This isn’t good, especially if you’re not bad. Depending on your group, people might be being a bit aggressive, but just aggress them back!
  • Make sure your arguments are consistent. Inconsistency leads to being a bad guy, and people will catch you when you misspeak or argue something that’s incorrect, so make sure you’re not saying the wrong things.
  • Don’t rely too much on metagaming. People will tell you that they always do something in X or Y situation, but that’s inherently untrustworthy. At any point, someone can try to change up their gameplay style, and if you’re relying on their metagame, this can totally wreck you.
  • Beware people trying to speed up the game. It’s not a 1:1 correlation, but people who try to quiet discussion and speed the game along are more often than not bad guys. Or they’re just REALLY impatient, which, for long games is a real thing. I tend to speed the game along if possible regardless of my role because I prefer faster games.

There are other sub-strategies that depend a bit more on who you’re playing as, as well, but those are fun to figure out. The only major one is trying to convince Percival that you’re Merlin, if you’re actually Morgana. That’s pretty much a game-winner if you can do that, which is fun.

pros, mehs, and cons

pros

  • Lends itself well to a lot of memorable stories. This is the kind of game where victory is often snatched from the jaws of defeat, and it’s fun to be on the winning side of that. Usually there’s at least one particularly memorable game each night that I play it where someone tricked someone amazingly or was perfectly convincing or played a perfect Merlin, and there’s a lot to that.
  • Also lends itself well to storytelling or worldbuilding. I’ve played with groups that demand that the leader explain why the quest they’re picking is worth going on or provide a small narrative, which is pretty fun.
  • Having a role with a special ability is fun. This is just my opinion, but being a generic good guy is kind of bland. Being able to see bad guys or Morgana or the Lancelots is all really fun.
  • Being a bad guy is also fun. It’s fun to have to spend an entire game lying and convincing people to trust you when you’re obviously evil.
  • The game components do well to build a sense of urgency. The counters and trackers all show who is currently winning, and there’s definitely a sense of “if we lose this round, we’re losing the game”. Which is fun!
  • Game is fairly well-designed. The only reason the gameplay falls apart a bit is because it’s a social game and depends on people, who can run their mouths forever.
  • Good party game. I’d say BANG!: The Dice Game is a bit better just because it’s much easier to learn, but this supports more players. It’s also super fun once everyone knows how to play.

mehs

  • The Lady of the Lake token. I get why it’s there (you use it on someone and they show you their alignment), but I haven’t played with it a lot. I think there are enough ways to get information around in Avalon without having to add extra complexity to a complex game.
  • Cards pretty much need to be sleeved. Any minor damages to the cards could be discovered by a discerning player and break the game.
  • The information / “night” phase is pretty lengthy and boring. This could very easily be solved by an app that just assigns you a role and tells you the information you should know about other players.

cons

  • Not really great with 5 or 6 people, with the traditional rules. Having only two bad guys makes the game pretty difficult, but there are also not enough good guys that guessing Merlin is that difficult either. It makes the game a bit crappy.
  • Lends itself well to way too much lengthy ‘logical’ discussion. People have a lot of opinions and if you let them carry on, you can get 15-minute discussions without a vote taking place. Some people want to try and logic out the entire game, and they will if you let them. This can really draw out the game.
  • Lends itself well to jerks. People getting to make too many effectively ad hominem arguments can actually hurt people’s feelings, especially with the large investment players make into maintaining their roles. If you’re playing with a jerk, this can make for a really ugly game.
  • One misstep can burn you. If you accidentally call the wrong person a bad guy or approve a quest that you know nothing about, you can be outed as a bad guy by the right player. This makes the games as bad guys fairly tense, especially because:
  • If you get outed as a bad guy, you’re effectively eliminated. An outed bad guy will never get taken by anyone on a quest, as it’s a guaranteed fail added to the pot. This means that person just sits there and is ignored by literally everyone, even their fellow bad guys.
  • Long setup. You can just read the first part of this write-up. This game takes a  while to set up. Especially if you have to explain the characters to everyone.
  • STEEP learning curve. Usually the first game with new people is pretty rough, especially if you’re playing with a lot of the special roles. It’s a lot to remember and get used to, and more often than not they forget or reveal that they’re Merlin or some other terrible thing happens, wrecking the game. This leads to a lot of frustration directed at them, which is unfortunate.
  • Getting the same role several games in a row sucks and there’s no good fix. I’ve played three consecutive games as Percival, several games as Merlin, and I’ve seen people play an entire night as a bad guy. This is a bummer and there’s no easy way to mitigate it, because saying “I won’t play again if I’m a spy” means that you’d definitely be good the next game, which breaks the game.

overall: 7.75 / 10

The Resistance - Avalon 015In a lot of ways, Avalon is one of the most polarizing games that I own. I know a lot of people who love it and a lot of people who despise it for a lot of the reasons I’ve listed earlier, but I think the final verdict on it just depends on whether or not you like social games. If you like them, this is one of the better ones — it’s robust, a bit heavy, and fun. If you don’t like them, then this will be a tragedy for you. It’s a lot of talking, not a ton of evidence, and ultimately comes down to some judgment calls.

That being said, I think it’s a pretty fun game (not my favorite, but I’ll almost always play it if someone else suggests it), but I think usually I won’t play more than two or three games a night unless there’s an extenuating circumstance. Not that it’s a bad game, but the style of the game gets a bit old in one night and there are other games that can be played. This is actually a game I’d love to see get an expansion, just because I’d be curious to see how the additional roles or mechanics would work. I think it could do a lot. Overall, though, I think this is still a pretty great game, just as/is.

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8 thoughts on “#8 – The Resistance: Avalon

  1. hi Eric, nice review about this game, i am trying to find this game board, but i can not find it for any place.
    Do you have some link to a store, or whatever link where i can buy the expansion with Lancelot and Excalibur.
    Thanks in advance for your answer. Regards.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I like the role of Guinevere, but I think it’s still a disadvantage for the good guys especially when playing less than 7 people. You will give away 2 roles for the good guys (Guinevere and Good lancelot) and Merlin will be easy to be spot by the Assassin. What do you think?

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Have your tried the Lancelots with Guinevere? Is it better with Guenivere or without? I like to try too. =) Btw, nice review!

    Like

      1. Just wondering also, why don’t play with these bad guys all together? Is it too crowded or mixing them is a bit too complicated? Thank you!

        “I cannot recommend playing with Bad Lancelot, Oberon, Mordred, and Morgana.”

        Liked by 1 person

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