Saturday, May 21, 2016

Game Night Picks: Coup

Politics seem to be on everyone's mind, so lets talk about a game that's heavily drenched in all the tension and drama of international affairs!
At one some point in our childhoods, we are given a standard, 52 deck of cards. Inevitably, someone teaches us the ultimate game of luck and bluffing-  everyone has a name for it, but I grew up calling it Bullshit. The cards are placed in chronological order, face-down, as players declare how many cards of that value they can play. If you are caught lying about what cards you placed or if you mistakenly accuse someone of lying, you pick up the discarded pile. Whoever runs out of cards first, wins. B.S. is a simple game, but it teaches players the art of bluffing. A more adult version of this game was made in 2012 by independent gaming company, Lone Oak Games. It has its own style and doesn't rely on the same statistics as a regular 52 card deck. But the game is still the game- only this time, it's called Coup.

The core game is comprised of coin tokens and character cards, with summary cards of the rules for players. The art suggests something crossed between a space odyssey and a dystopian/ cyberpunk universe with the smuggest glamour shots of politicians ever drawn. The aesthetic is wonderful, and it helps to set the tone for the game play. Each character is a representation of a person of influence. Players are given two cards and two coins at the beginning of the game. The goal of the game is to eliminate the other players' influence and be the last one standing. Much like Bullshit, everyone's cards are face-down, so you do not know what influence each player has. You can also acquire coins throughout the game. If you have 7 coins, and can launch a coup against another player, killing off their influence. If you have 10 coins at the start of your turn, you MUST launch a coup.
Here are the characters you influence. Each has a unique ability and only three exist in the deck. Before we go into the game play more, Here are the Character Actions of each:
 Duke: He can take up to three coins and can block Foreign Aid (taking two coins)
Assassin: Pays 3 coins to assassinate another player
Ambassador: Exchanges cards of the Court Deck (unused character cards) and blocks Stealing (see below)
Captain: Steals two coins from another player and can block Stealing.
Contessa: Blocks an assassination.
So how do all these elements work together?

Each player gets one action per turn. You can get Income (taking one coin), Foreign Aid, or use a Character Action. You must state what Character you are influencing in order to use the action: for example, if I want three coins I must say "I declare Duke" and then take my three coins. Whether or not I have a Duke character card is irrelevant. However, if a player is suspicious, they can challenge said Character Action. Here is where things get interesting! At this point, the resolution can go one of two ways:
1) I am telling the truth and I show the player my Duke card. They now must choose one of their influence cards to discard. If they only have one character card left, it is discarded and they are eliminated from the game. I then place the Duke into the unused character deck, shuffle it, and draw a new character card. It does not matter if it is a new character or another Duke.
2) I am lying and cannot produce a Duke card. I must discard my influence and if it is my last card, I am eliminated from the game.

Players are neither encouraged nor cautioned about calling bullshit. Fellow game blogger Biggs and I played with a few friends a while ago; because of how diverse the players were, it made for a very theatrical evening. The first round had five people claiming Duke and no one was challenged (remember, only three are in the core set). Toward the end, there were two players with one card left each. The one paid 3 coins to claim Assassin, the other claimed Contessa to block, both were lying, and yet neither notion was challenged. The best parts of the game were when someone got eliminated because they incorrectly assumed a player was lying.  There is just something comical about seeing a character card revealed, especially because of how stoic they are all drawn. There's really no rhyme or reason to lying in the game, unless you want more coins to Assassinate or launch a Coup.

There are expansions to the game, but I only got Coup: Reformation, and I highly recommend it. The weakest element to the original game was the Ambassador. The character could look at two cards from the unused deck and return two cards to the deck. This meant that they can completely replenish and change their influence. However, in a game that hinges on lying about what cards you have, this has little to no impact. Not only that, but no one is going to challenge you for claiming Ambassador. Biggs has even been quoted for saying, "Nothing is more embarrassing than getting eliminated by the Ambassador." And to fix this, Reformation introduces....
The Inquisitor!
This character has the same abilities as the Ambassador, but is also given another option to look at a card in a player's hand. You then can either Examine it and leave them alone OR you can force that player to exchange that card with an unused character card. This is soooooooooo shady, and I love everything about it. There are five Inquisitors, and two of each other card so you can play with a deck consisting of 5 of each character. This is wonderful for about 6 players.

Reformation also includes the concept of Allegiance, and lets players choose at the beginning of the game if they are Loyalist or Reformist. You can pay a coin to change your Allegiance or pay two to change another players. Allegiance matters because you cannot block the actions of, steal from, or assassinate players of your Allegiance. While I haven't had the opportunity to play through the other expansions, the core game and Reformation are enough to warrant a recommendation. Overall this game is one of my favorites for Game Night, and here's the stats!

Difficulty: Approachable, great for families. Especially if your children know how to play Bullshit, but you don't want them to say it out loud.

Time: 15 minutes, but will increase quite a bit with more players.

Sobriety Check Point: This game is great for the sober player, but having a bit of liquid charisma in you doesn't hurt.

Friendship Integrity: Fragile. This game is great to play with people you know well. The bluffing element is makes it fun for parties or even to pass time with a friend. Playing it cool or hamming up your performance can help you trick your friends... and they may be surprised how good you are!

Hope this helps get everyone through this politically driven season and with another suggestion for game night! If you played the other expansions, let me know how you liked them. If you have a story to share, let's here about it! And, as always, have fun playing out there!


  1. I think you are missing one of the best uses of the Ambassador: Information gathering. I have often used the Ambassador's action to get a better idea what is in the deck and not in people's hands. The other benefit this can have is that you tend make yourself less of a target.

    Have you tried the G54 version? It has a variety of characters from which a small set are used each time you play.

  2. I have not! And that sounds like it would be more challenging. It would also make the Ambassador more valuable to gather information. Thanks for the input!